Book Review: Rodgers and Hammerstein: Getting To Know Them

Publication date:  April 2018

Review, short version:  Four roses out of four.

Review, long version:

You may have seen the commercial with a woman in a series of vignettes:

  • Riding a motorcycle
  • Surfing
  • Taking selfies with friends
  • Driving an ATV

Commercial print screen

If you’ve seen the commercial you may have noticed its catchy theme song:King-poster

Getting to know you,
Getting to know all about you.
Getting to like you,
Getting to hope you like me.

I find this so interesting:  The juxtaposition of the oh-so-contemporary idea of 23andMe testing your DNA, and a song that’s almost 70 years old.

That’s right – almost 70 years.

The song, Getting to Know You, was first publicly heard in the Broadway hit show The King and I, with music and lyrics by the brilliant team of Rodgers (music) and book_01Hammerstein (lyrics).

That team is profiled in Todd Purdum’s book, Something Wonderful, and Purdum’s book is something wonderful, indeed.

Oscar Hammerstein II (born 1895) and Richard Rodgers (born 1902) became writing partners in 1942.  Prior to that, they’d both had successful careers in musical theater with other partners, including Hammerstein writing with Jerome Kern, and Rodgers partnering with Lorenz Hart.

But it was when Rodgers and Hammerstein teamed up that their greatest musical magic happened:

Oklahoma! Broadway – 1943 Movie – 1955
Carousel Broadway – 1945 Movie – 1956
South Pacific Broadway – 1949 Movie – 1958
The King and I Broadway – 1951 Movie – 1956
Cinderella Television – 1957 Broadway – 2013
The Sound of Music Broadway – 1959 Movie – 1965

In between these masterpieces, Purdum notes, there were failures, as well.  Sometimes creative people put their hearts and souls and selves into their work and still…it just doesn’t click with the audience.  Those efforts are labeled – by the naysayers, at least – as “failures.”  sound oThe inspiring part is that Rodgers and Hammerstein knew the lows as well as the highs, but even as their “failures” were closing on Broadway, they were at work on their next success.

Something Wonderful is a highly readable accounting of an amazing relationship during and after World War II, and their shows were very much a part of their time.  The partnership brought thousands of hours of pleasure and memories to millions of people on the stage, the movie screen, and on a new medium called “television.”

And yes, that was a long time ago.cinderella (1)

But don’t make the mistake of thinking Rodgers and Hammerstein’s creations are in any way passé.  In a reverse of the norm, the written-for-TV Cinderella broadcast in 1957, and opened on Broadway in 2013.

And as Purdum writes, “On a single spring evening in 2014, in the United States alone, there were 11 productions of Carousel, 17 of The King and I, 26 of South Pacific, 64 of Oklahoma!, and 106 of The Sound of Music.”

So do something wonderful for yourself:  Read the book.  Then check your community and larger theaters for Rodgers and Hammerstein shows.  Rent/download/stream the movies.

musical-notesDon’t be surprised if you find yourself humming along to some of the songs.  You’ve heard them – like in the 23andMe commercial.  Maybe you just didn’t know it until now.

And as for that commercial with their music and lyrics alive and well, almost 70 years later?

I suspect that Rodgers and Hammerstein would think that was…

Something wonderful.

Richard Rodgers (left) and Oscar Hammerstein.

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