Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
The original production of Oklahoma! opened on Broadway on March 31, 1943. Agnes De Mille, who choreographed that production, recalled in an interview that the back three rows of the theatre were often reserved for men and women serving in the US Armed Forces. Many of them were waiting to be shipped from New York to the European front. As they emerged from the theatre after the show, many of these service staff could be seen wiping tears from their eyes. They were strongly moved by the show, all the more so as they were preparing to risk life and limb in defense of the very things Oklahoma! captures: the great beauty of the American landscape, and the pride, joy, and excitement of the American heritage.
To help all of us understand more clearly how the average person in the street would have felt in 1943, we have tried to offer you some experience of it in the front of house display. 1943 was a dark time in US history. Axis forces controlled the entire European continent; Sicily was the first to fall to the Allies, in August of 1943. Hitler's U-boats were tearing up the seas, and Americans were pressed by rationing, scrap metal drives, recruiting for the forces, War Bonds, and all manner of efforts to fight back against the forces of fascism. These events affected every single person in the Western world, one way or another. It was a different time, a challenging time which demanded great sacrifices of those who lived it. It was also a time when men and women lived their lives with a view of the world that can seem hackneyed to our more cynical eyes. Seeing this masterful play in that context can help us to better understand its great historical significance. Not only is it one of the greatest musicals ever written, advancing the art form significantly, it is also an important piece of American history, a true slice of Americana. As such it remains one of the most popular and successful of all musicals, and one of the most enduring.