Lyric Opera of Chicago
  • Share

It's lavish! It's exhilarating! It's passionate!

  • Print
    • Share
  • To Top

Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

“People Will Say We’re In Love”…“Surrey With The Fringe On Top”…“I Cain’t Say No”…“Out Of My Dreams”…and more!  You know the songs and you love them all! 

Set in the West just after the turn of the last century, the high-spirited rivalry between the farmers and cowboys provides the colorful backdrop for one of the greatest Broadway musicals of all time. Here is a story that is both touching and gripping—about growing up and falling in love, dreams and nightmares, and the promise and exuberance of a new land on the verge of statehood.

Audiences who saw Lyric’s smash-hit Show Boat were bowled over by the amazing singing, the musical glory of our orchestra and chorus, and the lavish sets and costumes.

Now, we proudly present Oklahoma! in grand Lyric Opera style—and at popular Broadway prices! If you love musical theatre, you'll love Oklahoma!

Please note, performances will begin promptly at the designated start time, and latecomers may not be seated until an appropriate break.  Please plan your travel and parking carefully so as not to miss a note!

New Lyric Opera production generously made possible by an Anonymous Donor, Robert S. and Susan E. Morrison, The Negaunee Foundation, Northern Trust, Mrs. Herbert A. Vance and Mr. and Mrs. William C. Vance, and Jim and Vicki Mills/Jon and Lois Mills.

Starring

  • John Cudia

    Curly McLain

    John Cudia

    Lyric Debut

  • Ashley Brown

    Laurey Williams

    Ashley Brown

Elektra - Christine Goerke

Curly McLain
John Cudia*

Hansel - Maria Kanyova

Laurey Williams
Ashley Brown

Elektra - Jill Grove

Jud Fry
David Adam Moore

Elektra - Jill Grove

Ado Annie
Tari Kelly*

Will Parker
Curtis Holbrook*

Elektra - Roger Honeywell

Aunt Eller
Paula Scrofano*

Aida - Raymond Aceto

Ali Hakim
Usman Ally*

Hansel - Eric Einhorn

Andrew Carnes
Matt DeCaro*

Aida - Kocan

Gertie Cummings
Andrea Prestinario*

Aida - Kocan

Director
Gary Griffin

Conductor
James Lowe*

Set Designer
John Lee Beatty*

Choreographer
Gemze de Lappe*

Associate Choreographer
Victor Wisehart*

Costume Designer
Mara Blumenfeld

Lighting Designer
Christine Binder

Sound Designer
Mark Grey

Chorus Master and Assistant Conductor
Valerie Maze

English Diction and Dialect Coach
Jill Walmsley Zager*

*Lyric Debut

Rodgers and Hammerstein arrive at Lyric 

By Roger Pines

A musical about farmers and cowboys? Theatergoers and critics in 1943 couldn’t imagine it! But composer Richard Rodgers, librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, and the visionary producers from New York’s Theatre Guild proved them wrong with the triumph of Oklahoma!. The show integrated captivating songs and exuberant dances into a story of plainspoken, deeply human, thoroughly American characters, pioneers in the pre-statehood West of 1907.

This spring the surrey with the fringe on top will be parked at Lyric Opera in Oklahoma!’s 70th-anniversary year. Holding the reins will be Gary Griffin, whose productions of The Merry Widow and The Mikado have thrilled Lyric audiences. Oklahoma! centers on Laurey, a young farm owner, and Curly, the cowboy who’s sweet on her. He gets Laurey’s hopes up by describing the fancy carriage in which he wants to drive her to the Box Social, but then confesses that he made the whole thing up. Annoyed, Laurey decides to let Jud, her surly farmhand, escort her instead. The men’s rivalry turns dangerous, and Laurey fires Jud. When Curly proposes to Laurey, she joyfully accepts, but Jud breaks in on their wedding celebration. Fighting with Curly, Jud falls on his own knife and dies. The local judge lets Curly off on self-defense and the newlyweds leave on their honeymoon, exhilarated by their new life and by the exciting prospect of living in a brand-new state.

Oklahoma sunshine will flood Lyric’s stage in the sets by veteran Broadway designer John Lee Beatty. He and Griffin found inspiration in paintings by Thomas Hart Benton and Grant Wood: “When our Oklahoma! begins, there’s no writing on the show curtain,” says the director. “It’s a beautiful, simple watercolor landscape that bleeds through to the farm.” Overall, the show will feel “as if you were taking a photographic landscape and then adding warmth and passion. The colors have light in them, as in good watercolors. You don’t travel a lot in Oklahoma! and you’re in the first set for quite a while, so there needs to be some effervescence to it visually.”

Oklahoma! is often mistakenly presented as “a kind of hokey charm piece,” says Griffin. Yes, it’s got charm to burn, but it’s also pervaded by the essential, sweeping idea of “our collective will – whether we’re going to agree on a civilized notion of a way of life. That’s what this whole statehood thing is about,” Griffin adds.

The opera house is the right venue to accommodate the show’s scope, while doing total justice to its glorious score. Bert Fink, senior vice-president of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization, notes that “the passion of Jud, his death – these are very large operatic scenes. And Laurey and Curly’s music could be sung as ravishing operatic love duets.”

The composer and librettist gave Curly and Laurey unforgettable songs, beginning with Curly’s soaring “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” When Laurey’s friends think he’s jilted her, she laughs them off with the buoyant, confident “Many a New Day.” Her wondering whether she really loves Curly leads into a lilting waltz, “Out of My Dreams.” Together the couple enrapture us with “People Will Say We’re in Love.” Curly joins Jud for the somber “Pore Jud is Daid,” and Jud reveals his own misery in the hair-raisingly dramatic “Lonely Room.”

Alongside the Curly/Laurey/Jud love triangle is the comic contrast of dizzy Ado Annie and Will, the sweet-natured cowboy who’ll do anything for her. They have terrific numbers: “Kansas City,” his description of a trip to that booming town; “I Cain’t Say No,” her confession that she’s unable to resist any man; and “All Er Nothin’,” in which each lays down the law to the other regarding their relationship.

Lyric’s Oklahoma! will be hugely enhanced by Agnes de Mille’s stunning original choreography, notes Griffin. “You’re not dancing steps – you’re dancing storytelling text.” A spectacular dance for the cowboys is integral to “Kansas City,” and the girls adorn Laurey’s “Many a New Day” with an irresistible dance of their own. Everyone joins for a boisterous square dance, “The Farmer and the Cowman.” Most important of all is the 13-minute ballet ending Act One: Laurey’s dream, as she tries to decide between Curly and Jud.

R&H’s dramatic source for Oklahoma! was Green Grow the Lilacs, a play by Lynn Riggs, a native Oklahoman. It failed on Broadway in 1931, but Theresa Helburn, a Theatre Guild coproducer, saw it again a decade later and thought it would make a good musical. She proposed the idea to Rodgers, but his longtime writing partner, lyricist Lorenz Hart, was uninterested. Hammerstein had already unsuccessfully sounded out Show Boat composer Jerome Kern about Green Grow the Lilacs as a musical. Rodgers called Hammerstein, Hammerstein agreed, and they were off!

The new partnership created a “musical play” by seamlessly connecting song, dance, and story. Show Boat (1927) had been vital in that process and Oklahoma! took it several giant steps forward, with dance becoming more central than before. But potential funders, indifferent to the story, were reluctant to get on board. (Their other objections: Where were the jokes? The dancing girls? The opening chorus?) The New Haven tryout led to important revisions, and then came the spark: on the train to Boston for the second tryout, orchestrator/arranger Robert Russell Bennett prepared a new choral arrangement of the climactic number in Act Two. The cast learned it in a few hours and, when added that evening, the song “Oklahoma!” stopped the show. The production opened on Broadway on March 31, 1943, earned fabulous reviews, and ran for 2,243 performances.

Oklahoma! was written for wartime audiences. They were inspired by it, says Bert Fink, citing in particular two moments from Aunt Eller, one of the show’s most endearing characters: her speech to her niece Laurey in Act Two (“You’ve gotta be hearty….You can’t deserve the sweet and tender in life unless you’re tough”); and, in “The Farmer and the Cowman,” when she sings, “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, but I’ll be damned if I ain’t just as good!” For the public, says Fink, the characters onstage were their parents and grandparents, and “when that community of Oklahoma! came charging down to the footlights singing, ‘We know we belong to the land,’ that was a very powerful statement in 1943.”

That thrilling title song contrasts with the beauty and intimacy that opens the show. In Green Grow the Lilacs, Hammerstein had read the first page of the stage directions: As the curtain rises, Aunt Eller is churning butter on a beautiful morning, with the corn “giving off a golden emanation.” Then, offstage, Curly sings “Git Along, Little Dogie” a cappella. That gave R&H their cue: in Oklahoma!’s opening scene Aunt Eller, at her butter churn, listens to the offstage Curly wafting his song’s magical first phrase (“There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow”). “It feels like a classical American folk song,” says Fink, “but it’s written by two urbane New Yorkers! Signaling the beautiful morning was also the new dawn of musical theater to the 1943 audience in war-dominated, cold, snowy New York. You can feel the sunshine pouring out onto the stage.”

You’re doing fine, Oklahoma!  Welcome to the opera house!

Oklahoma!—The Story

Time: Just after the turn of the last century
Place: Indian territory (now Oklahoma)

ACT ONE

Overture

Scene 1: Laurey Williams’s farmhouse

Curly McLain, a cowboy, serenades Laurey’s Aunt Eller (Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’). When Laurey emerges from the house, Curly describes the fancy carriage in which he could drive her to the Box Social that evening, if she chose to go with him (The Surrey with the Fringe on Top). When he confesses that he made the whole thing up, Laurey is both annoyed and disappointed. Declaring that she’d never go with him now, she flounces off.

The men from town join Aunt Eller in welcoming back Will Parker, who regales everyone with details of his exciting trip (Kansas City). Having won $50 in a steer- roping contest, he’s spent the money on presents for the girl he loves, Ado Annie Carnes.

Curly encounters Jud, Laurey’s surly farmhand, who stuns him by announcing that Laurey has just agreed to his escorting her to the Box Social. Now Curly admits to both Laurey and Aunt Eller that he has, in fact, hired the surrey he told them about. Laurey tells Aunt Eller she’s afraid of Jud’s reaction should she change her mind about going with him.

Ado Annie is eager to talk with Laurey about the subject she can’t stop thinking about—men! Although she’s fond of Will, she finds herself unable to resist any man (I Cain’t Say No). When the peddler Ali Hakim stops by the farmhouse, it’s clear that Annie is captivated by him. Laurey hopes Ali can sell her something to help her see things more clearly. She buys a bottle of smelling salts, made with “a secret formula that belonged to Pharaoh’s daughter.”

Ali is uncomfortable when Annie introduces him to Will. After Ali leaves, Will is about to snatch a kiss from Annie when they’re interrupted by couples arriving from the neighboring town of Bushyhead to attend the Box Social. The effusive Gertie Cummings flirts shamelessly with Curly, but when the other girls tease Laurey about this, she insists that she doesn’t care (Many a New Day).

Ali returns, and Annie is attempting to determine what his intentions really are when the two unexpectedly encounter Annie’s father, Andrew Carnes. His daughter’s description of Ali’s previous displays of affection is enough for Andrew to consider the two engaged. He cocks his gun just so Ali knows he’s serious! The ecstatic Annie rushes to tell the girls, leaving Ali to lament women’s deviousness in snagging husbands (It’s a Scandal! It’s a Outrage!).

Alone with Curly, Laurey makes clear—as he does with her—what they can do to dispel rumors that they’re stuck on each other (People Will Say We’re in Love). When Laurey admits that she’s unable to decline Jud’s invitation, Curly decides to pay the farmhand a visit.

Scene 2: The smoke house

In Jud’s room, Curly is taken aback by various vulgar pictures on the wall and on postcards Jud shows him. When he notices a rope over the rafter, he paints a picture in Jud’s mind of the tributes the community would offer, and the sadness Laurey would feel, were Jud to hang himself (Pore Jud Is Daid). The tension and anxiety in Jud explode with a shot from his gun—directed, fortunately, at the ceiling. The shot nonetheless brings Aunt Eller and Ali Hakim to the smokehouse, wondering what happened. Curly covers for Jud by explaining that the two were shooting at knot-holes. After Curly and Aunt Eller leave, Jud asks Ali if his wares include a “Little Wonder”—a gadget you can hold your eyes up to that displays pictures but also doubles as a switchblade. The nervous Ali makes a quick exit, leaving Jud to reflect on his own misery (Lonely Room).

Scene 3: A grove on Laurey’s farm

Laurey takes a whiff of Ali’s smelling salts, declaring to the girls that this will help her make up her mind (Out of My Dreams). When she falls asleep, she dreams of a terrifying confrontation between Curly and Jud (Dream Ballet).

ACT TWO

Scene 1: The Skidmore ranch

At the Box Social, a lively square dance (The Farmer and the Cowman) is about to deteriorate into a brawl when Aunt Eller manages to restore order.

Scene 2: Skidmore’s kitchen porch

Will is disgusted by Ali, who has stolen his girl. Ali, however, is eager to get Annie off his hands and willingly buys several of the presents Will had bought for her in Kansas City. When Jud passes by, he sees that Will’s haul includes a “Little Wonder” (Will has no idea of the gadget’s dangerous side) and buys it from him. With one more dollar from Ali in exchange for the rest of the presents, Will now has $50, required of him by Andrew Carnes before he can marry Annie.

The Box Social now begins its auction, presided over by Aunt Eller. The men are to bid on the ladies’ picnic hampers, raising money to build a schoolhouse. Will bids his $50 on Annie’s hamper, leaving him broke once again, but Ali saves the day for him by bidding $51! In bidding for Laurey’s hamper,a conflict arises between Jud an man continually raising the stakes his horse and then his gun, Curly has enough cash to prevail, leaving Jud furious.

As the dancing resumes, Will takes Annie aside and they settle on a date for Will declares that from now on Annie will have to comport herself rather differently where men are concerned (All Er Nothin’). 

Jud finds Laurey and attempts to express his true feelings. When he kisses her and she pushes him away, he assumes that she thinks he isn’t good enough for her. He lashes out at her and when she fires him, he rushes away in a rage. Once Curly appears, Laurey calms down and the two confess their love, looking forward to a wonderful future together (Reprise: People Will Say We’re in Love). 

Ali has a moment with Annie, who tries to assuage the disappointment she assumes he’ll be feeling, now that she and Will are planning to wed. When Will witnesses Ali offering Annie an amorous “Persian goodbye,” he counters that by giving her an equally passionate “Oklahoma hello.”

Scene 3: Laurey’s farmhouse, three weeks later 

Laurey and Curly’s wedding celebration is in full swing. Curly excites everyone with his vision of life in a brand-new state (Oklahoma). The girls are surprised by the arrival of Gertie Cummings with her new husband – Ali Hakim! Will delightedly gives Gertie an “Oklahoma hello,” but when Annie sees this, she resorts to fisticuffs with Gertie, who flees in terror. Annie rushes off in hot pursuit, followed by Will.

The joyful occasion is interrupted by Jud, who confronts Curly. Their fight turns deadly, with Jud falling on his own knife. The men carry his body away, leaving Aunt Eller to comfort Laurey. When everyone has returned, Cord Elam, the community’s federal marshal, announces that Jud is dead and demands that Curly explain his side of the story in court. Aunt Eller insists that the law be “bent” a little by holding the trial on the spot. Andrew presides, and the verdict for Curly is selfdefense – that is, not guilty! 

Annie and Will reappear, clearly happy—more than happy!—with each other once again. Everyone now bids Curly and Laurey farewell (Reprise: Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’) as they begin their honeymoon, riding off in the surrey with the fringe on top.