TMTP’s October Sunrise

75 Years Old, Oklahoma! Is Still A Beautiful Mornin’

Can it be true? Is Rodgers & Hammerstein’s first masterpiece, Oklahoma!, really approaching its 75th anniversary? The answer is Yes, and on October 14 and 15, TMTP will mark the occasion with a special concert celebrating a true milestone in musical theater.

Josefina Gabrielle and Hugh Jackman in the London production (1998)

Josefina Gabrielle and Hugh Jackman
in the London production (1998)

In our concert “The Impact of Oklahoma!,” we’ll perform all of the songs from the treasured score and share the fascinating story of the musical’s creation in 1942-43. Bill Rudman and Nancy Maier co-host, with Joe Monaghan singing the role of Curly, Lindsey Sandham Leonard singing Laurey, Shane Patrick O’Neill singing Will Parker, Ursula Cataan singing Ado Annie and Fabio Polanco singing Jud.

In July, Bill talked with Ted Chapin, president of the Rodgers & Hammerstein
Organization, about a musical that is still produced somewhere in the world every day.

BR: Ted, you and I have been friends ever since you took the reins at R&H back in 1981, and for many years I’ve been curious: How many productions of this show do you think you’ve seen?
TC: Oh, at least 30. And not just in New York and London, but a European tour and
shows all over this country including, as you might expect, a production in Oklahoma.

Alfred Drake and Joan Roberts (Broadway, 1943)

Alfred Drake and Joan Roberts (Broadway, 1943)

BR: I assume that TMTP is by no means the only company exploring it these days.
TC: No, everyone wants to come to the birthday party. Right now there are new
productions at Goodspeed Musicals! in Connecticut, and at the renowned Glimmerglass
Festival in Cooperstown, New York. And as we get closer to the actual Broadway
opening—March 31, 1943—there will be a bright golden haze on lots more meadows.

BR: Can I put you on the spot? Do you have a favorite production?
TC: I do. In 1998, when Trevor Nunn’s production, starring Hugh Jackman, opened in
London.

BR: That surprises me, because Nunn is a Brit. Here we have one of the quintessential
“Americana” musicals.
TC: Yes, and I remember that when he came in to seek the rights from me, he quoted
Aunt Eller: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t just as good.” And he was. What Trevor did so well was tell a story that’s universal. He dove
into the text, knowing that although this is a fun piece, it’s not a frivolous one.

BR: It’s kind of incredible that with this, their very first show—their first
collaboration—R&H created the longest-running musical up to that time.
TC: For one thing, they tapped into our country’s psyche during World War II. We were
just 16 months into the war when Oklahoma! opened, and the show made a deep
impression on Americans, reminding us of what we were fighting to protect. But there’s
also a freshness about this piece that remains extraordinary. Laurey and Curly are
youthful, yes—but the whole show has that quality. It’s as though the two still-young
authors were holding hands, hesitating, deciding whether or not to go out on the dance
floor. As we know, they danced together for the next 16 years.

BR: Do you have any favorite moments from this musical?
TC: The song “All Er Nuthin’ ” always delights me. And of course, “Surrey,” which is
such a wonderful song to act because it’s about so much more than a horse and buggy.
And the scene in the smokehouse, which seems to come out of nowhere, thrillingly
ratchets up the character of Curly as he confronts Jud.

Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae in the film (1955)

Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae in the film (1955)

BR: How do you like the 1955 film version?
TC: It ages well. It’s a bit stagey, but it’s interestingly directed by Fred Zinnemann, and
Shirley Jones and Gordon McRae are perfectly fine.

BR: Whenever we talk, I feel I know Richard Rodgers because you knew his daughter
Mary so well.
TC: She had some great stories about seeing the original production when she was 12.
The morning after Oklahoma! opened, she asked her mother, “Who’s more famous?
Irving Berlin or Daddy?” Mother Dorothy replied: “Before last night, Mr. Berlin. Now
it’s your father.” Mary was a superb critic. When she saw Molly Smith’s production with
me at Arena Stage, she marveled at how good Hammerstein’s script is. And she was
totally connected to her father’s music: At Trevor Nunn’s production, she identified an
errant note in the title song—a D-flat instead of a D—which I can assure you was corrected the next day!

BR: Why should we be interested in this musical 75 years later?
TC: Because the characters are examined as carefully as they would be in a play; there
are timeless principles of craftsmanship in this work. And because these characters are
going through things we all go through. It’s about two young people growing up and
finding their way to each other—taking the next step in life.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II

WHEN, WHERE AND HOW TO GET TICKETS
THE IMPACT OF OKLAHOMA!

Saturday, October 14 | 7 PM
Stocker Arts Center
1005 Abbe Road, Elyria
Tickets: $20; children 18 and under: $10
Available through the Stocker Arts Center Box Office.
Call 440-366- 4040 or visit StockerArtsCenter.com

Sunday, October 15 | 3 PM
Playhouse Square, Ohio Theatre
Tickets: $30-55; TMTP Members, $25-50
Available through Playhouse Square Box Office.
Call 216-241- 6000 or visit PlayhouseSquare.org

SOME OF THE SONGS IN THIS CONCERT

  • Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
  • The Surrey With the Fringe on Top
  • Many a New Day
  • People Will Say We’re in Love
  • I Can’t Say No
  • Out of My Dreams
  • Oklahoma