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Oklahoma!: The Making of an American Musical

Tim Carter
Copyright Date: 2007
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Oklahoma!premiered on Broadway in 1943 under the auspices of the Theatre Guild, and today it is performed more frequently than any other Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. In this book Tim Carter offers the first fully documented history of the making of this celebrated American musical.Drawing on research from rare theater archives, manuscripts, journalism, and other sources, Carter records every step in the development ofOklahoma!The book is filled with rich and fascinating details about how Rodgers and Hammerstein first came together, the casting process, how Agnes de Mille became the show's choreographer, and the drafts and revisions that ultimately gave the musical its final shape. Carter also shows the lofty aspirations of both the creators and producers and the mythmaking that surroundedOklahoma!from its very inception, and demonstrates just what made it part of its times.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13487-2
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xxii)
  5. CHAPTER 1 Setting the Stage
    (pp. 1-26)

    Why write a book onoklahoma!?—because it is a landmark in the Broadway musical, because it is a glorious show, and because it raises important issues about the genre, the theater, and its times. Why write a scholarly book onOklahoma!?—because it has never been done, and because musicals are no less worthy of serious treatment than any other art form. The question for the moment, however, is where a history ofOklahoma!might best begin.

    The formation of the Theatre Guild from the Washington Square Players in 1919 marked a new direction in the New York theater...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Contracts and Commitments
    (pp. 27-78)

    The various artistic and financial problems facing the Theatre Guild in the 1930s and early 1940s provide an important backdrop for decisions made (and overturned) asOklahoma!began to take shape. For more than a decade, Lawrence Langner and Theresa Helburn had negotiated the difficult path between the Scylla and Charybdis of artistic worth and commercial success, had contemplated the merits of American versus European theater, had considered the need for their dramas to focus as much on social “relevance” as on universal themes, had wavered on the issue of whether to bring in star performers or to rely instead...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Creative Processes
    (pp. 79-136)

    Richard rodgers was clear on the merits of oklahoma!:

    I have long held a theory about musicals. When a show works perfectly, it’s because all the individual parts complement each other and fit together. No single element overshadows any other. In a great musical, the orchestrations sound the way the costumes look. That’s what madeOklahoma!work. All the components dovetailed. There was nothing extraneous or foreign, nothing that pushed itself into the spotlight yelling, “Look at me!” It was a work created by many that gave the impression of having been created by one.¹

    Rodgers’s account of the creation...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Heading for Broadway
    (pp. 137-172)

    Konstantin simonov’s the russian people, in the guild Theatre, closed on 31 January 1943; Philip Barry’sWithout Love, the first Theatre Guild play of the season (it had opened on 10 November 1942), closed at the St. James Theatre on 13 February (after grossing $967,541, including $260,000 for the film rights).¹ Although the Guild’s other long-running play of the 1942–43 season, S.N. Behrman’s highly popularThe Pirate, was still playing at the Martin Beck Theatre (it opened on 25 November 1942 and closed on 27 April 1943), one assumes that thoughts were becoming entirely focused onOklahoma!save for...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Reading Oklahoma!
    (pp. 173-211)

    As with the contemporary reviews, later accounts ofoklahoma!have tended to focus not just on its content but also on its design and apparent intent. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s (and, if we are to believe his self-publicity, Mamoulian’s) presumed search for a “new” type of musical integrating drama, song, and dance comes high on a critical agenda cemented early in the show’s reception history, and oft repeated in later studies.¹ So, too, does the virtuous simplicity and seeming artlessness of the result—whether as praise or, in more sophisticated quarters (especially those lamenting the loss of the pungent wit of...

  10. CHAPTER 6 From Stage to Screen
    (pp. 212-250)

    The day after the premiere ofoklahoma!the congratulatory telegrams rolled in, including one from Joshua Logan regretting his lack of involvement. Early April was a time for celebration. The Guild delivered to Rodgers and Hammerstein each a quart of champagne, for which Hammerstein sent thanks on 3 April: “Isn’t it wonderful for all of us that they came through?” Theresa Helburn and Lawrence Langner also sent their thank-you letters to the cast and crew. Langner wrote to Margot Hopkins, the rehearsal pianist: “Now that all the clouds have blown away, and the sun is shining, please let me say...

  11. Appendix A: A Time Line for Oklahoma! 5 May 1942 to 31 March 1943
    (pp. 251-264)
  12. Appendix B: Archival and Other Sources
    (pp. 265-272)
  13. Notes
    (pp. 273-300)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 301-308)
  15. Permissions
    (pp. 309-312)
  16. Index
    (pp. 313-327)