And the Land We Belong to is Grand

by Karen Britton

Everyone knows the song. In fact, more than likely, anyone can sing most of it by heart (or at least the famous phrase "O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, Oklahoma, OK!"). Oklahoma certainly is a classic, one of those musicals many of us fondly remember seeing either on Broadway or at the movie theatre or perhaps even at the Wang, as many of us have been lucky enough to do over the past few years. And TAOS (Theatre at Old South) is proud to present this traditional musical for its 1998 spring show.

The History. Before reading a synopsis of the plot of Richard Rodgers' and Oscar Hammerstein's first collaborative musical, it is important to understand the history behind the show that launched a new era in the American musical. By 1942, Rodgers and Hammerstein had both spent time at the top of the musical field, Rodgers writing musical comedies and Hammerstein writing operettas such as "Show Boat". Both men were interested in a story about life in Oklahoma written by Lynn Riggs (originally called "Green Grow the Lilacs") and were approached separately to transform Riggs' story into a musical play. Thus marks the first effort of this now famous songwriting partnership, one that set the standards for musical theatre that are still being followed today. Their talents were enhanced by those of an unknown ballet choreographer named Agnes de Mille and director Rouben Mamoulian.

The Plot. Set in Western Indian Territory just after the turn of the century, "Oklahoma" recounts a high-spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys and, in the midst of this rivalry, the love story between handsome cowboy Curley and whimsical farm girl Laurey, niece of the stoic Aunt Eller. The couple follows a bumpy course but eventually finds true love and, as the show ends, begins a brand new life together. Background to their romance are favorite songs such as "Surrey with a Fringe on Top" and "All Er Nuthin" and of course inventive dance scenes and colorful costumes. According to a 1993 New York Times editorial, "Oklahoma was a feast for the ear and the eye—and still is. At 50, Oklahoma is still a wonderful show!"

"Oklahoma" and Old South Church. As the Hollywood Reporter said in 1990, "What electrified the crowd in 1943 does so again: the amazing colorations in Rodgers' music and Hammerstein's words and the exhilarating sense of birth and renewal of the human spirit that runs through the entire show."

Oklahoma seemed the natural choice for TAOS' spring musical this year for many reasons. Recently there has been a revival of the more traditional musicals throughout both the United States and London. People feel a connection to timeless classics such as Oklahoma because they recognize most of the songs as well as the plot. There is something heartening about mentioning the show Oklahoma to someone and seeing a huge smile on his/her face and having him/her break into one of the many wonderful solo or ensemble songs! Audiences genuinely enjoy the more well-known, popular shows.

Returning as director is Laurie Stickels, who when asked what made her want to direct this particular show, summed it up perfectly by sharing that "Oklahoma is a story about many different types of relationships told through music, comedy and dance, and it truly represents the family values that the Old South congregation stands for and can relate to."

The TAOS production will offer a fresh perspective to this American tradition. The entire congregation is encouraged to attend on May 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 7th, 8th or 9th (Tickets are $15.00 each; children under 12 are $10.00 ) and see spectacular performances by several Old South members, including Jennifer Gasser (Laurey, the female lead), Dave Chandler (Slim), and in the ensemble, Becky Degnon, Lisa Loveland, & Elizabeth Tustian (who also designed the set & costumes.) - Oklahoma, OK! +

Here are some interesting facts about Oklahoma

* Oklahoma opened at the St. James Theatre on Broadway on March 31, 1943 (the highest-priced ticket was $4.80!), and became the longest running show on Broadway, running for 5 years (2212 performances!)

* The national tour traveled throughout the USA for 10 ½ years, visiting every state and performing to over 10 million people.

* The show opened in 1947 at the Theatre Royal in London and ran for 1548 performances, becoming the longest running show in the theatre's 267-year history.

* There have been over 30,000 productions of Oklahoma worldwide.

* In 1953, Oklahoma became the state of Oklahoma's official state song.

* The motion picture starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones was released in 1955.

* In 1993 (the 50th anniversary), Oklahoma was the first Broadway musical honored with a commemorative US postage stamp.

* Oklahoma won several awards including the Pulitzer Prize and 2 Academy Awards.

* Oklahoma has been translated worldwide into over a dozen languages, including French, German, Greek, Italian, Russian, Japanese, Hebrew, Icelandic, Norwegian, Hungarian, Dutch and Polish.

* The 28 original backers of Oklahoma at the Theatre Guild have seen a 2500% return on their investment!

To contact the author, click here Karen Britton

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Copyright © 1998, Old South Church