Deeper dive: Your first look at a new ‘Oklahoma!’


  • Written by: Richard Rodgers (music);  Oscar Hammerstein II (book and lyrics). Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
  • Director: New DCPA Theatre Company Artistic Director Chris Coleman
  • Dates: Sept. 7-Oct. 14, 2018 (Opens Sept. 14)
  • Where: Stage Theatre
  • Genre: Classic American musical
  • At a glance: With a spring in their step and a song in their hearts, cowboys, farmers and traveling salesmen alike have chased their destinies to a land that promises everything they could hope for: Love, opportunity and a brighter future. The first collaboration by the legendary team of Rodgers and Hammerstein became a landmark musical for its rollicking music and stunning dance numbers, and this joyful presentation will solidify why it has stood the test of time.
  • The twist: Coleman will set the story in one of the 50 all-African-American towns that existed in the early days of the Oklahoma Territory. Coleman directed an all-black production of Oklahoma! once before, at Portland Center Stage in 2011. (Pictured: Marisha Wallace as Ado Annie and Jarran Muse as “Will,” courtesy Portland Center Stage.) 
  • Says Coleman: “I am honored to be making my Denver directorial debut with Oklahoma! This gorgeous musical is such a quintessential expression of what it means to be American. Oklahoma! is centered around a group of people on the verge of grabbing their piece of the American dream and incorporating themselves into the fabric of the whole nation. Experiencing that drive and sense of possibility expressed by a community we haven’t traditionally seen telling this story opens up new windows on what it means to be a Westerner, what it means to be an American and what it means to ‘stake your claim’ in the land.”
  • More about the African-American variation: “Several years ago, when I first started thinking about doing this show, I came across a piece of information that blew me away: In 1907, the year before Oklahoma became a state, there were 50 all-black towns in the state, and a third of all cowboys were black. And that fact began to work its way into my imagination. I thought, ‘What would it be like to see a community of black actors tell this extraordinary American story?’ And I’m particularly excited to have black actors tell it, because when you hear, ‘We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand’ — that is an extraordinary sentiment to hear sung by that particular community in the moment we’re living in today.”
  • What the critics have said: Of the 1943 original, The New York Times‘ Lewis Nichols raved: “For years they have been saying the Theatre Guild is dead, words that obviously will have to be eaten with breakfast this morning.” Of Coleman’s 2011 all-black production in 2011, The Oregonian critic Marty Hughley wrote: “Coleman’s version of the classic fully delivers on its entertaining promise while also subtly deepening the musical’s underlying message about the nature of civil society and the distinctiveness of the American experience.”
  • About the authors: Oklahoma! was the first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and it set the standards and established the rules of musical theatre still being followed today.
  • Fun facts: The choreographer in Denver will be Dominique Kelley, a dancer in the film La La Land and the musical Bring in ‘Da Noise, Bring in ‘Da FunkOklahoma! opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre 75 years ago Saturday, and the cast of the Denver-born musical Frozen marked the anniversary with a curtain-call singalong that you can watch at this YouTube link … In 1967, an all-female production of Oklahoma! opened at the Takarazuka Theatre, Tokyo … The original title for the musical was Away We Go! … So why the exclamation point at the end of Oklahoma!? According to the book “The Hammersteins: a Musical Theatre Family,” Rodgers and Hammerstein included it as a subtle way to distance it from the grim associations the word had taken on a few years earlier because of Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”