June 27, 2018
Oklahoma History Center Opens Newest Exhibit “Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ‘Oklahoma!’: The Birth of Modern Musical Theatre and a New Image for the State”
OKLAHOMA CITY — 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 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Based on the 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Claremore, Okla., 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.
Before their collaboration, Rodgers and Hammerstein worked successfully with other partners. In 1942 Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart were highly successful, having written musical comedies that were praised for their wit and sophistication. A decade prior, Oscar Hammerstein II enjoyed similar success writing innovative operettas that consistently reshaped the art form. “Showboat,” his 1927 collaboration with Jerome Kern, is highly regarded as a landmark in American theatre history.
“Oklahoma!” premiered on Broadway at the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943, and closed after 2,212 performances on March 29, 1948. Set in Indian Territory just after the turn of the 20th 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 makes reference 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 that, 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.”
The Oklahoma History Center is located at 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive in Oklahoma City. It is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, please visit www.okhistory.org/historycenter.
The Oklahoma History Center is a division of the Oklahoma Historical Society and is an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution, National Archives and is an accredited member of the American Alliance of Museums. The mission of the Oklahoma Historical Society is to collect, preserve and share the history and culture of the state of Oklahoma and its people. Founded in 1893 by members of the Territorial Press Association, the OHS maintains museums, historic sites and affiliates across the state. Through its research archives, exhibits, educational programs and publications the OHS chronicles the rich history of Oklahoma. For more information about the OHS, please visit www.okhistory.org.