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Phil Willmott

Rodgers and Hammerstein as you’ve never heard them before

Rodgers and Hammerstein goes Pop R & H are of course the composers of such block buster classic musicals as The Sound of Music, The King and I, South Pacific and Carousel and it used to be that the executors of their estate controlled the legacy with a vice like grip.

As a pretentious young director, I dew their wrath early in my career when I inserted a reference to the bombing of Pearl Harbour into my production of South Pacific without their permission. I took other liberties too that I’m too embarrassed to mention. The correspondence was short and sharp – take it all out or we close you down.

When I directed The Sound of Music a few years later they sent a representative into rehearsals to ensure I was strictly adhering to the published text and stage directions.

But suddenly, somehow, inexplicably all that changed a few years ago when they permitted a bleak new U.S. staging of Oklahoma that used, a contemporary look, harsh new arrangements, a suggestion of rape and acknowledged differently abled cast members. Against the odds it was a big hit and enjoyed a successful Broadway transfer.

Never the less I was surprised to come across an official YouTube channel called, R&H Goes Pop, run by the estate itself, that featured and championed innovative new performances and arrangements of the classic show tunes the like of which had never been permitted before.

As someone who’s known and loved those old songs all my life my first reaction on hearing them for the first time was to stare at the screen aghast. But if you relax and listen with an open mind they really are “Something Wonderful” to quote the title of my favourite song from The King and I. Suddenly I found I’d been listening and enjoying them for hours.

They’re performed by the finest Broadway stars of the moment, they’re often gender switched, tempos are altered, they evoke moods and feelings far away from how they’re used in the original shows, they begin to sound remarkably like contemporary pop and I recommend you give them a try.

As a way in here’s Gavin Creel bringing a completely fresh take to the afore mentioned Something Wonderful.

In The King and I it’s sung by a dictator’s chief wife explaining why she still loves him despite his cruelty. Usually it’s performed in a semi-operatic way. It’s always a tear jerker. Creel sings it to the accompaniment of electric guitars with a strong drum beat, riffing all over the place. I find it profoundly moving.

As you’ll read in the comments section of the video not everyone agrees. In fact some people positively hate the new approach. What do you think?