Wednesday, July 12, 2023

Shy: The Life of Mary Rodgers

Carol Burnett and Joe Bova in the original Broadway production of Once Upon a Mattress (1959).

Mary Rodgers, the daughter of the legendary Broadway (and occasionally Hollywood) composer Richard Rodgers, wrote the music for the 1959 musical Once Upon a Mattress. Aside from The Mad Show, a downtown revue she contributed to that ran for a year, Mattress was her only hit show, but she worked on many other stage musicals that flopped (often out of town) as well as a handful of TV musicals. She also wrote the Freaky Friday children’s books, assisted Leonard Bernstein on the Young People’s Concerts on TV, chaired or served on the boards of many schools and other organizations, and raised five kids; a sixth died tragically in childhood. (One of them, Adam Guettel, is the composer-lyricist of The Light in the Piazza, which I join my Critics at Large colleague Joe Mader in calling the best musical written in the twenty-first century.) This life, which Oscar Wilde’s Lady Bracknell would have pronounced “crowded with incident,” is memorialized in Shy: The Alarmingly Outspoken Memoirs of Mary Rodgers  (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2022), which Rodgers co-wrote with the current New York Times theatre critic Jesse Green and on which he provided the finishing touches after she died, at the age of eighty-three, in 2014. (Green was then reviewing plays for New York Magazine.)