If you love Broadway, we have a treat for you. The Music Division of the Library of Congress has received a collection from the estate of Broadway giant John Raitt, who originated the role of Billy Bigelow in the Rodgers and Hammerstein show “Carousel” and also starred in “The Pajama Game,” “Oklahoma!” and other top musicals from the 1940s to the 1980s.
The John Raitt Collection includes several decades’ worth of personal scrapbooks; photographs from his private collection, annotated scripts, orchestrations and personal letters. You can find out more at a new website his daughter, renowned singer and songwriter Bonnie Raitt, has launched at www.johnraitt.com and you can listen to our Library of Congress interview with Bonnie Raitt .
Raitt, pictured at right, who died in 2005 at the age of 88, was a strapping man whose Broadway persona in the 1940s and 1950s whetted public appetite for theatrical characters who represented the brawnier side of life. Athletic, he had Olympic aspirations, but eventually found his unforgettable voice in light-opera shows in California, leading to the audition that changed not only his life but the Broadway repertoire.
He was invited in 1944 to try out for the Chicago road-show cast of “Oklahoma!” in the role of Curly. After regaling Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein with Figaro’s aria from “The Barber of Seville” and several songs for the character he was auditioning to portray, the authors of the show were wowed. He got the part.
A year later, in 1945, they cast him as the original leading man in “Carousel.” The seven-minute-long song “Soliloquy” in “Carousel” was written expressly for Raitt.
Following that successful run, Raitt later starred in the Broadway shows “Three Wishes for Jamie,” “Carnival in Flanders” and “Magdalena.” A few years later, he played Sid Sorokin, the new superintendent of the Sleep-Tite Pajama Factory in “The Pajama Game,” which was later made into a 1957 movie starring Raitt and Doris Day in the lead roles, with choreography by Bob Fosse and Jerome Robbins.
Later in his career, Raitt starred in stage productions of “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Destry Rides Again,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Kismet” and “Zorba.” In his later years, he developed a one-man show, “An Evening With John Raitt,” and made several appearances with his daughter Bonnie, a multiple-Grammy-winning artist now working on her 20th album.
“He would be so thrilled with the resurgence and the exciting new era of enthusiasm for Broadway,” she said. “He would be thrilled, and so am I.”