1943 Original Broadway Production

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1943 Original Broadway Production

When Oklahoma! first arrived on Broadway, much was on the line for the creative and producing team. Many were skeptical that an interesting musical could be crafted from a homespun play that only saw moderate success, dealing with farmers and cowmen in the middle of the country. In addition, the producers were in a slump, and many of the creators had never worked together before. Nevertheless, on a rainy Wednesday night, March 31, 1943, at the St. James Theatre, the first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II played its opening night performance, and the reaction was extraordinary. The next morning, rave reviews for Oklahoma! poured in, and the box office was frenzied with theatergoers eager to claim their ticket to see the new musical critics were calling “a striking piece of theatrical Americana.”  Choreographer Agnes de Mille’s groundbreaking contribution was noted and applauded.

Starring Betty Garde, Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts, Celeste Holm and Howard da Silva, the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! went on to play a staggering 2,212 performances, running almost five years, holding the record for the longest-running Broadway musical for 15 years. In its first year, Oklahoma! received a special Pulitzer Prize, and the original production launched an international tour that stopped in 361 cities around the world for nearly ten years. Much like Hamilton many years later, the show was greeted as a game-changer, one that cemented the notion that a musical could operate on many levels at the same time, while providing a more than satisfying entertainment.

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To parallel the enormous success of Oklahoma!, for the very first time a recording company brought the theater orchestra and cast into the studio and performed the songs as they were heard in the theater, with the original orchestrations. Thus the concept of a Broadway cast album was born. There was, however, a strike happening, which prevented the album from being made until late October, seven months after the opening. Since Broadway provided the world of pop music with much of its repertoire, several of the songs were released by singers like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra, including “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’” and “People Will Say We’re in Love.”

The prolonged delay in availability only added further intrigue to the unprecedented success of Oklahoma! With 60,000 advanced sales, the record hit stores on December 1st, a full nine months after the show had opened, making it the holiday gift of the season for households nationwide. In its first month, the Oklahoma! cast album sold an extraordinary 125,000 records. The album lacked three of the show’s numbers, including the Dream Ballet and “Lonely Room.” Still, the record set new precedents, industry standards and, most importantly, introduced an entirely new recording genre – the Broadway cast album. The following year, the cast was reassembled at a second recording session for a later-released two-disc version of the album, which included some of the material excluded from the first release.