OFFBEAT: Chicago Lyric Opera ready to celebrate 70th Anniversary of 'Oklahoma!'

Phil Potempa's daily entertainment news column
2013-04-20T00:00:00Z 2013-04-20T13:24:05Z OFFBEAT: Chicago Lyric Opera ready to celebrate 70th Anniversary of 'Oklahoma!'By Philip Potempa, (219) 852-4327

Director Gary Griffin calls it: "The musical that changed musicals, the show that set the bar for all musicals that followed."

Griffin is the acclaimed director whose new production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" will premiere at Lyric Opera of Chicago Saturday, May 4. The new production, which includes the original choreography by the legendary Agnes de Mille, will have 16 performances (including seven matinees) and will run until May 19 at the Civic Opera House in Chicago, with tickets ranging from $32 to $153.

"This Pulitzer Prize-winning musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, which was their debut collaboration, marks its 70th anniversary in 2013 and is one of the greatest American musical stage works," said Anthony Freud, Lyric's general director.

"We are delighted to have 'Oklahoma!' make its Lyric Opera debut in a new production by Gary Griffin as part of Lyric's American Musical Theater Initiative. We are also excited to have this first-rate cast and production team currently in rehearsal at Lyric for this company premiere."

Freud said 37 members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra will perform the original orchestration by Robert Russell Bennett. The production will feature a 24-person singer-dancer ensemble, including 12 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, plus three solo dancers.

"Oklahoma!" is the first of five classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals that Lyric will present with its American Musical Theater Initiative. I'm told no other opera company in the world has made a long-term commitment to producing American musical theater on an annual basis.

"This is the first series of its kind," said Ted Chapin, president and executive director of The Rodgers and Hammerstein Organization: an Imagem Company.

Lyric will also premiere "The Sound of Music" (2014), "Carousel" (2015), "The King and I" (2016), and "South Pacific" (2017). Casting and artistic teams for each of the musicals will be announced in the future.

"I am thrilled that this major American opera company would devote the same sort of passion and artistry to the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein that they already give to Mozart, Verdi, and Wagner," Chapin said.

"Lyric's plan to present five completely new productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals over five consecutive years is unique and monumental. It's a great way to launch Lyric's American Musical Theater Initiative. For Lyric Opera to recognize the role that musicals from Broadway's Golden Age have in the world of 21st-century lyric theater is remarkable – and a great honor for us."

And Chicago audiences have always loved "Oklahoma!" Just 6 months after the show's triumphant 1943 Broadway premiere, it opened at Chicago's Erlanger Theater, playing to sold-out houses for a year.

"Oklahoma!" bucked the trend of starting with a big chorus number, instead opening with the now-famous "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," for a single character, Curly, a role that has been portrayed by stars including Alfred Drake, Howard Keel, Gordon MacRae, John Raitt (Bonnie’s dad!), and Hugh Jackman.

Composer Richard Rodgers was also the first ever of only 11 people to have won all four top show business awards including the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT). Other EGOT winners include Audrey Hepburn, Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks and Whoopi Goldberg.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago is located at 20 N Wacker Dr. FYI: (312) 332-2244 or

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at or (219) 852-4327.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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