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World Honors Famous Composer Richard Rodgers - 2002-04-17

Centennial celebrations are under way across the globe to honor American composer Richard Rodgers. From New York to Tokyo, from Holland to Los Angeles, concerts and recordings, books and revivals are saluting the most acclaimed composer in the history of musical theater.

The name Richard Rodgers is synonymous with musical theater. With two collaborators, first Lorenz Hart, then Oscar Hammerstein, he created Broadway musicals and film scores for six decades, producing hit show after hit show filled with melodies that became household tunes.

His music had a profound influence on generations of actors, composers and musicians. Actress Julie Andrews fell in love with the music of Richard Rodgers long before she worked with him on the 1965 movie version of the most popular Rodgers and Hammerstein score, The Sound of Music.

"I think the first musical that I ever saw was South Pacific in London with Mary Martin. It absolutely transported me. It was wonderful. I realized then what power it has," Ms. Andrews said.

Andrew Lloyd Webber perhaps the best-known musical composer in the world today sums up Richard Rodgers' influence on his career in one word.

"One comment, one word: 'totally.' My father was the director of the London College of Music. He played me Some Enchanted Evening when I was about five. He told me 'if you ever write anything like that' because I was always trying to write. Well, I never have," Mr. Webber said.

What rare quality made the music of Richard Rodgers so popular with audiences and musicians alike? For Andrew Lloyd Webber the answer is melody. "I think he is the greatest melodist that ever, ever was. I just loved Rodgers' complete gift for producing melody as if out of the ether," he said.

Julie Andrews suggests Richard Rodgers' greatness stemmed from a combination of beauty, intellect and simplicity. "It was not just simple music. It was extremely heady at times. But if you think about just the waltzes alone, probably next to Johan Strauss, I think Rodgers waltz will be forever with us," Ms. Andrews said.

More than 4,000 professional and amateur productions of Richard Rodgers' shows are produced every year. The number will increase greatly for the centennial year with three revivals on Broadway, at least that many in London, and thousands more elsewhere. Hundreds of concerts are under way, many by symphony orchestras, in New York, Boston, Hollywood, Dallas, Washington, Copenhagen, Dublin, Glasgow, Hong Kong, Vienna. But long after the centennial celebration is over, the music will live on.