Rodgers & Hammerstein thoughts

October 10, 2008
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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)?
  • Interesting post by Riedel in the NY POST today about the R & H catalog up for
  • Shall we put in a bid? Looks like it's starting at only $130 million.
  • I don't understand why anybody performs The Sound of Music on stage anymore. The film achieves everything that musical could possibly hope to achieve, and more. Without Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, and the glorious photography of the Alps, it's depressingly dull and much too long. In the hands of those greats (and Robert Wise, of course, who made them greater), it's beautiful.
  • I agree with Brian. When the Sound of Music came to Indy a few years back, Richard Chamberlain starred as the Captain (and the production seemed to put more emphasis on his part than Maria's - ugh), and I promptly went home and watched the movie to get this unfortunate production out of my head.
  • Well, I am a virgin when it comes to most shows, so I pretty much enjoy some aspect of every well-known show I see. If nothing else, it just feels good to be crossing off an item on my liftetime to see list.

    I don't worry about this. In fact, in my more conceited moments, I think that Indy is lucky to have both of us writing about theatre, Lou. You are the experienced expert and I am the girl next door.

    Anyway, you know from reading my own blog that I had a (not planned that way) R&H weekend last weekend. I was delighted to find that R&H is the topic of your blog post today.

    I have never seen Carousel or The King and I.

    (Or Guys and Dolls, for that matter. But I believe you about the importance of this weekend's event with the Symphony. I sprang for a Sunday ticket just now even without waiting for your review. Hmm. I haven't been to the Symphony in DECADES. Where should I park, I wonder...)

    As for plus-size Marias, I go back and forth about that.

    If someone did cast a plus-size Maria, I know from past experience that I would get hate mail and hear about it in person forever if I mentioned the fact in my review, even if the reason I mentioned it was to praise the director's vision, the actor's believability, and how refreshing it all was for me to see a woman who looked like me being desired and loved without a side dish of pity.

    On the other hand, if someone cast a skinny person to play the female lead in Neil LaBute's Fat Pig or the role of Nadia in Hartmere and Intrabartolo's bare: the musical I would be the one sending the hate mail.

    So, as I say, I go back and forth.

    Hope Baugh
  • Hope,
    The difference, I think, is that Fat Pig and bare require the actresses in question to be of a certain size. The Sound of Music, as far as I can tell, never makes specific reference to her size. The relative plain-ness of Lauren Ward in Carousel is part--a small part, but a part--of what won me over.
    On the flip side, Seymour in Little Shop of Horrors seems to always be played by an early Jerry Lewis type. In the London revival, he's, well, check out this clip and ask, Why not?
  • Hey Hope...I work for the ISO. I usually like to park at Circle Centre and close.
  • Hope,

    I, like J, park in the mall. As a backup, or if there's ever event parking at the mall, which hikes prices up to NYC numbers, I always park in a garage on Pennsylvania, between Market and Washington, on the west side of the street. It's only $3, and is connected to the theater. So there's another option for you.

    And I have tickets for next weekend's show at the ISO---Beethoven's 4th symphony! Unfortunately I'll be out of town, but would you like my tickets? Feel free to email me at and I can see about getting those to you if you want! (I can exchange them to suit which night you are able to go to as well.)
  • Chantal, thank you very much! I was touched and delighted when I read of your kind offer.

    I would love to accept, but I am already committed to, and looking forward to, seeing Macbeth at the IRT next Friday and a mystery double-header at first the President Benjamin Harrison House and then the Morris Butler House next Saturday night. I wish I could be two places at once because I would love to hear the Symphony play Beethoven's 4th, too!

    Chantal and J, thank you both for the parking advice!

    Lou, I am using the free Internet access at Henry's on East coffee shop right now during a break between sessions of the Hoosier Storytelling Festival, so I'm going to wait to try the link you provided until after I get home and can listen with the volume on. Thanks for providing it, though.

    Hope Baugh

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