I got a beautiful feelin’, Everything’s goin’ my way
- From the enduring classic, Oklahoma!
While considered by many to be the most influential work in American musical theater, many may not know that the musical is based on a 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. The play itself was not a success, but the concept seemed like it would make for a good musical plot.
Enter Rodgers and Hammerstein! While now an iconic pair, Oklahoma! was the first musical written together by composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein. Both Rodgers and Hammerstein had their preferred writing processes. Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music, and Hammerstein preferred to write lyrics before they were set to music. A match made in heaven!
This writing partnership allowed Hammerstein to create lyrics that strengthened the musical’s plot and evoked emotion. In the past, lyrics, music, and dance numbers did not necessarily work in harmony. Instead of furthering the plot, the intention was purely to amuse audiences.
Because of Rodgers and Hammerstein, we now have the “book musical”, “a musical play in which the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story, with serious dramatic goals, that is able to evoke genuine emotions other than amusement.” A concept first recognized in Hammerstein’s earlier work, Show Boat.
Another innovation to come from Oklahoma! is the “dream ballet” number! Choreographer Agnes de Mille created a fifteen-minute dream ballet where leading lady Laurey struggles with her feelings for her two suitors, Curly and Jud. In a dream ballet there is no dialogue, only movement, and can feature advanced dancing techniques! Dream ballet sequences take place outside of the continuum of the production with the intention of providing clarification, foreshadowing, or symbolism. Oklahoma! was de Mille’s first time choreographing a Broadway musical, and she made history!
Another interesting choice by Rodgers and Hammerstein was their cast! In the past, roles were given to actors who could sing. Instead, Rodgers and Hammerstein cast singers who could act. This means no known stars were in the initial Broadway production!
Before Oklahoma! went to Broadway, the title of the production was actually Away We Go!. It was retitled to Oklahoma! after the musical number of the same name.
The show opened on Broadway to rave reviews! After opening on March 31, 1943, the production ran for 2, 212 performances before closing on May 29, 1948. In 1944, Rodgers and Hammerstein were awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma!, and in 1993 the original Broadway production was awarded a Special Tony Award for its 50th anniversay! The Tony Award wasn’t founded until 1947, after the initial Broadway production opened.
Rodgers and Hammerstein personally oversaw the stage-to-film process of the 1955 film of the same name! And it is said the film “followed the stage version more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein stage-to-film adaptation.” The 1955 Oklahoma! film starring Gordan MacRae and Shirley Jones won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound Recording.
With their musical Oklahoma! Rodgers and Hammerstein are believed to have ushered in the “Golden Age” of musical theater, and ASPI is honored to bring this production to the stage once more!
Tickets are selling FAST! Get yours now! Showtimes are March 14-17 and 21-24.
Tickets can be purchased at https://abramsspotlightproductions.com/ and please call the box office with any questions (920)826-5852!