Julie Andrews

  • Rodgers and Hammerstein and Australia

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    When legendary musical theatre duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated on shows, they would generally consult with each other in person, but in 1956, when Hammerstein was in Australia, they discussed plans for a new commission via the post. As TED CHAPIN discovers, these letters provide a valuable insight into the creative process.

    When I cameto Melbourne in spring 2018, I stayed at the Hotel Windsor.  I brought with me photocopies of a historically important series of letters, half of which were written on the hotel’s stationary. I wanted the storied old hotel to have copies for their archive.

    For forty years I ran the New York office of Rodgers and Hammerstein. Part of my learning curve was diving into the history of the partnership, the shows, how they were put together, what material was discarded along the way, and reading whatever correspondence there was. As far as I could tell—confirmed by scholars and authors of books on the musical theatre—there was only one time during the extraordinarily successful sixteen-year collaboration when the two men were not in or around New York. That was in November 1956. Two months earlier CBS Television had announced a commission for an original version of Cinderella to be broadcast live the following March. That left seven months in which the team would write, cast (except for the lead, Julie Andrews, who was part of the deal from the beginning), set, costume, choreograph, and orchestrate what amounted to a new Rodgers and Hammerstein musical! While Rodgers was in New York, Hammerstein was in Australia, attending the summer Olympics and horse races with his Tasmanian-born wife Dorothy. The Cinderella pressure was on, so work had to continue. The two men corresponded. The letters are revealing—every time I look at them, I see something new. In some ways they are simply tossing around the kind of ideas they usually discussed in person, but sometimes it almost seems like they don’t know each other. Cautious, deferential, polite.

    They focus on the love ballad “Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful?” Hammerstein begins with “I have been brooding over the line ‘Am I making believe’, etc… ‘Making believe’ (outside of the fact that I cashed in on that phrase some years ago) seems an unimportant expression in this connection. How about this? ‘Am I telling my heart I see in you A girl too lovely to be really true?’ Let me know what you think.”

    To which Rodgers responded: ‘I have no particular qualms about using the line “Am I making believe, etc.?” It occurs to me that this is simply part of the language and is not connected to you any more than it is with dozens of other authors. I am not devoted to the line ‘A girl too lovely to be really true,’ for the simple reason I am not devoted to splitting infinitives.”

    Hammerstein responded: “I even considered asking you to eliminate the two notes and substitute one long one thus: ‘A girl too lovely to be true’ but feared it was less interesting musically.”

    And Hammerstein has an idea about the harmony of the song and questions whether it would be “musically ungrammatical to start with minor and finish with major,” which is his new idea.

    Rodgers: “There is absolutely nothing ungrammatical about ending in major when you start in minor. It is quite conventional and extraordinarily effective.”

    Reading the letters, you feel like a fly on the wall. Such a fascinating view into what clearly made the collaboration work. No holds barred, opinions stated clearly. Most important in the letters is what both men agree on completely. Hammerstein: “I’m forgetting a lot of things I meant to discuss, but…I’m getting ready for that fast trot back to the stable, the familiar stall, and the home-cooked oats.” To which Rodgers responds: “Once you and I sit down in a room and discuss these matters of syllables and notes there isn’t the remotest possibility of disagreement. Please enjoy yourself up to the last possible moment.”

    That is why the collaboration lasted for sixteen extraordinary, successful, and productive years. In one letter Hammerstein describes having seen the film of The King and I at a charity showing in Melbourne. “I am convinced that this is our best work. I have a kind of humble feeling of not knowing how we did it. It has more wisdom as well as heart as any other musical play by anybody.” 

    Pretty amazing … and that is why we and history are the beneficiaries of the Hotel Windsor and Oscar Hammerstein’s 1956 visit to Melbourne!


    Cinderella 1965From a 1965 promotional flyer for Cinderella. Frank Van Straten collection.


    Endnotes by Elisabeth Kumm
    Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella premiered on the CBS television network in the USA in March 1957, with Julie Andrews in the title role and Jon Cypher as the Prince. Other roles were performed by Howard Lindsay and Dorothy Stickney as the King and Queen, Edith Adams as the Fairy Godmother, with Ilka Chase as the Stepmother, and Kaye Ballard and Alice Ghostley as the Stepsisters, Portia and Joy. The production was broadcast live in colour and although that recording does not exist, a B&W kinescope was produced.
    The score included ten original songs. Cinderella had one solo, ‘In My Own Little Corner’ and a duet with the Fairy Godmother, ‘Impossible/It’s Possible’. She also sang ‘When You’re Driving Through the Moonlight’ and ‘A Lovely Night’ with her Stepmother and Stepsisters. The Prince and Cinderella had three duets, ‘Ten Minutes Ago’, ‘Waltz for a Ball’ and ‘Do I Love You Because You’re Beautiful’. The King and Queen had ‘Your Majesties’; the Stepsisters sang the ‘Stepsisters’ Lament’; and the Town Crier and the Townspeople opened with ‘The Prince is Giving a Ball’.
    The following year, 1958, theatre impresario Harold Fielding obtained the stage rights and produced Cinderella at the Coliseum Theatre in London. Unlike the TV version, this new version, though retaining the R&H songs, was more akin to a traditional British pantomime. Revised by Ronnie Wolfe, it was presented in two acts rather than the original three. Pop idol Tommy Steele, in the new character of Buttons, shared top billing with Jimmy Edwards, who played the King. The title role was played by Yana, with Bruce Trent as the Prince. The stepsisters, Portia and Joy, were played in traditional panto-style by Kenneth Williams and Ted Durante. Other roles included Enid Lowe as the Queen, Betty Marsden as the Fairy Godmother, and Godfrey James as Dandini. The score was augmented with three songs from Me and Juliet (a Rodgers and Hammerstein show that had not been seen in London), ‘A Very Special Day’, ‘Marriage Type Love’ and ‘No Other Love’. Buttons and the King also had a new duet, ‘You and Me’, written by Tommy Steele in the style of Flanagan and Allen. With lavish sets and costumes by Australian-designer Loudon Sainthill, it was directed by another Australian, the flamboyant Freddie Carpenter, with choreography by Tommy Linden.
    At Christmas 1965 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella was staged in Australia for the first time under the joint direction of J.C. Williamson Ltd. and Noel Ferrier Productions. Advertised as the R&H production, it was really a revised version of the London production. It included all the original R&H songs, though the song ‘Your Majesties’ (sung in the dressing room scene by the King and Queen) was renamed ‘What’s for the Banquet?’. The characters of Buttons and Dandini were absent, and only one of Button’s four songs remained, ‘This is a Very Special Day’, which was now sung by the Prince. In addition, there were three new songs. The Stepsisters sang ‘Ladies in Waiting’ (origin unknown) and they joined the King and the Court in ‘Keep it Gay’ (from Me and Juliet). The Prince had another number, ‘Boys and Girls’ (originally composed for Oklahoma!, but cut during tryouts). And the program lists two other numbers, ‘Animals at Play’ (origin unknown) and ‘The Other Generation’ (taken from Flower Drum Song), performed by various ‘new’ characters including Master Kim, Lord Oberon and Lady Titania.
    Cinderella was performed in Sydney only at the Theatre Royal and did not tour. The principal characters were: Roslyn Dunbar (Cinderella), Dig Richards (Prince Christopher), Anthony Bazell (King Maximillian), Thelma Scott (Queen Constantina), Gwenn Plumb (Portia), John Meillon (Joy), and Alwyn Leckie (Fairy Godmother). Sets and costumes were by Susan Ferrier, with direction and choreography by George Carden.
    The subsequent 2013 Broadway version of Cinderella (with a new libretto by Douglas Carter Beane) was given its Australian premiere in a co-production by John Frost and Opera Australia at Melbourne’s Regent Theatre from 20 May 2022, with seasons following at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane from 5 August, and the Sydney Lyric Theatre from 23 October. The cast featured Todd McKenney as the Lord Chancellor (played by Nicholas Hammond in Brisbane and Sydney), with Shubshri Kandiah as Ella (Cinderella) and Ainsley Melham as Prince Topher. In addition to all the original 1957 songs, several new numbers were added including ‘Me, Who Am I?’ (Prince and others) (written for Me and Juliet, but cut during previews), ‘Now is the Time’ (Jean-Michel) (intended for South Pacific), and ‘The Pursuit’ (Prince and others) and ‘There’s Music in You’ (Marie) (from the 1953 movie Main Street to Broadway).


    The 1957 B&W kinescope of Cinderella may be viewed in full via YouTube:

    Additional image credit

    Banner designed by Judy Leech. Image of Windsor Hotel, State Library Victoria, Melbourne; other images, CastAlbums.org