June 16, 2021

OKLAHOMA! premiered on Broadway

The original production of OKLAHOMA! on Broadway premiered on March 31, 1943 at the St. James Theater in New York. It was directed by Rouben Mamoulian, choreographed by Agnes De Mille and starring Alfred Drake (Curly), Joan Roberts (Laurey), Celeste Holm (Ado Annie), Howard Da Silva (Jud Fry), Betty Garde (Aunt Eller), Lee Dixon (Will Parker), Joseph Buloff (Ali Hakim), Jane Lawrence (Gertie), Barry Kelley (Ike), and George S. Irving (Joe).

The production lasted 2,212 performances and was finally closed on May 29, 1948. OKLAHOMA! it ran for more than five years, a Broadway record that would not be surpassed until MY FAIR LADY (1956). The Tony Awards and other awards currently given for achievement in musical theater did not exist in 1943, so the original Oklahoma production! he did not receive any theater awards.

OKLAHOMA! it was the first in a wave of postwar Broadway musicals to hit London’s West End. Starring Howard Keel and Betty Jane Watson, it premiered at the Theater Royal, Drury Lane, on April 30, 1947, to rave reviews and sold-out tickets, and ran for 1,543 performances.

The musical has had several revivals both on Broadway and in the West End, such as those of 1979 and 1980, respectively. In addition, the 2019 Broadway revival won the Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

In 1955, OKLAHOMA! hit the big screen starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore and Eddie Albert. It was the only musical film directed by Fred Zinnemann, and the choreography by Agnes De Mille. It was the first feature film shot in the 70mm widescreen Todd-AO process.

Rodgers and Hammerstein personally supervised the film to prevent the studio from making the changes that were then typical in theater-to-film adaptations of musicals, such as the interpolation of new songs from others. The film followed the stage version more closely than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein film adaptation.

In addition, it is worth noting another film adaptation of the musical, the 1998 one starring Australian Hugh Jackman under the direction of Trevor Nunn.

Set on a farm outside the town of Claremore, in the Indian Territory, in 1906, OKLAHOMA! tells the story of farmer Laurey Williams and her courtship with two rival suitors, the cowboy Curly McLain and the sinister and fearsome farmer Jud Fry.