HEARTLAND REDISCOVERS BELOVED TEAM
Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers's musicals have always appealed to the American heartland. Unlike other Broadway composers, who may have more urban or elitist concerns, they wrote about the problems of everyday folkfrom Oklahoma to Mainein simple yet moving language
It isn't surprising, therefore, that R&H;are experiencing successes on the road these days with two hit tours of Show Boat and Carousel coming on the heels of the pre-Broadway tryout for State Fair. With plans for the new Broadway production of The King and I to begin touring next fall and for State Fair eventually to go back out on the road, it is likely that there will be no less than four major productions crisscrossing America in late 1996.
"Within the last ten years our two most successful touring productions have been South Pacific with Robert Goulet and The Sound of Music with Marie Osmond," said Ted Chapin, president of the R&H;Organization, which holds all rights to the shows of the most famous collaborative team in musical history. "And while we have always been very busy in our office, there is now a new focus on theatrical productions because we have attracted some very high-caliber talent to work with us. And that talent is coming up with brilliant ideas in reinterpreting the works while acknowledging what's there."
Chapin, of course, is referring to Nicholas Hytner and Harold Prince who directed, respectively, Carousel and Show Boat. In fact, the National Theatre of Britain's production of Carousel, which received raves and seven Tony Awards including Best Revival in 1994, was at first deemed to be too expensive to take out on the road. Chapin said that he was insistent on scaling down the musical in order to make it financially feasible. He now contends that the touring productionwhich opened in Houston last February and which will be in Pittsburgh, New Haven and Boston in Aprilhas in some ways been bettered by the process of downsizing. "People were genuinely bowled over by the production in Houston," said Chapin of the musical starring Patrick Wilson and Sarah Uriarte. "It has an intimacy and immediacy and power on the proscenium stage that tended to be somewhat diffused at the Vivian Beaumont in Lincoln Center because of the design of the theatre."
Meanwhile, there are three productions of Prince's extravagant staging of Show Boat on the boards: the N.Y. production, which won five Tonys including Best Revival; a touring production (Cloris Leachman and Ned Beatty) currently in Vancouver and due to move to L.A. in October; and the most recent production (John McMartin and Dorothy Loudon), which opened in Chicago in March.
Chapin is delighted not only with the sound of money to go with the sound of music but also with the unprecedented high quality of the productions. If a rights holder has any power, he said, it's the ability to monitor the creative and production values of the R&H product. "What we can do is remind people of what's there as creatively as possible so that they want to go out and buy a songbook or stage a musical in their high school," he said. "One young man came up to me in Houston and asked me, 'Are there any more where this comes from?' "
-- By Patrick Pacheco