March 10, 2010

March 12-28
Footlite Musicals

Audiences back in 1943 weren’t sure what to expect from “Oklahoma!” On a test run in New Haven, Conn., the show was called “Away We Go,” it didn’t feature any notable stars, and composer Richard Rodgers was teaming for the first time with Oscar Hammerstein, who was coming off a string of flops, including such quickly forgotten shows as “Sunny River” and “Very Warm for May.” Rumor had it that, when the curtain opened, instead of the usual chorus of dancers, there was an older woman churning butter. Huh?

No wonder that the influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell (who, in hindsight, was making the theatrical equivalent of “Dewey Defeats Truman”) said of the show, “No legs, no jokes, no chance.” But the bold, innovative, tuneful “Oklahoma!” changed the face of musical theater, ushering in an era when character mattered.

The best productions of it, though, don’t treat it as a classic. They treat it as an exciting, funny (yes, Walter, there are jokes), vital story of an awkward couple trying to figure out each other and make a place for themselves in the wannabee-a-state territory.
I look forward to seeing what Footlite Musicals does with the show in its new production. Details here. For more Rodgers and Hammerstein action this weekend, see below.