A complete guide to all the songs in 'Oklahoma!'
Learn more about the 15 songs in the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Oklahoma!, at the Wyndham's Theatre in 2023. Arthur Darvill and Anoushka Lucas star.
Oh, what a beautiful score! Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s gorgeously evocative Oklahoma! is simply rapturous, heralding a Golden Age of musical theatre. But it’s not just its beauty that makes it an outstanding work: this rich adaptation of Lynn Riggs’s play Green Grow the Lilacs, which premiered on Broadway in 1943, was an early example of a properly integrated book musical — the songs actually advance the plot, characters and themes, and work seamlessly within the overall storytelling.
Set in 1906, that tale features a community of settlers. Among the wooing youngsters are a strong-willed duo, cowboy Curly McLain and farm girl Laurey Williams; the latter also has a rather less welcome admirer in the form of social-misfit farmhand Jud Fry. Laurey’s friend Ado Annie is juggling several beaux, primarily cowboy Will Parker and the wealthy peddler Ali Hakim. Casting a shrewd eye over all of this is Laurey’s Aunt Eller.
It’s a lot to pack in, but it all unfolds with remarkable ease via Rodgers and Hammerstein’s indelible tunes – which extend to that famous dream ballet. With Daniel Fish bringing a fascinating fresh slant to the musical in his moody, stripped-back staging – which caused a sensation at the Young Vic last year, and is now playing at the Wyndham's Theatre – it’s the perfect time to revisit Oklahoma!.
Book Oklahoma! tickets on London Theatre.
“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”
Surely a contender for the most uplifting opening song to any musical. As lustily sung by the optimistic Curly, it’s a pastoral paean, a love letter to the land. “There’s a bright, golden haze on the meadow… The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye.”
Of course, Curly’s good mood is also partly because he’s heading to see his girl, Laurey. All the world looks golden when you’re in love. When we first meet Laurey, she’ll be singing the same tune – proof that these two are meant for each other.
“The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”
The purpose of Curly’s visit is to invite Laurey to the box social dance. But he’s left it very late to ask her, and Laurey’s pride is hurt. He tries to win her over by promising her a fabulous carriage – the “surrey with the fringe on top” – and evokes a dream vehicle, with snow-white horses, leather dashboard and silk fringe. The bouncy rhythm of the song places you right inside that carriage, with its clip-clopping horses, and once again Curly references nature as part of their bucolic journey.
Here’s our introduction to Will Parker, who might not be the richest or cleverest man, but who can tell a good yarn with cheeky charm. In “Kansas City”, he regales his fellow settlers with the story of his trip to the big city and its astonishing modern inventions – from telephones and radiators to skyscrapers – all from the wide-eyed, slightly sceptical viewpoint of the confirmed country bumpkin. It ends on a risqué note with Will’s visit to a burlesque striptease; Oklahoma! slyly mixes in racier elements with its rural bliss.
“I Cain’t Say No”
But even more shocking than Will indulging in a naughty show is this frank confession from Ado Annie: she’s a sexually charged young woman, and when she’s with a guy, she forgets all those warnings and moral lessons. Couched in cute country slang (“Watcha gonna do when a feller gets flirty/An’ starts to talk purty”; “As soon as someone kisses me/I somehow sorta wanna kiss him back!”), it juxtaposes that little-girl sweetness with frank sensuality – and seduces the listener into coming around to Annie’s way of thinking. It’s just more fun, ain’t it?
“Many a New Day”
Preparations for the box social haven’t exactly worked out for Laurey: she’s now stuck going with Jud instead of Curly, and someone else is flirting with the man she really cares for. But she puts on a brave face in “Many a New Day”, telling the assembled girls how she won’t let romantic disappointment get her down: instead, she looks forward to a new day, and a new love. It’s a clever number that shows how much Laurey cares about saving face – while hinting at her heartache beneath.
“It’s A Scandal! It’s An Outrage!”
Laurey’s not the only one in a fix. Ali Hakim is forced by Annie’s father, Andrew Carnes, to agree to marry her – at gunpoint. He’s gone from a carefree romance to unwanted responsibility. The other men join in, agreeing that it’s a scandal: you can’t have any fun when “every daughter has a father with a gun”.
The pairing of these two numbers gives us a winking battle of the sexes – both men and women trying to negotiate the tricksy social rules of their era – plus a hint of the underlying violence.
“People Will Say We’re in Love”
The ever-proud Curly and Laurey can’t just declare their feelings to one another. Instead, they complain about the annoyance of everyone else assuming that they’re in love, and ruminate on all the things they shouldn’t do, lest they be misinterpreted. But the utterly swoon-worthy music undercuts their protestations: of course they’re in love, and by the end of this exquisite duet, we’ve lost our hearts to them as well.
“Pore Jud Is Daid”
From light to darkness in just two numbers. This shows a cruel, insecure and even bullying side to Curly: hurt by Laurey’s refusal to ditch Jud and go to the box social with him, Curly intimidates his rival and “jokingly” suggests that people might appreciate him more if he was dead. Curly paints a beguiling picture, and it’s scarily convincing – Jud even joins in with the song.
Finally, Jud gets to have his say. This number is an interesting mix of sympathetic and scary, yearning and ominous: depending on how you play it, it’s either the moment we get to know Jud as a guy who just wants a better life and the girl of his dreams, or it’s the obsessional rantings of a loner who will go too far – with deadly consequences. The music hints at those darker themes with its moments of dissonance.
“Out of My Dreams”
Famously, Act I of Oklahoma! ends with an epic dream ballet, in which Laurey (who has taken a “magic potion” from Ali Hakim) explores her feelings for both Curly and Jud – and finally comes to understand what she wants. This song is the transition from the more straightforward storytelling into that dream sequence, as the chorus urges Laurey to make up her mind once and for all.
“The Farmer and the Cowman”
Act II kicks off with the simmering tension between the farmers (who want to fence in their crops for protection) and the cowmen (who want to move freely over the open range with their cattle) coming to a violent head during the box social.
Thankfully, Aunt Eller is there to knock some sense into them all. There’s a witty juxtaposition between this down-and-dirty conflict and the jaunty music for a square dance.
“All Er Nuthin’”
Ado Annie’s time playing the field is up: Will demands she commit solely to him. He’s given up drinking and gambling – will she make a similar sacrifice? In keeping with their courtship, there’s a playfulness (and plenty of gosh-darn local dialect) to this duet, echoing “Cain’t Say No”, and – as with Curly and Laurey – their musical synergy confirms that this is the right pair to ride off into the sunset together.
“People Will Say We’re in Love (Reprise)”
Finally, Curly proposes to Laurey and she accepts (although not before a nasty confrontation with Jud, who threatens Laurey after she fires him as a farmhand). Our lovers can now openly admit their feelings, reprising that teasing duet from earlier with carefree new lyrics: “Let people say we’re in love!”.
It’s both a joyful affirmation of their coupling, and a slight warning – when Curly boasts “Who cares what happens now”, we might have a vengeful Jud in mind.
The big title number is a double celebration: Curly and Laurey’s wedding, and Oklahoma becoming a “brand new state”. It’s all about looking to the future – about love, community and opportunity – and extolling the virtues of this great land, “where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain”. The song then riffs on Oklahoma’s shorthand with an “OK” pun and builds to a chant of “Okla-Okla…” – either giddy and gleeful, or a slightly menacing ode to conformity, depending on your perspective. (Remember that the outsider Jud is about to be sacrificed, and his murder hushed up.)
Again, you can either read this as a straightforward happy ending, a reprisal of those first lovely words about a beautiful mornin’, or as an indictment of a community that determinedly avoids the darkness (in the form of Jud’s death) if it interferes with their vision of rural bliss. That duality is what makes Oklahoma! such a deceptively complex, passionately engaging and lasting musical.
See more shows in the West End
Photo credit: Oklahoma! (Photo courtesy of production)
Originally published on