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Richard Rodgers

Among the many innovations Rodgers and Hammerstein brought to the American musical stage, perhaps the most important was their transformation of the very fabric of a musical's score. Vaudeville revues, early musical comedy, and even American light operetta tended to approach each show as a pastiche of star vehicles and vivid dance numbers, onto which a loose and sentimental plot could be tacked. But Oscar Hammerstein II, at least as early as his 1927 collaboration with Jerome Kern on Show Boat, sought a more adult dramaturgy and a more integrated score. Similarly, in his later (and wildly successful) career with composer Richard Rodgers, each musical number serves a dramatic function, to advance the narrative. In The Sound of Music (1960), for instance, even the most formalized dance scene -- the Ländler -- advances the plot, as Maria and the Captain both realize their love through the dance.

Similarly, Rodgers and Hammerstein use songs and ensemble pieces, even those that seem most vapid on the surface, to advance the narrative. The solo and chorus from early in the first act, "My Favorite Things," works just this way. Taken on its own, the lyrics are little more than a strophic catalog of happy thoughts: raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, and so on. The immediate dramatic context is somewhat contrived, and could have happened in any musical: a sudden thunderstorm. The song's cue line is simply "I try to think of some of my favorite things." Rodgers' repeated melody is catchy and upbeat, and easy for audience members to find themselves whistling out of the theater.

In the context of the entire drama, however, "My Favorite Things" suddenly rises in importance. The plotline has sent Sister Maria from her abbey to serve as governess for the Captain and his seven children; Maria views her job as a ministry of mother-surrogate to the children. She realizes in the first moments on the job that she must overcome both the Captain's high-handed discipline, and the children's deep desire to be loved by parents. "My Favorite Things," the first chorus between Maria and the children, thus becomes a milestone in her dramatic progress with the family. The dramatic integration of song with story is confirmed at the end of the act, when "My Favorite Things" returns as a gay waltz in the climactic party scene; Maria's music (with "The Lonely Goatherd" and "Edelweiss") has become part of the fabric of their lives.