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The Sound of His Music Never Stopper - Richard Rodgers Just Kept On Writing

We all know about Rodgers & Hammerstein, and Rodgers & Hart. But how about Rodgers & Sondheim? Or Rodgers & Harnick? Or for that matter, Rodgers & Rodgers?  

In October The Musical Theater Project will celebrate the great composer’s work during the years that followed Oscar Hammerstein’s death: from 1960 until Rodgers’s own passing in 1979 at the age of 77.                 

The Song Is You! concert and cabaret series will be presented by The Musical Theater Project on October 27 at Cleveland Institute of Music’s Mixon Hall is a survey in song documenting what Rodgers called the “last third” of his career. I’ll co-host it with Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization in New York City. Nancy Maier is our music director. The vocalists are Katherine DeBoer, Jared Leal, Lindsey Mitchell and Kevin David Thomas, and actor George Roth will offer Rodgers’s own testimony. 

 

 
Ted Chapin and Bill Rudman
Ted Chapin and Bill Rudman
Ted and I have been planning the event – titled “Rodgers Without Hart or Hammerstein” – for more than a year. We believe it’s the first time anyone has created a concert focusing on this period of Rodgers’s life, which was astonishingly productive. As Ted points out: “When Hammerstein died nine months after The Sound of Music opened on Broadway, Rodgers, then 58, certainly could have rested on his laurels. After all, by 1960 he had been writing for the theater for 40 years. But no retirement for this man!” 

 

In fact, there were five Broadway shows ahead of him, plus two films, a musical created for television, and lots more. He collaborated with two masterful lyricists – Stephen Sondheim and Sheldon Harnick – and two very good ones: Martin Charnin and himself.  Among the songs that came out of those later musicals are “The Sweetest Sounds,” “I Have Confidence,” “Something Good” and the glorious “Do I Hear a Waltz?” 

Our story is also one of personal courage. During his final years, Rodgers was weakened by a heart attack, two strokes and cancer of the larynx. But as Sheldon Harnick told us, he never stopped composing, and his “gallantry and wit never failed him.” In TMTP’s multi-media concert, Sheldon will be seen on video along with six other artists recently interviewed by me and my colleague Ken Bloom. All of them – including Tony Award-winning actor-singer John Cullum – worked with the composer, and their perspectives are fascinating. 

Ted and I have two goals for the concert: that you leave Mixon Hall feeling you know Rodgers the composer – and Rodgers the man – better than you did when you came in. Certainly no artist in the history of the American musical has been more dedicated to this art form. In his autobiography, Musical Stages, he recalls seeing his first musical at the age of seven: “I couldn’t eat my dinner or sleep that night. I had taken my first deep drink of the heady wine known as theater.” 

That passion, as you’ll learn in October, remained with Richard Rodgers until the very end of his life – and it is as inspiring to encounter as the hundreds of melodies he left us.

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