June 15–24, 2012
Irving Arts Center
When a young cowpoke strolled onto the stage of the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943, the American musical comedy was changed forever. For the first time, story, song and dance were integrated and the modern American musical was born. Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration, OKLAHOMA!, was a musical adaptation of Lynn Riggs’ play GREEN GROW THE LILACS. Lyric Stage’s production of OKLAHOMA! will feature full 33 piece orchestra playing Robert Russell Bennett’s newly restored original Broadway orchestrations.
Cheryl Denson will direct and Lyric Stage music director Jay Dias will conduct the 33 piece Lyric Stage orchestra. Agnes de Mille’s original dances will be the inspiration for choreographer Ann Nieman. The youthful cast includes Bryant Martin (Curly), Savannah Frazier (Laurey), Sean McGee (Will Parker), Erica Harte (Ado Annie), Kyle Christopher Schnack (Jud), Deborah Brown (Aunt Eller), Brad Jackson (Ali Hakim), James Williams (Andrew Carnes), Mallory Brophy, Alex Bush, Hayden Clifton, Tyler Donohue, Danielle Estes, Emily Ford, Anthony Fortino, Damon Foster, Doug Fowler, Zach Gamet, Martin Guerra, Maranda Harrison, Whitney Hennen, Doug Henry, Kyle Hughes, Elise Lavallee, Colleen LeBleu, Reid Malone, Annie Merritt, Delynda Moravec, Mackenzie Orr, Michael Pricer, Mandy Rausch, Daniel Saroni and Lana Whittington.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration remains, in many ways, their most innovative, having set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre still being followed today. Set in a Western Indian territory just after the turn of the century, the high-spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provides the colorful background against which Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a winsome farm girl, play out their love story. Although the road to true love never runs smooth, with these two headstrong romantics holding the reins, love’s journey is as bumpy as a surrey ride down a country road. That they will succeed in making a new life together we have no doubt, and that this new life will begin in a brand-new state provides the ultimate climax to the triumphant OKLAHOMA!
An excerpt from Musical Stages by Richard Rodgers
Our first meeting on the project that eventually became known as OKLAHOMA! took place at my home in Connecticut. We sat under the huge oak tree and tossed ideas around. What kind of songs were we going to write? Where would they go? Who would sing them? What special texture and mood should the show have?
We had many such sessions until we became thoroughly familiar not only with every aspect of the play but with each other’s outlook and approach as well. Fortunately we were in agreement on all major issues, so that when we finally did begin putting words and notes on paper—which didn’t occur until we’d gone through weeks of discussions—we each were able to move ahead at a steady pace.
The first problem was, appropriately, how to open the show. We didn’t want to begin with anything obvious, such as a barn dance with everyone a-whoopin and a-hollerin.’ After much thought and talk we simply went to the way Lynn Riggs had opened his play, with a woman seated alone on the stage churning butter. For the lyric of the first song, Oscar developed his theme from the description that Riggs had written as an introduction to the scene:
It is a radiant summer morning several years ago, the kind of morning which, enveloping the shape of earth—men, cattle in a meadow, blades of young corn, streams—makes them seem to exist now for the first time, their images giving off a visible golden emanation that is partly true and partly a trick of imagination focusing to keep alive a loveliness that may pass away…
This was all Oscar’s poetic imagination needed to produce his lines about cattle standing like statues, the corn as high as an elephant’s eye, and the bright golden haze on the meadow. When I read them for the first time I could see those cattle and that corn and bright golden haze vividly. How prophetic were Oscar’s words I’ve got a beautiful feelin’/Everything’s goin’ my way.
By opening the show with the woman alone onstage and the cowboy beginning his song offstage, we did more than set a mood; we were, in fact, warning the audience, ‘Watch out! This is a different kind of musical.’
OKLAHOMA! launched a new era in the American musical. It also began the most successful songwriting partnership in Broadway history.
In 1942, Richard Rodgers & Lorenz Hart were at the top of their field, writing musical comedies universally praised for their wit, sophistication and innovation. A decade earlier Oscar Hammerstein II had been at the top of his field, writing operettas that consistently challenged and reshaped the art form; his SHOW BOAT, written with Jerome Kern in 1927, is considered a landmark of the American stage.
Independent of each other, both Rodgers and Hammerstein were attracted to Lynn Riggs’ folk play of life in his native Oklahoma entitled GREEN GROW THE LILACS. When Jerome Kern declined Hammerstein’s invitation to write the musical adaptation with him, and when Hart bowed out of his commitment to musicalize the work with Rodgers, it was only inevitable that the ensuing musical play would become the first work by the team of Rodgers & Hammerstein.
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, choreographed by a then unknown ballet choreographer named Agnes de Mille, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical version of LILACS, entitled AWAY WE GO, was given its world premiere engagement at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut in March of 1943. Only a few changes were made on the road, but they were significant. One number, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” was cut, and a number about the land originally planned as a duet for Laurey and Curly became instead a showstopping chorale called “Oklahoma.” So successful was this number during the musical’s pre-Broadway engagement in Boston that the decision was made to add an exclamation point to the title, and make it the name of the show.
OKLAHOMA! opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on March 31, 1943. At that time, the longest running show in Broadway history had run for three years. OKLAHOMA! surpassed that record by two more years, running for a marathon 2,212 performances. The national tour cris-crossed the United States of America for an unprecedented 10 and a half years, visiting every single state, and playing before a combined audience of more than 10 million people. In 1947, OKLAHOMA! opened at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London, where it ran for 1,548 performances, the longest run of any show up to that time in the 267-year history of the theatre. In 1953, the Oklahoma State Legislature named “Oklahoma” the official state song. In 1955, the motion picture version of OKLAHOMA!, starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones and produced by Rodgers and Hammerstein, was released to great success. Major revivals were seen on Broadway, in London’s West End and across Australia in the early ‘80s.
To date, more than 600 productions of OKLAHOMA! are licensed a year in the U.S. and Canada alone. Productions of OKLAHOMA! have been seen throughout Great Britain, Australia, Japan, and in Berlin, Johannesburg, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Rekjavik, Tel Aviv, Budapest, Belgrade, Paris and beyond.