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Arts & Entertainment, etc.

Rodgers & Hammerstein thoughts

October 10, 2008
The well-sung but nondescript production of "The Sound of Music" currently running at Beef & Boards got me thinking about the musicals of Rodgers & Hammerstein. Some random thoughts:

 --The R&H reputation pretty much rests on "Oklahoma!," "Carousel," "South Pacific," "The King and I," and "The Sound of Music" and by that lineup, you'd think they were golden, always. Yet R&H also wrote "Allegro," Me and Juliet," and "Pipe Dreams," all shows you rarely hear mentioned and never see revived. My point: Even R&H needed room to fail.

--Of the major R&H musicals, "The Sound of Music" is the weakest on stage. Yet it made the best movie. As much as I love the stage versions of "Oklahoma!" "Carousel," and "South Pacific," I have no desire to watch their watered down film versions again. Yet "Sound of Music"--the only one that deserving the saccherine reputation given to R&H--holds up remarkably well. One of the reasons is because it wisely strays from the original material. It cuts a number of songs (Does anyone miss "How Can Love Survive"?), switches the order of others ("My Favorite Things" makes a lot more sense in the thunderstorm scene than "Lonely Goatherd" does), and adds solid material ("I Have Confidence"). Of course, it also helps to have Julie Andrews and the spectacular locations.

--Years ago, at Half-Price Books, I was thrilled to find what I thought was a VHS copy of the Australian stage production of "Oklahoma!" starring Hugh Jackman (yes, the guy from "X-Men"). When I got it home, however, I realized that it was in some format that I couldn't play. Good news: That recording is now available on DVD. And it's as good a production as you are likely to see. (Although it doesn't feature the original choreography). If you want to renew your faith in "Oklahoma!"--or if you are just a Hugh Jackman fan--track it down. (Click here to hear Jackman sing of the famed surrey with the fringe on top.)

--Too often, R&H stage productions are made mediocre at the casting stage. Terrific voices are all well and good, but as I've mentioned in this blog before, "Oklahoma!" and "Carousel" are, in part, about naive kids stumbling into adulthood. Cast them with 35-year-old actors and their caring about boxed lunches and clambakes just seems silly.

--It doesn't take enormous resources to make these show's transcend. Yes, the best "Carousel" -- and one of the best productions of any musical I've ever seen -- was Lincoln Center's stunning, heartbreaking, funny and profoundly sad production back in 1994 with the luminous Audra McDonald as Carrie and, on one of my two visits, an unforgettable understudy appearance by Lauren Ward as Julie. But the more effective "Oklahoma!" in my experience was a summer production down at Lincoln Amphitheatre. The common denominator (besides the material): A vision that made clear that the events in the stories mattered deeply to these very human characters.

 --I'm still waiting to see a production of "The Sound of Music" with a plus-size Maria...

Your thoughts? Care to share your experience with R&H shows (whether from the audience or from the stage)?
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