Wednesday, March 31, 1993

March 31, 1943: Oklahoma! debuted on Broadway

Originally posted June 28, 2010. Last updated September 3, 2018.

Oklahoma! (cast/soundtrack)

Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein II (composers)

Opened on Broadway: March 31, 1943

Cast Album Recorded: October 20, 1943 to May 24, 1944

Cast Album Released: December 4, 1944

Soundtrack Released: August 1, 1955

Sales (in millions):
US: 3.0 c, 2.0 s
UK: --
IFPI: --
World (estimated): 5.0 c+s

US: 4 C, 18-S
UK: 13-S
Canada: --
Australia: --

Quotable: “Often called Broadway’s greatest ever” – Joel Whitburn, Pop Memories 1890-1954

Genre: show tunes

Album Tracks – Cast Album:

  1. Overture
  2. Oh, What a Beautiful Morning (ALFRED DRAKE)
  3. The Surrey with the Fringe on Top (ALFRED DRAKE)
  4. Kansas City (LEE DIXON/ MALE CHORUS)
  5. I Cain’t Say No (CELESTE HOLM)
  6. Many a New Day (JOAN ROBERTS)
  7. It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage! (JOSEPH BULOFF) *
  8. People Will Say We’re in Love (ALFRED DRAKE/ JOAN ROBERTS)
  10. Lonely Room (ALFRED DRAKE) *
  11. Out of My Dreams (JOAN ROBERTS)
  12. The Farmer and the Cowman (BETTY GARDE/ RALPH RIGGS)
  13. All Er Nothin’ (LEE DIXON/ CELESTE HOLM)
  14. Oklahoma! (ALFRED DRAKE)
* Songs not on soundtrack version.

Album Tracks – Soundtrack:

  1. Overture
  2. Oh, What a Beautiful Morning (ALFRED DRAKE/ GORDON MacRAE)
  3. The Surrey with the Fringe on Top (ALFRED DRAKE/ GORDON MacRAE/ SHIRLEY JONES)
  7. People Will Say We’re in Love (GORDON MacRAE/ SHIRLEY JONES)
  8. Pore Jud Is Daid (GORDON MacRAE/ ROD STEIGER)
  9. Out of My Dreams (SHIRLEY JONES)
  10. The Farmer and the Cowman (GORDON MacRAE/ CHARLOTTE GREENWOOD)

Singles/Hit Songs:

People Will Say We’re in Love
Bing Crosby (1943) #2
Frank Sinatra (1943) #3
Hal Goodman (1943) #11

Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’
Frank Sinatra (1943) #12
Bing Crosby (1944) #4

The Surrey with the Fringe on Top
Alfred Drake (1944) #22

As was common in the pre-rock era, multiple versions of a single song from a Broadway show would become hits. All chart positions are from the U.S. Billboard pop charts.


“The Broadway opening of Oklahoma! in 1943 is remembered as a landmark in American musical theater. The show was the first written by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, though both were theater veterans. Rodgers & Hammerstein turned out an exuberant, tuneful score in which all the songs grew out of the characters and the situations, an unusual approach in musical theater, where songs often had little relationship to the action. The point was made right at the start, when the choral number that opened most musicals was eschewed in favor of an off-stage leading man coming on and singing Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.” RC

“It ran over five years, becoming the longest running musical in Broadway history up to its time. The score threw off several hits and standards, including ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,’ The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, People Will Say We’re in Love, and the stirring title tune.” RC

Oklahoma! “also made history as the first album…to become a major chart hit, and the first significant original-cast album.” JW “Although there had been a tradition of recording music from stage works in their original form with the stage performers in Great Britain, such recordings were only occasional in the U.S., and the idea of putting together an album of several 78 rpm records containing a show’s major songs as performed on-stage was relatively new. On the day that Oklahoma! opened, the American record industry was closed down by a musicians strike but shortly after Decca Records settled with the union, company president Jack Kapp brought the Oklahoma! principals together in the recording studio and cut 12 of the show’s songs…The result…was a commercial smash that forever changed the record business and led to the domination of record sales by the cast and soundtrack albums for the next 20 years.” RC

It would more than a dozen years after the Broadway debut before the movie version emerged. Rodgers and Hammerstein were giving enough power over the production that they “assured that it would be more faithful than most Hollywood treatments. Only two songs, Lonely Room and It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage!, were excised from the stage show for the two-and-a-half-hour film, for which conductor Jay Blackton and Robert Russell Bennett's orchestrations were retained.” RS

“The casting responded more to musical values than to box office clout, with Gordon MacRae, best known for several cinematic pairings with Doris Day, taking the male lead role of Curly and 20-year-old Shirley Jones, a Rodgers and Hammerstein discovery, making her film debut as Laurey, the female lead. The two, along with Gloria Grahame in the showcase role of lusty Ado Annie, brought a vocal assurance to their singing that allowed them to be intimate and conversational, giving detail to an otherwise lavish (and possibly oversized) production.” RS

“These qualities come off especially well on the soundtrack album, as do Bennett’s arrangements, which really shine in the stereo separation denied them on the original Broadway cast album. The result is an outstanding rendering of the score that gives it a bigger, broader interpretation and has continued to sound impressive over the decades, which may be one reason why the album, which topped the charts upon release and sold more than two million copies, has remained in print continually since it first appeared.” RS

Review Sources:
  • RC William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide (review of cast album)
  • RS William Ruhlmann, All Music Guide (review of soundtrack)
  • JW Joel Whitburn (1986). Pop Memories 1890-1954 (page 341). Record Research: Menomonee Falls, WI.


Related DMDB Link(s):

Saturday, March 6, 1993

Harry James hit #1 with “I’ve Heard That Song Before” for first of 13 weeks 50 years ago today (3/6/1943)

First posted 1/6/2013; updated 1/26/2020.

I’ve Heard That Song Before

Harry James and Helen Forrest

Writer(s): Jule Styne/Sammy Cahn (see lyrics here)

First Charted: January 16, 1943

Peak: 113 US, 14 HP, 11 RB (Click for codes to singles charts.)

Sales (in millions): -- US, -- UK, -- world (includes US + UK)

Airplay/Streaming (in millions): -- radio, -- video, -- streaming



Composer Jule Styne and lyricist Sammy Cahn launched a successful musical writing partnership with this song TY about how musical numbers aid listeners in strolling down memory lane and thinking about lost loves. It was featured in the 1942 film, Youth on Parade and landed an Academy Award nomination. The pair went on to write together for numerous films and Broadway musicals, winning an Oscar for the title song of 1954’s Three Coins in the Fountain. Both are Songwriters Hall of Fame inductees.

Bob Crosby introduced the song in Youth on Parade, but it was the version by the Harry James’ Orchestra with Helen Forrest on vocals which became the hit. They recorded the song on July 31, 1942, one day before the Musician Union’s ban. WK Their rendition charted in January of 1943 and became the biggest song of the year WHC-62 and one of the biggest #1 hits in history. In the pre-rock era, only Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” and Francis Craig’s “Near You” spent more weeks atop the charts.

James was a trumpeter who’d played with Ben Pollack and then Benny Goodman before starting his own band in 1938. For several years, he charted only with instrumentals. However, in 1941-42, his hits tended to feature vocalists, including Forrest on the #1 song “I Don’t Want to Walk without You.” PM When the Musician Union’s ban disrupted the release of new recordings, Columbia dipped into their vaults and released older recordings by James. The most significant was a 1939 recording of “All or Nothing at All” which featured a then largely-unknown Frank Sinatra. PM

Before working with James, Forrest recorded with bandleader Artie Shaw (“They Say,” “Thanks for Everything;” both #1’s) from 1938-39 and then had her own stint with Goodman (“Taking a Chance on Love”, #1) from 1939 to 1941. After working with James from 1941-43, she also had success recording with Dick Haymes (“Long Ago and Far Away”, #2).

Other artists to record the song included Pat Boone, the King Cole Trio, Steve Lawrence, Vera Lynn, Al Martino, Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé, and Margaret Whiting. WK The song has also been featured in the 1986 Woody Allen movie, Hannah and Her Sisters.

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