January 27, 2009

OK: the story of Oklahoma!

OK: the story of Oklahoma!
Max Wilk


(January 27, 2009)

I read a short, rave review of this chronicle of the making of the 1943 musical hit. I’ve lost the pointer, and with it the reason for grabbing this readable, if sometimes predictable, account of the making of a hit.

What I was hoping for, I suppose, was a fresh explanation of why this show works, and how it does it — something along the lines of John Lahr’s wonderful explanation of Show Boat. The Lahr explanation — the vital hint that the Broadway audience always had a large and economically vital core of New York Jews, and that many musicals that claim to be concerned with the plight of distant oppressed minorities (blacks in Showboat and Porgy & Bess, cowpokes in Oklahoma!, carnies and New England fisherfolk in Carousel) are indeed concerned with them, but are also allegories for generational tension in the midcentury American Jewish household.

I can’t find the Lahr piece, either.

Anyway, it was a great show. Ted Nelson’s mother was in it. Agnes DeMille did the dances, and they were tremendously influential. The music, the book, and everything else worked together; this was, in 1942, an innovation.