Howard Keel and Betty Jane Watson in Oklahoma!

Howard Keel and Betty Jane Watson in Oklahoma!

This photograph from the 1943 New York production of Oklahoma! shows Howard Keel and Betty Jane Watson as Curly and Laurey, ‘jist married’ at the end of the show. They are peering out of the carriage which is the subject of one of Oklahoma!’s most famous songs: ‘The Surrey With the Fringe On Top’. Oklahoma! brought together for the first time composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/ librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, who would go on to write nine smash hit musicals together. It opened on Broadway in 1943 with a cast of unknowns playing out the simple plot about which of two hopeful young men would take farmgirl Laurey to the local dance. It seemed an insubstantial thing, which would disappear fairly quickly. However, it was a revolutionary musical in that for the first time the songs, lyrics and dances weren’t simply interludes in the plot. They all contributed to moving the story or characterisations forward. Oklahoma! was also the first show to have an ‘original cast’ recording made, so starting another trend.