At the event, the late composer's daughters, Mary and Linda Rodgers who flew in from New York to attend, spoke movingly about their family's affection for the UK, London ("a city that Rodgers loved") and also the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, where the reception was held.
From 1947, the Drury Lane played host to nine straight years of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals - Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific and The King and I. Rodgers claimed that surely, after such a run, they should have squatters' rights. "By now we should be owners of this place," she quipped to the theatre's present owner, Andrew Lloyd Webber, sat in the front row. "I don't suppose you'd like to hand it over to us, would you, Andrew? No? Isn't he stingy."
For his part, Lloyd Webber praised Richard Rodgers as the "the composer who really turned me on to musical theatre" and "the 20th century's greatest tune writer." The British composer-turned-impresario also confirmed that, in late spring 2003, his Really Useful Group would indeed be mounting a West End revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most celebrated work, The Sound of Music.
The launch reception included performances: of "Sing for Your Supper", from Rodgers and Hart's The Boys from Syracuse, in a new rendition from a hip-hop version called simply Da Boyz that will open in April 2003 at the Theatre Royal Stratford East; "Manhattan" performed by jazz vocalist Stacey Kent; and "A Cock-Eyed Optimist" (South Pacific) and "Climb Ev'ry Mountain" (The Sound of Music) by West End diva Kim Criswell. Children from the cast of The King and I also appeared to bow and presents flowers to the Rodgers sisters. The event was attended by the great and good of London theatre, including stage stars such as Joan Plowright, June Whitfield, Ronnie Corbett and Liz Robertson.
The career of American composer Richard Rodgers (28 June 1902-30 December 1979) spanned six decades. His earlier collaborations, with lyricist Lorenz Hart, included A Connecticut Yankee, On Your Toes, Babes in Arms, The Boys from Syracuse and Pal Joey. He is best remembered, however, for his huge hits in the 1940s and 1950s with Oscar Hammerstein II. In addition to the Drury Lane residents, these included The Sound of Music, Allegro, Flower Drum Song and, for film, State Fair.
During this year's Rodgers centenary, a number of new productions, concerts, exhibitions and other tributes have been mounted around the globe. In the UK, productions have included Trevor Nunn's South Pacific at the National, the ongoing tour of The King and I, the BBC Concert Orchestra's Carousel this past weekend at the Royal Festival Hall. Additional upcoming events will include a BBC Proms presentation of Oklahoma!, starring Brent Barrett, and from February 2003, a year-long Rodgers exhibition at the Theatre Museum in London's Covent Garden.
- by Terri Paddock