It’s the time of year for saving money!
I can name many good reasons to celebrate the reissue of one of the most influential Broadway Show “original cast” recordings in theater history on its 75th Anniversary, Oklahoma:
The reissue sounds really good, certainly better than the original versions issued in 1943 on 78 RPM disc but also arguably improved over the LP from the 1950s (I compared it to a clean original twelve-inch LP pressing I located). The dark black vinyl on the new edition is quiet and well centered. You get a more complete snapshot of the music from the show (including bonus tracks!) on the CD and Tidal streams (there were several incarnations of the album issued over the years, so this new version seems to be the most complete). Oklahoma in its entirety is available for streaming on Tidal (click here if you have a subscription to go directly to it). And if you prefer the physical aesthetic of vintage vinyl record albums, the packaging on the reissue is excellent, with vastly better cover art and including a full album-sized booklet with useful information on the background to the show and the original cast recording.
Wait… what’s that? You say you’ve never heard of Oklahoma, the musical?
Well, for a quick update from the Wiki, we learn that: “The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2, 212 performances later enjoying award-winning revivals national tours foreign productions and an Academy Award-winning 1955 film adaptation. It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions. Rodgers and Hammerstein won a special Pulitzer Prize for Oklahoma! in 1944.”
The wiki also reports that: “This musical, building on the innovations of the earlier Show Boat epitomized the development of the ‘book musical,’ a musical play where the songs and dances are fully integrated into a well-made story with serious dramatic goals that are able to evoke genuine emotions other than laughter…. The premiere of Show Boat on Broadway was an important event in the history of American musical theatre. It “was a radical departure in musical storytelling, marrying spectacle with seriousness”
Additionally, the success of Oklahoma proved to a bit of a game changer for the entire theater industry as it was the moment when the first formal “original cast” type album was ever assembled. Indeed, theater music was made available to the public back then, but given the format of the day was essentially “single” records with two sides of music, the notion of compiling a bunch of these songs into a curated “album” experience hadn’t fully materialized up until this point. Many times those show related hit recordings were performed by others than the original cast. So when Decca Records head Jack Kapp had the idea of bringing the entire cast and the original orchestra from from the Broadway show into a studio, the results proved revelatory. In fact, Oklahoma was such a success that from this point on pretty much every show of any significance pretty much has had an original cast album released.
From the Library of Congress website, we learn:
“Though the original cast recording “Oklahoma!” record set–complete with color cover and program notes, innovative at the time–consisted of a weighty six 78rpm records (necessary before the advent of long-playing 33 1/3 records), it was not possible (nor probably cost effective) to include all the show’s songs, hence, this set was noted as “Selections from The Theatre Guild Musical Play.” Nevertheless, this first installment (released December 2, 1943) proved so popular with music buyers–it even ranked on “Billboard’s” best sellers singles chart–that the musicians and performers were reconvened later by Decca for a second installment that was released on January 3, 1945. It was during this latter session that the numbers “It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage!” was set down and leading man Alfred Drake recorded “Lonely Room” though, on stage, it was always performed by Howard Da Silva as Jud Fry.
As an album length listening experience, Oklahoma proved a powerhouse move for the music industry of the times; delivering a rich palette of hits that continue to be theater favorites to this day. Many of these titles have become “standards,” classic songs that have been covered by a multitude of artists. “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re In Love,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top” have all been performed and recorded by a fairly enormous cross section of artists (click on the titles for links to individual Wiki pages with detail on who have performed them). So along with Show Boat (from 1927) and George Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess (from 1935, technically more of an Opera but which ran on Broadway), Oklahoma is one of the most important of productions in popular music history.
This 75th Anniversary reissue should be a welcome addition both for fans of the show as well as those curious to learn more about the form. If you are just getting into theater, Oklahoma is a great place to begin your journey.