ABOUT THE PLAY
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first collaboration remains, in many ways, their most innovative. They set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre which are still being followed today. Set in a Western Indian territory, just after the turn of the 20th 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 their 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!
Independent of each other, both Rodgers and Hammerstein were attracted to Lynn Riggs’ folk play of life in his native Oklahoma, Green Grow the Lilacs. When Jerome Kern declined Hammerstein’s invitation to write the musical adaptation with him, and when Lorenz Hart bowed out of his commitment to musicalize the work with Rodgers, it became inevitable that the ensuing musical play would become the first work by the team of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Directed by Rouben Mamoulian, choreographed by then-unknown ballet choreographer Agnes de Mille, the musical version of Green Grow the Lilacs, entitled Away We Go, was given its world premiere engagement at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut in March 1943. Only a few changes were made out of town, but they were significant. One number, “Boys and Girls Like You and Me,” was cut (and saved for the Rodgers and Hammerstein film State Fair). A number about the land originally planned as a duet for Laurey and Curly became instead a show-stopping chorale called “Oklahoma!” This number was so successful during the musical’s pre-Broadway engagement in Boston that the decision was made to add an exclamation point to the title of the song, and to make that 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 2,212 performances. The national tour ran for a then unprecedented 10 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. To date, more than 600 productions of Oklahoma! are licensed per year in the US and Canada. Productions have been seen throughout Great Britain, Australia, Japan, and in Berlin, Johannesburg, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Rekjavik, Tel Aviv, Budapest, Belgrade, Paris and beyond.
In 1944, Rodgers and Hammerstein received a Special Citation from the Pulitzer Prize Committee for the music and lyrics of Oklahoma! In 1953, the Oklahoma State Legislature named “Oklahoma!” the official state song. In 1993, the United States Postal Service honored Oklahoma! with its own commemorative stamp, making it the first Broadway musical to be so recognized. In 1993, Oklahoma! received a special Tony Award in honor of its fiftieth anniversary. Since the original production opened on Broadway four years before the establishment of the Tony Awards, Oklahoma! did not win its first competitive Tony until a revival of the production in 2002, when Shuler Hensley won the Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical as Jud Fry.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Richard Rodgers (1902-1979) and Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960) were individually successful in musical theatre and operetta when they joined forces in 1943. Their first collaboration, Oklahoma!, marked the beginning of the most successful partnership in Broadway musical history. It was followed by Carousel, Allegro, South Pacific, The King and I, Me and Juliet, Pipe Dream (1955), Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music. The team wrote one movie musical, State Fair, which was adapted to the stage in 1995, and one for television, Cinderella (1957), which was remade in 1965 and 1997.
Collectively, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals earned thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, 2 Pulitzer Prizes, and 2 Grammy Awards. In 1998, Rodgers and Hammerstein were cited by Time magazine and CBS News as among the 20 Most Influential Artists of the 20th Century, and in 1999, they were jointly commemorated on a U.S. postage stamp. On March 27, 1990, Rodgers was honored posthumously with Broadway’s highest accolade, when the 46th Street Theatre, was renamed The Richard Rodgers Theatre.
Richard Rodgers was born in 1902 to a German Jewish family in New York City. He was the son of Mamie and Dr. Williams Abrahams Rodgers, a prominent physician. Richard began playing piano at the age of six and spent his teenage summers at Camp Wigwam in Maine where he composed some of his first songs. He attended Columbia University where he met his future collaborators, Lorenz Hart and Oscar Hammerstein II. In 1921 he transferred to the Institute of Musical Art, now Julliard. Rodgers was influenced highly by the work of Victor Herbert and Jerome Kern. Rodgers died in 1979 at the age of 77 after surviving cancer of the jaw, a heart attack, and a laryngectomy. He was cremated and his ashes were scattered at sea.
Oscar Hammerstein II was born on July 12, 1895 in New York City. His father, William, was a theatre manager and for many years director of Hammerstein’s Victoria, the most popular vaudeville theatre of its day. His uncle, Arthur Hammerstein, was a successful Broadway producer and his grandfather, Oscar Hammerstein, a famous opera impresario. Hammerstein started writing lyrics for the Columbia University Varsity shows while studying law. His earliest works included musical comedies written with a Columbia undergraduate, Richard Rodgers. After his second year of Law School, Oscar dropped out of school to pursue his theatrical career, which began by working for his uncle as an assistant stage manager. Hammerstein died of stomach cancer on August 23, 1960, at his home Highland Farm in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, shortly after the opening of The Sound of Music on Broadway.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
Director and Choreographer, Michael Jenkinson, is thrilled to be working on Oklahoma! for the third time in his career, having previously played Curly and choreographed on other productions of this quintessential piece of American Musical theatre. Oklahoma! served as one of the anchors for America’s “Golden Era” of musicals, and now inspires Michael and his design team to both pay homage to the historical and aesthetic significance of this piece, while bringing it to a new generation of theatre-goers.
Michael’s goal in bringing this production to the stage is to be as simple and honest as possible, focusing on the story and the wonderful characters that were written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. During the initial design process, Michael asked the creative team to build a real, working world inside which the cast could live. Rather than mimicking the the fantastical, romantic sensibility that was seen in the film adaptation, Michael asked the team to investigate the creation of a somewhat more rugged world, made out of things that we would actually find on a farm. The costumes were to be functional for actors and dancers, while honestly representing the period of the piece. Keeping the story and the relationships of the characters in primary focus was the filter used to arrive at all the stylistic choices. While the music and the choreography are a huge component of how the story is told, Michael’s goal is that it should always move the story forward. While maintaining their technical, aural and visual beauty, these elements shouldn’t take precedence over other parts of the story. The world in which these characters live has a practical grit and emotional complexity that sets it apart from many musicals that came before. Oklahoma! represents life’s heartache, hard work, love and tragedy with a candor and freshness befitting its story’s rugged pioneer spirit. The hope is that this feeling of authenticity will aid in keeping this great, historical gem vital and immediately ‘relate-able’ for today’s audience.
Collaboration is Michael’s favorite part of the process. The team working together across all disciplines in the development of the piece is the best, and only, recipe for the creation of stellar art. The sense of community and connection that it takes to make a great play is the same spirit that is celebrated in the story of Oklahoma!