Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley are the American lovers in Richard Rodgers’s No Strings, 1962. Above: “The Sweetest Sounds” from the 1962 Broadway show.
No Strings opened on Broadway in 1962 and ran for 580 performances. Rodgers got the idea for casting a black actress in the star role after seeing model-turned-actress Diahann Carroll on The Tonight Show, feeling that the casting spoke for itself and any specific references to race in the play were unnecessary. “Rather than shrinking from the issue of race,” said Rodgers, “such an approach would demonstrate our respect for the audience’s ability to accept our theme free from rhetoric or sermons.” The script was by Samuel A. Taylor, who wrote the play Sabrina Fair and adapted the book D’entre les morts by Boileau-Narcejac for the Hitchcock film, Vertigo.
Considered too risky by Broadway investors, the first production was almost entirely financed by Rodgers himself. Following out-of-town engagements in Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland and New Haven, No Strings finally opened at the 54th Street Theater on 15 March 1962. It was generally welcomed by the New York critics; at season’s end, it was nominated for nine Tony Awards, winning three: for Joe Layton as choreographer, for Diahann Carroll as Best Actress in a Musical, and for Rodgers for his score.
Upon seeing the 2003 No Strings revival at Encores! The New York Times‘s Ben Brantley wrote: “The revelation of No Strings is that one of songwriting’s greatest collaborators had it in him to fly high on his own. And fly high he did. No Strings deserves to be better known than it is. The music is youthful and jazzy, almost a throwback to the Rodgers of Rodgers & Hart. The lyrics range, frankly, from serviceable to as good as they get. The relationship between the two leading characters at the heart of this musical is in the fine tradition of the attracting opposites found in all the Rodgers & Hammerstein shows, and the emotional stakes are as real today as they were in 1962.”
As the title hints, there’s no string section in this pit. In fact there’s no pit: The musicians are all on stage, playing and occasionally making appearances in the story. The orchestrator Ralph Burns eventually did record an orchestration with strings for his own band, but I haven’t heard it.
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