If you haven't heard by now, 2002 is the centennial of composer Richard Rodgers birth. And if the man were indeed alive today, I doubt he could say a word against the manner in which he has been feted since the turn of the new year. I personally can't think of an artist's centennial that was better planned or more lavish in its array of salutes.
How has Rodgers been honored this year? Let us count the ways (and keep in mind that 2002 is only half over):
• Jason Danieley headed a diverse cast of performers on a new Boston Pops Orchestra CD called "My Favorite Things — A Richard Rodgers Celebration."
• There were other CDs. Bernadette Peters released a new album composed entirely of Rodgers songs, entitled, simply, "Bernadette Peters Loves Rodgers and Hammerstein." She recently performed the songlist at Radio City Music Hall.
• At Carnegie Hall, an all-star concert version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel took place June 6. Hugh Jackman and Audra McDonald topped the cast. • For those who wanted to sing the Rodgers songbook, Barbara Cook offered a master class in Manhattan June 27, entitled "A Barbara Cook Master Class: Songs by Richard Rodgers."
• A host of theatre stars participated in a March 23 event at New York's Symphony Space called "Wall to Wall Richard Rodgers." The concert was broadcast over NPR and the Fynsworth Alley label will release excerpts from the show.
• Of a more modest scale was "Strictly Rodgers, Mostly Hart," a cabaret show by Steve Ross, Tom Andersen and Klea Blackhurst at Symphony Space May 3.
• The York Theatre Company's April 2002 "Musicals in Mufti" musicals-in-concert series devoted its line up to works by Rodgers. Among the works performed were By Jupiter, Androcles & The Lion and Me & Juliet.
• Museums got into the act in a big way. The Museum of the City of New York is presenting a Richard Rodgers-themed exhibition from June 22, 2002 through Jan. 5, 2003. "Richard Rodgers' Broadway" examines Rodgers' collaboration with both Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II, and items on display will include programs, photographs, sheet music, window cards and Broadway posters.
• "Music by Richard Rodgers" will be on view at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts June 28-Sept. 28 at the Vincent Astor Gallery. The multimedia exhibit draws on the library's archival collection and focuses on Rodgers' compositions for 45 professional theatre works, 11 films as well as numerous radio and TV programs and several ballet and symphonic scores.
• The Museum of Television & Radio — both the New York and Los Angeles branches — celebrated Rodgers' centennial with a screening series chock full of Rodgers rarities. Through June 30, the Museum features rarely seen and recently discovered footage of several Rodgers TV appearances. Highlights of "A Tribute to Richard Rodgers: The Sound of His Music" include a screening of the Julie Andrews Cinderella, the only Rodgers and Hammerstein musical written expressly for TV, and an episode of "The Tonight Show" taped during Johnny Carson's first year as host.
• For Rodgers fans who just couldn't get up off the couch, there was "Falling in Love: A Richard Rodgers Tribute" on the Arts & Entertainment Network (A&E) on June 16 and June 23. Filmed live in New York's Times Square Studios, it boasted performances from Liz Callaway, Stephanie Blythe, Ann Hampton Callaway, Barbara Carroll, James Naughton, James Morris, Joshua Bell, Kristin Chenoweth, Terence Blanchard and Lea Salonga as well as a number from the current revival of Oklahoma!.
• In you prefer radio to television, there's National Public Radio's June 28 documentary "Easy to Remember." The show features interviews with the late choreographer Agnes de Mille, Broadway and film star John Raitt, the late Broadway icon Mary Martin, composer Stephen Sondheim, lyricist Sheldon Harnick and Rodgers' two daughters, Mary and Linda.
• There were celebrations across the nation as well. San Francisco, the city that figures so prominently in Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song, toasted the composer's centennial April 16-Sept. 10 with a series of galas and talks, including a Wesla Whitfield concert and a chat with Rodgers' daughter Mary and Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization president Theodore S. Chapin. And the daring flop, Allegro was revived by The Lyric Theatre of Dallas, Texas, at their Dupree Theater Feb. 15-March 2.
Also, there are a few modest Broadway revivals of Oklahoma!, The Boys from Syracuse and Flower Drum Song. I'm sure I've forgotten a couple dozen or so occasions, so, readers, don't inundate me with messages beginning with the line, "How could you leave out....?"
The exact anniversary of Rodgers birth is June 28 and the fact did not go unnoticed. Perhaps the biggest affair of all was reserved for the day. A massing of Broadway stars gathered at Broadway's Gershwin Theatre at noon to sing many of the maestro's compositions. The free event was d open to the public. Scheduled to appear were Sutton Foster, Hunter Foster, Lea Salonga, Patrick Wilson, Shuler Hensley, Laura Benanti, John Bucchino, Barbara Cook, John Cullum, Toni DiBuono, Erin Dilly, Marin Mazzie (accompanied by Stephen Flaherty), Howard McGillin, Lauren Mitchell, Louise Pitre, Billy Stritch, Mary Testa and the chorus of Oklahoma!. Concertgoers heard tunes from such classic shows as South Pacific, The Sound of Music, Carousel, Pal Joey, Oklahoma!, The Boys From Syracuse and Flower Drum Song.
—By Robert Simonson