As we prepare for this weekend’s The Very Best of Rodgers & Hammerstein, listen as Terry Gross of “Fresh Air” interviews Todd Purdum, bestselling author of Something Wonderful: Rodgers and Hammerstein's Broadway Revolution, about the partnership that created so many treasured musicals.
To demonstrate how amazing Rodgers and Hammerstein were, Purdum tells Gross about the original stage directions for Green Grow the Lilacs, the play on which Oklahoma! was based:
“It is a radiant summer morning several years ago. The kind of morning which enveloping the shapes of Earth, men, cattle in a meadow, blades of the young corn, streams makes them seem to exist now for the first time. Their images giving off a visible golden emanation that is partly true and partly a trick of the imagination focusing to keep alive a loveliness that may pass away.”
Then, the opening lines of Oklahoma!:
“There's a bright golden haze on the meadow. There's a bright golden haze on the meadow. The corn is as high as an elephant's eye, and it looks like it's climbing clear up to the sky. Oh, what a beautiful morning. Oh, what a beautiful day. I got a beautiful feeling everything's going my way.”
That’s the magic of Oscar Hammerstein’s writing. Then you pair that with Richard Rodgers’s gorgeous music, and you get one of the most beautiful openings in the history of musical theatre.
Oklahoma! had the first cast album ever recorded and released, and of course it became a giant hit, along with many other albums from musicals to follow. Todd Purdum observes to Terry Gross, "We have to remember that these songs were on the top-hit parade of American popular music. They were the songs that people heard all over the radio and in dance bands and orchestras all around the country. This was the Top 40 of its day.”
In his book, Purdum quotes from a letter that choreographer and longtime collaborator Agnes de Mille wrote to Hammerstein's widow: "Girls and boys are gonna talk with his words … and may perhaps not be aware whom they quote. He will be in the air they breathe."
Perhaps never was that more true than with The Sound of Music. Generations of us know all the words and can sing along – for example, to "Do-Re-Mi."
The timelessness of the songs, and the heartfelt sentiment that everyone can feel, makes them wonderful listening to this day. This weekend, you’ll love hearing the Cape Symphony collaboration with the Boston Conservatory at Berklee Theater Division as we present The Very Best of Rodgers & Hammerstein. There are very few tickets left but we do have a waiting list – call 508.362.1111.