Book vs Movie “Oklahoma!”

Poster for 1955 film “Oklahoma!”

Book Vs. Movie “Musicals in March” 

The 1931 Play Green Grow the Lilacs Vs the 1955 Musical Oklahoma!

You can listen here

It’s “Musicals in March” time here at Book Vs Movie The Margos are very excited to start our annual look at famous musicals and the inspiration for them. This episode is dedicated to one of the most successful Broadway shows of all time and the play Green Grow the Lilacs (1931) written by Oklahoma native Lynn Riggs.  

Riggs came up with the story of Oklahomans Curly, Laurey, and Ado Annie who live in a part of the world that will change dramatically in just a few short years. (Oklahoma became a state in 1907.) Curly is a cowboy (portrayed on Broadway by Franchot Tone) who is in love with Laurey Williams (June Walker) and the path to their relationship takes twists and turns. In this production, which takes place in 1900, American folk songs are used and sung by Tex Ritter on stage. Soon-to-be revered acting teacher Lee Strasberg played a Syrian “peddler” and just as in the musical, Curley is on trial for accidentally killing a farmhand (here his name is Jeeter.) 

In the early 1940s, Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein took the original play and infused it with more romance, intrigue, dance, ballet, and some of the most memorable songs in Broadway history. When Oklahoma! originally opened on Broadway (March 31, 1943), it became a massive hit that ran for over 2200 performances and won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944. 

Some of the actors who played in the original show include John Raitt, Florence Henderson, Alfred Molina, Celeste Holmes, and Jamie Farr. The story is funnier and more robust than the play and the history-making ballet sequence left people breathless. The 15-minuter performance was choreographed by Agnes de Mille (her first Broadway gig!) and represented the desire Laurey has between Curley and Jud Fry. 

After running for five years and several revivals for the last 80 years, the funny thing about Oklahoma!–because the TONY Awards did not exist until 1947, it never won any major theatrical awards for the original run. 

The 1955 film stars Shirley Jones, Gordon McRae, Rod Steiger, and Gloria Grahame and was directed by Fred Zinnemann in 70-mm widescreen (available on Disney+) with most of the outdoor shooting taking place in Arizona. It would go on to become a classic with several Academy Award nominations and was inducted into the National Film Registry in 2007. 

So, between the original play and the musical adaptation–which did we prefer? 

In this ep the Margos discuss:

  • The story behind the original play and the theater world of the 1930s 
  • The impact on the culture of the musical in the 1940s
  • The differences between the film and stage
  • Starring: Gordon MacRae (Curly McLain,) Shirley Jones (Laurey Willaims,) Gene Nelson (Will Parker,) Gloria Grahame (Ado Anni Cames,)  Charlotte Greenwood (Aunt Eller,) Rod Steiger (Jud Fry,) Eddie Albert (Ali Hakim,) James Whitmore (Andrew Carnes,) and Barbara Lawrence as Gertie Cummings. 

Clips used:

  • Oklahoma! theme
  • Oklahoma! original  trailer
  • “The Persian Goodbye” 
  • “Kansas City” 
  • Curley kisses Laurey
  • Ali Stroker “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” (2019 TONY 
  • Music by Richard Rogers

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Margo D. @BrooklynFitChik www.brooklynfitchick.com brooklynfitchick@gmail.com

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