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HOWDY BROADWAY FANS!! OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNIN’ it is celebrating the return of the Great Bright Way and The 74th Annual Tony Awards just 21 DAYS AWAY. We at New York Broadway Tours have more of your favorite highlighted performances from Broadway’s biggest night coming your way on our TOP 50 TONY AWARDS COUNTDOWN.
At # 21 on our countdown, we have chosen an iconic musical classic. We’re about to make our way to a small farm country outside the town of Claremore, Indian Territory, in 1906. This territory would eventually become a well known state. There, we meet a heart throb romantic cowboy and a very dark, filthy, and abusive hired hand fighting for the romance of a young farm girl. This is the legendary Great American Musical OKLAHOMA!. Featuring a score and book by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, it’s based on Lynn Riggs’ 1930 play GREEN GROW THE LILACS.
From the last telecast back in 2019, Tony nominee Damon Daunno as “Curly”, Tony winner Ali Stroker as “Ado Annie”, Rebecca Naomi Jones as “Laurey”, and the cast of the most recently acclaimed Award winning revival perform a medley of 2 of the musical’s notable songs….. I CAIN’T SAY NO and the beloved title song itself.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! was originally first conceived in 1931. The Theatre Guild produced a production of Lynn Riggs’s play Green Grow the Lilacs which was a huge flop. 10 years after that production, Guild producer Theresa Helburn went to see a summer-stock production which featured traditional folk songs and square dances. At the same time The Guild was dealing with financial troubles. She decided to try to revive the Guild by putting on a production of GREEN GROW THE LILACS as a musical. From there, she called on the acclaimed composers Richard Rodgers and his initial partner Lorenz Hart. At the time, Rodgers and Hart were going their separate ways due to Hart having drinking problems and becoming unreliable. Rodgers then came across College friend Oscar Hammerstein, II (who at the time was known with his initial partner Jerome Kern for writing the first major Book Musical SHOWBOAT) and began writing together. While writing the show, Rodgers & Hammerstein along with Theresa Helburn began to find the perfect creative team. They hired director Rouben Mamoulian and most notably choreographer Agnes Demille to create one of the most iconic scenes in the entire musical that we know today…. the 15 minute end of Act 1 DREAM BALLET (the moment when the young farm girl “Laurey” has a terrifying nightmare about the 2 men after her heart… the heartthrob cowboy “Curly” and the abusive hardhand “Jud Fry”).
Under its original title AWAY WE GO, the show originally had its world premiere at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven, CT. Critics gave the production negative feedback. Producer Mike Todd walked out during the intermission saying the show has “No legs, no jokes, no chance.”. However the audiences in both New Heaven and then later in Boston raved it. After the tryouts, the entire creative team went back to New York going through numerous changes before the official Broadway opening. The biggest change of all was more comedic dialogue and adding in a whole new song which the show (thanks to a chorus member) would be renamed to what it is today…. OKLAHOMA.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! officially opened on Broadway in the Spring of 1943 at the St. James Theatre. It went on to become a surprising massive box office smash running for 2,212 performances. Ticket sales were so impossible to get when it first came out. In addition, our troops who served our country during both World Wars would get free tickets. Also OKLAHOMA became the first major musical ever to produce an original cast recording. Under the direction of Rouben Mamoulian and choreography by Agnes deMille, the cast consisted of….
Alfred Drake (later Jack Kilty, Howard Keel, Harry Stockwell, and Bob Kennedy) as “Curly”,
Joan Roberts (later Mary Hatcher, Iva Withers, Evelyn Wyckoff, Carolyn Tanner, and Betty Jane Watson) as “Laurey”,
Howard daSilva (later Richard Rober, Murvyn Vye, and Bruce Hamilton) as “Jud Fry”,
Betty Garde (later Ruth Weston and Edith Gresham) as “Aunt Eller”,
Celeste Holm (later Vivan Allan, Shelley Winters, Edna Skinner, and Bonita Primrose) as “Ado Annie”,
Lee Dixon (later Tom Avera, Paul Crabtree, James Parnell, and Jack Kitty) as “Will Parker”,
Joseph Buloff (later Max Willienz, Mark Windheim, Herbert Berghof, and Guy Reenie) as “Ali Hakim”.
and more.
The original staging of OKLAHOMA did not receive any Tony Awards because the Tonys were actually not developed till 1946.
Following the success of its original Broadway run, it went on to become a worldwide hit in London’s West End, Australia, and everywhere.
OKLAHOMA was later revived 5 times starting in 1951 at the Broadway Theatre running for 100 performances. Featuring the original creative team, this cast featured….
Ridge Bond as “Curly”,
Patricia Northrop as “Laurey”,
Henry Clarke as “Jud Fry”,
Mary Marlo as “Aunt Eller”,
Jacqueline Sundt as “Ado Annie”,
Walter Donahue as “Will Parker”,
Jerry Mann as “Ali Hakim”,
and more.
This engagement did not receive any Tony Award nominations or wins.
The 2nd revival was in 1953 for a brief stint at New York City Center (in honor of the musical’s 10th Anniversary) for 40 performances. With the same original creative team once again, this cast consisted of…
Ridge Bond as “Curly”,
Florence Henderson as “Laurey”,
Alfred Cibelli, Jr. as “Jud Fry”,
Mary Marlo as “Aunt Eller”,
Barbara Cook as “Ado Annie”,
Harris Hawkins as “Will Parker”,
David Le Grant as “Ali Hakim”.
and more
This engagement did not receive any Tony Award nominations or wins either.
The 3rd revival was in 1979 at Broadway’s Palace Theatre for 293 performances. Under the direction of William Hammerstein and the original Agnes DeMille choreography, this cast featured…
Laurence Guittard (later Joel Higgins) as “Curly”,
Christine Andreas as “Laurey”,
Martin Vidnovic (later David Brummel) as “Jud Fry”,
Mary Wickes as “Aunt Eller”,
Christine Ebersole (later Susan Bigelow and Catherine Cox) as “Ado Annie”,
Harry Groener as “Will Parker”,
Bruce Adler as “Ali Hakim”,
and more.
This production received 2 Tony Award nominations that year for both BEST LEADING ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (for Andreas) and BEST FETURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (for Ebersole) but lost both categories.
The 4th Broadway revival of OKLAHOMA came in 2002 based on a critically acclaimed 1998 production that played London’s National Theatre. It played Broadway’s Gershwin Theatre for a total of 388 performances. This production was well known for having the real actors who play the roles of “Curly”, “Laurey”, and “Jud” to dance in the musical’s Dream Ballet scene. In most productions, the Ballet is done by the Ensemble serving as the double for “Curly”, “Laurey”, and “Jud”. Under the direction of Sir Trevor Nunn and choreography by Susan Stroman, the cast consisted of….
Patrick Wilson (later Stephen Buntrock) as “Curly”,
Josefina Gabrielle (later Amy Bodnar) as “Laurey”,
Tony winner Shuler Hensley (later the late Merwin Foard) as “Jud Fry”,
Andrea Martin (later the late Patty Duke) as “Aunt Eller”,
Jessica Boevers as “Ado Annie”,
Justin Bohon as “Will Parker”,
Aasif Mandvi as “Ali Hakim”.
and more.
The production received 7 Tony Award nominations that same year. It took home only 1 for BEST FEATURED ACTOR IN A MUSICAL (for Shuler Hensley).
Most recently, OKLAHOMA returned to Broadway with a limited engagement new contemporary updated revival. This production originally debuted at Brooklyn’s St. Ann’s Warehouse. It seriously was not your typical rendition of the iconic musical. It is done more with an intimate staging as if you’re in a community hall… very gritty and intense staging. Some of the dramatic moments also have been tweaked. The score has been rearranged with more of a country vibe to the story telling. There is moments during the show where chili and cornbread is made on stage and served to the audience during the intermission. This revival played at Broadway’s Circle in the Square Theatre for a total of 350 performances. Under the direction of Daniel Fisher and choreography by John Heginbotham, the cast features…
Damon Daunno as “Curly”,
Rebecca Naomi Jones as “Laurey”,
Patrick Vaill as “Jud Fry”,
Tony nominee Mary Testa as “Aunt Eller”,
Ali Stroker as “Ado Annie”,
James Davis as “Will Parker”,
Will Brill as “Ali Hakim”.
And more.
This new revival of OKLAHOMA was nominated for 8 Tony Awards winning 2 for BEST REVIVAL OF A MUSICAL and BEST FEATURED ACTRESS IN A MUSICAL (for Ali Stoker who made history as the first woman BOTH in a wheelchair to BOTH be ON Broadway and win a Tony Award).
Not only was OKLAHOMA a big hit on stage, it was captured on film TWICE.
The original film was released in 1955. It became well known as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time earning rave reviews and receiving 2 Oscars for Best Score and Best Sound. Under the direction of Fred Zinnemann and the iconic Agnes Demille choreography, the film cast starred…
Gordon MacRae as “Curly”,
Shirley Jones Ingels (in her film debut) as “Laurey”,
Rod Steiger as “Jud Fry”,
Charlotte Greenwood as “Aunt Eller”,
Gloria Grahame as “Ado Annie”,
Gene Nelson as “Will Parker”,
Eddie Albert as “Ali Hakim”.
and more.
The recent filmed version of OKLAHOMA was released in 1999. This version was a filmed presentation of the 1998 National Theatre production in London (that went to Broadway in 2002). During their days before the evening performances, the entire London cast would head over to a London soundstage filming the entire show. Meanwhile, the audience was actually pre-recorded at a later performance of the show. It was originally made for video in the UK back in 1999 before later being aired in America in 2003 on PBS’ Award winning series Great Performances. The filmed London cast starred…
Hugh Jackman (in his initial International debut) as “Curly”,
Josefina Gabrielle as “Laurey”,
Shuler Hensley as “Jud Fry”,
Maureen Lipman as “Aunt Eller”,
Vicki Simon as “Ado Annie”,
Jimmy Johnston as “Will Parker”,
Peter Polycarpou as “Ali Hakim”,
And more.
Today, OKLAHOMA is a popular musical performed in schools, community, and regional theaters everywhere.
Isn’t this musical still DOIN’ FINE after over 75 years?
How about that performance?
Mike Haber
Author: Mike Haber

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