For the past 80 years high school and college drama departments had faithfully introduced to generations the love story of Curly, a handsome cowboy and Laurey, a beautiful farm girl behind a backdrop of such classical songs “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” and “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”
“Oklahoma!” debuted on Broadway at the St. James Theatre in New York on March 31, 1943.
The popular musical was based on the 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Claremore native Lynn Riggs.
“Oklahoma!” was the first musical written by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
While serving in the state House of Representatives, former governor George Nigh proposed play’s theme song as the state’s official song. It was signed into law in 1953 by Governor Johnston Murray.
Fun Facts about “Oklahoma!”
- In 1942 the Theatre Guild planned a musical adaptation of the play, first naming it “Away We Go!” and later “Oklahoma!”
- The play was Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers’ first collaboration.
- The production was the longest-running, thus far, in Broadway history, closing on May 29, 1948, after 2,212 performances. Ten million people saw the show on its national tour of 250 cities from October 1943 through April 1954.
- In November 1946 the company came to Oklahoma for the first time, giving eight performances in Oklahoma City at the Municipal Auditorium.
- In 1955 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer put “Oklahoma!” on the screen.
- James Dean and Paul Newman tried out for the role of Curly.
- Joanne Woodward was offered the role of Laurey,
- In 1956 the film won Academy Awards for best musical score and best sound recording and was nominated for film editing and cinematography.
- Legislator Boyd Cowden favored “Oklahoma!” because he believed the song and the Broadway show had done much to erase the negative image created by Steinbeck’s 1939 novel The Grapes of Wrath.
- In January 1968, then Gov. Dewey Bartlett received a congratulatory telegram from Richard Rodgers saying that it was “remarkable that your state has made such an enviable record of progress in the sixty short years since statehood.”
- The show was subsequently revived on Broadway in 1951, 1979, and 2002.
Information provided by the Oklahoma Historical Society and other published reports.