Who's Who in Musicals: Ra - Ro
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.
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.
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 Wickham (1904).
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 collaboration.
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).
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"
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).
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
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.
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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