Saturday, July 11, 2015

Happy Birthday, Oscar Hammerstein II

Oscar Hammerstein II in college
Oscar Hammerstein II was born in New York City on July 12, 1895, to a family who worked in theater. His father, William, managed a vaudeville theater, while his grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein I, was a famed opera impresario. 

In 1920, he collaborated with a Columbia undergrad named Richard Rodgers in writing a Varsity Show called Fly with Me. Not long after, Hammerstein dropped out of grad school at Columbia to concentrate his efforts entirely on musical theater. While writing Rose Marie with Otto Harbach, Hammerstein met Jerome Kern. In 1925 the duo teamed up to write Show Boat. The successful musical put Hammerstein on the map as a writer and lyricist. Kern and Hammerstein went on to write a total of eight musicals together.

Kelli O'Hara and Paulo Szot perform "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific:

He  eventually dissolved his partnership with Jerome Kern to partner up exclusively with that former Columbia undergrad, Richard Rodgers. The Rodgers and Hammerstein team quickly produced a smash hit: In 1943, their first Broadway musical together, Oklahoma!, won a Pulitzer Prize.

In 1950 the duo scored a second Pulitzer with the musical South Pacific. The 1950s and early 1960s produced a string of Tony-winning works for the team, including The King and I (1951) and The Sound of Music (1960).

Sir Thomas Allen sings Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Oh, what a beautiful morning!' from 'Oklahoma' at the Last Night of the Proms 2004.

Lucas Meachem sings "Soliloquy" from Carousel

A number of great songs that have been performed by baritones and bass-baritones were penned by Hammerstein including, A Fellow Needs A Girl (Allegro), Do I Love You Because You're Beautiful? (Cinderella), Edelweiss (The Sound Of Music), I Have Dreamed (The King And I), If I Loved You (Carousel), Lonely Room (Oklahoma!), Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin' (Oklahoma!), Soliloquy (Carousel), Some Enchanted Evening (South Pacific), Ten Minutes Ago (Cinderella), The Highest Judge Of All (Carousel), The Surrey With The Fringe On Top (Oklahoma!), This Nearly Was Mine (South Pacific) and You Are Never Away (Allegro).

While still in his professional prime, Oscar Hammerstein II lost his battle with stomach cancer on August 23, 1960. He died at his house in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. In Hammerstein's memory the lights on Broadway were turned off at 9 pm that September 1. 

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