Richard Rodgers is known to most people as just Rodgers as in Rodgers and Hammerstein and Rodgers and Hart. Inspired by the words of his legendary lyricist partners, Rodgers scored the music for many of Broadway's biggest musical hits--Carousel, The Sound of Music, The Boys from Syracuse, Oklahoma!--to name just a few. What this biography makes clear is that it was a far from simple man who composed the simple, infectious melodies that have kept generations of musical theatergoers humming long after the curtain closes. As a small child Rodgers had a knack for melody making and by the age of 17 heard his first song reverberate against the walls of Broadway. But his light, lilting melodies belied an often dark and brooding soul, a man who closed himself off even from those to whom he was closest. Oscar Hammerstein once remarked: "We've worked together all these years and I don't really know him."
Richard Rodgers is clearly a labor of love. Author William Hyland spent the majority of his professional life working at the CIA, the State Department, and the White House and later edited Foreign Affairs. The book reverentially analyzes Rodgers's evolutionary musical style and his contribution to American culture, yet Hyland seems loathe to broach subjects that might tarnish Rodgers's image--the moody, at times clinically depressed, difficult to work with Rodgers is assiduously kept in the wings. Still, the book offers insight into the creative process and is a pleasurable stroll for fans of musical theater.