Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Interracial Romance We Forgot

Dear Muse,

From childhood on, we've been exposed to some pretty big musical duos: Gilbert & Sullivan, Simon & Garfunkel, Lennon & McCartney... and of course, Rodgers & Hart / Rodgers & Hammerstein. Anyone who knows "Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered" or "The Lady is a Tramp" knows Rodgers & Hart. And due to our culture's influx of songs from The Sound of Music, Oklahoma! and The King and I, even more people have had Rodgers & Hammerstein ingrained into their subconscious.

But what do we know of Richard Rodgers alone? Not much, that's for sure. Most of what we know about him involves his collaboration with either Lorenz Hart or Oscar Hammerstein II. Still, Rodgers did create a musical - his only solo project after Hammerstein's death in 1960 - with no collaborators whatsoever. That musical? No Strings

No Strings is a 1962 musical about fashion model Barbara Woodruff and expatriate novelist David Jordan who have a love affair in Paris. Woodruff and Jordan were played by Diahann Carroll (of Julia and Dynasty fame) and Richard Kiley (the original Don Quixote in Man of La Mancha), respectively.

Source: via Ariel on Pinterest

The plot plays into the double meaning of the show's title, which  is called "No Strings" because:
  1. the couple parts ways at the end with "no strings attached," and
  2. the orchestration is done completely without stringed instruments.
Nowhere does this double meaning shine out more than in the opening (and closing) song, "The Sweetest Sounds." Here's how the No Strings blurb from Broadway: The American Musical describes it:

In this haunting opening number, Rodgers had the couple sitting on opposite sides of the stage, and the song appeared to conjure up a love affair between two lonely people (and, in a neat irony, its reprise at the final curtain suggested the whole story was simply a wistful daydream). (25)

Whenever I hear "The Sweetest Sounds," I imagine the opening scene roughly like this:

I'll admit that my picture doesn't do justice to this beautiful song. But I totally agree with whoever wrote that blurb - "The Sweetest Sounds" is haunting.

Although the irony of the story/ orchestration is all well and good, the interracial romance especially intrigues me. You don't see many musicals nowadays focused on interracial romances. (Except for West Side StoryOnce On This Island, and Memphis... but that's still not a lot.)

It's interesting to note that neither Samuel A. Taylor's book nor Rodgers' score specifically mentioned race, and the only indication Woodruff provides of being African-American is her reference to growing up around Harlem (see Background in No Strings wikipedia article). The two leads could have been cast with same-race actors and it wouldn't affect the story at all. Nevertheless, Carroll's casting and the characters' reluctance to discuss race made the show "socially progressive" and pretty controversial. (That, and it took place around the start of the Civil Rights movement.)

But with all this in mind, all I can think is, "why wasn't there a revival of this show?" It has good songs. It has an excellent cast. It has some really amusing social commentary. It has music by Richard Rodgers, for crying out loud!! Plus, it's different from most romantic musicals, because the two lovers don't end up together and live happily ever after. Wouldn't that make it unique enough to justify revival? WHY would it just run for over a year, and then sputter out of public consciousness? WHY haven't theater companies made an effort to bring it back?!? It wouldn't be that controversial by today's standards, so I think theater-goers could enjoy it.

In fact, reviving No Strings would be worthwhile just to see how differently people today would react to the interracial stuff, compared with audiences in 1962. Given how much progress we've made in the spheres of race, women's rights and LGBTQ rights, I think today's somewhat-more-tolerant American public would appreciate No Strings a lot more.

Until a No Strings revival graces the stage again, however, here are several songs you can enjoy. Some are beautiful, some are funny, some are wistful, and all are moving. Have a listen - you won't regret it.

                                                                        'Till next time,

No comments:

Post a Comment