Richard Rodgers was a complicated, sad and sometimes broken man, but out of his pain came "the sweetest sounds" audiences have ever heard in Broadway musicals.
That's the conclusion of an unvarnished "American Masters" documentary, "Richard Rodgers: The Sweetest Sounds," about his life and career, airing 9-11 PM (ET) Nov. 4. The title is pulled from a lyric he wrote for No Strings, a show he wrote words and music for following the death of his writing partner, Oscar Hammerstein II.
"The sweetest sounds I'll ever hear are still inside my head," the line goes.
Written by Laurence Maslon and directed and produced by Roger Sherman, the documentary offers insights from his daughters, Mary and Linda, who speak frankly about Rodgers' personal lapses, his depression and how his first love was his music.
"I don't think anyone really knew who he really was, perhaps with he exception of the five psychiatrists he saw," Mary Rodgers says in the program. "And I don't think they knew either. He was just locked up in there, grinding out beautiful songs." "There's some fundamental river of sadness in spite of the fact that so many of his shows tell you to 'buck up, it's going to be OK,'" conductor John Mauceri observes off the music.
Native New Yorker Rodgers' professional career, and how he changed the face of musical theatre first with Lorenz Hart and then with Hammerstein, is explored by historians and practitioners. Andrew Lloyd Webber and Trevor Nunn comment on his work, as well.
"If you take something like 'Do Re Mi,' it's basically all within an octave," says Andrew Lloyd Webber. "The simplicity of the thing is deceiving. It's the way he changes it, I mean that's the clever thing."
Among those making observations or performing in "The Sweetest Sounds" are jazz pianists Barbara Carroll and Billy Taylor, writer-historian Max Wilk, singers Mary Cleere Haran and Maureen McGovern, radio host and American song expert Jonathan Schwartz, and composer-pianist Richard Rodney Bennett.
Rodgers died in 1979. His last show, I Remember Mama, ran only four months. Every year, more than 4,000 productions of his works are produced around the world. He left behind Pal Joey, Babes in Arms, The Boys From Syracuse, On Your Toes, A Connecticut Yankee, Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I and The Sound of Music. At least once a week you are likely to hear a Rodgers waltz or ballad or uptempo in a mall, on the radio, in a club or on the elevator. His output included "My Funny Valentine," "Bewitched," "Where or When," "Blue Moon," "We Kiss in a Shadow," "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "My Favorite Things," "Some Enchanted Evening," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "I Enjoy Being a Girl," "Getting to Know You," "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Isn't It Romantic." It adds up to more than 900 songs for more than 70 shows, films or TV specials.
"If somebody wants to sing my songs after I'm gone," Rodgers once said, "nobody will be happier than my dead body."
Check local listings for channel and time in you area. For more information, check out PBS.org.
— By Kenneth Jones