Playbill and Playbill Vault are thrilled to announce the launch of an exciting new project created in conjunction with one of the country's best and most-extensive research institutions, The Library of Congress, that offers theatre fans an unprecedented look behind the scenes at the creation of landmark works of musical theatre. "Treasures of the Library of Congress" offers a web portal to rare handwritten manuscripts, early script drafts, never-before-seen photographs and more, most of which have only been accessible to on-site researchers at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.—until now.
The first entry in the series, launching Oct. 30 on Playbill Vault, takes a look at the creation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's first collaboration together, 1943's Oklahoma! Aside from remaining one of the canon's most-beloved (and most-produced) musicals over 70 years after its premiere, Oklahoma! is also of particular historical significance to the genre of musical theatre, as it is thought of as the first stage musical to fully integrate music, dance and storytelling. Musicals of its day often featured songs, scenes and dances that were completely diversionary with a tenuous connection to the show's plot, if any. Rodgers and Hammerstein, along with choreographer Agnes de Mille, raised the bar with Oklahoma!, and changed the art form forever.
With "Treasures of the Library of Congress: Oklahoma!," you can dig into the creation of this legendary musical. The collection features such rarities as the musical sketch pad, where Richard Rodgers first figured out the melody to "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'"; Hammerstein's handwritten brainstorm of rhymes for the word "surrey" (including many rejects); personal letters from friends urging the team to change the show's name out of town (it was originally titled Away We Go!) and much, much more.
Also covered in the presentation is Oklahoma!'s 1955 movie adaptation, which will receive a 60th Anniversary re-release in movie theatres beginning Nov. 1. This special limited release begins with a newly-shot feature in which Broadway star (and Oklahoma native) Kristin Chenoweth sings three songs from the classic score of Oklahoma!, before being joined by Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization president Ted Chapin to talk about the history and significance of the stage work and its movie adaptation. Moviegoers get a glimpse at some pretty spectacular Oklahoma! documents from the Rodgers and Hammerstein archives, many of which they've generously made available for closer inspection as a part of "Treasures of the Library of Congress: Oklahoma!" You can peruse pre-production correspondence between the film's director, Fred Zinnemann, and Oscar Hammerstein II, in which they discuss casting. Theatre fans will recognize many of the names that were passed over in the casting process, some of which were famous at the time and others, such as Paul Newman, who were then exciting newcomers.