Oklahoma!, As It Looked in '43, Gets Recreation by Mauceri and De Lappe in NC April 28-May 8

News   Oklahoma!, As It Looked in '43, Gets Recreation by Mauceri and De Lappe in NC April 28-May 8
Faculty, guest professionals and design and performance students at University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) have merged to realize the classic American musical Oklahoma! as it was first envisioned in 1943. The revival recreates original Broadway sets, costumes and dances for an April 28-May 8 run.

Gemze de Lappe chooses fabrics with faculty member and supervisor of the Miles White costume designs, Bill Brewer.
Gemze de Lappe chooses fabrics with faculty member and supervisor of the Miles White costume designs, Bill Brewer. Photo by Dietz Photo

The production, music-directed by UNCSA chancellor John Mauceri, a torch-bearer of American musical theatre history, and directed by Broadway's Terrence Mann, plays  UNCSA's Stevens Center in downtown Winston-Salem, NC.

A special Gala Benefit performance will be presented on April 29. Proceeds from the production and the Gala will benefit all five arts schools at UNCSA. The musical based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs was the first collaboration of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. It integrated music, lyrics, script and dance as never before, changing the landscape of American musical theatre forever.

Mauceri, who came up with the idea of reviving this "authentic" Oklahoma!, told Playbill.com, "The reason for replicating it is that it teaches the designers, it teaches the lighting people, it teaches everyone about how the American musical was produced and performed."

This sort of recreation of the original production of Oklahoma! has not happened in more than 50 years, he said. A restoration of Robert Russell Bennett's original orchestrations (with the original orchestra size of 24 — including a rare bass oboe) will be utilized.

UNCSA's restaging includes the original Agnes de Mille choreography as recreated by Gemze de Lappe, the renowned dancer-teacher who performed in the original Broadway and touring productions of Oklahoma! and worked closely with de Mille for years. "Every now and then there is profound value to going back to the source and being reminded" how all production elements were in service of carrying forward the script, music and lyrics, Mauceri said.

UNCSA student and faculty research has led to replications of Miles White's original costumes and Lemuel Ayers' original stage design. Mauceri said that fans who are used to old black-and-white production photos of the original staging will be shocked by the vibrancy of the color in the show.

In recent weeks, Mauceri said in an email, "Orchestra rehearsals have begun and it sounds so amazing: transparent, classy, funny and so beautiful. Doubtful it can ever happen again: a cast of 52!!!"

According to UNCSA production notes, "Faculty from the School of Design & Production are working from archival photography, extant designs, published records and the supervisory input of the legendary Gemze de Lappe, who danced in the original national tour (1943), the original Broadway production (during its run, in 1946), the replication of the original production for London's Drury Lane Theatre (1947), the Australian premiere (1948) and the subsequent European production in the early 1950s."

Costume students traveled to New York City to examine designer White's original "swatch book." The 110 costume designs of White have been recreated by UNCSA faculty member Bill Brewer, along with Christine Turbitt.

Gemze de Lappe auditions students for "Postcard Girls" in the dream ballet
photo by Donald Dietz

The scenic designs of Ayers are under the supervision of UNCSA faculty member Howard Jones and were painted and built on campus by the students.

The scenic fabrics were "dyed and appliquéd to represent the brilliantly colored and varied textures of the 1943 production and its various replications."

Broadway sound designer Scott Lehrer provides discreet "electronic acoustical support" to protect the balance of the sound in the modern auditorium. Tiny wig mikes on a few of the principals, and footlight-level mikes, are expected to be part of the experience, Mauceri told Playbill.com.

Theodore Chapin, president and executive director of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, said in a statement, "For John Mauceri to conceive the idea of an Oklahoma! as close to exactly how it was when it opened may seem like a simple idea, but no one has had it before. It is sure to add an invaluable piece to both the historic and performance history of a musical that has long been acknowledged as the one that galvanized an entertainment genre into an American art form."

Internationally renowned conductor Mauceri's career has included working with opera companies and symphony orchestras, and on Broadway (On Your Toes) and recording studios (the Gershwins' Strike Up the Band). A recipient of a Tony, an Outer Critics Circle Award, a Drama Desk and two Emmy Awards, Mauceri has worked closely with the Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization on numerous projects including the first-ever recording of all the Overtures from the Rodgers & Hammerstein musicals ("Opening Night: The Complete Overtures") as well as a restoration of the film score from "The King and I," featuring Julie Andrews and Ben Kingsley, which received the Deutsche Schallplatten Prize in 1993. He was music director and musical supervisor of three Broadway musicals: Candide (1973), On Your Toes (1983) and Song and Dance (1985).

The cast for Oklahoma! is drawn from the students at UNCSA, America's first public arts conservatory.

The full performance schedule for Oklahoma! is April 28 at 8 PM; April 29 at 7:30 PM; April 30 at 2 PM and 8 PM; May 1 at 2 PM; May 4-6 at 8 PM; May 7 at 2 PM and 8 PM; May 8 at 2 PM.

Tickets are available at the UNCSA Box Office by calling (336) 721-1945, or by visiting www.uncsa.edu/performances.

For ticket information for the April 29 special gala, which includes Prime Orchestra seating, contact the Office of Advancement at (336) 770-3330.


The University of North Carolina School of the Arts is the first state-supported, residential school of its kind in the nation. Established as the North Carolina School of the Arts by the North Carolina General Assembly in 1963, UNCSA opened in Winston-Salem in 1965 and became part of the University of North Carolina system in 1972. More than 1,100 students from high school through graduate school train for careers in the arts in five professional schools: Dance, Design and Production (including a Visual Arts Program), Drama, Filmmaking and Music.

For more information, visit www.uncsa.edu.

A scene from the 1943 Broadway production of <i>Oklahoma!</i>
A scene from the 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma! Photo by Imagem/Rodgers &amp; Hammerstein
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