With Richard Rodgers composing the music and Oscar Hammerstein II writing the words, Rodgers and Hammerstein became perhaps the most successful writing team in the history of musical theatre. Through a series of groundbreaking shows throughout the 1940’s and 1950’s, they changed the face of the American theatre.
Richard Rodgers (1902–1979), achieved fame through twenty years of writing songs, from the 1920’s through the early 1940’s, with lyricist Lorenz Hart. Together they wrote more than 40 light-hearted, sophisticated musical comedies, including On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse, I Married an Angel and Pal Joey.
At the same time, Oscar Hammerstein II (1895–1960) became famed for his work writing the words for operettas, or “light opera” which had its roots in 19th century Europe. He collaborated with a number of composers, including Rudolf Friml and Sigmund Romberg. The shows he wrote include The Desert Song, Rose-Marie and The New Moon. He tackled many challenging issues in his work, including racial issues. Show Boat, written in 1927 with Jerome Kern, and Carmen Jones, was an all-black revisiting of Georges Bizet’s tragic opera Carmen.
Rodgers and Hammerstein first collaborated in 1943 on Oklahoma!, a show that is widely considered to be the first true musical play, combining elements of musical comedy and operetta to create a more integrated, dramatic musical form than had been seen before. Their subsequent works include Carousel, Allegro, SOUTH PACIFIC, The King and I, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream, Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music.
They also wrote the movie musical, State Fair, and for television, Cinderella. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals won many honours, including a total of 35 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, 2 Grammy Awards and 2 Emmy Awards.
Oscar Hammerstein II died in 1960, but Rodgers continued to write for the Broadway stage. No Strings, the first show he wrote without a partner, won Tony Awards for both music and lyrics. He followed it with Do I Hear a Waltz?, Two by Two, Rex and I Remember Mama, which opened on Broadway in 1979, only a few months before Rodgers died.