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Friday, Apr. 29, 2016

Gray Matters:Oh, What a Beautiful Memory!

Monday, April 14, 2008

The review of an area theater's production of the classic "Oklahoma!" sparked a stream of beautiful memories. The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs," premiered on Broadway, March 31, 1943.

There was nation-wide publicity about this immediate and unusual hit. Before that time, most musicals were essentially song and dance revues featuring vocal soloists and chorus girls. They had little, if any, plot line. Too, a story about ranchers and farmers on a Broadway stage would have been unthinkable. I was fascinated by all I had read about this remarkable show, but there was no way I could have traveled to New York to see it.

Then, wonder of wonders, announcements were made that a traveling company was to bring it to Chicago in 1944. That did it! Each month, when I received my munificent wages of $125.00 for teaching English in the Marcus high school, I squirreled away a small sum. By Easter break I had enough money to realize my dream. My sister was working in the Chicago area so I didn't have to budget for hotel bills, and that helped.

I boarded the Illinois Central Flyer one spring evening. My mother got on the train when we went through Manson, and a college roommate who was teaching in western Illinois joined us just across the Mississippi. She and I had spent the previous summer working in Chicago, so it wasn't going to be totally foreign territory.

We'd attended several theater productions as well as concerts at Ravinia and Grant Park. Then too, we had seen the Cubs play at Wrigley Field, eaten at some of the city's nicest restaurants, and visited many museums and other attractions so it had been a great summer.

Looking back, it's pretty obvious why I came back to Iowa with only a few items of clothing purchased using the employee discount at the store where I worked, and not more than $5.00 in my purse. Hmm!

But about the 1944 Easter break -- We shopped at Marshall Fields. I'd provided enough in my "stash" to buy a spring suit. We did some sight-seeing under my sister's guidance, but the Saturday evening theater performance was the true highlight. To this day, I vividly recall the excruciating thrill when the lights were lowered and the strains of that incredible overture issued from the pit. The ecstasy never let up. The singers, the settings, the ballet sequences which were choreographed by the great Agnes DeMille, all fell into place as never-to-be-forgotten perfection!

That classic show has proven to be a favorite of everyone from queens to servant- girls, their men-folks included. I am sure you've heard the story about Princess Elizabeth and her then royal friend, Prince Phillip, who adopted "People Will Say We're In Love" as their own secret theme song when they saw the London premier of "Oklahoma!"

That's just one of the countless tales that have circulated about this classic show. Over the years I have seen many productions of it on many levels, but the thrill of that first one so long ago still lingers. Again, here is my often-repeated wish that all of you who have similar stories to tell could share them with us. We just have to figure out a way!