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Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: The Birth of Modern Musical Theatre and a New Image for the State exhibit opens, Oklahoma History Center
July 12, 2018
The Oklahoma History Center’s newest exhibit, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!: The Birth of Modern Musical Theatre and a New Image for the State, celebrates the 75th anniversary of the Broadway production’s debut. The exhibit opens on Thursday, July 12, and may be viewed during the History Center’s normal hours of operation, Monday through Saturday from 10 am to 5 pm.
Based on the 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs by Claremore, Oklahoma, native Lynn Riggs, Oklahoma! was the first musical written by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! began a new era in American musical theatre. It also began the most successful songwriting partnership that Broadway has ever seen.
Oklahoma! premiered on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943, and ran for 2,212 performances. Set in Indian Territory just after the turn of the twentieth century, the spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provides the backdrop for the love story between Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a beautiful farm girl.
The title of the History Center exhibit refers to a “New Image for the State.” In 1939 John Steinbeck published his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath, a fictional account of the mass migration of thousands of “Okies” from Oklahoma to California in search of jobs, land, dignity, and a future in the shadow of the Great Depression. The novel cast an image of hopelessness, bank foreclosures, and economic hardship on Oklahoma. Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! counteracted this image with its lively musical comedy which, despite a few fight scenes that include an accidental death, portrayed romance, laughter, and a spirit of joy in direct contrast to the storyline of The Grapes of Wrath.