Efforts are underway to raise money towards establishing a museum and theatre education center at Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, where Broadway titan Oscar Hammerstein II spent the final 20 years of his life. The Oscar Hammerstein Museum and Theatre Education Center (OHMTEC) looks to honor Hammerstein's legacies as a playwright, lyricist, mentor, and social activist.
The Show Boat and Oklahoma! writer bought the farm in 1940, just as he was beginning his landmark collaboration with composer Richard Rodgers, as a quiet place to work outside of Manhattan. The property would become Hammerstein's creative epicenter and is where he wrote quintessential Broadway lyrics for "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "Edelweiss."
Highland Farm is also the site where fellow theatrical legend Stephen Sondheim became Hammerstein's protégé. The composer-lyricist became acquainted with the Hammerstein family after Sondheim's mother moved them to an estate near the Hammersteins' farm, after which he became a frequent guest and friend to Hammerstein's son, Jimmy. The elder Hammerstein would ultimately take Sondheim under his wing, teaching him many of the basics of constructing musicals and advising him on his early career choices, including signing on to contribute lyrics to West Side Story despite Sondheim's reluctance to work on a project that wouldn't see him composing music.
The plans will build on OHMTEC's existing work, which includes last year's inaugural Hammerstein International Youth Solo Contest. Attracting 238 performers from 28 states and two countries, the contest looks to educate the next generation of musical theatre artists about Hammerstein's influence on the development of the modern musical. The nonprofit's honorary advisory board includes Oklahoma! and Carousel film actor Shirley Jones, former Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization head Ted Chapin, Melinda Mathias Walsh, Mariel Hemingway, Gerald Charles Dickens, Morten Lauridsen, Justin Guarini, Kassie Mundhenk, and Jonathan Groff.
With $1.5 million already raised via fundraising and a $500,000 matching grant from the state of Pennsylvania, the nonprofit is looking to raise an additional $1 million. Chapin will host a gala fundraiser starring Christy Altomare, Derek Klena, and Guarini July 11, with tickets available to the general public April 30.