(Todd S. Purdum’s article appeared in The New York Time, 3/31; via Pam Green.)

Seventy-five years ago this April Fool’s morning, a line of ticket buyers stretched down West 44th Street outside the St. James Theatre in Manhattan, and a policeman struggled to keep order at the box office. A new musical play had opened the night before and taken the town by storm. “Wonderful is the nearest adjective for this excursion,” this newspaper’s critic proclaimed, in a judgment almost universally shared from that day to this. The show was “Oklahoma!”

The smash success was all the more remarkable because expectations for the show had been so low; there were plenty of empty seats in the theater on opening night. The play was the product of a midlife crisis for its creators — the lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, crippled by a dozen straight years of Broadway and London flops, and the composer Richard Rodgers, coping with the loss of his longtime collaborator, Lorenz Hart, to incapacitating alcoholism.

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