Off-Broadway Docu-Musical Launches, Part of Effort to Save and Repurpose Oscar Hammerstein II Home

Off-Broadway debuting star Doreen Taylor (Photo by Michael Pearson)

By Doug Wallack

On Friday, October 27, recording artist and off-Broadway debuting star Doreen Taylor launches her “docu-musical” show An Enchanted Evening with Oscar Hammerstein II at Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pa. The show, the proceeds from which will go to the Hammerstein Center, is part of a larger effort to save the former home of Oscar Hammerstein II at Highland Farm, and to repurpose it as a museum and theater education center.

In 1941, as the famed Broadway lyricist struggled professionally, Hammerstein and his wife Dorothy bought the Bucks County property as a retreat from the hustle of New York City. It proved to be a fruitful investment, as Hammerstein — inspired by the views of the countryside as he wrote, pacing back and forth on the house’s wrap around porch — went on to write some of his most beloved works there, including South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music. The farm was also where a young Stephen Sondheim received formative mentorship from Hammerstein.

Highland Farm remained in the family until 1961, when Dorothy sold it following her husband’s death a year earlier. Since then, the property changed hands several times before it was purchased by its current owner Christine Cole, who runs a bed and breakfast there. In 2012, after attending a 30th reunion at the nearby George School, Oscar Hammerstein’s grandson William Hammerstein stopped by the farm, and began to talk with Cole about the possibility of purchasing and preserving the property. Cole, who was eager to prevent the property’s proposed redevelopment as a four-lot subdivision, was enthusiastic about the idea. Since then, William, who is an attorney with expertise in historical preservation, has worked toward realizing what he calls “an adaptive reuse” of the property as a museum and theater education center.

In March of this year, William and his wife Mandee met Doreen Taylor at a launch event for one of her other musical projects. When Taylor, who was raised on Roger and Hammerstein numbers, heard about their plans for Highland Farm, she immediately volunteered to help out, delving into months of research on Oscar Hammerstein II. The resulting “docu-musical” integrates archival footage of Oscar and other multimedia elements with nearly 30 revamped Hammerstein songs performed live. An initial performance in August at the the Bristol Riverside Theater was well-received, and An Enchanted Evening is set for a 10-show off-Broadway run with Broadway co-star Davis Gaines in December.

This Friday’s event will feature an abbreviated performance from Ms. Taylor, as well as the unveiling of proposed architectural renderings for the site. The event, which will take place at 10:15 a.m. at 70 East Road in Doylestown, Pa., is open to the public. For more information, on the Hammerstein Center project, visit hammersteincenter.org. And for more information on An Enchanted Evening with Oscar Hammerstein II, visit hammersteinlive.com.

Highland farm, the former home of Oscar Hammerstein II (Photo Courtesy of the Hammerstein Center)

Oscar Hammerstein II at Highland Farm (Photo Courtesy of the Hammerstein Center)