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Getting to Know Rodgers and Hammerstein
By Laura Butchy

Richard Rodgers '23 and Oscar Hammerstein II '16 earned lasting places in Broadway history by inaugurating a new era of musical theater. With the opening of their groundbreaking Oklahoma!, the pair's hits, including South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music, dominated the Great White Way for years, and are still revived today. Several recently published books shed light on their careers and achievements.

In Richard Rodgers (Yale University Press, $30), William G. Hyland explores the life and work of the musical theater icon. After growing up in an affluent Jewish family in Harlem, Rodgers went on to compose more than a thousand songs for the stage in his 77-year lifetime, despite battles with depression, excessive drinking and illness. With a broad understanding of music and entertaining personal anecdotes, Hyland describes how six decades of musicals created by Rodgers dominated the Broadway stage and earned him a share of two Pulitzer Prizes. This comprehensive biography reveals the complex man whose musical genius made him an incomparable American musical composer. After Rodgers's time at Columbia, Hyland tells of his collaboration with Lorenz Hart '18 for a dozen popular shows before joining Hammerstein to create many classic musicals (along with several flops).

Much of the music Rodgers wrote with Hammerstein is collected in Rodgers & Hammerstein: The Illustrated Songbook (Hal Leonard, $29.99, paper). In the foreword, composer and Hammerstein-admirer Andrew Lloyd Webber writes, "What sets the great Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals apart for me is their directness and their awareness of the importance of construction in musical theater. Nearly 40 years later, the partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein has not yet been equaled. It probably never will be." The compilation includes a brief synopsis of each of their 11 musicals, commentary on the productions, sheet music, and photos of productions, posters and programs.

Ethan Mordden discusses Rodgers and Hammerstein's early work in Beautiful Mornin': The Broadway Musical in the 1940s (Oxford University Press, $30). In the latest of his continuing series on the American musical, Mordden analyzes musicals of the 1940s, describes how musical theater had fallen into a rut, then shows how Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the formula to intrigue audiences. A central theme of the book is the duo's unusual coupling, sudden success and impact on the genre.

Finally, Mark Steyn overviews the entire life of the musical in Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then & Now (Routledge, $27). Following the musical theater's evolution through seven decades, Steyn shows the genius behind the "simple" musical with humorous anecdotes, critical commentary and historical perspective from his years as a theater critic. He also writes about Rodgers's influence on Andrew Lloyd Webber, and Hammerstein as trainer and mentor to Stephen Sondheim.

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