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RICHARD RODGERS, TWO BY TWO
"Rodgers and Hart ... Rodgers and Hammerstein... Rodgers and Rodgers... The common denominator is a man with a passion to create, and a genius for bringing large dreams to fulfillment"
Thus David Ewen writes of Richard Rodgers' "two by two" collaborations and his rich and full lifetime of commitment to turning heartfelt melody to high dramatic purpose. While the above quoted review of his successive collaborations might lend this gifted composer a corporate rather than unique image, there is a very special appropriateness to describing his work in those terms. He has in fact spent legendary collective identities, never serving himself alone but acting as the melodic alter ego for the imagination of writers of theatrical prose. Richard Rodgers has been the good provider of poetic feeling on the musical stage, raising the reach and the scale of mere words with his outpouring of song.
His work with sardonic and sassy Lorenz Hart was a collaboration which consistently tested the ideal of integrating the various elements of American musical comedy from the mid-20's through the early 40's. The impudent review numbers of Garrick Gaities were custom made for the tastes of the Gatsby Era, but from the blending of ballet and book in On Your Toes in 1936 through their final full-time work together on the cynical classic Pal Joey (which delighted Music Theatre '73 audiences) the Rodgers - Hart unit conducted an intensive, hand-in-glove exploration of all the urbane and sophisticated tools of the form.
But even before Hart's untimely death in 1943, that rewarding relationship began to wear thin. It seemed then that Rodgers' humane, even noble musical sentiments were struggling against the grain of the ingrown misanthropy of the Hart lyrics. Not surprisingly, the rustic "folk" operetta of the American West (Oklahoma, 1943) held no interest for the exhausted Hart and so with Oscar Hammerstein II, Rodgers undertook a fresh series of more ambitious and affirmative musical plays. Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific and The King and I are outstanding results of their works.
The "team" of Rodgers and Rodgers (No Strings, 1960) was necessitated by the passing of Oscar Hammerstein 11 in that same year. The summary of Rodgers' collaborative ventures can now be updated to include also Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim (in Do I Hear a Waltz?).
And to bring matters right up to tonight's performance, there is the monumental matching of Rodgers and lyricist Martin Channin and librettist Peter Stone, of course, but also a host of combined force-Theatrical, cosmic, and Biblical-reaching all the way back to the Book of Genesis. The late Philadelphia-born playwright Clifford Odets-who used to be an Oak Lane neighbor of Music Theatre at 1721 Sixty Eighth Avenue-cherished the dream of translating the Old Testament tale of Noah and his family into an opera with music to be supplied by Aaron Copeland. He settled instead for a non-musical rendering called The Flowering Peach in 1954. It lost a split decision for the Pulitzer Prize to Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot Tin Roof that season. His work then had to wait until 1970 for rebirth with the sweep and majesty of a Richard Rodgers' score. It is as though nothing less than this whimsical yet stirring retelling of The Flood, the Ark, of the destruction and eventual reclamation of the human race could once again inspire the soaring support and eloquent music of that master of collaborators. In Two by Two, Richard Rodgers once again is "bringing large dreams to fulfillment."
Theatre and Performance Studies
La Salle College, "Two By Two" (1974). La Salle College Summer Music Theatre. 23.