Hum along with Purdue Orchestra at Richard Rodgers Centennial
Known for writing tunes you could leave the theater humming, Richard Rodgers, with his partner Oscar Hammerstein, wrote some of the great Broadway music of all time. On Sunday, Oct. 13, Purdue Symphony conductor Jay S. Gephart fully expects the Long Center audience to be humming along with a hit parade of songs from Oklahoma!, The Sound of Music, South Pacific and other Broadway blockbusters at the “Richard Rodgers Centennial Celebration.”
University Choir from Purdue Musical Organizations, and two guest soloists join the symphony for the 2:30 p.m. Oct. 13 concert at the Long Center, 111 N. Sixth St. General admission tickets are $6 at the door or in advance from the Purdue box offices, 494-3933.
Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Richard Rodgers birth seemed like a natural for Gephart who, like generations of students, participated in several Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals in high school. “I know this music inside out,” he admits. “I sing along at every rehearsal. I just sing the words and hum along.”
Richard Rodgers, he says, “is one of America’s icons. His music represents everything that’s good about this country.” That kind of familiarity made doing an entire show of Richard Rodgers hits – including several from his partnership with Lorenz Hart – an easy choice when PMO director Jonathan Swoboda approached Gephart in the summer of 2002 about doing a joint performance.
Two guest soloists – mezzo soprano Katherine Burke from the Purdue Theatre faculty and tenor Dan Andersen, choral director at Center Grove Middle School in Greenwood- were invited to join in the centennial celebration.
Perhaps the biggest challenge lay in picking from the vast number of hummable Rodgers songs, Gephart says. “The challenge became whittling the list down to what would be a really good program. We took the whole list and picked our favorite things – things the community would enjoy, songs from shows they’ve seen on stage or at the movies.”
Concert-goers will hear two sides of Rodgers. They’ll hear the composer who wrote more complex music with Lorenz Hart in the 1930s, as well as the Rodgers who combined in a more fundamental, down-to-earth way with Hammerstein to create the most successful partnership in the history of musical theater.
“As we got into the music, we realized Rodgers writing style was different when he collaborated with Hammerstein, rather than Hart,” Gephart says. Writing with Hart, Rodgers music was more thickly scored, the harmonies more complex. In the musicals he wrote in the 1930s with Hart – Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse, Pal Joey – songs often had more importance than the story.
Historically, what set the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein apart during their long partnership, was the intricate way they wove the music into the plot line. Beginning with Oklahoma!, which opened in New York City on March 31, 1943, the musical no longer came to a halt for a song that had limited connection to the plot. Instead, under Rodgers and Hammerstein, the song advanced the plot and delineated the characters in a way the Broadway stage had never seen before.
With Hammerstein, Rodgers used “a more traditional, classical style of writing,” says Gephart. “The harmonies and beautiful melodies in his Broadway music captivated audiences. People related to the music and it drew you into the story.”
Rodgers’ earlier compositional style will be represented by tunes like “Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered” and “With a Song in My Heart,” both sung by Burke. “She has a wonderful voice that’s perfect for this music,” Gephart says.
Among the many selections from his collaboration with Hammerstein are “Climb Every Mountain” and “The Sound of Music” from The Sound of Music; “There is Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific, “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Carousel; and “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “Oklahoma!” from Oklahoma!.
The “Richard Rodgers Centennial Celebration” is sponsored by Purdue University Bands. For more information on this and other Purdue jazz, concert band and orchestra events call (765) 496-6785.