The 1955 film adaptation of Oklahoma! joins the streaming catalog on Disney+ April 30. Starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, the film is the first of Rodgers and Hammerstein's stage works to make the jump to the big screen, and is adapted from the duo's first collaboration, which premiered on Broadway in 1943.
Based on Lynn Riggs' play Green Grow the Lilacs, Oklahoma! centers on a farm community living in the territory that will soon become the state of Oklahoma. Farm girl Laurey Williams is courted by cowboy Curly McLain and farmhand Jud Fry, while a secondary and more comedic plotline centers on Ado Annie and cowhand Will Parker. The standard-filled score includes such tunes as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're in Love," "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," and the rousing title number.
Personally overseen by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma!'s film adaptation is remarkably similar to the work as it was originally performed on stage, cutting only "Lonely Room" and "It's a Scandal, It's a Outrage" from its songlist.
Jones, relatively unknown at the time, had been under contract with the writing and producing duo, playing minor roles in South Pacific and Me and Juliet on Broadway. Oklahoma! would be her film debut, and the beginning of a major career that later included the film adaptation of The Music Man and a four year stint as the matriarch of TV's The Partridge Family. Jones and MacRae were so well received in Oklahoma! that they would be re-teamed for the 1956 film adaptation of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel.
Oklahoma! is credited by many theatre historians as the first truly successful piece of musical theatre to fully integrate its elements of dance, song, and scene work towards the goal of storytelling. The balletic choreography by Agnes de Mille, fully re-created for this film version, transformed theatre dance from diversion to being an indespinble tool of forwarding the plot. The work's first act-closing dream ballet began a trend that led to similar pieces in such musicals as On the Town, Carousel, Guys and Dolls, West Side Story, and many more. The show also became on of Broadway's first true long-running hits, closing in 1948 after a then-largely unheard of run of more than five years.
The work has gone on to become a perennial favorite on Broadway and at schools and local theatres around the world. Notable productions have included a somewhat traditional 1998 West End revival directed by Trevor Nunn, choreographed by Susan Stroman, and starring Hugh Jackman that was filmed as a stage-studio hybrid production and is currently available to stream on BroadwayHD; and a 2019 Broadway revival, directed by Daniel Fish, that presented a radically deconstructed version of the classic work in the round and with a small bluegrass band.
The writing partnership of composer Rodgers and librettist Hammerstein would go on to produce such beloved musicals as Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Cinderella, and State Fair.