Outline characteristics of musicals composed by Rodgers and Hammerstein

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Outline characteristics of musicals by Rodgers and Hammerstein

Between 1943 and 1993, Rodgers and Hammerstein composed 12 musicals; they created a string of popular Broadway musicals in the 1940s and 1950s, initiating what is considered the "golden age" of musical theatre. Their musical theatre writing partnership has been called the greatest of the 20th century.

It was their first musical, ‘Oklahoma!’ written in 1943 that made it clear that the era of the Broadway Musical was finished and new one had begun; this is known as the Exploration and Expansion Era. It was the revolutionary opening of ‘Oklahoma!’ that did this as, unlike its predecessors, this musical opened with the solo voice of the protagonist, Curley with the first verse of the opening number, ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ sung off stage. This replaced the popular opening chorus number which usually opened any musical. In fact, the first chorus number isn’t presented until the second act!

The opening of their second work, ‘Carousel’ in 1945 was also atypical as the music from the rest of the show is based on the overture, ‘The Carousel Waltz’ instead of the typical prologue in which, music from the show builds the overture. ‘The Carousel Waltz’ establishes the musical style for the whole of the production as the ‘oom-pah-pah’ bassline is perfect for the carnival setting and features complex rhythms, chromaticism, and modality to represent the complexity of the characters and their relationships. This, plus the use of musical continuity, makes this musical extremely integrated.

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Rodgers and Hammerstein were seen somewhat as pioneers in the integration within musicals as ‘Oklahoma!’ was seen as the most integrated musical of its time; despite only having 12 musical numbers within the entire show. This is because numbers were reprised and developed to show character and theme links. In the second act of ‘Oklahoma!’, Laurey sings a part of Curley’s opening number, ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ to show her connection with him. Word painting also integrated music into the plot of ‘Oklahoma!’ and can be seen when Curley sings, ‘right up to the sky’ with a rising accompaniment. ...

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