- By David M. Kinchen
So when I note that Sunday, March 31, 2013 is the 70th anniversary of the Broadway opening of “Oklahoma!” by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II — the first collaboration between the two men — I expect you music lovers out there to care, even if Liz doesn’t.
Coincidentally, there’s a connection between the 2012 “Les Miserables” and “Oklahoma!”: Hugh Jackman, who plays Jean Valjean in “Les Miserables”, played Curly McLain in the 1998 West End (English) revival of “Oklahoma!” This production was filmed and was issued on DVD, as well as being broadcast on U.S. Public Television in November 2003. I’m going to try to get it, since the 1998 production features the original orchestrations by Rodney Russell Bennett.
Here’s more background by native Oklahoman Carrie Magness Radna on “Oklahoma!” which didn’t get its title until it opened on Broadway; it was called “Away We Go” in its Boston tryout: http://www.nypl.org/blog/2013/03/25/choral-notes-happy-70th-anniversary-oklahoma
“Away We Go” — oops, “Oklahoma!” was produced by the Theatre Guild and according to Wikipedia “was based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs” that had a short run in a Theatre Guild production. Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, it tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.
“The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,243 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Academy Award-winning 1955 film adaptation. It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions.
“This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier “Show Boat” [by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II], epitomized the development of the ‘book musical’, a musical play where the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that are able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter. In addition, ‘Oklahoma!’ features musical themes, or motifs, that recur throughout the work to connect the music and story. A fifteen-minute “dream ballet” reflects Laurey’s struggle to choose between two men. A special Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for Oklahoma! in the category of “Special Awards And Citations – Letters” in 1944.”
The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943 at the St. James Theatre in New York City. It was directed by Rouben Mamoulian and choreographed by Agnes de Mille. It starred Alfred Drake (Curly), Joan Roberts (Laurey), Celeste Holm (Ado Annie), Howard Da Silva (Jud Fry), Betty Garde (Aunt Eller), Lee Dixon (Will Parker), Joseph Bulloff (Ali Hakim), Jane Lawrence (Gertie) and Barry Kelley (Ike). Marc Platt danced the role of “Dream Curly”, Katharine Sergava danced the part of “Dream Laurey” and the small dancing part of Aggie was played by Bambi Linn. George Church danced the part of “Dream Jud” but was replaced by Vladimir Kostenko only two months after the premiere.
The production ran for 2,243 performances, finally closing on May 29, 1948. “The demand for tickets was unprecedented as the show became more popular in the months that followed” the opening. Oklahoma! ran for over five years, a Broadway record that “would not be bested until “My Fair Lady” (1956).” A year and a half after the Broadway opening, the “first of several” national tours began in New Haven, Connecticut.