I've been on a weird Rodgers and Hammerstein jag lately. In the past 120 hours I have watched the old movie versions of South Pacific (twice), Carousel, Oklahoma!, The King and I, and, for the first time in my life (amazing for any 55 year old gay man), The Sound of Music.
I used to reject these shiny confections without giving them a second thought; now I'm hooked on them, and for the exact reasons I used to reject them--their easy sentimentality and glossy professionalism.
The vast outdoorsiness of South Pacific, Oklahoma!, and, to a lesser degree, The Sound of Music (whose Alps try a little too hard to impress, I think), knocks my socks off. I can reconcile myself to Josh Logan's use of color filters to further de-realize the musical numbers in South Pacific, but the crisp Coplandesque vistas of Oklahoma! take the prize.
"Bali H'ai," "Happy Talk," "You'll Never Walk Alone," "Climb Every Mountain," and "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" are the hymns of my new church. And the merry melancholy of the "Carousel Theme" reduces me to sobs, as it always did, on an old LP compilation I owned as a teenager, long before I knew the ill-fated love story for which it is the background.
And speaking of hymns, God bless the paganism of these old musicals--"the hills ARE alive," God damn it, and NOT with intelligent design--take, for example, the King of Siam's heartfelt rejection of Moses in favor of Darwin, Ado Annie's pity for all the undervalued dick of the world, Aunt Eller's appreciation for French nudes imported all the way from Kansas City (where they've gone about as "fer as they can go") and her heroic embrace of pioneer hardiness (which, not God, is the only help for a broken heart or the loneliness and neglect of old age), Bloody Mary's "saxy" mysticism, and Jigger Craigin's one redeeming moment of insight as he sings, "There's nuthin' as bad for a woman as a man who thinks he is good." Even Christlike Mother Superior urges the ADHD Maria to "find [her] dream," rather than bury herself in cloistered sanctity.
You'll find no Sondheim doom and gloom in Rodgers and Hammerstein, no Webber and Rice irony--still, the rascals receive more sympathy than the prudes, and ultimately they (usually) prove themselves morally superior to the audience's first impression of them--Luther Billis, Max Detweiler, the Baroness, Kralahome, Mrs. Mullins, and Ali Hakim, all grow hearts before taking their final bows.
In my revised vision of heaven, decorated with crystal pentagrams hanging on invisible thread, I would be greeted by shirtless Seabees showering on the beach and tap-dancing cowboys twirling their lariats. It's gonna be a real nice clambake.