Music of Richard Rodgers to be celebrated at Gordon Center

Sunday, Oct. 30, more than 100 musicians, including a 60-piece orchestra, a professional chorus of 25 singers and a mixture of jazz and theater musicians from the American Music Theater will bring to life a portion of the music of composer Richard Rodgers' long career at the Gordon Center for Performing Arts' production of "Richard Rodgers and His Sounds of Music."

According to performer Carolyn Black-Sotir, the show is not quite what an audience would expect out of a pops concert.


"Instead of just being one great Richard Rodgers tune after another, we get into the life of Rodgers," Black-Sotir said. "I think the story behind the music, behind the creators is fascinating. It brings more dimensions to the performance."

During the show, they will go into the life of Richard Rodgers and discuss the historical context behind some of his most famous tunes, through storytelling, historical images and lighting design. Black-Sotir said the show is divided into two acts, the first telling of Rodgers' partnership with Lorenz Hart, while the second details his famous partnership with Oscar Hammerstein.

"Rodgers and Hammerstein really came up with the book musical, where it tells a story and the music is part of the plot, and that's what we try to do with this show, follow the Rodgers and Hammerstein template," Black-Sotir said. "They realized that music needs context to make a difference."

Black-Sotir said her love of Rodgers has stretched back through her entire career, with her first lead role ever taking place in "My Fair Lady." The show she has the greatest connection to, she said, is "The Sound of Music."

Black-Sotir said she's had the chance to play a number of roles in "The Sound of Music" from Maria to the Baroness. She said the show was responsible for one of the most exciting moments in her theatrical career.

"I was a student at Eastman at the music conservatory visiting someone who was giving a recital. I was about to get on a plane back home to Rochester when suddenly I got an emergency call," Black-Sotir said. "There was a production in Lancaster, Pa., and their Maria had come down sick. They needed someone to come in and play the part the next day."

Black-Sotir said she took the train down to Lancaster and within 24 hours was on stage singing to the Von Trapps about her favorite things.

One of the songs Black-Sotir said benefits the most from telling the story behind it is "Edelweiss" from "The Sound of Music." In the show, the song occurs near the end of the second act, as Captain Von Trapp says goodbye to Austria, perhaps for the final time. Black-Sotir said that the song was the final collaboration between Rodgers and Hammerstein. While writing the piece, Hammerstein was diagnosed with cancer and knew that he didn't have long to live.

"We take that song and we arrange it in a way that defines Hammerstein's final days," Black-Sotir said. "By setting up different arrangements of the songs, we can tell these stories in different ways."

Black-Sotir said she thinks Rodgers' genius is sometimes underestimated because of the complex simplicity of his songs. She said through his collaborations, he was able to tap into the subtext of the American story. While working with Hart, she said, his music began reflecting the country's anxieties about the Great Depression. By the time he and Hammerstein had joined forces, their music began embracing ideas of American exceptionalism in the time of the second World War.

"He knows how to touch the human soul with his incredible gift," Black-Sotir said. "He's the master of crafting these beautiful melodies, and underneath them, layering in these innovative harmonies."



If You Go

When: 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 30

Where: Gordon Center for the Performing Arts, 3506 Gwynnbrook Ave., Owings Mills

Cost: $20 in advance. $25 at the door

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