Many of the most popular musicals in theater history were written Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Their collaboration lasted nearly two decades, until Hammerstein became too ill to work due to stomach cancer. The musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein are frequently regarded as the pinnacle of twentieth-century musical theater.
Oklahoma!, the first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, premiered in 1943. After their respective partners turned down the idea of turning the play Green Grow the Lilacs into a musical, they banded together to make it happen. This old-west musical was groundbreaking in many ways, especially in the way it used song numbers to advance the plot rather than as entertainment breaks, as was customary at the time. In People Will Say We’re in Love, it also popularized the concept of an opposing love song. This is a song in which a lover sings sarcastically or ironically about how bad or inappropriate it would be to be in love with the song’s subject. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s trademark was the oppositional love song, which can be found in many of their shows.
In 1945, the duo returned from a brief hiatus to work on Carousel, one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s most divisive musicals. Billy, a carnival worker who commits suicide after a robbery and must try to atone for his mistakes, was the subject of this unusual musical. Carousel has been panned for its bizarre plot as well as what some perceive to be an endorsement of physical abuse of women. Several songs, including If I Loved You, another opposing love song, and the inspirational You’ll Never Walk Alone, have remained popular musical theater standards.
South Pacific, the third of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals, is one of their most popular. The story revolves around US Navy officers stationed in the South Pacific Islands. Some Enchanted Evening, I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair, and Bali Hai are among the memorable songs from this musical, which inspired a popular 1950s film.
The King And I is set in the court of Siam and is based on the historical biography of Anna Leonowens, a governess to the King of Siam’s family. There have been several film adaptations of the story, including a non-musical version starring Jody Foster and Chow Yun-Fat in 1999. The musical was adapted into a popular film in 1956, starring Yul Brynner as the King and Deborah Kerr as Anna. The King and I’s music is less well-known than that of many other Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, with Hello, Young Lovers being the only song that is frequently performed.
The Sound of Music, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s final collaboration, is perhaps the most well-known and well-loved of all their musicals. The story follows ex-novitiate Maria as she becomes a governess for an Austrian widower’s family and eventually marries him. It is considered one of the most accessible musicals ever made, with both comedic and tragic elements. Oscar Hammerstein II was ill throughout the writing of The Sound of Music, and he famously composed the beautiful ballad Edelweiss as his final work. This song, along with others from the musical, such as My Favorite Things and The Sound of Music, is widely regarded as one of the best ever written for the stage. The Sound of Music won the Tony Award for Best Musical in 1959, and the film adaptation won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1965.