Original Broadway Production (1943)
The orignal production broke records and became the longest-running musical in history. It was overtaken by My Fair Lady 15 years later.
The number of performances includes 44 special matinees for the armed forces.
Famed producer Michael Todd attended the first performance of the New Haven tryout (when the title was Away We Go!) and left either at intermission or even before intermission. As the story is often told, his verbal assessment of the show that night was "No legs, no jokes, no chance." In some versions of the story, Todd was supposed to have said, "No tits, no jokes, no chance," with the line having bee cleaned up in most retellings.
Other accounts attribute the phrase "No legs, no jokes, no chance" to columnist Walter Winchell, with some stating that it was actually originated by his trusted secretary — his "Girl Friday" — Rose Bigman.
Despite the fact that the phrase has frequently been attributed with confidence to either Todd, Winchell or Bigman, we have not been able to ascertain with any certainty which of them originated the phrase (or if, in fact, it actually was coined by any of them) or when and where it first appeared in print. One of the few things that is fairly certain is that Todd did attend the first performance and did leave at intermission.
According to Max Wilk's book OK! The Story of Oklahoma! and Helene Hanff's memoir Underfoot in Show Business (Hanff was an assistant to Joseph Geidt, the Theatre Guild's press agent), Winchell had great trust in Bigman as a judge of new shows. He sent her to opening night in New Haven to report on the show and she left at intermission. Before getting on the train back to New York, she sent Winchell a telegram that read "NO LEGS NO JOKES NO CHANCE." Wilk (who probably draws on Hanff's difficult-to-find book for his telling of the story) states that the phrase appeared in Winchell's column the next day, but he offers no source for the statement or any proof.
Richard Rodgers wrote in his autobiography, Musical Stages (on page 225): "There was a celebrated remark, 'No legs, no jokes, no chance,' quoted in Walter Winchell's column. Somehow people got the mistaken idea that he'd made it up, but he had used merely to show how wrong the Broadway crowd had been about Oklahoma!'s chances. The man generally believed to have originated the line was producer Mike Todd. Everyone knew that he had left in the middle of the show in New Haven. Later he apologized to me, explaining that a friend of his was in jail in New York and he had to rush back to bail him out."
Winchell's column on April 6, 1961, addressed the story:
"BROADWAY HISTORY LESSON: Harper’s for March was misled by a fact butcher named Helene Hanff, formerly of the Theatre Guild press staff . . . Reminiscing about the tryout of “Oklahoma” (in New Haven), she reported that Our Girl Friday had inspected the show there and wired us: 'No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance.' . . . It never happened and Miss Careless ought to return the check to Harper’s . . . Mr. Rodgers (that hit composer’s-co-boss) is our star witness . . . In Sardi’s one night he told us Mike Todd and other wisenhimers had so described it in New Haven: 'No Legs, No Jokes, No Chance.' . . . 'And now,' chuckled Rodgers, 'no tickets!'"
Mary Martin turned down the role of Laurey to star in Dancing in the Streets, which closed out of town.
It's often been said that the show was not well received during its pre-Broadway run. This is definitely not true. The reviews in New Haven seem to have been unanimously favorable, with the Variety critic predicting a long run on Broadway and even suggesting that "Film possibilities are bright." Nonetheless, there were rumors among the insecure cast that director Rouben Mamoulian was going to be replaced by George Abbott, and those rumors may have been true. According to Alfred Drake (who played Curly), Abbott did see the show in New Haven. Drake had worked for Abbott so he approached him. Here's Drake's recollection of the conversation (as quoted in Wilk's book):
"Well, they're asking me to direct this."
"Oh, are you going to?"
"I don't think so. Why should anybody offer me a show like this?"
"You think it's all right the way it is?"
"Sure, it's all right!"
The reviews in Boston were less unanimously favorable, but several were raves and even the less favorable reviews were, at worst, mixed and included much praise. Perhaps more important, audiences were enthusiastic and business was excellent.
A great deal of work was done on the show during its two-and-a-half weeks of performances out of town, including the change of title to Oklahoma! But no new songs were written during that time and only one song, "Boys and Girls Like You and Me,' was cut. The title song (which was not the title song at the time of the opening in New Haven) was greatly altered from a relatively low-key number that included a dance to the rousing choral number that we now know. The vocal arrangement was created by Robert Russell Bennett and Jay Blackton.
Some online sources list seven people as having been in the opening-night cast who were not in the cast list in the opening-week playbill. Five of these were replacements fairly early in the run: Remo Arlotta, Joseph Cunneff, June Graham, Pat Meany and Arthur Ulisse.
Another, Jack Harwood, was listed in the pre-Broadway New Haven and Boston programs, but he was cut from the show before Broadway. In his book Oklahoma! The Making of an American Musical, Tim Carter is uncertain whether Harwood made it to opening night in New Haven.
The seventh is Gary Smith, Jr. We have yet to find him listed in any playbill for the show.
Another oddity of the cast lists on these sites is the inclusion of seven "swings." There were no swings listed in the opening-week Broadway playbill. We have not come across playbills from any point in the run that list swings. Six of the seven performers listed as swings on those sites were in the opening-week playbills, but listed as regular members of the cast, not swings. The seventh, Pat Meany, was (as already mentioned) a replacement during the run.
Lastly, someone who was listed in the opening-week playbill's cast list, Kenneth LeRoy, is not listed on these sites as having been a member of the original cast but is listed among the replacements.