Okla bway 1943.jpg
Original Broadway Cast Album
Music Richard Rodgers
Lyrics Oscar Hammerstein II
Book Oscar Hammerstein II
Basis Lynn Riggs' play
Green Grow the Lilacs
Productions 1943 Broadway
1947 West End
1951 Broadway revival
1955 Film
1979 Broadway revival
1980 West End revival
1998 West End revival
2002 Broadway revival
2010 UK tour
Awards 1993 Special Tony Award
(50th Anniversary)

Oklahoma! is the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. 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, a friend of Laurey's.

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.[1]

This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier Show Boat, 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 is able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter.[2] In addition, Oklahoma! features musical themes, or motifs, that recur throughout the work to connect the music and story more closely than any musical ever had before.[3] A fifteen-minute "dream ballet", reflected Laurey's struggle to choose among 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.[4]



By the early 1940s, Rodgers and Hammerstein were each well known for creating Broadway hits with other collaborators. Rodgers, with Lorenz Hart, had produced a string of over two dozen musicals since the 1920s, including such popular successes as Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938) and Pal Joey (1940).[5] Among other successes, Hammerstein had written the words for Rose-Marie (1924), The Desert Song (1926), The New Moon (1927) and Show Boat (1927). Though less productive in the 1930s, he wrote musicals, songs and films, sharing an Academy Award for his song with Jerome Kern, "The Last Time I Saw Paris", which was included in the 1941 film Lady Be Good.[6] By the early 1940s, Hart had sunk into alcoholism and emotional turmoil, and he became unreliable, prompting Rodgers to approach Hammerstein to ask if he would consider working with him.[7]

In 1931, the Theatre Guild produced Lynn Riggs's Green Grow the Lilacs, a play about settlers in Oklahoma's Indian Territory. Though the play was not successful, ten years later in 1941, Theresa Helburn, one of the Guild's producers, saw a summer-stock production supplemented with traditional folk songs and square dances and decided the play could be the basis of a musical that might revive the struggling Guild. She contacted Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, whose first successful collaboration, The Garrick Gaieties, had been produced by the Theatre Guild in 1925. Rodgers wanted to work on the project and obtained the rights for himself and Hart. Rodgers had asked Oscar Hammerstein II to collaborate with him and Hart. During the tryouts of Rodgers and Hart's Best Foot Forward in 1941, Hammerstein had assured Rodgers that if Hart was ever unable to work, he would be willing to take his place.[8] Coincidentally in 1942, Hammerstein had thought of musicalizing Green Grow the Lilacs, but when he had approached Jerome Kern about it, the latter declined. Hammerstein found out that Rodgers was seeking someone to write the book, and he eagerly took the opportunity. Hart lost interest in the musical; he preferred contemporary, urbane shows that would showcase his witty lyric-writing, and he found the farmers and cowhands in Green Grow the Lilacs corny and uninspiring. Moreover, spiraling downward, consumed by his longstanding alcoholism, Hart no longer felt like writing. He embarked on a vacation to Mexico, advising Rodgers that Hammerstein would be a good choice of a new collaborator.[9][10]

This partnership allowed both Rodgers and Hammerstein to follow their preferred writing methods: Hammerstein preferred to write a complete lyric before it was set to music, and Rodgers preferred to set completed lyrics to music. In Rodgers's previous collaborations with Hart, Rodgers had always written the music first, since the unfocused Hart needed something on which to base his lyrics. Hammerstein's previous collaborators included composers Rudolf Friml, Herbert Stothart, Vincent Youmans, and Kern, who all wrote music first, for which Hammerstein then wrote lyrics. The role reversal in the Rodgers and Hammerstein partnership permitted Hammerstein to craft the lyrics into a fundamental part of the story so that the songs could amplify and intensify the story instead of diverting it.[8] As Rodgers and Hammerstein began developing the new musical, they agreed that their musical and dramatic choices would be dictated by the source material, Green Grow the Lilacs, not by musical comedy conventions.[9] Musicals of that era featured big production numbers, novelty acts, and show-stopping specialty dances; the libretti typically focused on humor, with little dramatic development, punctuated with songs that effectively halted the story for their duration.[11]

Between the world wars, roles in musicals were usually filled by actors who could sing, but Rodgers and Hammerstein chose the reverse, casting singers who could act. Though Theresa Helburn, codirector of the Theatre Guild, suggested Shirley Temple as Laurey and Groucho Marx as Ali Hakim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, with director Rouben Mammoulian's support, insisted that performers more dramatically appropriate for the roles be cast. As a result of this decision, there were no stars in the production, another unusual step.[8] The production was choreographed by Agnes de Mille (her first time choreographing a musical on Broadway), who provided one of the show's most notable and enduring features: a 15-minute first-act ballet finale (often referred to as the dream ballet) depicting Laurey's struggle to evaluate her suitors, Jud and Curly.[11]

The first title given to the work was Away We Go! which opened for out-of-town-tryouts in New Haven's Shubert Theatre on March 11, 1943.[12] Expectations for the show were low; Hammerstein had written six flops in a row, and the show had no star power. Producer Mike Todd walked out after the first act during the tryout and wisecracked “No legs, no jokes, no chance.”[10] But Rodgers and Hammerstein were confident. The New Haven audiences and then Boston critics were enthusiastic. Only a few changes were made before it opened on Broadway, but two would prove significant: the addition of the show-stopping musical number, Oklahoma! and the decision to retitle the musical after that number.

Todd had been wrong, the show opened to raves from the critics, sold out and won a special Pulitzer Prize. Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times that the show's opening number, "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" changed the history of musical theater: “After a verse like that, sung to a buoyant melody, the banalities of the old musical stage became intolerable."[10] The New York Post was the only major paper to give Oklahoma! a mixed review. Its critic felt that while the songs were pleasant enough, they sounded much alike.[13] The show's creativity stimulated Rodgers and Hammerstein's contemporaries and ushered in the "Golden Age" of American musical theatre.[10]


Act I

In Oklahoma territory in 1906, cowboy Curly McLain looks forward to the beautiful day ahead as he wanders into farm girl Laurey Williams's yard ("Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'"). He and Laurey tease each other, while Laurey's Aunt Eller looks on. There will be a box social dance that night, which includes an auction of lunch baskets prepared by the local girls to raise funds for a schoolhouse. The man who wins each lunch basket will eat the lunch with the girl who prepared it. Curly asks Laurey to go with him, but she refuses, feeling that Curly had waited too long. He attempts to persuade her by telling her that he will take her in the finest carriage money can buy ("The Surrey With The Fringe On Top"), but she teases him about it until he says he made it up to get back at her, and Laurey flounces off, not realizing that Curly really has rented such a rig.

The sinister farm hand Jud Fry has set his sights on Laurey and asks her to the dance. She accepts to spite Curly, although she is afraid of Jud. Meanwhile, cowboy Will Parker returns bedazzled and souvenir-laden from a trip to modern "Kansas City". He won $50 at the fair, which, according to his girlfriend Ado Annie's father, Andrew Carnes, is the money he needs to marry Ado Annie. Unfortunately, he spent all the money on gifts for her. Ado Annie confesses to Laurey that while he's been away, she has been spending a lot of time with Ali Hakim, a Persian peddler. Laurey tells her she'll have to choose between them, but Ado Annie insists she loves them both ("I Cain't Say No"). Laurey and her friends prepare for the social, while Gertie flirts with Curly (her obnoxious laugh floating in to taunt Laurey). Laurey tells her friends that she doesn't really care about Curly ("Many a New Day").

Andrew Carnes discovers Annie with Ali Hakim. After questioning Ado Annie about their relationship, he forces Hakim at gunpoint to agree to marry her. Hakim and the other men lament the unfairness of the situation ("It's a Scandal! It's a Outrage!"). Curly discovers that Laurey is going to the box social with Jud and tries to convince her to go with him instead. Afraid to tell Jud she won't go with him, Laurey tries to convince Curly (and herself) that she does not love him ("People Will Say We're in Love"). Hurt by her refusal, Curly goes to the smokehouse where Jud lives. Curly suggests that since Jud does not feel appreciated, he could hang himself, and everyone would realize how much they care about him ("Pore Jud is Daid"). Their talk turns into an ominous confrontation about Laurey. Later, Jud's resolve to win Laurey becomes even stronger – he is tired of being on his own in his "Lonely Room".

Confused by her feelings for Curly and her fear of Jud, Laurey purchases a "magic potion" (really a bottle of smelling salts) from Ali Hakim, which the unscrupulous peddler guarantees will reveal her true love. She muses on leaving her dreams of love behind and joining the man she loves ("Out of My Dreams"), then falls asleep under the influence of the laudanum ("Dream Sequence"). In an extended dream ballet sequence, Laurey first dreams of what marriage to Curly would be like. Her dream takes a nightmarish turn when Jud kills Curly, and she cannot escape him, confused by her desires. The dream makes her realize that Curly is the right man for her, but it is too late to change her mind about going to the dance with Jud; he has come for her, and they leave for the box social.

Act II

At the social, during the upbeat square dance ("The Farmer and the Cowman"), the rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys over fences and water rights has led to fighting, which Aunt Eller ends by firing a gun to silence everyone.[14] Laurey is upset when she sees Curly at the dance with Gertie. In an effort to rid himself of Ado Annie, Ali Hakim buys Will's souvenirs from Kansas City for $50. The auction starts and Will bids $50 on Ado Annie's basket, not realizing that without the $50, he would no longer have the money her father insisted he needs to "purchase" marriage with her. Desperate to be rid of Ado Annie, the peddler bids $51 to get the basket so that Will can approach Andrew Carnes with the $50 and claim Ado Annie as his bride. The auction becomes much more serious when Laurey's basket comes up for auction. Jud has saved all his money so he can win Laurey's basket. Various men bid, trying to protect Laurey, but Jud outbids them all. Curly and Jud engage in a ferocious bidding war, and Curly sells all his prized possessions to raise money: his saddle, his horse, and even his gun; without these, Curly can no longer be a cowboy and will have to become a farmer. Curly outbids Jud and wins the basket. Jud then tries to kill Curly with a "Little Wonder" (a metal tube used for looking at pictures, but with a hidden blade inside). His plan is foiled when Aunt Eller (knowing what is happening) loudly asks Curly for a dance. Later that night, Will and Annie work out their differences, as she reluctantly agrees not to flirt with other men ("All Er Nuthin'").

Jud confronts Laurey about his feelings for her. When she admits that she does not return them, he threatens her. She then fires him as her farm hand, screaming at him to get off her property. Jud furiously threatens Laurey before he departs; Laurey bursts into tears and calls for Curly. She tells him that she has fired Jud and is frightened by what Jud might do now. Curly, seeing that she has turned to him for guidance and safety, reassures her and proposes to her, and she accepts ("People Will Say We're In Love" (Reprise)). He then realizes that he must now become a farmer.

Three weeks later, Laurey and Curly are married and everyone rejoices in celebration of the territory's impending statehood ("Oklahoma!"). A drunken Jud reappears and attacks Curly with a knife. As Curly dodges a blow, Jud falls on his own knife and soon dies. The wedding guests hold a makeshift trial for Curly, at Aunt Eller's urging, as the couple is due to leave for their honeymoon. The judge, Andrew Carnes, declares the verdict: "not guilty!" Curly and Laurey depart on their honeymoon in the surrey with the fringe on top ("Finale Ultimo").

Principal roles and notable performers

Character Description Notable stage performers
Curly McLain A cowboy in love with Laurey Alfred Drake°, Harry Stockwell, Howard Keel, Hugh Jackman, Patrick Wilson, Laurence Guittard, Lance Smith
Laurey Williams Aunt Eller's niece, an independent young woman Joan Roberts°, Christine Andreas, Leila Benn Harris, Josefina Gabrielle, Florence Henderson, Lucy Durack
Jud Fry A hired hand on Aunt Eller's ranch, a mysterious and dangerous loner Howard Da Silva°, Shuler Hensley, Alfred Molina
Aunt Eller Laurey's aunt, a respected community leader Betty Garde°, Mary Wickes, Andrea Martin, Patty Duke, Margaret Hamilton, Maureen Lipman, Louise Plowright
Ado Annie Carnes A flirtatious, gullible young woman Celeste Holm°, Shelley Winters, Barbara Cook, Christine Ebersole, Jessica Boevers, Amanda Harrison
Will Parker A simple young man in love with Ado Annie Lee Dixon°, Harry Groener
Andrew Carnes Ado Annie's father, eager to have her marry Ralph Riggs°
Ali Hakim A Persian peddler, enamored of Ado Annie Joseph Buloff°, Eddie Albert, Peter Polycarpou, Bruce Adler, Jamie Farr, Aasif Mandvi
Ike Skidmore A local farm owner, hosting the box social Barry Kelley°
Gertie Cummings A local farm girl, fond of Curly, marries Ali Hakim Jane Lawrence°, Pamela Britton

° denotes original Broadway cast

Musical numbers

Act I
Act II

Production history

Original Broadway

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) and Joseph Bulloff (Ali Hakim). 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 2,212 performances, finally closing on May 29, 1948.[15] "The demand for tickets was unprecedented as the show became more popular in the months that followed" the opening.[16] Oklahoma! ran for over five years, a Broadway record that "would not be bested until My Fair Lady (1956)."[16] A year and a half after the Broadway opening, the "first of several" national tours began in New Haven, Connecticut. "Productions of 'Oklahoma!' would remain on the road in the United States and Canada" through 1954. A 1953 article in The New York Times reported that the show "not only holds the record for the longest run of a musical on Broadway but is believed to be the only musical to have enjoyed a consecutive run of ten years. It ran on Broadway for five years and two months, grossing $7,000,000. The tour of the national company, which started late in 1943, has grossed $15,000,000."[17] The Tony Awards and other awards now given for achievement in musical theatre were not in existence in 1943, and therefore the original production of Oklahoma! received no theatrical awards.

The United Service Organizations sponsored a tour to U.S. military bases in 1945 that lasted for many years.[18][19] The New York Times reported: "The tenth anniversary of the Broadway opening of Oklahoma! will be celebrated in Washington, where the Theatre Guild's touring company of the phenomenal musical will be playing at that time. ... According to a Guild 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 a special company that toured the U.S.O. Camp Shows circuit during the war'."[20]

Original West End

Oklahoma! was the first of a post-war wave of Broadway musicals to reach London's West End. It starred Howard Keel (then known as Harold Keel), opening at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on April 30, 1947 to rave press reviews and sellout houses, running for 1,543 performances.[21] A pre-London run opened a day late at the Manchester Opera House on April 18, 1947, after the ship carrying the cast, scenery, and costumes ran aground on a sandbank off Southampton.[22]

1951 Broadway revival

A 1951 revival produced by the Theatre Guild opened at The Broadway Theatre on May 9, 1951, and ran for 100 performances. Ridge Bond played Curly, Patricia Northrop played Laurey, Henry Clarke was Jud, and Jacqueline Sundt played Ado Annie. Mamoulian and de Mille returned to direct and choreograph, and the production was restaged by Jerome Whyte.[23] In 1953, a 10th anniversary revival opened on August 31 at the New York City Center Theatre. It ran for a limited engagement of 40 performances before going on tour. The cast included Florence Henderson as Laurey, Ridge Bond as Curly and Barbara Cook as Annie. Mamoulian and De Mille directed and choreographed.[24][25]

1979 Broadway revival

A 1979 revival played at the Palace Theatre on Broadway, with nine previews beginning on December 6, 1979. The show opened on December 13, 1979 and closed on August 24, 1980, running for 293 performances. William Hammerstein (Oscar's son) directed, and Gemze de Lappe recreated Agnes De Mille's choreography. The show starred Christine Andreas as Laurey, Laurence Guittard as Curly, Mary Wickes as Aunt Eller, Christine Ebersole as Ado Annie, Martin Vidnovic as Jud Fry, Harry Groener as Will Parker and Bruce Adler as Ali Hakim.[26] The show's original music director returned for the production. Andreas and Groener both received Tony Award nominations for their performances, and Vidnovic won a Drama Desk Award. This production started as a cross-country national tour, beginning at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles on May 1, 1979.[27]

1980 West End revival

The following year, William Hammerstein revived his 1979 Broadway staging in England with a new production at the Haymarket Theatre, Leicester, in 1980. A UK tour followed, produced by Emile Littler and Cameron Mackintosh. It eventually settled in the West End, opening at the Palace Theatre, London, on September 17, 1980, and running until September 19, 1981.[28] This production starred John Diedrich as Curly and Alfred Molina as Jud Fry. John Owen Edwards acted as Musical Director/Supervisor for this production. He would later reprise his work for Mackintosh's 1998 London revival. A cast recording of this production was issued by JAY Records and on the Showtime! label.[29] Both Diedrich and Molina received Olivier Award nominations.[30]

1998 West End revival

Hugh Jackman on the cover of the DVD of the London revival

A new production of the musical was presented by the National Theatre in London at the Olivier Theatre, opening on July 15, 1998. The production team included Trevor Nunn (director), Susan Stroman (choreographer), John Owen Edwards (musical director) and William David Brohn (orchestrator). This production received numerous Olivier Award nominations, with Hensley winning the award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical.[31] According to the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, the limited engagement was a sell-out and broke all previous box office records,[32] and so the show was transferred to the Lyceum Theatre in the West End for a six-month run.[33] Plans to transfer to Broadway with the London cast were thwarted by Actors' Equity, which insisted that American actors must be cast.[34][35] Eventually a U.S. cast was selected.[36]

Music supervisor John Owen Edwards, orchestrator William David Brohn and dance arranger David Krane adapted Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations and extended some of the dance sequences. A brand new Dream Ballet was composed for Susan Stroman's new choreography and the dances to "Kansas City", "Many a New Day" and "The Farmer and the Cowman" were all radically redesigned. The overture to the show was also altered, at the request of director Trevor Nunn. The international cast included Hugh Jackman as Curly, Maureen Lipman as Aunt Eller, Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey, Shuler Hensley as Jud Fry, Vicki Simon as Ado Annie, Peter Polycarpou as Ali Hakim and Jimmy Johnston as Will Parker.[33] This production was filmed and issued on DVD, as well as being broadcast on U.S. Public Television in November 2003.[37]

2002 Broadway revival

The London production was repeated on Broadway at the George Gershwin Theatre on March 21, 2002, with direction by Nunn. The production closed on February 23, 2003 after 388 performances. Only two of the London cast, Josefina Gabrielle as Laurey and Shuler Hensley as Jud, were in the production, which also featured Patrick Wilson as Curly and Andrea Martin as Aunt Eller. It was nominated for seven Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical, Best Featured Actress in a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical (which was awarded to Hensley). The musical was also nominated for nine Drama Desk Awards, with Hensley winning as Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical and Susan Stroman winning for choreography.

Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times: "At its best, which is usually when it's dancing, this resurrection of Rodgers and Hammerstein's epochal show is dewy with an adolescent lustiness, both carnal and naive, exuberant and confused." The review stated that "Anthony Ward's harmoniously curved set, in which the sky seems to stretch into eternity, again pulses with the promise of a land on the verge of transformation."[38] The New York Daily News review commented that "Visually, this one is stunning – at times, Anthony Ward's sets have a pastoral, idyllic quality, like Thomas Hart Benton's paintings. At other times, especially in lighting designer David Hersey's lustrous palette, they convey the bleakness of the frontier." The review also stated that the Royal National Theatre "brought it back to us in a way that makes it seem fresh and vital."[39] However, USA Today gave the production a tepid assessment, its reviewer writing that "A cold breeze blows through this beautiful mornin', and that golden haze is never quite bright enough."[40] The production went on to tour nationally from 2003–2006.[41]

Other productions


Oklahoma! is presented nightly except Sundays each summer at the Discoveryland amphitheater, an outdoor theatre near Tulsa, Oklahoma. 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!" The production debuted in 1977.[42]

2006 Japan

In 2006, Oklahoma! was performed in Japan by the all-female Takarazuka Revue. This revival starred Yuu Todoroki, Ai Shirosaki, and Hiromu Kiriya.[43]

2009 Chichester Theatre Festival

In the summer of 2009, British director John Doyle directed the musical at the Chichester Festival Theatre. The production was dark in concept and featured new orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. On a spare stage, decorated only with blue sheets, "Confetti of rose petals stains the floor like drops of blood, and a nightmarish dream-dance sequence has Freudian overtones as Laurey's bridal gown becomes her shroud."[44][45] It received mixed reviews. The Times reviewer wrote: "This is a very stylised, overdrilled production, no friend of intimate moments or quiet depth of emotion."[46] The Guardian liked it the most, stating that "it's a delight, with one brilliant tippy-tappy-toed song after another and a nugget of darkness lodged in its sweet heart."[44] Whats On Stage, like most of the papers, gave the show three out of five stars and wrote that this is a "downbeat vision" and that "all told it's a somewhat disappointing show", but their "average reader rating" was four stars.[47] A review in The Telegraph noted, "Doyle uses shadow and silhouette to bring out the musical's nightmarish aspects but doesn't over-labour them. There are enough sunny spots – no more so than in Act 2's rousing title song – to keep the tone evenly textured."[45]

2010 UK tour

The show toured England for nine months in 2010 in a new staging by Julian Woolford, with Marti Webb as Aunt Eller and Mark Evans as Curly.[48]

2010 Washington, DC Arena Stage

Oklahoma! opened on October 23, 2010 at the Arena Stage to critical acclaim,[49][50] inaugurating the redesigned Fichandler "theater in the round" stage, in the newly renovated Arena Stage complex.[49] Artistic Director Molly Smith cast the musical to mirror both contemporary Washington, DC demographics and the diverse population of the play's 1906 Oklahoma territory setting.[51] The production received ten 2011 Helen Hayes Award nominations in the resident division, winning as Outstanding Resident Musical (tying with Shakespeare Theatre's Candide) and for Choreography (Parker Esse), Lead Actor (Nicholas Rodriguez as Curly) and Musical Direction (George Fulginiti-Shakar).[52] The production returned to the Arena Stage for a second run on July 8, 2011.[53]

1955 film adaptation

The 1955 film adaptation starred Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones (in her film debut),[54] Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore and Eddie Albert. It was the only musical film directed by Fred Zinnemann,[55] and Agnes de Mille choreographed. It was the first feature film photographed in the Todd-AO 70 mm widescreen process.[56][57]

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. For example, Kansas City is performed at the train station, where Aunt Eller and other cowboys meet Will Parker just after he returns from Kansas City. Lyrics in the song about a burlesque stripteaser were slightly changed to pass film censorship.[55] In a nod to Green Grow the Lilacs, which was the basis of the musical, Jud attempts revenge on Curly and Laurey by burning a haystack they stand on, before Curly jumps down, landing on Jud and causing him to fall on his own knife. The film omits only "It's a Scandal, It's an Outrage" and "Lonely Room".[56] The film won Academy Awards for Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture and Best Sound, Recording.[58]


Most of the songs from Oklahoma! were released on a record album by Decca Records in 1943 containing six 10-inch double-sided discs in 78 RPM format. It was the first U.S. cast album featuring the original Broadway cast of a musical. It sold over a million copies, prompting the label to call the cast back into the studio to record three additional selections that had been left out of the first set. These were issued as Oklahoma! Volume Two. In 1949, Decca re-released the first set on LP but not the second set, which soon became a very rare collectors' item. All subsequent LP releases were similarly incomplete. Finally in 2000, Decca Broadway went back to the original glass masters to generate a new high fidelity transfer of the complete song program and released it on CD, utilizing the original 78 album artwork.[59]

The success of the original Oklahoma! cast album led to many more recordings by the original casts, such as Ethel Merman in Annie Get Your Gun, Mary Martin and Ezio Pinza in South Pacific, and Rex Harrison and Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady.[citation needed] Later cast recordings of Oklahoma! include the 1979 Broadway revival cast recording, the 1980 London revival cast recording, the 1998 Royal National Theatre revival cast recording, and a soundtrack album of the 1955 film. There have also been more than 20 studio cast recordings of the show, featuring stars such as Nelson Eddy, John Raitt and Florence Henderson in the leading roles.[60]


The original production of Oklahoma! was an unprecedented critical and popular success. John Anderson of the New York Journal American pronounced the musical "a beautiful and delightful show, fresh and imaginative, as enchanting to the eye as Richard Rodgers's music is to the ear. It has, at a rough estimate, practically everything".[23] In the New York Herald Tribune, Howard Barnes wrote, "Songs, dances, and a story have been triumphantly blended.... The Richard Rodgers score is one of his best, and that is saying plenty. Oscar Hammerstein 2nd has written a dramatically imaginative libretto and a string of catchy lyrics; Agnes de Mille has worked small miracles in devising original dances to fit the story and the tunes, while Rouben Mamoulian has directed an excellent company with great taste and craftsmanship."[23] Louis Kronenberger of PM opined that "Mr. Hammerstein's lyrics have less crispness and wit than Lorenz Hart's at their best, but the songs in Oklahoma! call for less sophisticated words, and Mr. Hammerstein has found very likeable ones."[23]

In the New York Daily News, Burns Mantle declared that "Oklahoma! really is different – beautifully different. With the songs that Richard Rodgers has fitted to a collection of unusually atmospheric and intelligible lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein 2nd, Oklahoma! seems to me to be the most thoroughly and attractively American musical comedy since Edna Ferber's Show Boat".[23] New York World-Telegram critic Burton Rascoe particularly emphasized the groundbreaking choreography, stating that "Richard Rodgers has written for the show one of the finest musical scores any musical play ever had. Next to Mr. Rodgers, however, must stand the amazing Agnes de Mille, whose choreography, carried out to perfection by her ballet [corps], is actually the biggest hit of the show. The "Out of My Dreams" and "All Er Nuthin'" dances are such supreme aesthetic delights.... They are spinetingling, out of this world."[23] In The New York Sun, Ward Morehouse commented that "Oklahoma! is charming and leisurely. And tunely. And certainly not topical," of other shows opening in the early years of World War II. "It reveals Mr. Rodgers, shorn only for the moment of Larry Hart, in good form indeed. And nobody in last night's audience seemed to have a better time than Mr. Hart himself, who applauded the proceedings from a seat in Row B."[23] Lorenz Hart himself "pushed his way through the crowd at the after-show party in Sardi's restaurant and threw his arms around his ex-partner, grinning from ear to ear. He told Rodgers he had never had a better evening at the theater in his life."[8]

The only negative review of the musical appeared in the New York Post: The critic wrote that "it all seemed just a trifle too cute", stating that the score consisted of "a flock of Mr. Rodgers's songs that are pleasant enough, but still manage to sound quite a bit alike ... without much variety in the presentation." She concluded that the show was "very picturesque in a studied fashion, reminding us that life on a farm is apt to become a little tiresome."[23]

Antecedents and Influence

According to playwright and theatre writer Thomas Hischak, "Not only is 'Oklahoma!' the most important of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, it is also the single most influential work in the American musical theatre. ... It is the first fully integrated musical play and its blending of song, character, plot and even dance would serve as the model for Broadway shows for decades."[61] William Zinsser observed that Oklahoma! broke the old "musical comedy conventions", with the songs "delving into character" and advancing the plot.[62] The show "became a milestone, so that later historians writing about important moments in twentieth-century theatre would begin to identify eras according to their relationship to Oklahoma!"[63] Oklahoma! made Rodgers and Hammerstein "the most important contributors to the musical-play form. ... The examples they set in creating vital plays, often rich with social thought, provided the necessary encouragement for other gifted writers to create musical plays of their own".[64]

Theater historian Ethan Mordden points out that, although Oklahoma! has been called "the first integrated musical, the first American folk musical", Show Boat "got there first on both counts."[65] Even earlier, the Princess Theatre musicals, following Gilbert and Sullivan and French opéra bouffe, began the reintegration of song and story after decades of thinly plotted British and American musicals, paving the way for Show Boat and Oklahoma! by showing that a musical could combine popular entertainment with continuity between its story and songs.[66] These Princess Theatre shows, which featured modern American settings, "built and polished the mold from which almost all later major musical comedies evolved. ... The characters and situations were, within the limitations of musical comedy license, believable and the humor came from the situations or the nature of the characters. Kern's exquisitely flowing melodies were employed to further the action or develop characterization."[67][68] Mordden also notes that Oklahoma! was called the first great dance musical, but other musicals had earlier focused on dance, among them Gay Divorce and On Your Toes. He concludes: "But Oklahoma! was the first American musical with an ethnic sound, words and music entirely in the folk idiom."[65]

Awards and nominations

1947 Theatre World Award
  • Dorothea MacFarland[69]
1980 Tony Awards
1980 Drama Desk Awards
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical – Martin Vidnovic (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical – Harry Groener (Nomination)
1980 Theatre World Award
  • Theatre World Award – Harry Groener WINNER
1993 Tony Awards
  • Special Award in honor of the show's 50th anniversary year
1998 Critics' Circle Theatre Awards
  • Best Musical
1998 Evening Standard Award
  • Best Musical
1999 Olivier Awards
  • Outstanding Musical Production WINNER
  • Best Actor in a Musical – Hugh Jackman (Nomination)
  • Best Actress in a Musical – Josefina Gabrielle (Nomination)
  • Best Supporting Actor in a Musical – Jimmy Johnston (Nomination)
  • Best Supporting Actor in a Musical – Shuler Hensley (WINNER)
  • Best Director – Trevor Nunn (Nomination)
  • Best Set Designer – Anthony Ward (WINNER)
  • Best Lighting Designer – David Hersey (Nomination)
  • Best Theatre Choreographer – Susan Stroman (WINNER)
2002 Tony Awards
  • Best Revival of a Musical (Nomination)
  • Best Leading Actor in a Musical – Patrick Wilson (Nomination)
  • Best Featured Actor in a Musical – Shuler Hensley (WINNER)
  • Best Featured Actress in a Musical – Andrea Martin (Nomination)
  • Best Lighting Design – David Hersey (Nomination)
  • Best Choreography – Susan Stroman (Nomination)
  • Best Direction of a Musical – Trevor Nunn (Nomination)
2002 Drama Desk Awards
  • Outstanding Revival of a Musical (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Actor in a Musical – Patrick Wilson (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical – Justin Bohon (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical – Shuler Hensley (WINNER)
  • Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical – Andrea Martin (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Choreography – Susan Stroman (WINNER)
  • Outstanding Director of a Musical – Trevor Nunn (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Set Design of a Musical – Anthony Ward (Nomination)
  • Outstanding Lighting Design – David Hersey (Nomination)
2002 Theatre World Awards
  • Theatre World Award – Justin Bohon WINNER<ref name="World Awards Recipients"/

Cultural references

Oklahoma! has frequently been quoted or parodied in films, television and other media. The following list includes some of the more notable references.

  • The songs "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "Oklahoma!" were spoofed in the animated film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut. One of the spoofs is the song "Uncle Fucka", which parodies the spelled-out O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A of the musical's title song. A similar spoof is heard in the musical Curtains, concerning the title song of the Oklahoma!-like musical performed within the show.
  • In the film When Harry Met Sally..., Harry and Sally sing a karaoke version of "Surrey With the Fringe on Top".
  • In the film Twister, Beltzer is heard singing the song "Oklahoma!" when he is introduced.
  • In the film Dave, the title character sings the song "Oklahoma!"
  • In the The Simpsons episode "Milhouse of Sand and Fog", the character Milhouse imagines himself and Bart singing "The Farmer and the Cowman".
  • Sesame Street featured Kermit the Frog as a director making the film "Oklahoma" and Forgetful Jones singing the title song from "Oklahoma!" but forgetting how it begings, trying "Aaaaaa-klahoma", "Eeeeee-klahoma" and "Iiiiii-klahoma". On episode 317 of The Muppet Show, Fozzie Bear, dressed as a cowboy, begins to sing "Oklahoma", but large Muppets dressed as Samurai warriors turn the number into a parody called "Yokohama". Ray Charles performed "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" on Sesame Street in 1977.
  • In the Fawlty Towers episode "Gourmet Night", Polly serenades the guests with a rendition of "I Cain't Say No".
  • In episode 9 of Band of Brothers, "Why We Fight" (2001), Captain Nixon mentions that Oklahoma! was still on Broadway, causing the soldiers to break out in song.
  • On an episode of Friends, "The One Where Emma Cries", Chandler accidentally accepts a job in Tulsa, and his wife Monica says that she does not want to move to Oklahoma or see the musical Oklahoma! Chandler responds by listing the songs from the musical, and Monica asks whether he is telling her that he got a job in Oklahoma or that he is gay.
  • In the December 31, 2008 episode of The Rachel Maddow Show, comedian Kent Jones sang "Minnesota" to the tune of "Oklahoma!".
Other media
  • In the mid-1940s, radio comedian Fred Allen wrote parody lyrics to the tune of "Surrey With the Fringe on Top": "Union Suit with the Hinge on the Back." The parody was repeated on subsequent programs.
  • The title song became the official state song of Oklahoma in 1953. (Oklahoma became a state on November 16, 1907.)
  • In the song "Oklahoma, U.S.A." by The Kinks, on their album Muswell Hillbillies, the protagonist dreams of "riding in the surrey with the fringe on top", and of Shirley Jones and Gordon Macrae
  • Uniform, Jerry Seinfeld's first Superman webisode commercial for American Express in 1998, featured a spoof of the musical, "Oh, Yes! Wyoming!"


  1. ^ TIME magazine reported in its May 26, 2008 issue, p. 51, that Oklahoma! tied (with Bye Bye Birdie) as the eighth most frequently produced musical by U.S. high schools in 2007.
  2. ^ Everett, p. 137, chapter by Riis, Thomas L., with Ann Sears and Everett
  3. ^ Wilk, Max. OK! The Story of Oklahoma!: A Celebration of America's Most Beloved Musical. Rev. ed. New York: Applause Books, 2002. ISBN 1-557-83555-1
  4. ^ Information from the Pulitzer.org website
  5. ^ Secrest, pp. 403-04
  6. ^ “Oscar Hammerstein II”. Songwriters Hall of Fame, accessed December 22, 2010
  7. ^ Layne, Joslyn. Lorenz Hart Biography at Allmusic, accessed December 22, 2010
  8. ^ a b c d Nolan, pp. 1-25.
  9. ^ a b Kantor and Malson, pp. 196-202
  10. ^ a b c d Gordon, John Steele. Oklahoma'!'. Retrieved June 13, 2010
  11. ^ a b Kenrick, John. "History of the Musical Stage, 1940s Part II: Oklahoma, OK!" Musicals101.com, accessed October 11, 2011
  12. ^ Information on the tryout from Capa.com
  13. ^ Lewis, David H., Broadway musicals: A Hundred Year History, 2002, McFarland & Company, p. 35
  14. ^ Carter, Tim. "Reading Oklahoma!" Oklahoma!: The Making of an American Musical, Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 030010619X, p. 177
  15. ^ "'Oklahoma!'" at the Internet Broadway Database, retrieved May 20, 2010
  16. ^ a b Hischak, p. 202
  17. ^ Gelb, Arthur. "Facts and Figures on a Gold Mine", The New York Times, March 29, 1953, p. X1
  18. ^ Hischak, p. 203
  19. ^ Mordden, Ethan. Beautiful Mornin: The Broadway Musical in the 1940s, Oxford University Press U.S., 1999, ISBN 0195128516, p. 78. Mordden states that the tour got back to New York in 1953, after ten years on the road, as Oklahoma! s first revival, but the first Broadway revival was on May 9, 1951, according to the Internet Broadway database.
  20. ^ "Oklahoma! to Celebrate 10th Birthday March 31", The New York Times, February 15, 1953, p. 79
  21. ^ Who's Who in the Theatre, 11th edition, 1952. See also The Times review, May 1, 1947.
  22. ^ Chronicle of the 20th Century, entry for April 14, 1947: "Southampton, The luxury liner RMS Queen Elizabeth runs aground." See also article by Dr Anthony Field in The Stage newspaper, January 9, 1997.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h Suskin, pp. 499-503.
  24. ^ Oklahoma!, New York City Center Theatre, "Stagebill" program, October 6, 1953
  25. ^ Atkinson, Brooks. "'Oklahoma!' Revived at City Center; Celebrating Rodgers and Hammerstein's Official Week". The New York Times (abstract), September 1, 1953, p. 19
  26. ^ Gänzl, Kurt. Gänzl's Book of the Broadway Musical: 75 Favorite Shows, from H.M.S. Pinafore to Sunset Boulevard', pp. 103-08. Schirmer Books, New York, 1995. ISBN 0-02-870832-6
  27. ^ Searl, Hanford. "L.A. Debut of Oklahoma! A True Revival Production". Billboard, May 19, 1979
  28. ^ "'Oklahoma!' at the Palace Theatre, September 17, 1980 – September 19, 1981". Thisistheatre.com, retrieved May 20, 2010
  29. ^ "'Oklahoma!", 1980 London Cast". Castalbumcollector.com, retrieved May 20, 2010
  30. ^ "Olivier Award nominations, 1980" officiallondontheatre.co.uk, retrieved May 20, 2010
  31. ^ "Olivier Winners, 1999". Officiallondontheatre.co.uk, retrieved May 20, 2010
  32. ^ "London Welcomes a Perfect Oklahoma!". Happy Talk, the newsletter of the Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization. Vol. 6 Issue 1, Fall 1998, Interview with Hensley, retrieved June 4, 2010
  33. ^ a b Heppel, David. "Curtain Up review, Oklahoma!, 1998". Curtainup.com, July 1998, retrieved May 20, 2010
  34. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Actors' Equity Denies London Cast of Oklahoma! U.S. Visit". Playbill.com, January 22, 1999
  35. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Equity Stands Firm on Americans in Oklahoma!" Playbill.com, February 17, 1999
  36. ^ McBride, Murdoch. "Oklahoma! OK'd: Stroman, Nunn Begin U.S. Casting in June; Fall Start Likely". Playbill.com, May 17, 2000
  37. ^ Gans, Andrew and Simonson, Robert. "PBS To Air Hugh Jackman Oklahoma! in November". Playbill.com, October 8, 2003
  38. ^ Brantley, Ben. "This Time, a Beautiful Mornin' With a Dark Side", The New York Times, March 22, 2002, Section E, p. 1
  39. ^ Kissel, Howard. "Oh, What a Beautiful Revival of a Pure Prairie Classic". New York Daily News, March 22, 2002
  40. ^ Gardner, Elysa. "Oklahoma! revival is just slightly better than OK", USA Today, March 22, 2002, Life Section, p. 1E
  41. ^ Simonson, Robert. "Oklahoma! Closes on Broadway Feb. 23; Tour to Follow". Playbill.com, February 23, 2003
  42. ^ "Discoveryland! Honors and Awards", Discoveryland! USA, Inc., retrieved July 11, 2010
  43. ^ "Oklahoma! in 2006 listing. Takarazuka-revue.info, retrieved May 20, 2010
  44. ^ a b Gardner, Lyn. "'Oklahoma!'Chichester Festival Theatre". The Guardian, 27 June 2009
  45. ^ a b Cavendish, Dominic. "Oklahoma! at Chichester". The Telegraph, 25 June 2009, accessed June 7, 2010
  46. ^ Nightingale, Benedict. "'Oklahoma!' at the Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex". The Times, June 26, 2009
  47. ^ Cooter, Maxwell. "'Oklahoma!'" Whatsonstage.com, 25 June 2009
  48. ^ Cole, Simon. "Marti Webb Opens New Tour of Oklahoma!" Whatsonstage.com, March 18, 2010
  49. ^ a b Marks, Peter. "A grand new state: You just cain't say no to Arena Stage's 'Oklahoma!'" Washington Post, November 6, 2010
  50. ^ See also Billups, Edith. "'Oklahoma!' at the Arena Stage in D.C." Washington Times, November 9, 2010; Blanchard, Jayne. "'Oklahoma!' Review" dctheatrescene.com, November 7, 2010; and Jones, Kenneth. "Arena Stage Opens Its Doors to the World at Oct. 23 "Homecoming," With Alumni Stars". Playbill.com, October 23, 2010
  51. ^ BWW News Staff. "Review Roundup: 'Oklahoma!' at Arena Stage". Broadwayworld.com, December 6, 2010
  52. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "DC's Helen Hayes Winners Include Candide, The Liar, Clybourne Park, Oklahoma!, Thurgood". Playbill.com, April 25, 2011
  53. ^ Jones, Kenneth. "Still Doin' Fine: Arena Stage Revives Its Hit 2010 Oklahoma!, Starting July 8". Playbill.com, July 8, 2011
  54. ^ Jones had previously performed in a stage production of Oklahoma! See: Oklahoma! from Turner Classic Movies
  55. ^ a b Audio commentary by Ted Chapin and Hugh Fordin, CinemaScope version of film, 2-DVD 50th Anniversary Edition (2005), 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
  56. ^ a b Oklahoma! from Turner Classic Movies
  57. ^ [1]
  58. ^ "The 28th Academy Awards (1956) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. http://www.oscars.org/awards/academyawards/legacy/ceremony/28th-winners.html. Retrieved 2011-08-20. 
  59. ^ http://www.deccabroadway.com/product/default.aspx?pid=56721&aid=96945 'Decca Broadway – Oklahoma' web page. Accessed May 22, 2010
  60. ^ Fick, David. "Oklahoma! Cast Recording Reviews". Musical Cyberspace, March 31, 2003, accessed September 26, 2010
  61. ^ Hischak, p. 201
  62. ^ Zinsser, William. Easy to Remember:The Great American Songwriters and Their Songs, David R. Godine Publisher, 2006, ISBN 1567923259, p. 180
  63. ^ Everett, p. 124.
  64. ^ Lubbock, Mark. "American musical theatre: an introduction" excerpted from The Complete Book of Light Opera, London: Putnam, 1962, pp. 753–56
  65. ^ a b Mordden, Ethan. 'Broadway Babies: The People Who Made the American Musical, Oxford University Press US, 1988, ISBN 0195054253, p. 140
  66. ^ Jones 2003, pp. 10–11
  67. ^ Bordman, Gerald and Thomas Hischak, eds. "Kern, Jerome (David)". The Oxford Companion to American Theatre, third edition, Oxford University Press 2004. Oxford Reference Online, accessed May 15, 2010 (requires subscription)
  68. ^ Kenrick, John. History of The Musical Stage 1910-1919: Part I, accessed May 11, 2010
  69. ^ World Awards Recipients, Theatre World Awards, accessed May 18, 2010


  • Carter, Tim. Oklahoma!: the making of an American musical. Yale University Press, 2007, ISBN 030010619X
  • Everett, William A. and Paul R. Laird. The Cambridge Companion to the Musical, Cambridge University Press, 2002, ISBN 0 521 79189 8
  • Hischak, Thomas S. The Rodgers and Hammerstein Encyclopedia. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2007, ISBN 0313341400
  • Jones, John B. Our Musicals, Ourselves. Hanover: University Press of New England, 2003 ISBN 978-1-58465-311-0
  • Kantor, Michael and Maslon, Laurence. Broadway: The American Musical. New York: Bullfinch Press, 2004. ISBN 0-8212-2905-2
  • Nolan, Frederick. The Sound of Their Music: The Story of Rodgers and Hammerstein. New York: Applause Books, 2002,1-55783-473-3
  • Suskin, Steven. Opening Night on Broadway: A Critical Quotebook of the Golden Era of the Musical Theatre, pp. 499–503. New York: Schirmer Books, 1990. ISBN 0-02-872625-1

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