Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma


The Musical, the Movie, the Legend

Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in the 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 fiance, Ado Annie.
Oklahoma! Cover
The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 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. Oklahoma! ran until May of 1948, after 5 years and setting a Broadway record in ticket sales until 1956.

This musical 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 with her feelings about two men, Curley and Jud. A special Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for Oklahoma! in the category of "Special Awards And Citations - Music" in 1944.

The "first of several" national tours began in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1944. A 1953 article in The New York Times reported that the show "is believed to be the only musical to have enjoyed a consecutive run of ten years. It ran on Broadway for 5 years and 2 months, grossing $7 million. The tour of the national company, which started late in 1943, has grossed $15 million. The United Service Organizations sponsored a tour to U.S. military bases in 1945 that lasted for several years. The New York Times reported. According to an estimate, "upwards of 20,000,000 people thus far have seen the show in the United States, England, Sweden, Denmark, South Africa, Australia and through [the U.S.O. shows] during the war."

From 1980 to 2002, the musical continued to receive prestigious nominations that include Tony Awards: Best Leading Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical. Winning just as many awards as nominated for, Oklahoma! won the Theater World Award in 1980 and in 1993 Oklahoma! received a special award by the Tony's to honor its 50th anniversary.

Even though Claremore is the home of play write Lynn Riggs and Oklahoma!, the musical was presented nightly except Sundays each summer at the Discoveryland amphitheater, an outdoor theatre near Tulsa, Oklahoma, from 1977 until 2011. In 1993, Mary Rodgers (daughter of Richard Rodgers) and William Hammerstein (son of Oscar Hammerstein II) designated Discoveryland the "National Home of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!"

Oklahoma! 1955 Film Adaptation

The 1955 film adaptation starred Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones (in her film debut), Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore and Eddie Albert. It was the only musical film directed by Fred Zinnemann, and Agnes de Mille choreographed. It was the first feature film photographed in the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process.

Rodgers and Hammerstein personally oversaw the film to prevent the studio from making the changes that were then typical of stage-to-film musical adaptations, such as interpolating new songs by others. The film followed the stage version more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein stage-to-film adaptation, although it divided the long first scene into several shorter scenes, changing the locations of several of the songs. The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording. Shirley Jones in the “Surrey with the fringe on top” in 2011, when she came for a performance in Claremore! It was the first time she had sat in the surrey since the filming of Oklahoma! in 1955.
Shirley Jones in Surrey