The passage of years tends to color perceptions of music conceived for the stage, no matter how good it is. Take Oklahoma!, which has been referred to so frequently as the play responsible for revolutionizing American musical theater that most folks consider it to be as musty and cobwebbed as something by Plato. But the definitive 1955 film version of this Rodgers and Hammerstein landmark that debuted on Broadway in 1943 continues to feel fresh, and while several of its stars aren't, having already met their maker, principals such as Shirley Jones, Rod Steiger and Eddie Albert remain working actors to this day. Better yet, the songs they sing aren't museum pieces, but sweet theatrical corn that still stands as high as an elephant's eye.
Nine of the selections on Angel's new version of the movie's soundtrack weren't on the original long-player, which was issued by Capitol during the Eisenhower administration, but they should have been. Pieces such as "Out of My Dreams Ballet" and the reprise of "People Will Say We're in Love" aren't toss-ins, but rather key compositions that contribute breadth and sweep to the proceedings. Moreover, they provide welcome context, allowing a listener to appreciate even the most familiar airs on hand -- for instance, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top" and the indelible title ditty -- both as great tunes and as important parts of a larger tale. And while Oklahoma natives may cringe at the exaggerated drawls used to deliver the likes of "I Cain't Say No" and "Kansas City," in which the word "idea" is rendered as "ideeeeee," the rest of us will likely find them a relief. Unlike modern thespians, who often knock themselves out to authentically duplicate accents, thereby putting the audience in the position of listening for every elocutionary slip, the Oklahoma! cast, featuring the likes of Gordon MacRae and Gloria Grahame, reject realistic portrayals in favor of full-on yokelism, and more power to them.
Thanks to clear but unfussy sound and a liner booklet filled with inviting essays and swell photos, Oklahoma! lives on. Plato should sound so good.
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