Rodgers & HammersteinDid you know? In SOUTH PACIFIC, Joe Cable sings "Younger Than Springtime"" to Liat, his partner in an unexpected romance. Rodgers & Hammerstein made no fewer than three prior attempts at writing this number. The third try, ""Suddenly Lucky,"" contained the lyrics ""Suddenly lucky / Suddenly to be together, / Suddenly owning / Happiness no gold can buy."" Although cut from SOUTH PACIFIC, Richard Rodgers was able to rescue the melody for THE KING AND I, where it became the iconic song ""Getting to Know You."""Did you know? The origins of OKLAHOMA! go back to poet, playwright and Oklahoma native Lynn Riggs (1899-1954). Riggs wrote Green Grow the Lilacs while on a Guggenheim Fellowship in France in 1928-29. The title of Riggs? play comes from a folk song of the same name. Folk songs, ballads and dances were all performed as part of GREEN GROW THE LILACS, which was first produced on Broadway in 1931. Rodgers & Hammerstein were then inspired to turn GREEN GROW THE LILACS into a new type of musical play ? what became their first hit OKLAHOMA!In Rodgers & Hammerstein's ALLEGRO, the original version of the song "What A Lovely Day for a Wedding"" was structured as a pantoum, an Indian form of lyric in which whole lines are repeated, rather than rhymed. This is one of many ways in which ALLEGRO was experimentalDid you know? After Hammerstein passed away, Rodgers needed a new writing partner. For the first time in his career, he turned to himself for words. In 1962, Rodgers crafted new songs for the re-make of STATE FAIR and wrote both music and lyrics for the musical NO STRINGS. When the film version THE SOUND OF MUSIC needed new numbers, Rodgers wrote and composed the songs ?I Have Confidence? and ?Something Good.?Did you know? The conflict between settled farmers and wandering cowhands portrayed in the OKLAHOMA! song "The Farmer and the Cowman"" was based on a true historical crisis, when farmers moved further west and started to build fences. The cattlemen hated the farmers' fettering of the land, and the farmers forbid their daughters to associate with the easy-going cowboys."Did you know? Hammerstein once gave an interview explaining how while working on lyrics for STATE FAIR, "I started to write a song about a girl having spring fever. And then, with a terrible shock, I realized no state fairs were held except in the autumn. Then I thought, well, maybe she just feels this way, although it is fall, and it gave me an even better theme: 'It Might As Well Be Spring'."""Did you know? In 1922, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II worked with Herbert Fields and Lorenz Hart on a never-produced musical called WINKLE TOWN. All four Columbia boys would go on to lasting musical theater fame.SOUTH PACIFIC opens with lovers Emile and Nellie enjoying the view on a tropical plantation. Yet did you know that originally, Act One, Scene 1 began with satirical lyrics that pitted Joe Cable's brave army lieutenant against Commodore Bill Harbison's oblivious company man? "We have other important men / But nobody counts as much / As the modern executive type / With the organizational touch!""""Getting to Know You"" from THE KING AND I begins with the lines, ""It's a very ancient saying, / But a true and honest thought, / That if you become a teacher / By your pupils you'll be taught."" When Oscar Hammerstein II was later questioned about the verse, he admitted, ""As far as I know it is not a very ancient saying, I just said it was."""In OKLAHOMA!, the Dream Ballet was choreographed by Agnes de Mille. The Ballet begins when Laurey falls into a reverie. Did you know that Hammerstein's lyrics for the first draft of the song "Out of My Dreams"" ended with the stage direction that a wispy figure of a bride would glide in from the shadows? Hammerstein then wrote: ""Take it, Agnes!"""Did you know that Hammerstein wrote "Hello, Young Lovers"" for THE KING AND I in just forty-eight hours, after a month of fruitless attempts? He also had definite ideas about the song's performance. In 1953 he suggested to Constance Carpenter, then playing Anna, that ""instead of imagining the young lovers being down at about where the horn section is...I think the lovers ought to be somewhere on the first balcony. They are all the young lovers in the world."""Did you know? According to Richard Rodgers in his autobiography "Musical Stages,"" ?Oscar was so moved by [?Surrey With A Fringe On Top?] that just listening to it made him cry. He once explained that he never cried at sadness in the theatre, only at na�ve happiness, and the idea of two bone-headed young people looking forward to nothing more than a ride in a surrey struck an emotional chord that affected him deeply.?"Did you know? Hammerstein wrote: "When [source story playwright] Lynn Riggs attended a rehearsal of OKLAHOMA! for the first time, I asked him if he approved of [the song ""Lonely Room""]. He said, 'I certainly do. It will scare the hell out of the audience.' That is exactly what it was designed to do."""In Act II of OKLAHOMA! Laurie and Curly reprise their Act I duet, "People Will Say We're In Love."" Did you know that a cut song initially written for this moment was titled ""Boys and Girls Like You and Me""? It included the lyrics: ""They walk on every village street / They walk in lanes where branches meet / And stars send down their blessings from the blue...Believing in each other as we do / Bravely marching forward two by two."""In an early draft of CAROUSEL that anticipated the show's Boston opening, Hammerstein wrote the note, "There will probably be an encore. If not, the author and composer will probably jump in the Charles River."""Did you know that both Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II married women named Dorothy, and both had fathers named William? This last fact lead Rodgers & Hammerstein to name their music publishing company Williamson Music Company when they founded it in 1945.Did you know? Both Rodgers and Hammerstein hailed from alma mater Columbia University in New York City. Hammerstein attended from 1912 - 1917, and Rodgers followed him from 1919 - 1921.Theodore Bikel, who starred in the original Broadway production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC as Captain von Trapp to Mary Martin's Maria, had personal connection to the role. Born in Vienna, his family fled to Palestine following the Nazi annexation of Austria on this day in 1938. Bikel's background as a guitar player and folk singer helped inspire the Rodgers & Hammerstein song Edelweiss.Did you know? Writing OKLAHOMA! Rodgers & Hammerstein struggled to find the right way to portray menacing farmhand Jud Fry. "The question was how to make him acceptable,"" wrote Hammerstein, ""Not too much a deep-dyed villain?We didn't want to resort to the boring device of having two other characters discuss him and give the audience a psychological analysis. Even if this were dramatically desirable, there are no characters in this story who are bright enough or well-educated enough to do this. So we solved the problem with two songs, 'Pore Jud' and 'Lonely Room'...Jud becomes then, for a while, not just wicked..."""In 1952, LIFE magazine published Rodgers & Hammerstein's only Christmas song, "Happy Christmas Little Friend,"" commissioned as a gift for its readers."In 1905, the world premiere of Ferenc Molnar's play LILIOM is presented at the Vigsz�nh�z Theatre, Budapest. It is produced in New York several times with several different translations (one allegedly written by Lorenz Hart) before Rodgers & Hammerstein adapted the Benjamin Glazer text as their basis for CAROUSEL.In 1965, The Rodgers & Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound opened to the public at the Performing Arts Research Center of the New York Public Library. Featured in this general collection are approximately 500,000 recordings from the late 19th century to the present.In 1946, the first performance of OKLAHOMA! in the state of Oklahoma was presented at the Municipal Auditorium in Oklahoma City. Governor Robert S. Kerr presided over several days of statewide celebrations, joined by Rodgers, Hammerstein, their wives, and members of the musical's creative team. Rodgers & Hammerstein were made honorary members of the Kiowa Indian tribe.In 1993, A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, a musical revue of Rodgers & Hammerstein's songs, opened on Broadway at Criterion Second Stage Right. It ran for 52 performances and received three Tony Award nominations.In 1946, Anita Loos' comedy HAPPY BIRTHDAY, presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein and starring Helen Hayes, opened at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York, and ran for 564 performances. In the play Helen Hayes sings "I Haven't Got a Worry in the World,"" written especially for her by the producers."In 1950, John Steinbeck's play BURNING BRIGHT, presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein, opened at the Broadhurst Theatre, New York.In 1944, John van Druten's play I REMEMBER MAMA opened at the Music Box Theatre, New York, and ran for 714 performances. It was presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein.In 1991, the movie of THE KING AND I was shown outdoors at the Hollywood Bowl on the world's largest movie screen as part of American Cinematheque's annual "Movies at the Bowl"" event. Mary Rodgers and James Hammerstein, a daughter and son of the authors, introduced the film to a crowd of 18,000."In 1955 Eddie Fisher, Shirley Jones, Ed Sullivan, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, and the governors of New York and Oklahoma led an "Oklahoma Song-Fest"" at the Central Park Mall in New York before a crowd of 15,000."In 1948 the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra presented its first "Rodgers & Hammerstein Night"" at Lewisohn Stadium in New York. A crowd of 20,000 attended and the R&H concerts became annual season finales at the stadium for more than a decade, with Richard Rodgers serving frequently as a guest conductor."In 1944 Williamson Music published "Dear Friend,"" a song by Rodgers & Hammerstein. All proceeds went to the 5th War Loan Drive."In 1953 MGM released the movie MAIN STREET TO BROADWAY, featuring a host of Broadway celebrities in cameo appearances. In one sequence, Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Joshua Logan, and Mary Martin play themselves "in rehearsal"" for a new musical, during which Martin sings ""There's Music in You,"" written by Rodgers & Hammerstein especially for the film."In 1942, in the first public announcement of a Rodgers & Hammerstein collaboration, The New York Times reported: "The Theatre Guild announced yesterday that Richard Rodgers, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II will soon begin work on a musical version of Lynn Rigg's folk-play GREEN GROW THE LILACS."" Lorenzo Hart later dropped out of the project, but this show would become Rodgers and Hammerstein's first hit, OKLAHOMA!"Oscar Hammerstein II wrote to book collaborator Josh Logan on their work SOUTH PACIFIC, "Last night, the audience behaved like a large group of people who had all met somewhere else and said, 'Let's all go over to the Majestic Theatre and get drunk.' ?In some way, we have combined all man's emotions into that play so that the reactions are somewhat like the combination of a big football game and a bull fight and grand opera and tragedy and comedy...Now I'm drunk!"""In 1944 Williamson Music published "We're on Our Way,"" written by Rodgers & Hammerstein and dedicated to the U.S. Army Infantry."In 1993, its 50th anniversary year, OKLAHOMA! was awarded a special commemorative Tony.In June, 1951, Oscar Hammerstein II sent a report on the success of THE KING AND I to director John van Druten. "I have never had such enthusiastic reactions for any play with which I have been connected,"" Hammerstein wrote. ""Friends, and people I have never seen before, or heard of, come up to me and drool."""In 1946 Irving Berlin's musical ANNIE GET YOUR GUN, presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein and starring Ethel Merman, opened at the Imperial Theatre, New York, and ran for 1,147 performances.In 1947 OKLAHOMA! opened at the Theatre Royal in London. The theater would be continuously occupied by one Rodgers & Hammerstein musical after another for the next nine years.In 1957 Rodgers & Hammerstein's only musical for television, CINDERELLA, was broadcast live on CBS-TV before an estimated audience of 107 million. Julie Andrews starred in the role of Cinderella.In 1943, Marlo Music Corp. published "The
P.T. Boat Song (Steady As You Go)"". Written by Rodgers & Hammerstein, the song was dedicated to the officers and men of the Motor Torpedo Boats. All royalties went to the Navy Relief Society."In 1954 General Foods sponsored a tribute to Rodgers & Hammerstein broadcast on multiple networks. Hosted by Mary Martin and featuring segments from OKLAHOMA!, STATE FAIR, CAROUSEL, ALLEGRO, SOUTH PACIFIC, THE KING AND I and ME AND JULIET with many members of the original casts, it also included special appearances from Jack Benny, Groucho Marx, Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy, Ed Sullivan, and Rodgers & Hammerstein.In 1943, the world premiere of Rodgers & Hammerstein's first musical AWAY WE GO! was presented at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven. Moving on to Boston, it acquired a new show-stopping number. This becomes the title song when the production opened on Broadway as the classic OKLAHOMA!In 1919 UP STAGE AND DOWN featured the first songs written together by 17-year-old composer Richard C. Rodgers and 24-year-old lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II: "Weaknesses"", ""Can It"", and ""There's Always Room for One More"". The show was an amateur musical comedy written to benefit the Infants Relief Society, and it played for one night in the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel's Grand Ballroom."In 1949, the world premiere of SOUTH PACIFIC was presented at the Shubert Theatre, New Haven.In 1945 at the 18th annual Academy Awards, "It Might As Well Be Spring"" from STATE FAIR received the Oscar for Song of the Year."In 1950, Graham Greene's drama THE HEART OF THE MATTER, presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein, opened at the Wilbur Theatre, Boston.In 1976, at the 18th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, the original 1943 Broadway cast album of OKLAHOMA! was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.In 1953, the national tour of SOUTH PACIFIC began a one-week engagement at the Tower Theatre, Atlanta. In response to the anti-racist song "You've Got To Be Carefully Taught,"" members of the Georgia State Legislature issued a vehement protest and introduced a bill to outlaw entertainment works having ""an underlying philosophy inspired by Moscow."""In 1947 Norman Krasna's comedy JOHN LOVES MARY, presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein, opened at the Booth Theatre, New York, and ran for 421 performances.In 1950, Samuel Taylor's comedy THE HAPPY TIME opened at the Plymouth Theatre, New York, and ran for 614 performances. It was presented by Rodgers & Hammerstein.In 1994, the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical revue A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING closed on Broadway after 52 performances and three Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical and Best Book.
Page 2Flower Drum Song Background
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s FLOWER DRUM SONG opened in New York on December 1, 1958 and ran for a year and a half. The London production, which opened in March of 1960, ran for more than a year and the successful film version was released in 1961.
The book by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd and Joseph Fields is based on the novel by C.Y. Lee. The songs, with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Mr. Hammerstein, include such fine examples of their art as: “I Enjoy Being a Girl,” “A Hundred Million Miracles,” “Sunday,” and “Love Look Away.”
The setting for FLOWER DRUM SONG is San Francisco’s Chinatown and all the characters are of Chinese ancestry. However, in the original Broadway production most of the leading roles were played by non-Chinese: a Japanese girl, a Japanese-American girl, a black woman, a Hawaiian and a Caucasian from Texas. In his autobiography, “MUSICAL STAGES,” Mr. Rodgers wrote: “This ethnically mixed cast demonstrates one of the wonderful things about theatre audiences. People want to believe what they see on stage, and they will gladly go along with whatever is done to achieve the desired effect.”
Prior to FLOWER DRUM SONG, Rodgers and Hammerstein had enjoyed great success with OKLAHOMA!, CAROUSEL, SOUTH PACIFIC, and THE KING AND I. They were to follow it with the enormously successful THE SOUND OF MUSIC. It should be noted that prior to writing with Rodgers, Hammerstein achieved recognition in earlier collaborations with Jerome Kern, Sigmund Romberg, and other illustrious composers. Mr. Rodgers was, of course, the Rodgers of Rodgers and Hart.
"It was our lucky hit," said Oscar Hammerstein II in regards to FLOWER DRUM SONG, his ninth collaboration with Richard Rodgers. "Luck" was putting it mildly: even Hammerstein probably underestimated the web of serendipity that led to the popularity of their 1958 musical, a story of love and culture clash among Asian-Americans in San Francisco’s Chinatown. To paraphrase one of the show’s most beloved songs, FLOWER DRUM SONG’s journey to success is truly the product of a hundred million miracles.
The story begins in China, where a man named Chin Yang Lee was born to a Hunan rice farmer in 1917. By the mid-1940s, with his country ravaged by war, Lee managed to secure a student visa and flee to America in pursuit of his dream: to be a playwright, like his hero Eugene O’Neill. Despite the language barrier, he was accepted into the Yale playwriting program, O’Neill’s prestigious alma mater.
Drawing from his life experiences in China, Lee wrote several plays at Yale and had them produced on campus. When literary agent Ann Elmo showed up at one of them, Lee assumed that his big break had arrived. But instead, Elmo gave him some career advice that broke his heart. "Forget that Chinese stuff," she told him. "It’ll never sell."
Discouraged, Lee moved to San Francisco, where he rented a room above a Chinatown honky-tonk and began to try his hand at straight fiction. His visa had expired by then, and he lived in constant fear of deportation—but his luck changed when one of his short stories won a national contest. Lee realized then that he had talent after all, and he decided to renew his visa and start a novel—one that returned to the subject of "that Chinese stuff."
The finished manuscript, calledThe Flower Drum Song , was a hard sell. Even with Elmo working as his agent, no publisher was interested in selling a story about Chinese immigrants. As a last resort, Elmo finally sent the book to an obscure art-house publishing company called Farrar, Straus and Cudahy. It was their only hope. "If they turn it down," she told Lee, "you should give up writing."
The publishing house sent the manuscript to one of their test readers, a very old man who worked from his home. The next morning, he was found dead in his bed—next to the manuscript ofThe Flower Drum Song , on whose cover he had scribbled: "READ THIS." The publishers could hardly ignore the dying wish of an old man; they read it, and they knew they had to publish it. By 1857,The Flower Drum Songwas on theNew York Timesbest-seller list.
The novel caught the eye of producer Joe Fields, who had been scrounging around for new material. It occurred to him that Lee's novel was perfectly suited to become a musical, and he knew just who he wanted to write the adaptation.
Around the same time, Rodgers and Hammerstein found themselves in a bit of a rut. Though they were enjoying boundless success with their movies and the CINDERELLA television special, R&H were also feeling the sting of two consecutive stage flops, ME & JULIET and PIPE DREAM. Seeking to explore new territory while staying true to their romantic roots, they were quick to team up with Fields onThe Flower Drum Song , whose unusual setting and traditional love story appealed to their sensibilities.
The hype began as soon as the news went public: FLOWER DRUM SONG was going to be a return to form for Rodgers and Hammerstein. The theatre world buzzed with talk about the gutsy, exciting choices R&H were making. Gene Kelly was chosen to direct, and the three of them decided that they wanted to cast real Asian actors, not white actors in yellowface and eye makeup.
Unfortunately, in those days, real Asian actors were few and far between, forcing the show’s creators to cast in unexpected places. They attended Chinatown beauty pageants and stopped Asian strangers on the street. Kelly went to a Chinese comedy club in San Francisco and cast a comedian named Jack Soo; Hammerstein recruited the beautiful and sassy Pat Suzuki, whom he’d seen singing on a TV variety show. A Hawaiian singer named Ed Kenney was chosen to play Ta, the romantic male lead. For the role of Mei-li, his shy immigrant bride, they cast the show’s only Asian celebrity: Miyoshi Umeki, who had won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 1957 forSayonara . The talent hunt was an enormous success, and in the end, the cast included only two non-Asian performers: Larry Blyden, a white actor who played the assimilated Sammy; and Juanita Hall, an African-American actress who played Auntie Liang. (She had previously originated the role of Bloody Mary in SOUTH PACIFIC.)
Opening night arrived at the St. James Theatre on December 1, 1958. Lee sat nervously in the audience, accompanied by his agent and his publisher. Would the show be any good? He needn’t have worried: it "bowled me over," he said later. "I shed tears because it was so good." FLOWER DRUM SONG received mixed reviews from critics at the time, so Rodgers and Hammerstein were surprised when it turned out to be not only one of the most popular shows of the season, but a bona fide national phenomenon. Thanks to the show, Pat Suzuki even made history: that year, posing next to the Japanese-born Miyoshi Umeki, she became the first American-born Asian ever to appear on the cover ofTimemagazine.
The movie version of FLOWER DRUM SONG was released two years later by Universal, bearing the distinction of being the first Hollywood movie about Asian-Americans, and the first to have an almost entirely Asian-American cast. Lee wrote the screenplay, and the film starred almost every famous Asian-American face in Hollywood. The movie was hugely popular in the Asian-American community: they wrote fan letters to the stars, startedFlower Drum Songfan clubs, and even ate atFlower Drum Songtheme restaurants. In San Francisco, Lee was given the key to the city.
As the years passed, however, FLOWER DRUM SONG’s popularity waned. In light of the new racial sensitivities of the post-Civil Rights era, the very idea of a musical about Chinese-Americans written by the whitest of white men struck some people as outdated. Younger viewers saw some of the characters as stereotypes and were put off by their broken-English dialogue that occasionally verged on baby talk. For over 40 years, the show enjoyed no revivals and faded into a second-tier Rodgers and Hammerstein reputation.
But all this changed with David Henry Hwang’s revamped FLOWER DRUM SONG revival in 2002. Hwang rewrote the musical’s book to ring truer for contemporary audiences, while preserving the wonderful songs. In the process, he discovered that FLOWER DRUM SONG had never really gone away. Even back in the 1970s and 80s, when it was most vehemently protested, "people would in private admit they liked the show," he observed. "How could they not? For us boomers, it was our first opportunity as kids to see Asian Americans singing and dancing in a Broadway play."
The original company of FLOWER DRUM SONG had stayed together as a family over the years, and was famous for its periodic reunions. On one October night in 2002, they had their most exciting reunion yet: they all attended a preview performance of the revival together. Pat Suzuki liked it so much, she returned to see it again multiple times.
Hwang’s revival brought new attention to FLOWER DRUM SONG, and now the show is as respected for its groundbreaking innovations as it is beloved for its old-fashioned entertainment value. One of its songs, "I Enjoy Being a Girl," has become a familiar standard; the rest of it is fondly remembered as good vintage Rodgers & Hammerstein. As AsianWeek.com recently declared, "Now is a great time for a new generation of people to see and support this unusual classic."
The best way to view FLOWER DRUM SONG is through its Act I showstopper, "Chop Suey." While chop suey is a staple of your favorite Chinese restaurant, it isn’t really from China; it was invented right here in America. That doesn’t make it any less delicious.