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Richard RODGERS (1902-1979) and Oscar HAMMERSTEIN II (1895-1960)

Original Cast Recordings 1943-44

NAXOS 8.120787 [78:18]



Crotchet Budget price

Overture [3:19]
Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ [2:32]
The Surrey With The Fringe On top [3:07]
Kansas City [2:45]
I Cain’t Say No [2:59]
Many A New Day {3:05]
It’s A Scandal [3:15]
People Will Say We’re In Love [3:11]
Pore Jud Is Daid [2:49]
Lonely Room [2:36]
Out Of My Dreams [2:47]
The Farmer And The Cowman [5:17]
All Er Nuthin’ [3:09]
Oklahoma [2:30]
Finale: Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ – People Will Say We’re In Love [3:10]
Original Oklahoma Orchestra and Chorus
Jay Blackton, conductor
Curly – Alfred Drake
Laurey Williams – Joan Roberts
Will Parker – Lee Dixon
Ado Annie – Celeste Holm
Jud Fry – Howard da Silva
Ali Hakim – Joseph Buloff
Aunt Eller – Bette Garde
Andrew Carnes – Ralph Riggs
Recorded 20 and 25 October, 1943 in New York, NY
Bonus Recordings 1944

Oklahoma: Symphonic Suite [11:26]
Arranged by Robert Russell Bennett
Alfred Wallenstein and the Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles
Recorded 4 August, 1944 in Los Angeles, CA
Oklahoma! [2:55]
The Surrey With The Fringe On Top [3:26]
James Melton with Al Goodman’s Orchestra
Recorded 22 December, 1944 in New York, NY
People Will Say We’re In Love [3:23]
James Melton and Eleanor Steber with Al Goodman’s Orchestra
Recorded 22 December, 1944 in New York, NY
Out Of My Dreams [3:32]
Eleanor Steber with All Goodman’s Orchestra
Recorded 22 December, 1944 in New York, NY
Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ [3:06]
John Carter Thomas with Victor Young’s Orchestra and The Ken Darby Chorus
Recorded 13 December, 1944 in Hollywood, CA
Kansas City [2:56]
John Carter Thomas with chorus and orchestra conducted by Victor Young
Recorded 13 December, 1944 in Hollywood, CA. ADD

The debut of Oklahoma! in 1943 has to be one of the defining moments in the history of musical theater. It was Rogers and Hammerstein’s first musical together, and today is considered to be among the best loved and influential of all musicals. Certainly it has to be considered among the most popular. During its initial run, it sold out every performance after the opening night for five consecutive years. The title song has even become the official song of the state of Oklahoma. Thus it is certainly interesting to hear the original voices of Curly, Laurey, Will, Jud, and Ado Annie.

With the exception of "I Cain’t Say No" the voices are pure, fun, and clear. Joan Roberts’ performances are effortless and wonderful. Alfred Drake recorded as good a Curly as any since him. Throughout most of these original cast recordings it is evident just what audiences found in this musical. It is charismatic and the performers truly sound as if they’re having a good time performing the songs. Even when the non-singers perform, they mostly provide enjoyable and amusing renditions. There is unfortunately one exception here on the part of Celeste Holm. It must be noted the performer certainly was affecting an accent and character voice for the part of Ado Annie. However the performance definitely lacks the polish or charisma of the others. The vocals are out of tune and have a nasal quality that simply grates. Although she’s the girl who can’t say "no", it makes me wish that Ms. Holm had learned to use the word when asked for deliberately bad singing. It may be that many will find the imperfection endearing. However, as the rest of the performances are actually very good, and she does perform notably better on All or Nothin’, this particular song simply seems out of place.

The other thing which may stand out to true fans of the musical is that Lonely Room was originally performed by Howard daSilva (Jud), but the recording was made by Alfred Drake (Curly). This was due to the way that the recordings were originally released. Lonely Room was released with the other "comedy" songs, and it was felt that Drake’s voice would be a welcome change from the performances by the untrained singers. He does to a very fine job with the song, showing that the decision was a good one.

Due to the amazing popularity of the original recordings, Decca went back to these songs a year later with a cast from the Metropolitan Opera and a symphonic suite performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Los Angeles. It is interesting to compare the performances of John Charles Thomas, James Melton and Eleanor Steber with those of Lee Dixon, Alfred Drake and Joan Roberts. Thomas is the better singer as Will Parker, and his versions of Oh What A Beautiful Mornin’ and Kansas City are very nice additions here. Also it should be noted that Steber would spend the decade after this recording as the featured soprano for the Met, and Melton was an admitted star before these recordings were made. Thus one expects, and receives, quite a solid set of performances.

Additionally, the recordings have aged incredibly well. There is some fidelity loss due to the ageing of the original wartime materials used for the pressings. However the transfer is remarkably noise-free. There is a fairly detailed description in the liner notes explaining how the originals were made and what was done to make this release. However it is certainly due to the quality of the transfer how well the sound engineers know their craft.

The rest of the liner notes are interesting, but nothing special. They describe just how unlikely Oklahoma! was, and how it was expected to flop. They also provide a bit of information into the editing that was made, due to the recordings being made for release on 78s. Essentially, they complete a very strong package adequately enough to not distract in any way.

While it would be hard to recommend vintage recordings to everyone, this one should have a broader audience than most. This CD is definitely for anyone that already loves Oklahoma!. It is a testament to the original cast. One can understand how this simple musical was able to do so well when one hears exactly how talented the original performers were. As a piece of music history it is also quite interesting. To top the whole thing off, the songs are so familiar and well performed that there are a large number of people that will simply enjoy hearing them the same way that the original audience of 60+ years ago would. It’s a good thing that Naxos has re-pressed these recordings. Anything else would have been a scandal, or an outrage. Any farmer would tell you it’s true. Perhaps what is most evident here is that in the hands of such a solid cast, the least you could say was that Oklahoma! was OK.

Patrick Gary

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