Who's Who in Musicals: Ra - Ro
by John Kenrick
b. Jan. 19, 1917 (Santa Ana, CA) - d. Feb. 20, 2005 (Pacific Palisades,
Rugged good looks, a muscular build and a soaring baritone voice swiftly
took Raitt from the road company
of Richard Rodgers and
Oscar Hammerstein II's Oklahoma to starring as Billy Bigelow in the
original Broadway production of their Carousel (1945). He introduced
" If I Loved You" with co-star Jan Clayton,
and stopped the show with the epic "Soliloquy." After the ill-fated
Magdalena (1948), he co-starred with
Mary Martin in two national tours of
Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun
repeating the role for TV broadcast in 1957. Raitt weathered the charming failure
Three Wishes for Jamie (1952) and the disastrous Carnival in Flanders
(1953) before playing stalwart factory supervisor Sid Sorokin in the The Pajama
Game (1954). In that long-running hit, he sang the hit song "Hey
There." Three years later, he repeated the role opposite
Doris Day in the film version.
Raitt became an annual presence on the summer theater circuit, touring in revivals
of classic musicals. He interrupted this cycle to appear in the first Lincoln Center
revival of Carousel (1966), the short-lived A Joyful Noise (1966),
and the charming all-star Broadway revue A Musical Jubilee (1975).
He was the father of country western star Bonnie Raitt. He continued
making recordings and concert appearances into the late 1990s, sang on the
2002 Tony telecast, and introduced the Carnegie Hall concert version of Carousel
that same year. The robust Raitt made occasional TV appearances until
his death due to pneumonia at age 88.
(b. Mary Frances Reynolds)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. April 1, 1932 (El Paso, TX)
MGM's quintessential "girl next door" found fame (and a best selling
single) singing "Aba Daba Honeymoon" with Carleton Carpenter in
Two Weeks With Love. She co-starred with Gene Kelly and
Donald O'Connor in the classic
Singin' In the Rain (1952), performing
" Good Mornin'." (Ironically, few know her singing was dubbed for the
semi-operatic ballad "Would You.") That same year, Reynolds re-teamed with
O'Connor in I Love Melvin. Reynolds eventually appeared in 18 musical films,
including Hit the Deck (1955) and Meet Me in Las Vegas (1956). She
starred in several comedies, introducing the hit song "Tammy" in
Tammy and the Bachelor (1957). She received tremendous public sympathy
when husband Eddie Fisher abandoned her to marry Elizabeth Taylor and
had the last laugh a few years later when Taylor humiliated Fisher by
marrying Richard Burton. (In time, Reynolds and Taylor buried the hatchet.)
Reynolds gave her most impressive screen performance as The Unsinkable
Molly Brown (1964), and played the title role in The Singing Nun
(1966). As screen musicals became rarities, she segued easily into nightclubs
and eventually starred in her own TV sitcom. She made her Broadway debut
starring in the revival of Irene (1974), and later toured in revivals
of Annie Get Your Gun and
The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Reynolds was also the last star of Broadway's
Woman of the Year. For many years, she worked to create a museum
preserving relics of Hollywood's golden age. The financial failure of her combination
museum-hotel left her undaunted, and she has continued with concert appearances and
film work. After her Oscar-nominated performance in Mother (1996), she
co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor and Shirley MacLaine in These Old Broads
(2001), a TV film written by Reynolds's real-life daughter, Carrie Fisher. She also
appeared as Grace's irrepressible mother on the long-running NBC sitcom
Will and Grace.
Rice, Edward E.
Composer, director, producer
b. 1849 (Brighton, MA) - d. Nov. 16, 1924 (New York City)
Rice was the first American master of full-length burlesque a form of
musical comedy that parodied popular figures and/or literary works. Of his 18
Broadway productions, two remain memorable high points of this now-forgotten genre.
Evangeline (1874) spoofed a Longfellow
poem and closed after just two weeks to make way for a previously booked
show. But it toured for several years, returning to New York so often that it
eventually racked up hundreds of Broadway performances.
In the years that followed, Rice became one of the most popular and prolific
producers in the United States, putting dozens of full length burlesques on
Broadway and sending them across the country on tour.
Fay Templeton and
Lillian Russell made their Broadway debuts
in Rice productions. Rice helped to shatter Broadway's longstanding color
barrier by booking Clorindy: Origins of the Cakewalk (1898) -- an
early African American musical by composer
Will Marion Cook.
Rice's biggest hit was Adonis
(1894), which provided matinee idol Henry Dixey with the
most popular role of his career. The plot a handsome statue comes to life and
becomes so disenchanted with human behavior that he happily returns to stone after
spoofing a parade of famous personalities and everyday people. Adonis ran for
a record-setting 603 Broadway performances. Repeat business was so heavy that Rice
and his co-authors kept providing new material throughout the run. The show had a
successful run in London, bringing both Rice and Dixey (who co-authored the script)
substantial personal fortunes. Rice's final Broadway production was Mr. Wix of
b. Nov. 10, 1944 (Amersham, UK)
Rice was a 20 year-old law student at Oxford when he was introduced to 17 year-old
classical musician Andrew Lloyd Webber.
on the rarely mentioned The Likes of Us (1965) before composing Joseph and
The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (1968), a pop cantata for boy choristers.
The piece was performed all over Britain, with Rice himself playing the role of
Pharaoh on at least one occasion. The success of an amateur theatrical staging of
Joseph at New York's Cathedral College encouraged Webber & Rice to
attempt a full-length biblical rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar.
A popular recording led to a two year run on Broadway (1971) and a record setting
3,358 performances in London beginning in 1972.
An expanded Joseph debuted on the West End in 1973, and
a 1983 Broadway version ran 824 performances. (A souped-up touring version enjoyed
international success in the 1990s.) In the meantime, Webber and Rice
created a new rock opera recording based on the life of Argentina's Eva Peron. The
resulting stage version of Evita, directed by Hal
Prince, conquered London in 1978 and New York a year later. For reasons that have
not been publicly explained, this show marked the end of Webber and Rice's
Rice had limited success with composer Stephen Oliver's medieval London musical
Blondel (1983). He next collaborated with Benny Anderson and
Bjorn Ulvaeus (of the pop group ABBA) on Chess, which had a hit
recording but failed after
short runs on Broadway and the West End. Rice returned to Broadway to assist composer
Alan Menken with additional
numbers for the stage version of Disney's Beauty and the Beast
(1994), and collaborated with him on the Academy Award winning "A Whole New
World" and other songs for the animated Aladdin (1992). Rice also teamed
with composer Elton John on the acclaimed animated (1994) and Broadway
(1997) versions of The Lion King. The Disney corporation also produced
Rice & John's update of Aida (2000), giving Rice (and Disney) three
simultaneous Broadway hits. He contributed new lyrics to Lloyd Webber's
West End production of The Wizard of Oz (2011).
(b. Dolores Conchita
Figueroa del Rivero)
Actress, singer, dancer
b. Jan. 23, 1933 (Washington DC)
This beloved performer studied at George
Balanchine's School of American Ballet, and made her musical debut at age
19 in the chorus of the Call Me Madam (1952) touring company, and her
Broadway debut in the chorus of Can-Can (1954). She was
featured as Fifi in Seventh Heaven (1955) and Rita Romano in Mr.
Wonderful (1956), before achieving stardom as Anita in West Side Story (1957),
in which she introduced "America" and "A Boy Like That." A sensational
dancer and singer, her "spitfire" personality made her a favorite with
audiences. She created the role of long-suffering secretary Rose Grant in Bye
Bye Birdie (1960), dancing in the memorable "Shriner's Ballet." She was
often expected to electrify musicals that were no match for her talents including
Bajour (1964), Bring Back Birdie (1981) and Merlin (1983).
This made the real triumphs all the sweeter, such as when Rivera played
murderous showgirl Velma Kelly in Chicago
(1976), introducing "All That Jazz" and sharing "Nowadays"
with co-star Gwen Verdon.
After three decades of Broadway stardom, Rivera finally
received a Best Actress Tony for her performance as Anna in The Rink (1984).
During the run of Jerry's Girls (1986), Rivera's leg was mangled in a car
accident. She made a remarkable recovery, returning in a high
stepping national tour of Can-Can (1988). She received her second Tony for
playing Aurora in Kiss of the Spider Woman (1992). At the turn of the
century, she won new acclaim in London and Las Vegas revivals
of Chicago. In 2000, she also appeared in a Paper Mill Playhouse revival
of Anything Goes, and marked the following year by taking on roles in two
new musicals Casper and The Visit. This beloved performer
received Kennedy Center Honors in 2002, made a showstopping return to Broadway as
Lillian LaFluer in a revival of Nine (2003), and starred in the
autobiographical revue Chita Rivera: The Dancer's Life (2005).
Robinson, Bill "Bojangles"
b. May 25, 1878 (Richmond, VA) - d. Nov. 25, 1949 (New York City)
He got his start dancing for pennies on the streets of Richmond, and was
performing in black vaudeville by the time he was only 8. His tap technique
was so flawless and seemed so effortless that he broke into big
time vaudeville and wound up headlining at New York's Palace Theatre in 1921.
It was there that he introduced his trademark "stair dance," dancing
up and down a flight of stairs. It sounds simple, but he did it with such style
that it wowed audiences and fellow performers. At age 60, he made his Broadway
debut in the smash-hit Blackbirds of 1928, stopping the show with
"Doin' the New Low Down." He appeared in several more Broadway
musicals, most notably playing the title role in The Hot Mikado (1939).
Robinson caused a sensation when he danced on screen with
child star Shirley Temple in The Little Colonel (1935). Knowing a
good thing when they saw it, Fox executives teamed them up in four more
films, including The Littlest Rebel (1935) and Just Around the
Corner (1938). These films made Robinson the highest-paid black
entertainer of his time. He co-starred with Lena Horne in Stormy
Weather (1943), reprising his classic vaudeville stair dance. He appeared in
thousands of benefits for needy performers and worthy causes, and gave
so freely to those in need that he was almost penniless when he died at
age 71. Remembered as a "dancer's dancer," he was portrayed by
Gregory Hines in the TV movie Bojangles (2001). For more, see Jim
Haskins and N.R. Mitgang's Mr. Bojangles: The Biography of Bill
Robinson (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1988).
(b. Jerome Rabinowitz)
Dancer, choreographer, director
b. Oct. 11, 1918 (New York City) - d. July 29, 1998 (NYC)
Robbins got his start as a dancer in New York's Ballet Theatre -- and
studying with the innovative Actors Studio -- before
appearing in several Broadway musicals. Robbins created the ballet Fancy
Free (1944) with composer Leonard
Bernstein, and with further help from lyricists
Betty Comden and
Adolph Green expanded it to create the
acclaimed dance musical On The Town (1944). Since every Robbins dance step was
motivated by character, his work was a perfect fit for the innovative musical
theatre of his time. As one of the first to consider dance as a form of
acting, Robbins changed musical theatre forever, making dance as
crucial a story-telling tool as the book and score. What
Agnes de Mille initiated, Robbins fulfilled.
High Button Shoes (1947) and The King & I (1951) benefited from
his brilliant dances -- Peter Pan (1954) marked
his first assignment as both choreographer and director.
Robbins was a demanding master, and his methods could be vicious. His habit of
demeaning performers in front of fellow cast members ("grinding them to dust,
only to remold them as new clay") led to his being nicknamed "Attila the
Hitler," but some found this approach inspired them to greater
efforts. Robbins found his greatest triumphs as director/choreographer of
West Side Story (1957), Gypsy (1959), the unbilled savior
of both A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) and
Funny Girl (1964), and full-fledged helmsman of the record-breaking
Fiddler on the Roof (1964). He took an almost co-authorial role
in these shows, helping the authors to reshape the books and scores.
After Fiddler, Robbins concentrated on dance works for New York City
Ballet and other major dance companies, all despite a pronounced loss
of hearing that plagued his final years. Aside from supervising several major
revivals of his hits, he directed Jerome Robbins Broadway (1989), a
Tony-winning (but financially unsuccessful) retrospective
of his finest Broadway dances. His career was always haunted by his testimony
before the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s -- to
avoid persecution, he named names, directly causing the blacklisting of several
associates. That testimony and an abusive directorial style left Robbins with few
friends. Partially incapacitated by a series of strokes, this legendary figure was
often ignored as he hobbled through the theater district. Despite the crucial
role he played in the development of both modern dance and musical theatre, few
mourned at the time of his death at age 79.
Rodgers, Richard Charles
Composer, producer, lyricist
b. June 28, 1902 (New York City) - d. Dec. 30, 1979 (NYC)
Rodgers graduated Columbia University early and by age 17 was collaborating with
lyricist Lorenz Hart and librettist
Herbert Fields. Their two night benefit
revue The Garrick Gaieties (1925)
wound up running for months, helped in
part by the popularity of the song "Manhattan." Over the next two
decades, Rodgers and Hart wrote some of the finest musical comedies of their
time. On Your Toes (1936) included the innovative "Slaughter on Tenth
Avenue" ballet, Pal Joey (1940) focused on an unsavory night club
performer and his wealthy mistress, and By Jupiter (1942) toyed with sexual
role reversals in ancient Greece.
When Hart's drinking made further collaboration impossible, Rodgers teamed
up with Oscar Hammerstein II and achieved
what he and Hart had long aimed for. Beginning with the Pulitzer Prize winning
Oklahoma! (1943), they made the
integrated musical play into the world's most popular form of commercial theater.
They used songs as dramatic tools, enhancing the action and character development
as never before. Carousel (1945),
South Pacific (1949),
The King and I (1951), and
The Sound of Music (1959) remain among
the best and most popular musicals of all time. Rodgers and Hammerstein produced
a number of highly successful shows, including
Irving Berlin's Annie Get Your Gun (1947).
Rodgers had an extraordinary mind for business and a reputation for
being hard to please. After Hammerstein's death in 1960, Rodgers continued to
compose, winning a Tony for the music and lyrics to No Strings (1962).
His later works include Do I Hear a Waltz (1965),
Two By Two (1970), Rex (1976) and I Remember Mama
(1979). After many years battling with cancer, Rodgers succumbed
to the disease at age 77. With a career spanning six decades and more than fifty
stage and screen musicals, Rodgers and his songs remain key elements in
the world's musical vocabulary is one of only two composers who have
been awarded Emmys, Grammys, Oscars, a Tony and a Pulitzer Prize --
the other is Marvin Hamlisch.
(b. Virginia McMath)
Dancer, singer, actress
b. July 16, 1911 (Independence, MO) - d. April 25, 1995 (Rancho Mirage, CA)
This vivacious performer worked as a Charleston dancer in vaudeville before making
a splash on Broadway in the musicals Top Speed (1929) and
Girl Crazy (1930). After several forgettable Hollywood musicals, she created
the role of Anytime Annie in 42nd Street (1933), followed by Gold Diggers
of 1933 in which she introduced "We're In the Money." That same year,
RKO Studios paired Rogers with Fred Astaire to dance
"The Carioca" in Flying Down to Rio. That brief number had
such an impact that producer Pandro S. Berman
decided to build a series of films around the two dancing stars. Rogers and Astaire
co-starred in nine musicals that showcased their song and dance talents, five of
which were directed by Mark Sandrich. Their
now-classic films boasted scores by the most outstanding songwriters of that
era Irving Berlin for Top Hat (1935),
Follow the Fleet (1936) and Carefree (1938);
Jerome Kern for Roberta (1935) and
Swing Time (1936); and George and
Ira Gershwin for Shall We Dance
Rogers went on to a series of comedies and dramas, and managed to win an
Oscar for her performance in the title role of Kitty Foyle (1940). She
made just two more musical films, starring
in Lady in the Dark (1944) and re-teaming with Astaire when an ailing
Judy Garland dropped out of
The Barkleys of Broadway (1949). Rogers went on to nightclub appearances and
numerous stage roles. She played a haunted cosmetics executive in the ill-conceived
musical The Pink Jungle (1959), which closed on the road.
Rogers took over the
lead in Broadway's Hello Dolly in 1965, and followed a tour of that show by
starring in the London production of Mame (1969). She spent her later years
making concert appearances at Radio City Music Hall and other major
venues. Frequently downplaying the importance of Astaire in her career,
she insisted that she would be remembered for her "serious" work.
At the time of her death, every newspaper and television newscast in the
Western world carried images of Rogers dancing with Astaire.
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