The history of Broadway has often been described in terms of teams of lyricists and composers – artists in the respective realms of words and music who, as kindred spirits, created many of the most beloved songs and shows ever to touch the Broadway stage. In the early 1950s, one such team was Richard Adler and Jerry Ross. They had first emerged as the writers of Tony Bennett’s 1953 hit song, “Rags to Riches.” Over the next three years, Adler and Ross contributed to three Tony®-winning Broadway shows: John Murray Anderson’s Almanac (1953), The Pajama Game (1954), and Damn Yankees (1955).
The Pajama Game and Damn Yankees were both critical and commercial successes from the very start. On May 14, 1954, in the New York Times, critic Brooks Atkinson began his opening-night review of The Pajama Game with a simple statement: “The last new musical of the season is the best . . . Richard Adler and Jerry Ross have written an exuberant score in any number of good American idioms without self-consciousness . . . Mr. Adler and Mr. Ross write like musicians with a sense of humor.” The Pajama Game won the Tony Award® for Best Musical in 1954.
Damn Yankees was no less successful. Lewis Funke, writing in the New York Times on May 6, 1955, opens: “As shiny as a new baseball and almost as smooth, a new musical glorifying the national pastime slid into the Forty-sixth Street Theatre last night. As far as this umpire is concerned you can count it among the healthy clouts of the campaign.” Damn Yankees was the Tony® winner for Best Musical in 1955.
Tragically, in 1956, Jerry Ross died at the age of twenty-nine from a rare lung disease, and Richard Adler never achieved quite such success again. But for three stunning years, Adler and Ross ruled Broadway.