Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! in a sense marks the start of what we can term the Golden Age of musical theater (approximately 1940–1966). It was during the Golden Age that the musical became what we know it as today: a book or script with songs and dances inserted between dialogue. The goal with Oklahoma was to move between dialogue and song seamlessly, the audience unaware of the transition. The songs acted as an add-on to speech rather than a segment broken away from the story. Rodgers and Hammerstein partnered for 18 years, moving from musical comedies to musical theater over the course of their career. With this change came more serious subject matter. Some of their hits include State Fair, Cinderella, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, and The Sound of Music. Many of their works were later turned into major films, helping to preserve them for generations.
You may be familiar with other teams from this era including Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, known for My Fair Lady, Brigadoon, and Camelot. Composers Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein sought to create musical plays with operatic proportions using more technical virtuosity, weighty themes, and popular American subjects. You can read about Bernstein’s work on West Side Story here.
Are you a fan of the Golden Age musical? If so, join me next time as I present a playlist with some of my favorite Golden Age musical hits!