Hammerstein lyrics reprised on stage -- and now in print

Lyrics, by Oscar Hammerstein II. Milwaukee, Wis.: Hal Leonard Books. 270 pp. $14.95. Oscar Hammerstein II's lyrics have returned this season to New York stages and the printed page. Broadway playgoers encountered a generous assortment of Hammerstein lyrics in ``Jerome Kern Goes to Hollywood.'' More recently, Elisabeth Q. Welch, one of the stars of that short-lived revue, has been reprising Hammerstein in her beguiling one-woman show Off Broadway.

Readers have been rediscovering Hammerstein in the expanded version of his 1949 book, ``Lyrics.'' When the collection originally appeared, ``South Pacific'' was still running. But more than half of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals were yet to be created. The new edition contains lyrics from such later well-known hits by the music-and-lyrics team as ``The King and I,'' ``Flower Drum Song,'' and ``The Sound of Music.''

The reissue was edited by William Hammerstein, the lyricist's son. It includes an appreciative foreword by Stephen Sondheim, Hammerstein's one-time prot'eg'e, and an illuminating preface by Richard Rodgers. Most relevant of all, it retains Hammerstein's more than 40 pages of highly informative notes.

The Hammerstein words were made to fit the music that accompanied them so adroitly that the songs sing themselves as one reads the lyrics.

No single example can capture all of the Hammerstein magic. But ``A Hundred Million Miracles,'' from ``Flower Drum Song,'' illustrates how this exemplary lyric writer could put wings on common things. It goes in part like this:

``A hundred million miracles

Are happening every day,

And those who say they don't agree

Are those who do not hear or see.

A hundred million miracles,

A hundred million miracles

Are happening every day.''

John Beaufort covers New York theater for the Monitor.

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