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  • Susan Welsh

That's the night that the lights went out on Broadway. . .


In America we have a long tradition of honoring our political past. Carved countenances of past presidents are memorialized in mountains and remains of battleships serve as floating museums. We need to bring the same sense of sacredness to some of our other great national treasures--the homes that served as the inspirational and creative space for our artists.

Here in Bucks County, we're on the brink of losing a local and national treasure. Highland Farm, in Doylestown, is the former home of Oscar Hammerstein II and the place where he wrote iconic American Broadway classics like Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King & I and The Sound of Music. The Hammerstein Center Project is working tirelessly to raise the funds needed to preserve this treasure. If it doesn't succeed, the place where history now resides will become nothing more than another subdivision--wiped clean of any trace of the space that once breathed Broadway life into America.

In 1960 the lights of Broadway went out when America lost one of it's greatest librettists and lyricists, Oscar Hammerstein II. Marquees from Forty-second to Fifty-third Street and side streets from Eighth Avenue to Avenue of the Americas were turned off.

We need to do our part to keep the "lights on" for a native creative son of Doylestown and for America. Hammerstein's work is deeply rooted in the issues of our past, issues that remain relevant today. South Pacific's themes of racial and romantic tolerance still resonate. Not only was Oscar Hammerstein a creative genius, but also, in the words of his grandson Will, a great humanitarian, who co-founded Welcome House with Pearl Buck and worked to abolish Jim Crow Laws in Baseball before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier.

On a beautiful morning this week I was fortunate enough to be invited to a community and press introduction to the upcoming Off-Broadway benefit "An Enchanted Evening: A Night With Oscar Hammerstein II" debuting on December 8 and starring Doreen Taylor and Davis Gaines.

In the continuum of moments in my beautiful Bucks County this one was one of the best. Doreen Taylor performed two songs from the upcoming show and I got the Broadway "chills". Not only does she possess a voice of purity and clarity, but she interprets the music with the grace and styling of one who is classically trained (which she is) but also deeply aware of the masterful songs she's "channeling". To be in the living room of Oscar Hammerstein with Taylor singing the songs created in that same perimeter of space left me gobsmacked.

As Lou Lanza played the notes to perfection, Doreen owned that space and suddenly the Doylestown hills were alive with the sound of music. It was the kind of Broadway moment that is almost more Broadway than Broadway (if that makes any sense?).

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