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Popular music's timeless appeal

Rick Rogers Published: April 30, 2013

It’s now been more than three decades since Richard Rodgers died in 1979; even longer since the deaths of Cole Porter (1964), Oscar Hammerstein II (1960) and George Gershwin (1937). That makes it all the more surprising to learn that in the past 20 years, Broadway has featured several new musicals by these Broadway legends.  

Cole Porter’s music surfaced in a 1998 Broadway production of “High Society.” Of course, the creative team that labored on that production had to fit their show around existing Porter tunes. George Gershwin, one of Tin Pan Alley’s finest tunesmiths, was represented on Broadway half a century after his death with “My One and Only” in 1983 and “Crazy for You” in 1992. Last season, a “new Gershwin musical” starring native Oklahoman Kelli O’Hara opened on Broadway. After a 14-month run, “Nice Work If You Can Get It” will close in June 2013.

Other noted composers have also had their music introduced to new generations of listeners through such musicals as “Song of Norway” (Edvard Grieg) in 1944, “Kismet” (Alexander Borodin) in 1954, “The Happiest Girl in the World” (Jacques Offenbach) in 1961, “Anya” (Sergei Rachmaninoff) in 1965, “Ain’t Misbehavin’” (Fats Waller) in 1978, “Sophisticated Ladies” in 1981 and “Play On!” (both Duke Ellington) in 1997.

Rodgers and Hammerstein’ s “Cinderella” was written for television in 1957 with Julie Andrews appearing as the title character. Eight years later, a new version starring Leslie Ann Warren starred in another version. Pop star Brandy brought the musical back to television in 1997. This season, a new version of “Cinderella” made its way to Broadway and received positive notices.

Featuring a new book by Douglas Carter Beane, the revival supplements the original Rodgers and Hammerstein score with four new songs, two of which were cut from “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music” respectively. Beane’s new book also introduces the new character Jean-Michel, a rebel who is in love with Cinderella’s stepsister Gabrielle. Beane also gave his narrative a contemporary sensibility. The “new musical” is likely to be nominated for several 2012 Tony Awards which will be announced today.

Productions such as these certainly prove the notion that a good tune, no matter its origin, is timeless in its appeal.