Speaker discusses important “Lawrence connection

Katie Buchanan

Theodore S. Chapin, President and Executive Director of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, spoke at the Tues., April 17 convocation.
Chapin gave an interesting and insightful look at the history of the musical from the perspective of the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization and the “Lawrence connection” that started his career.
In the ever-changing world of musical theater, Chapin – who has been with Rodgers and Hammerstein for 25 years – said his main objective is to “find a middle ground between holding the traditions of the past and pushing towards the future.”
Chapin recounted the days when composers and librettists such as Rodgers and Hammerstein produced musicals to pay the bills, coming up with ideas for the next musical just after the last production opened, and hoping that it would have the same amount of success. Today, “corporate and consumer thinking have taken over the musical,” said Chapin.
Costs for producing a musical have “skyrocketed into the millions” due to increased marketing, but as Chapin remarked, producing just one successful musical can ensure financial security for the rest of a producer’s life.
Chapin went on to discuss the musical successes of Rodgers and Hammerstein, such as “Oklahoma!,” “The King and I,” the revival of “The Sound of Music,” and the revival of “Cinderella” featuring Whitney Houston and Brandy.
He also compared the successes to some of the failures, such as the animated version of “The King and I.” Chapin connected the past with the present by simply stating, “Artistic risks are how the musical was born and how it will continue.”
Chapin finished by discussing an important Lawrence connection that ended up making his career. In his only year at Lawrence University before transferring, Chapin befriended a musical theater enthusiast who ultimately gave him an intense appreciation for composer and librettist Stephen Sondheim.
After leaving Lawrence, Chapin went on to pursue theater on the East Coast, where he found an opportunity to observe rehearsals and become the production assistant of the musical “Follies,” also by Sondheim.
The huge success of “Follies” led to Chapin’s position at Rodgers and Hammerstein, all thanks to a friend he once met at Lawrence.