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Hammerstein's Musings

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First what is a soliloquy anyway? It’s an internal monologue where someone sings what thoughts are going on in their head. It’s a neat way to clue the audience into what the character is thinking without having to illustrate it through dialogue with another character or dramatized in the plot.

The master of all soliloquies is Oscar Hammerstein. When he joined up with Richard Rodgers, their first show, Oklahoma!, had Jud Fry musing about his “Lonely Room.” It’s a powerful song both from Jud’s point of view and the audience’s, who come to understand through it that Jud isn’t just a villain but a complex person with complex emotions.

That was just a warm-up for what is possibly the greatest of all soliloquies, Carousel’s aptly named, “Soliloquy.” In addition to being a brilliant song it’s right up there with the greatest of first-act curtain numbers. And Hammerstein doubled down on “Soliloquy” with South Pacific, which boasted not one but two soliloquies, again aptly named, “Twin Soliloquies.”

Most soliloquies are sung alone on stage, and for The King and I, he and Rodgers gave Yul Brynner a tour de force with “A Puzzlement.” It’s an important song since it gives the audience and especially the King the realization that he isn’t as omnipotent as he thinks. There’s a whole world beyond Siam that is very, very confusing. It’s at once a profile of the King and a humorous song, unusual for a soliloquy.

Pipe Dream gave us Suzy’s song, “Everybody’s Got a Home but Me.” Like many of Hammerstein’s songs it has a double purpose. It’s a character’s expression of what’s on their mind and also sets the underlying theme of the whole shebang. Pipe Dream is a flawed show, but it also has a lot to recommend it, and Suzy’s song is excellent.

That’s a short roundup of Oscar Hammerstein’s soliloquies written with Richard Rodgers. Listening to these songs one’s appreciation of Hammerstein’s view of the world and his love of his characters is all the more impressive. People may joke about larks learning to pray, but Hammerstein’s talents can’t be overestimated. 


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