Certainly by now we have all seen the pictures and videos of the devastation left in the wake of the tornadoes in Oklahoma a week ago. So I thought I would offer up a tribute of the state with a look at a great musical I think everyone must know. I thought I would visit 'Oklahoma!', the brilliant musical with music by Richard Rodgers and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical first opened on Broadway 70 years ago, in 1943. The original production starred Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Celeste Holm, Howard Da Silva, and Lee Dixon, and was choreographed by the legendary Agnes de Mille. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, 'Green Grow the Lilacs'. The show is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906, and tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams, as well as the relationship between cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie. The show opened in London in 1947, and had Broadway revivals in 1951, 1979, and 2002. The musical was filmed for 20th Century Fox for a 1955 release, starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger, Charlotte Greenwood, Gloria Grahame, Gene Nelson, James Whitmore and Eddie Albert. There was also a 1998 revival in London that featured Hugh Jackman as Curly.
With music by the iconic team of Rodgers and Hammerstein, there is so much excellent music available, it was tough to winnow it down to just a few songs. But I thought I would lead off with a magnificent song, "Oh What A Beautiful Morning". I remember growing up and this being a part of the cultural experience, and everyone could sing it, either for real, or in a mocking way. In the clip below, the song is sung by Gordan MacRae from the 1955 film version of the show.
I have to giggle for "I Cain't Say No" was also a part of the cultural zeitgeist for me, usually in a mocking sense. "I'm just a girl who cain't say no, I'm in a terrible fix," sung with a bad Southern accent, could work, and did work, in countless situations. Once again, I am relying on the film version, this time with the delicious Gloria Grahame as Ado Annie.
Once again, I can think of many different ways I would be able to hear people singing the lyrics for "Surrey With The Fringe On Top", for theater geeks, like myself, to people driving carriages when I was regularly attending Morgan horse shows in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. I decided to go with a clip featuring the 1999 London production, featuring Hugh Jackman, Maureen Lipman, and Josefina Gabrielle.
For my money, "People Will Say We're In Love" is the best song in this rather spectacular score. It allows the voices of both the romantic leads, male and female, to soar. When it is sung well, the song can carry the audience so far long this journey. Once again I am going with the 1955 film version, featuring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae. This, by the way, was the first film appearance by a young Shirley Jones, who went on to have a great career. But I do laugh, for there are some I am sure remember her as the mother of 'The Partridge Family', never realizing she was an amazing singer.
And, finally, I could not possibly do this post without including the title song for the show. The song seems so very iconic to me, for who can't sing along with it. It was certainly a favorite at the piano bars in New York City in the 1980s, for I heard many a show queen singing it there. In fact, the more the merrier at The Duplex, or Marie's Crisis, or Don't Tell Mama. Enjoy the 1955 film cast singing "Oklahoma!"
One of the reasons I thought to do this post was because the show showed such a wonderful toughness and resilience of the people of Oklahoma, a people who face life on the frontier at the turn of the 19th Century. The people are still that strong, but that doesn't mean they must go through the terrible tragedies caused by the tornadoes last week. We can honor their strength by pitching in and giving what we can, and doing what we can to ease their burden, even if it is ever-so-slightly. You can donate $10 to the Red Cross by texting “Red Cross” to 90999. For other ways to donate or help in the relief effort, call 1-800-HELP NOW, or log onto the Red Cross official site.