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Episode 75: Oklahoma: The American Frontier and its Legendary Musical with Sharon McMahon

podcast Jan 07, 2022


Sharon returns for a solo episode about the musical that opened the floodgates to the nation’s obsession with Broadway. Oklahoma!, the infamous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, opened on a Broadway stage in the spring of 1943. It was wildly successful from the get-go, and it ushered in the golden age of musical theater. Listen while Sharon explains why Oklahoma! hit such a nostalgic chord with audiences who longed for the simple joys of homesteading on the American frontier. You’ll also learn how the musical was reworked from its original play which had been written by a Cherokee man who came of age as Oklahoma was declared the 46th state of the Union. (This episode may also contain some singing!)

Links to Full Episode:

This Episode Will Teach You:

  • The success of the musical Oklahoma!
  • Who Lynn Riggs was and why he is important
  • How Green Grow The Lilacs became the source material for Oklahoma!
  • What land runs were in the turn of the 20th century
  • When Oklahoma went from a territory to a state
  • Rodgers and Hammerstein's success with Oklahoma!
  • The pair's success with subsequent musicals
  • Fun facts about the movie adaptation of Oklahoma!

3 Biggest Takeaways:

  • Set in the turn of the 20th century, in the Oklahoma Territory right before it became a state, Oklahoma! follows the romances between Laurey Williams and Curly McLain and Ado Annie and Will Parker. It champions love and homesteading in the American frontier. The US was just out of the Depression and into World War II and Oklahoma!’s central themes were centered around putting down roots, family, love, and triumph over land and evil; all appealing to a country struggling with war, separation, and death.
  • The musical was the first time Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II worked together on a project. They turned the play, Green Grow the Lilacs, written by Cherokee playwright, Lynn Riggs, into the musical we know today, adding music but keeping the basic plot and even many of the characters intact, right down to the lines. Riggs was the only Native American dramatist writing for the Broadway stage during the first half of the 20th century. He based Green Grow the Lilacs on his childhood growing up in the Oklahoma Territory around the time of the land runs and its early statehood.
  • Following the success of the stage production was the major motion picture adaptation in 1955 starring Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones. With the advent of Technicolor and new widescreen formats, Rodgers and Hammerstein felt confident adapting the story to the big screen and they had total creative control as executive producers. Songwriters rarely have so much sway over a film, but by the 1950s, Rodgers and Hammerstein were incredibly famous and successful. They were able to use vast sets to give the film its open Oklahoma setting, and even grew corn in buckets to heights “as high as an elephant’s eye” to keep the movie faithful to its Oklahoma frontier setting.

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