The Playbill Vault Remembers Tony Award Winner Richard Rodgers

News   The Playbill Vault Remembers Tony Award Winner Richard Rodgers
Richard Rodgers, the legendary composer best known for his collaborations with lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, was born on this date in 1902. The Playbill Vault looks back at his contributions to the Broadway stage.

Oklahoma! marked the first collaboration between songwriting team Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical made its Broadway premiere March 31, 1943, at the St. James Theatre. Directed by Rouben Mamoulian and choreographed by Agnes de Mille, the cast included Alfred Drake as Curly, Joan Roberts as Laurey, Celeste Holm as Ado Annie and Howard Da Silva as Jud Fry.

The show received a glowing review from the New York Times' Lewis Nichols, who sang praises of its "fresh and infectious gayety, a charm of manner, beautiful acting, singing and dancing, and a score by Richard Rodgers which doesn't do any harm either, since it is one of his best."

Oklahoma! ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances and remained the longest-running Broadway musical in history until 1956's My Fair Lady.

Read the Oklahoma! Playbill here.

Rodgers and Hammerstein followed up Oklahoma! with Carousel, a musical adaptation of Ferenc Molnár's play Liliom. The production opened at the Majestic Theatre April 19, 1945, starring John Raitt as Billy Bigelow and Jan Clayton as Julie Jordan.

The show was well-received by critics and would prove to be another success for the dynamic writing duo. The New York Times' Lewis Nichols thought the show was "delightful" and wrote: "Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who can do no wrong, have continued doing no wrong in adapting Liliom into a musical play."

Carousel went on to play 890 performances before closing May 24, 1947. It was most recently revived on Broadway in 1994 with a cast that included Michael Hayden, Sally Murphy and Audra McDonald.

Click here to read a 1945 Playbill from the original run of Carousel.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's widely anticipated South Pacific opened at the Majestic Theatre April 7, 1949. The production starred Mary Martin as Nellie Forbush, Ezio Pinza as Emile De Becque, Juanita Hall as Bloody Mary and Myron McCormick as Luther Billis.

The musical was loved by both critics and audiences. The New York Times' Brooks Atkinson described the work as "rhapsodically enjoyable" and proclaimed Rodgers and Hammerstein "the most gifted men in the business."

South Pacific won all 10 of its Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, and also received the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. It was most recently seen on Broadway in an acclaimed 2008 revival starring Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot.

Read the South Pacific Playbill here.

The next Rodgers and Hammerstein musical to hit Broadway was The King and I, starring Gertrude Lawrence as Anna Leonowens and Yul Brynner as the King of Siam. The production opened March 29, 1951, at the St. James Theatre, where it ran for 1,246 performances.

Once again, Rodgers and Hammerstein's work enjoyed a warm reception. In his review for the New York Times, Brooks Atkinson called it "a skillfully written musical drama with a well-designed libretto, a rich score, a memorable performance, and a magnificent production."

The King and I won five Tonys, including awards for leads Lawrence and Brynner and one for Best Musical. It has seen three Broadway revivals, the most recent being a 1996 production with Donna Murphy and Lou Diamond Phillips.

Read the The King and I Playbill here.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic The Sound of Music premiered at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre Nov. 16, 1959. Mary Martin starred as Maria opposite Theodore Bikel as Captain Georg von Trapp.

The production won five of its nine Tony Award nominations and tied with Fiorello! for Best Musical. It ran for 1,443 performances and would prove to be the final musical written by the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein; Hammerstein died in 1960 after a battle with cancer.

In 1965, The Sound of Music was adapted into a movie musical starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

Read the The Sound of Music Playbill here.

Click here to explore Richard Rodgers' theatrical history in the Vault.

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