New show explores how Hammerstein’s political activism
made him an enemy of J. Edgar Hoover
Saturday, July 13th at 7:00 p.m. and 9:30 p.m.
at The Green Room 42
Oscar Hammerstein, a giant of Broadway, is remembered as a singular American musical theater talent and one-half of the iconic duo Rodgers & Hammerstein. Now, a new live show Oscar on Oscar! explores how the legendary lyricist’s political activism drew the ire of notorious FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, who generated a massive top-secret file on Hammerstein.
In addition to celebrating Hammerstein’s astounding musical legacy, Oscar on Oscar! — debuting next month and hosted by Hammerstein’s grandson Oscar Hammerstein III — will shed a spotlight on the political side of the musical scribe’s work and life.
“Most people know about my grandfather’s artistic contributions, which are such a big part of the American songbook,” said Oscar Hammerstein III. “But I think his political activism — especially in the 1940s and 50s, which were tumultuous times in our nation’s history — is just as important to his legacy.”
While Hammerstein’s name may be synonymous with traditional Broadway musicals, his work was often overtly political and decidedly progressive: South Pacific‘s seminal “You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught” confronted hatred head-on; The Sound of Music famously dramatized the effects of Nazism; Carmen Jones brought Bizet’s opera Carmen to Broadway with an all-black cast — in 1943 no less.
Horrified by the emergence of the Third Reich on the global stage, and later by rampant racial injustice in the United States, Hammerstein became a human rights champion and voice in the civil rights movement, co-founding the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League, and lending support to the Southern Negro Youth Congress, American Committee for the Protection of Foreign Born, National Federation for Constitutional Liberties and myriad social justice organizations. He also applied his magic pen to speeches by Adlai Stevenson and other influential progressive politicians.
In an era during which civil rights were often equated with Communism, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover amassed a huge file on Hammerstein and enlisted the expansive resources of the FBI to surveil him. Details of the FBI’s file on Hammerstein, as well as of Hoover’s vendetta against him, are being made public for the first time as part of Oscar on Oscar!, which opens on July 13 in New York City before touring other U.S. cities to be announced.
Oscar on Oscar!, an evening of memories, storytelling and of course music from Hammerstein’s beloved classics including “Old Man River” (Showboat), “Dat’s Love” (Carmen Jones), “The Farmer and the Cowman (Oklahoma!). “A Puzzlement” (The King and I) and “The Last Time I Saw Paris”, is presented through Broadway Pops International.
“There’s a timeless element to Oscar Hammerstein’s body of work; and now, because of all that’s going on politically, there’s an incredibly timely aspect as well,” said Hammerstein III. “Knowing the kinds of causes to which my grandfather was committed, and which often fueled his creativity, gives the songs we’ll perform important context.”
Oscar on Oscar! is directed by Andrew Winans and features musical accompaniment by pianist Ethan Anderson. The show will be presented on Saturday, July 13 at 7:00 PM and at 9:30 PM at The Green Room 42 cabaret theater at 570 Tenth Avenue in New York City. Tickets are available at:
About Oscar Hammerstein III
Oscar Hammerstein III is the author of The Hammersteins: A Musical Family (Black Dog and Leventhal). A painter, writer, lecturer, and family historian, he has devoted much of his life to studying and preserving the Hammerstein family’s heritage and contribution to American culture. He lectures frequently at universities and institutes as well as theatrical and civic organizations on his family’s pivotal role in shaping the development of musical theatre and popular entertainment from the 1860s to present. He co-wrote and curated the exhibit “Direct From Broadway: A 200-Year History of New York City Theatre” for the Paine-Weber Gallery in New York City. Mr. Hammerstein has taught classes on theatre history and musical theatre history at Columbia University and conducted master classes on the subject for Broadway Pops International.