By: Alex Phuong (Two Beers) –
Shirley Jones had one of the most interesting careers in Hollywood cinematic history. She has starred in classic musicals, served as the matriarch in The Partridge Family, and proudly won her first (and only) Oscar as of 2019 for her supporting role as Lulu Bains in Elmer Gantry. Upon receiving that award on what she had called, “the proudest moment of [her] career,” Shirley Jones thanked Rodgers and Hammerstein for her victory at the Academy Awards. This musical duo really did deserve her gratitude because they cast her as the leading lady in the classic film adaptation of their stage musical Oklahoma!
This is obviously one of the best musicals in film history. It even won an Oscar for its sumptuous score (as well as a second Oscar for its sound mixing). Even though this was her first film, Shirley Jones lights up the screen in her film debut. Some of the greatest songs ever composed are in this film, and it is definitely full of visual splendor. The overall design of this film is somewhat similar to Jacques Demy’s 1964 masterpiece The Umbrellas of Cherbourg because both films employ color to enhance the mood and tone as the plot progresses. Oklahoma! might not have won as many Academy Awards as La La Land (2016), which drew inspiration from The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, but Oklahoma! is still a gorgeous and marvelous motion picture.
Even though this is one of the most iconic musicals of all time, the songs have a minor problem. The titular phrases of the musical numbers tend to repeat themselves during every song, and the lyrics are very redundant as each song is sung. They all might be famous songs, but do the lyrics have to be so repetitive? This musical might have enchanted audiences ever since its premiere, but modern writers and poets continuously try to reinvent what a poem or song could be, especially in the twenty-first century. I already know this from first-hand experience working on literary publications and from being a contemporary poet myself.
Then again, the world was very different during the 1950s, but songs are a form of musical poetry, and it might not have been a great idea to simply repeat lines in songs several times throughout such an enduring musical.
I was lucky enough to meet Shirley Jones at Vromans’ Bookstore in Pasadena when she promoted her memoir at that location on August 4th, 2013. I even got her autograph on that same day! It is a bit surprising that one of the most beloved actresses of all time once considered being a veterinarian instead of being part of the entertainment world. It is actually very lucky that she met Rodgers and Hammerstein because cinema would be very different if Shirley Jones had not played characters like Marian the Librarian in The Music Man (1962) or the vengeful prostitute Lulu Bains in Elmer Gantry (196), nor used her angelic singing voice in her film debut as Laurey Williams in Oklahoma!
Oklahoma! (1955) Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time the character named “Ado” uses the phrase, “Persian kitten”
Have a Fancy Drink: as this beloved musical explores love and marriage (even though there are some references to polygamy)
And Cheers: to the singing and dancing that both make classic musicals like Oklahoma! so enduring and spectacular!
P.S. Please enjoy two of my greatest poems (since I am a contemporary poet) 😉