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NYC Museum Pays Tribute to Broadway Composer Richard Rodgers - 2002-07-15

The Broadway composer, Richard Rodgers, was born in 1902 and died in 1979, but his musical legend lives on. The Museum of the City of New York is paying tribute to his musical legacy and recalling Rodgers' international reputation, as well as recognizing his penchant for being ahead of the times.

Musical theatre enthusiasts this year are celebrating the centennial of Richard Rodgers' birth with everything from television programs, to radio specials, to revivals of his shows and concerts. The Museum of the City of New York is also taking part in the festivities with an exhibition entitled Richard Rodgers' Broadway. The show spans the composer's prolific career of over 900 published songs and 41 Broadway musicals.

Curator for the exhibit Marty Jacobs says everyone knows Rodgers for his familiar tunes, from musicals such as The Sound of Music, South Pacific, and The King and I, but he should also be remembered as a man who broke new ground in musical theatre in shows like No Strings.

"No Strings, which starred Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley, was about a white man and an African-American girl who meet in Paris and fall in love," Mr. Jacobs said, "and this was a subject way before its time. And the show was a hit on Broadway."

Richard Rodgers is synonymous with Broadway. His collaborations, first with lyricist Lorenz Hart and then with Oscar Hammerstein, along with his own works following Hammerstein's death in 1960, resulted in some of the hottest, award-winning shows around.

The composer won prestigious awards for the King and I, South Pacific, and Carousel, and the music for the film State Fair, won an Oscar. State Fair was later turned into a musical. And Mr. Jacobs says the film version of The Sound of Music was one of the highest grossing films in history.

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma has been referred to as the classic American musical. But it has also wowed international audiences. Oklahoma, which debuted on Broadway in 1943, is back on Broadway, after an award-winning revival in London.

Mr. Jacobs says Rodgers fares well abroad because the music is catchy, easy to remember, and fun to sing. "His international appeal was in the music," he said. "In those days when he was writing, lyrical music was what everybody wrote and wanted to listen to so they could remember it, whistle it, and sing it. Today the music is not lyrical, and you cannot understand the lyrics."

Mr. Jacobs says Rodgers changed the world of musical theatre by using music to further the plot. This, he says, began with Oklahoma, and has had tremendous influence on composers and lyricists everywhere.