10 Groundbreaking Broadway Musicals


'Oklahoma!' (1943)

Oklahoma!' musical
Dancers from 'Oklahoma!' perform at the dress rehearsal for 'On Broadway! A Glittering Salute to the American Musical' at City Center on Oct. 27, 2008 in New York City. Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images

With World War II in full swing in 1943, the world had a lot to worry about. "Oklahoma!" offered some much-needed relief, but this light-hearted show also took Broadway musicals into completely new territory. Everything about the production propelled the story forward, rather than taking gratuitous song-and-dance breaks as was the usual pattern for musicals. Instead, the dance choreography, music and lyrics gave insight into each character's personality.

Based on a 1931 play titled "Green Grow the Lilacs," the musical is set in turn-of-the-20th century – you guessed it – Oklahoma. It also marks the first collaboration of the legendary Broadway team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Hammerstein wrote the lyrics first and then handed them over to Rodgers who composed the music. The pair actually had difficulty raising money to fund the production, since they hadn't worked together before and Hammerstein was in the midst of a significant success rut.

But the show struck a major chord with audiences, despite its decidedly un-sexy setting (middle America farmland, anyone?) So popular was the score, which features now-indelible classics like "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," and "Surrey With the Fringe on Top," that it inspired the now-common practice of recording albums performed by the original cast. The show's run also shattered all existing Broadway records of the day, lasting for five years and nine months [sources: Malet, Kenrick].