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(Applause Books). Oklahoma! opened nearly sixty years ago and instantly made musical theatre history. It was a daring ahead-of-its-time piece of dazzlingly inventive theatre that exploded every myth about what constitutes a successful musical. Revised and updated to include a special section on the Roayl National Theatre's production that Cameron Mackintosh is presenting on Broadway in spring of 2002, OK! The Story of "Oklahoma!" celebrates this watershed work that has taken its place in the pantheon of American musical theatre.
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The trail-blazing musical that launched the prolific partnership of Rodgers and Hammerstein celebrates its 50th anniversary with members of the original production helping Wilk (And Did You Once See Sidney Plain?, 1986, etc.) piece together a colorful history of its evolution as the first Broadway musical drama to weld music, book, song, and dance into an integrated whole. Told in a fervid style that leans heavily on exclamation points and question marks, the story is nevertheless alluring, featuring an all-star cast: unconventional Hollywood director Rouben Mamoulian; gifted composer Richard Rodgers; a temporarily becalmed Oscar Hammerstein II; and messianic Theatre Guild producer Theresa Helburn, obsessed about making a musical out of Lynn Riggs's 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs. In setting the background, Wilk treads familiar ground that includes Theatre Guild history and the creative turmoil of the musical's collaborators. He's fortunate in his witnesses to the midwifing of Oklahoma!, who include Helene Hanff, who helped on publicity, and Elaine Steinbeck, not yet married to writer John, who worked backstage on both the Riggs play and its musical adaptation. Oklahoma! was a first not only for Hammerstein but also for young, innovative choreographer Agnes de Mille, who replaced traditional chorus girls with offbeat ballet dancers. Performed mainly by unknowns, the musical catapulted Celeste Holm and Alfred Drake to instant fame. Holm remembers opening night on March 31, 1943: ``With each song, the show rose higher and higher!'' Having surmounted the usual out-of-town rewrites, cuts, and frayed tempers, as well as an epidemic of measles that felled the cast (and de Mille), Oklahoma! enjoyed a brilliant first night and a record-breaking run, ushering in a new era in American musical theater. Despite a melodramatic presentation, Wilk's enthusiasm makes this an entertaining read--a nostalgia trip for some and an important piece of stage history for others. (Color and b&w photographs throughout--most seen.) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
The first pairing of Richard Rodgers's music and Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics, along with Agnes de Mille's choreography, turned the sentimental Green Grow the Lilacs , written by a playwright named Lynn Riggs, into a phenomenon that was to set the standard for musical theater. And few first-nighters attending the 1943 Broadway opening of Oklahoma! could have known that they were witnessing the genesis of modern musical comedy. Conveying a "Hey, I was there" ambience, Wilk ( Don't Raise the Bridge Lower the River ), author of 20 books, many of them on the performing arts, here recounts the arduous odyssey of the Theatre Guild-Shubert undertaking from conception to SRO box-office success. Readers are made privy to the joys and sorrows of struggling for theatrical perfection while romancing investors, battling auditors, overcoming cynical critics--and coping with a measles-ridden cast. The book, which combines scores of black-and-white illustrations with Wilk's delightful text, has the mark of a hit, or, to paraphrase Agnes de Mille's unabated enthusiasm for the show: "My God, this is put together with real skill."
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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