Howard Keel in Oklahoma!

Howard Keel in Oklahoma!

When Oklahoma! opened in London in 1947, its youthful energy and optimism was a huge tonic for war-weary audiences and it initiated a nine year domination of Drury Lane by Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals. As in the New York production, the cast were all unknown but the show made them stars. This photograph shows Harold Keel as Curly, the ‘good’ cowboy who eventually wins the love of farmgirl Laurey. He had a huge success and was immediately snapped up by Hollywood on his return to America. Renamed Howard Keel, he became one of MGM’s biggest musical stars in the 1950s. What made Oklahoma! different was that the songs, lyrics and dances all helped move the plot or characters forward. It was considered so revolutionary that Rodgers and Hammerstein had difficulty finding people to put up the money. They were also working together for the first time and backers thought that, without their usual partners (Lorenz Hart for Rodgers and Jerome Kern for Hammerstein), the show didn’t stand a chance.