Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs. Set in farm country outside the town of Claremore, Indian Territory, in 1906, it tells the story of farm girl Laurey Williams and her courtship by two rival suitors, cowboy Curly McLain and the sinister and frightening farmhand Jud Fry. A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.
The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box office hit and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Oscar-winning 1955 film adaptation. It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions. Rodgers and Hammerstein won a special Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma! in 1944.
This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier Show Boat, epitomized the development of the "book musical", a musical play in which the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story, with serious dramatic goals, that is able to evoke genuine emotions other than amusement. In addition, Oklahoma! features musical themes, or motifs, that recur throughout the work to connect the music and story. A fifteen-minute "dream ballet" reflects Laurey's struggle with her feelings about two men, Curly and Jud.
By the early 1940s, Rodgers and Hammerstein were each well known for creating Broadway hits with other collaborators. Rodgers, with Lorenz Hart, had produced over two dozen musicals since the 1920s, including such popular successes as Babes in Arms (1937), The Boys from Syracuse (1938) and Pal Joey (1940). Among other successes, Hammerstein had written the words for Rose-Marie (1924), The Desert Song (1926), The New Moon (1927) and Show Boat (1927). Though less productive in the 1930s, he wrote musicals, songs and films, sharing an Academy Award for his song with Jerome Kern, "The Last Time I Saw Paris", which was included in the 1941 film Lady Be Good. By the early 1940s, Hart had sunk into alcoholism and emotional turmoil, and he became unreliable, prompting Rodgers to approach Hammerstein to ask if he would consider working with him.
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