Learning Scenarios from 75 Years of Rodgers and Hammerstein Musicals

SBO Staff • ChoralMilestonesNovember/December 2017 • December 1, 2017

By Dr. Keith Mason


The musicals of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II are still going strong many years after the legendary partners’ last collaboration in 1959. Together, the team created eleven works. Because Oklahoma! debuted on Broadway on March 31, 1943, 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first professional collaboration. Celebrate the pair’s anniversary with learning scenarios that highlight their eleven collaborations and expose music and performing arts students to two of the most illustrious musicians of the twentieth century. Indeed, in The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, Joseph E. Kett, and James Trefil, both Rodgers and Hammerstein are listed as individuals within the fine arts that culturally literate people should know about. Most importantly, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals are still relevant today because of their powerful messages, important themes, and incredible musicality.

Act I: The Works of Rodgers and Hammerstein

The collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II is considered one of the most successful in the history of musicals. The years of their collaboration, 1943-1959, were considered a key period within Broadway musical history. Their musicals represent the golden era of integrated musicals that other composers and lyricists emulated.

After their initial success with Oklahoma!, Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborated on ten more projects: they created nine stage musicals including Oklahoma!, one television musical Cinderella, and one movie musical State Fair. Of their eleven works, five are generally considered their “big five:” Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. These five were released as movies between 1955 and 1965. Flower Drum Song was also successful as both a stage production and movie musical. Three lesser known works, Allegro, Me and Juliet, and Pipe Dream were not as popular and were never adapted as films.

The following shows a chronology of their eleven musicals.

  • Oklahoma! (1943)
  • State Fair (1945) (film)
  • Carousel (1945)
  • Allegro (1947)
  • South Pacific (1949)
  • The King and I (1951)
  • Me and Juliet (1953)
  • Pipe Dream (1955)
  • Cinderella (1957) (TV special)
  • Flower Drum Song (1958)
  • The Sound of Music (1959)

A number of composers and lyricists emulated Rodgers and Hammerstein during this period, including Cole Porter, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, Jule Styne, Frank Loesser, E.Y. Harburg, and Harold Arlen.

The year 1945 was unique for Rodgers and Hammerstein; this was the one year during their 17-year collaboration in which two works were produced: the Broadway musical Carousel and the Hollywood film musical State Fair. Both of these had themes of going to the fair and entertained theatre and cinema goers alike.

There has been a continuous interest in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals as evidenced by revivals of their stage shows, popularity and sales of film musicals on home video, television adaptations, cast and soundtrack albums, sheet music sales, and the popularity of their songs as part of the Great American Songbook. With all the stage performances, home videos, recordings, and other available materials, teachers have a multitude of avenues for including Rodgers and Hammerstein’s works in the curriculum at all levels of instruction. New generations of students and audiences in general can readily enjoy what previous generations had seen on the Broadway stage, local stage, cinemas, and television.

When Rodgers wanted to create a musical based on Lynn Riggs’ Green Grow the Lilacs, his regular lyricist partner Lorenz Hart showed no interest. This led Rodgers to approach Oscar Hammerstein II. The result was the musical Oklahoma!, originally entitled Away We Go!

Rodgers and Hammerstein broke new ground with Oklahoma! and in many ways with Carousel as well. For example, the opening of Carousel had no overture. Instead, “The Carousel Waltz” served as an instrumental prologue during which we are introduced to the characters and relationships through mime. Carousel represents a sort of hybrid form by Rodgers and Hammerstein, a combination of musical play and opera as musical-comedy opera. Hammerstein wove together dialogue, song, and dance ever so carefully in his librettos. This had a positive influence on future generations of librettists.

The majority of songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein were components within their eleven scores. Very few songs were written that were not part of these eleven scores. The scores and their shows as a whole were the signature of the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership. When Rodgers worked with Lorenz Hart, the songs themselves, written with the intention of becoming radio hits, were the focus. The sidebars “Richard Rodgers” and “Oscar Hammerstein II” highlight the careers of these two legendary musicians.

“Climb Ev’ry Mountain” reprise from Broadway production of The Sound of Music

Act II: Rodgers and Hammerstein Learning Scenarios

Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborations can be taught collectively or separately. Activities and projects can be utilized at all levels of instruction and for all learning styles. The Multiple Intelligences can help fine tune tasks and can promote higher-level thinking and 21st century skills. Habits of Mind can also be used to frame student learning. These 16 dispositions help individuals including students solve life issues.  For example, Habit 1: Persisting can be illustrated by how the citizens of the Native American territory pushed for a new state as depicted in Oklahoma!

The National Arts Standards and 21st Century Standards can certainly be supported by activities outlined here. Differentiated instruction allows all students to be successful. Consider selecting nine of the learning scenarios and placing them on a Tic-Tac-Toe grid. Balance the scenarios so that students gain a varied breadth of coverage after completing three in a row. Because Rodgers and Hammerstein’s works can enhance any music or performing arts curriculum, teachers can work through a special unit and activities with students by analyzing the characters, librettos, films, plays, themes, and especially the musical scores. The “Rodgers and Hammerstein Interesting Facts” sidebar highlights some major career highs for the pair. The “Resources” sidebar provides a selection of helpful print materials, web sites, and a video to complete assignments and projects tied to Rodgers and Hammerstein.

The following learning scenarios serve as a guide for Rodgers and Hammerstein lessons with all eleven of their works represented. Interdisciplinary themes are found in some of the scenarios. A class of students collectively could explore many of the scenarios and share their final products with their classmates. Thus, everyone benefits from students’ efforts.

Rodgers and Hammerstein

What characterizes the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals? Consider their eleven collaborations, creative artists, casts, and especially their music. Use a combination of books and Internet sources in your analysis.

• Rodgers and Hammerstein and Musical Intelligence

The Multiple Intelligences include a category musical intelligence. Based on your research of what constitutes musical intelligence, explain in a detailed essay how both Rodgers and Hammerstein exhibited musical intelligence. Give specific examples of their compositions and lyrics to support your discussion.

• Broadway and Rodgers and Hammerstein

Research the Broadway musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Create a PowerPoint, collage with text, or video about these nine works including characters, settings, time period, songs, plot, and themes.

• Hollywood and Rodgers and Hammerstein

Which stage musicals were adapted to films? Which one was originally a film musical twice? Find out the behind the scenes story of each of the eight films. Create a single page summary for each of the eight films. Focus on cast, the filming process, differences in the films compared to the original stage version, and interesting facts to share with classmates in a class discussion or blog. Which three musicals were never adapted to film? What were the reviews like for each film adaptation?

• From Book To Stage or Screen

Nine of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals derive from fiction or non-fiction book sources. Identify the two that were original and the source for the remaining nine. Also consider the libretto of their stage musicals and the scripts for their musical films and TV special versions of Cinderella. Consider hit motion pictures and stage plays that are derived from book sources in your analysis.

• Great Performances

Students alone or in groups can learn one or more songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Vocal students can perform with or without accompaniment and instrumental soloists or ensembles can perform for class or in recitals or concerts. A 75th anniversary tribute can form part of or all of a public event. Consider vocal and instrumental music including overtures, entr’actes, background scoring, and exit music.

• Words, Words, Words

How are song lyrics in a selected Rodgers and Hammerstein musical used to develop the character? Which songs align to which characters? What do these say about the characters?

• Dancing

Which musical numbers in a specific Rodgers and Hammerstein feature dancing? What types of dances are found and what song tempos are associated with the various types of dances?

• Ballet

Consider the use of ballet within well-known musical theatre pieces similar to Carousel. Look at these ballets in the movie versions of the following: Oklahoma!, Kiss Me Kate, Carousel, The King and I, Babes in Arms, Flower Drum Song, and Can-Can. Who choreographed the original stage versions of these ballets? And the movie versions? Were any ballets cut for the movie version or added? Watch the dream ballet scene “Laurey Makes Up Her Mind” in the film version of Oklahoma!, a live performance, or the 1993 London production of Oklahoma! “Louise’s Ballet” from Carousel is also worth viewing. Write about the images you see, interpreting them within the context of the story. What song melodies are used during the dream ballets?

• Shall We Dance?

Agnes de Mille choreographed Oklahoma!, Carousel, and Allegro. Find out about her, a famous relative, and other works she did for the musical stage.

• Rodgers’ Waltzes

Richard Rodgers was famous for his waltzes. Research the history of the waltz and determine the waltzes found in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical scores. Pay particular attention to “The Carousel Waltz” from Carousel. What made this a unique way to open a musical play?

• Broadway Poet

The Lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II have been deemed some of the most masterful in the history of Broadway musical theatre. Select a few of Hammerstein’s songs for analysis. Present an overview that details the poetic aspects and meaning of lyrics especially within the context of the musicals.

• Getting to Know the Lesser Known Musicals

Choose one of the lesser known musicals, Allegro, Me and Juliet, or Pipe Dream. Study the storyline, source material if any, songs, setting, and themes. Comparatively, why do you believe that these three musicals were less popular than Rodgers and Hammerstein’s other eight musicals?

• The Foreign Language Connection

Several Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals have been translated into other languages. What are the titles of some of their works and what are their literal translations? Are some of their musicals more popular internationally and what are the reasons given? Students studying a specific language can analyze foreign language renditions of Rodgers and Hammerstein songs. How are the lyrics similar or different from the original English versions?

• Amusement Parks

The two 1945 Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals State Fair and Carousel feature amusement parks. Explore the history of amusement parks including the various amusements, foods, music, and locales within North America. Consider the songs in both musicals. Which songs occur at the amusement venues?

• Musicals and Visual Arts

A number of art projects can be inspired by Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals. Consider having students create drawings, paintings, murals, or other artifacts tied to themes and songs in their musicals.

• Biographical Musicals

Two musicals, The King and I and The Sound of Music, are autobiographical. Find out about the real-life people depicted in these two musicals. Are there any parallels between them?

• My Favorite Things

Interview a classmate by creating a series of 15 questions to ask him or her concerning personal preferences. Listen to the song “My Favorite Things from The Sound of Music and create a new version using your partner’s responses in your lyrics. Make sure the new lyrics fit the music. Perform the song for the class live or as a video.

• Cinderella

Find out about all three TV versions and the stage adaptations of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella. Different scripts, scores, and casts are noteworthy as you do your research. How does the main storyline compare to the Brothers Grimm version? What songs are used to develop the story and characters?

• Finale Ultimo

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s eleven musicals offer much to music educators and their students. The fact that their musical plays are still staged, their films continue to be viewed, and their songs are performed is a testimony to their key contribution to Broadway musicals. Integrating Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals into the music and performing arts curriculum can help students gain a deep understanding and appreciation for their works via learning scenarios to explore them.

Richard Rodgers

Richard Rodgers was born in New York on June 28, 1902. He knew that he wanted to be a composer from a young age. He attended Columbia University without completing a degree and the Julliard School. Rodgers partnered with lyricist Lorenz Hart and they contributed songs to 29 stage musicals including earlier musicals where their songs were interpolated with other musicians’ music. When Hart became less reliable as a collaborator and died in 1943, Rodgers teamed up with Oscar Hammerstein II until the latter’s death in 1960. Rodgers worked alone and with several collaborators including Stephen Sondheim, Martin Charmin, and Sheldon Harnick.. His later work was not revered as much as his work with Hart and Hammerstein. Rodgers wrote 900 songs, many of which were in his 43 Broadway musicals. Rodgers’ last musical was I Remember Mama. He died in New York on December 30, 1979.

Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Hammerstein II was born in New York on July 12, 1885. He originally was planning on being a lawyer. Influenced by his grandfather, impresario Oscar Hammerstein I, he became one of the most revered lyricists to ever write for Broadway. He worked with a few collaborators including Jerome Kern, Vincent Youmans, Rudolf Friml, Richard A. Whiting, and Sigmund Romberg. His partnership with Richard Rodgers created some of the most memorable musicals to ever be staged on Broadway. The team was known for their integrated musicals that included character development, contextualized songs, dance, strong messages, and dialogue to tell their stories. Hammerstein wrote the lyrics to 850 songs. His last musical was The Sound of Music. He died on August 23, 1960 in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Rodgers and Hammerstein Interesting Facts

  • In 1920, Rodgers and Hammerstein created their first song “Room for One More” for an amateur show at Columbia University. The team would not create anything together for another 23 years when they created Oklahoma!
  • Carousel was both Rodgers and Hammerstein’s favorite of all their shows. Many theatre experts consider Carousel Rodgers and Hammersein’s masterpiece and Time Magazine named Carousel the best stage musical of the 20th century. A New York revival will be staged in the winter of 2018.
  • Oklahoma! was the first Broadway musical to have a full length cast album.
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein established their own publishing house for their works known as Williamson Music. Both men had fathers whose first name was William. The name was William + son because they were both sons of men named William.
  • Marni Nixon dubbed the singing for Deborah Kerr in The King and I. She also sang for Natalie Wood in West Side Story and Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady. Nixon played Sister Sophia on screen in the film version of The Sound of Music.
  • Voice double Louanne Hogan was the 401st singer to audition to provide singing for Jeanne Crain in State Fair. She successfully recorded “It Might as Well Be Spring” in one take; the conductor Alfred Newman hugged her and the musicians took their bows and tapped their music stands with them. She ultimately was chosen to dub all of Crain’s songs.
  • “Edelweiss” from The Sound of Music was the last song that Hammerstein wrote lyrics for.
  • The 46th Street theater was renamed the Richard Rodgers Theater in 1990.
  • General Foods 25th Anniversary Show: A Salute to Rodgers and Hammerstein was broadcast on March 28, 1954 on all four major television networks of the time: DuMont, NBC, CBS, and ABC. The two-hour special featured original cast members performing songs from their first seven musicals.
  • A Grand Night for Singing is a Rodgers and Hammerstein musical revue first staged in New York in 1993.
  • Rodgers composed music for a television documentary entitled Victory at Sea, a 26-episode series.
  • Hammerstein won two Academy Awards for best song: in 1941 for “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and 1945 for “It Might as Well Be Spring.”
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein received Pulitzer Prizes for Oklahoma! and South Pacific.
  • Hammerstein won eight Tony Awards; six for lyrics or books and two as producer of South Pacific and The Sound of Music.
  • Rodgers won the four major entertainment awards: Emmy, Grammy, Tony, and Oscar.
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein won numerous awards. Collectively they garnered 34 Tony Awards, 15 Academy Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and two Grammy Awards.

Keith Mason, Ph.D. is based in New Providence, New Jersey. He received eight Rising Star Awards from the Paper Mill Playhouse for Educational Impact including one for Carousel. Dr. Mason has authored numerous articles about musicals and is currently writing a book Musicals across the Curriculum: Interdisciplinary Pathways to Learning.

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