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The Musical Theatre of Richard Rodgers
Thousands of images from artifacts that represent productions composed by Richard Rodgers from forty-one shows, from Poor Little Ritz Girl of 1920 to I Remember Mama, 1979. Included are photographs, programs, window cards, advertising ephemera, manuscripts and set designs.
About These Selections
Welcome to The New York Public Library’s celebration of Richard Rodgers’s life in the theatre. Featured here is material selected from the vast holdings of the Billy Rose Theatre Division that represent productions composed by Richard Rodgers. Presented for your enjoyment are artifacts documenting forty-one shows, from Poor Little Ritz Girl of 1920 to I Remember Mama, 1979. Included are photographs, programs, window cards, advertising ephemera, manuscripts and set designs.
Because the Rodgers legacy is so great, it is impossible for the scope of this web presentation to be comprehensive. Many more objects may be explored in person at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Here, we have chosen to focus on Rodgers’s original stage productions. A revival is included when its success was more remarkable than the original show, or otherwise notable. Not included are the many motion picture and television productions that delivered Rodgers’s songs to a far wider audience.
The Sweetest Sounds is organized into sections reflecting distinct periods of Rodgers’s career and his collaborations. Among the items pictured are many backstage moments and candid shots never before published, as well as charming photographs of family and personal life. The Library is grateful for the gracious permission granted by rights-holders to offer their images on this site.
The production of The Sweetest Sounds was made possible by the generous support of The Rodgers Family Foundation. Many New York Public Library staff members contributed greatly to this homage to Richard Rodgers. Special appreciation goes to Christopher Frith, Amy Schwegel, and Patricia Rader for their dedication to this project.
Rodgers and Hart
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart began their collaborative career in 1919 when the song, “Any Old Place with You,” was sung in the show, A Lonely Romeo. The two were students at Columbia University where they became partners in writing many successful amateur productions.
Their first professional collaboration, Poor Little Ritz Girl, was staged in 1920 with compositions by Sigmund Romberg incorporated into the production. In 1925, the revue Garrick Gaieties became a success, popularizing the Rodgers and Hart song, “Manhattan,” still loved as a standard. A Connecticut Yankee (1927) ran for almost a year in New York featuring the song, “Thou Swell.”
According to many sources, Rodgers and Hart were temperamentally very different. Rodgers kept a disciplined schedule and Hart was unpredictable in his habits. As songwriters, Rodgers would generally produce the music first and Hart would supply the lyrics after he heard the meter and melody. The music inspired his imagination and the chemistry was productive with many projects underway in close succession.
The team wrote songs for a number of new musicals, including very successful productions on the London stage. Then, the stock market crash of 1929 caused the buckling of New York theatre financing. Rodgers and Hart formed a successful partnership in providing songs for Hollywood movies.
They returned to Broadway in 1935 with Jumbo, and On Your Toes (1936). Babes in Arms (1937) included the song “Where or When.” Several hits followed, including The Boys from Syracuse in 1938 that introduced “Falling in Love with Love,” “This Can’t be Love,” and “Sing for Your Supper.”
Pal Joey (1940) departed from the lighthearted Broadway revues of previous decades with a John O’Hara plot based on an unscrupulous nightclub owner. “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “I Could Write a Book” were introduced to the audience and remain popular standards.
The final collaboration of Rodgers and Hart was By Jupiter in 1942. The show ran longer than any of their other productions. In spite of Rodgers’s enthusiasm, Hart declined to write for a new project, Green Grow the Lilacs. After 25 years, the creative relationship had become fraught with difficulties. Hart’s escalating health problems caused Rodgers to turn to Oscar Hammerstein II for the new musical, finally titled, Oklahoma!
There is no doubt that Rodgers and Hart’s teamwork was magical. Together they produced charming and witty songs that survived well outside of the context of their debut musicals and continue to be performed today. The Tin Pan Alley flavor of their songs suited audiences of the early 20th century. The later years of Rodgers career would see new developments in American musical theatre.
Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein
Richard Rodgers’s successful, 25-year partnership with Lorenz Hart ended when Hart could not commit to writing for the new production, Green Grow the Lilacs. Rodgers turned to his old friend Oscar Hammerstein II as lyricist for the project. Hammerstein had worked with the era’s most notable composers for theatre. The landmark Showboat was a Hammerstein collaboration with Jerome Kern, a composer Rodgers greatly admired. Showboat incorporated American vernacular music and was an enormous hit in 1927.
Green Grow the Lilacs opened in 1943 as Oklahoma! With choreography by Agnes de Mille, the musical was the first to fully integrate music, story and dance to advance the narrative of the production. This would be a hallmark of the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership and an advance in the genre of the American musical. Oklahoma! also favored recognizably American folk style rather than the clever urbanity of the Rodgers and Hart period.
Where Rodgers and Hart had worked from melody to lyrics, the Hammerstein collaboration operated in the opposite direction. Hammerstein would write words to suit the plot, and Rodgers would formulate a melody. Fitting music to lyrics changed the style of Rodgers’s composition. In order to meet the challenge of Hammerstein’s crafted text, Rodgers’s became more creative in his musical form.
The success of Oklahoma! was unprecedented. From 1945-1959, the Rodgers and Hammerstein collaboration produced the American musical classics Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and the Sound of Music. Many of the shows were designed by the scenic artist, Jo Mielziner, who achieved a distinctive look in the décor. They achieved such success that all were made into motion pictures and reached worldwide audiences.
The acclaimed and profitable partnership ended with Oscar Hammerstein’s death in 1960. But, their work together created a golden age in American musical theatre.
Richard Rodgers And Other Lyricists
After the death of Oscar Hammerstein II, Richard Rodgers wrote the music and lyrics for No Strings (1962). The show won two Tony awards and featured the song, “Somewhere for Me,” from which the lyric “the sweetest sounds” comes, hence the title of this website. Reviews were mixed, but Rodgers received praise for the score.
Arthur Laurents recruited Hammerstein’s protégé, Stephen Sondheim, to work with Rodgers on Do I Hear a Waltz? (1965). The show was a success, but the partnership was an unhappy one.
Sheldon Harnick, well-known for his career with Jerry Bock, provided lyrics for Rex, a musical about Henry VIII, in 1976. Martin Charnin collaborated with Rodgers on Two by Two (1971) and his final production, I Remember Mama in 1979.
In earlier days, Rodgers had supplied Lorenz Hart with melodies to inspire the lyrics. His collaboration with Oscar Hammerstein reversed that process, Rodgers fitting music to his partner’s words with great success. In these later years, Rodgers continued this method of composition, allowing his collaborators to initiate the creative work.
Richard Rodgers Fact Book with Supplement. New York: The Lynn Farnol Group, 2006.
Secrest, Meryle. Somewhere for Me: a Biography of Richard Rodgers. New York: Random House, Inc., 2001.
- Allegro (1947, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- America’s Sweetheart (1931, Lyrics By Hart)
- Babes In Arms (1937, Lyrics By Hart)
- Betsy (1926, Lyrics By Hart)
- The Boys From Syracuse (1938, Lyrics By Hart)
- The Boys From Syracuse (2002 Broadway Revival)
- By Jupiter (1942, Lyrics By Hart)
- Carousel (1945, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- Carousel (1949 City Center Revival)
- Carousel (1953 City Center Revival)
- Carousel (1957 City Center Revival)
- Carousel (1965 Lincoln Center Revival)
- Carousel (1966 City Center Revival)
- Carousel (1994 Lincoln Center Revival)
- Carousel (2002 Carnegie Hall In Concert)
- Chee-Chee (1928, Lyrics By Hart)
- A Connecticut Yankee (1927, Lyrics By Hart)
- A Connecticut Yankee (1943 Broadway Revival)
- Dearest Enemy (1925, Lyrics By Hart)
- Do I Hear A Waltz? (1965, Lyrics By Sondheim)
- Flower Drum Song (1958, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- Flower Drum Song (2002 Broadway Revival)
- Garrick Gaieties (1925-1926, Lyrics By Hart)
- The Girl Friend (1926, Lyrics By Hart)
- Heads Up! (1929, Lyrics By Hart)
- Higher And Higher (1940, Lyrics By Hart)
- I Married An Angel (1938, Lyrics By Hart)
- I Remember Mama (1979, Lyrics By Charnin And Jessel)
- I’d Rather Be Right (1937, Lyrics By Hart)
- The King And I (1951, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- The King And I (1956 City Center Revival)
- The King And I (1960 City Center Revival)
- The King And I (1963 City Center Revival)
- The King And I (1964 Lincoln Center Revival)
- The King And I (1968 City Center Revival)
- The King And I (1977 Broadway Revival)
- The King And I (1985 Broadway Revival)
- The King And I (1989 Touring Production)
- The King And I (1996 Broadway Revival)
- Lido Lady (1926, Lyrics By Hart)
- Me And Juliet (1953, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- The Melody Man (1924, Lyrics By Hart)
- No Strings (1962, Lyrics By Rodgers)
- Oklahoma (1958 City Center Revival)
- Oklahoma! (1943, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- Oklahoma! (1951 Broadway Revival)
- Oklahoma! (1953 City Center Revival)
- Oklahoma! (1963 City Center Revival)
- Oklahoma! (1965 City Center Revival)
- Oklahoma! (1969 Lincoln Center Revival)
- Oklahoma! (1979 Broadway Revival)
- Oklahoma! (2002 Broadway Revival)
- On Your Toes (1936, Lyrics By Hart)
- On Your Toes (1954 Broadway Revival)
- On Your Toes (1983 Broadway Revival)
- Pal Joey (1940-1941, Lyrics By Hart)
- Pal Joey (1951 Summer Stock)
- Pal Joey (1952 Broadway Revival)
- Pal Joey (1961 City Center Revival)
- Pal Joey (1963 City Center Revival)
- Pal Joey (1976 Broadway Revival)
- Pal Joey (2008 Broadway Revival)
- Peggy-Ann (1926, Lyrics By Hart)
- Pipe Dream (1955, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- Poor Little Ritz Girl (1920, Lyrics By Hart)
- Portraits Of Richard Rodgers
- Present Arms (1928, Lyrics By Hart)
- Rex (1976, Lyrics By Harnick)
- Rodgers & Hart (1975, Revue)
- She’s My Baby (1928, Lyrics By Hart)
- Simple Simon (1930, Lyrics By Hart)
- The Sound Of Music (1959, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- The Sound Of Music (1967 City Center Revival)
- The Sound Of Music (1990 Lincoln Center Revival)
- The Sound Of Music (1998 Broadway Revival)
- South Pacific (1949, Lyrics By Hammerstein)
- South Pacific (1955 City Center Revival)
- South Pacific (1957 City Center Revival)
- South Pacific (1961 City Center Revival)
- South Pacific (1965 City Center Revival)
- South Pacific (1967 Lincoln Center Revival)
- South Pacific (1987 Lincoln Center Revival)
- Spring Is Here (1929, Lyrics By Hart)
- Too Many Girls (1939, Lyrics By Hart)
- Two By Two (1970, Lyrics By Charnin)