Musicals remind me of watching midday movies with my grandmother in the days of black-and-white television. Years later, the revelation that many of these films were actually in colour seemed antithetical to the moral certainties they depicted.
In Oklahoma!, Rogers and Hammerstein’s first Broadway collaboration (1943), virtue triumphs over villainy, the good guy gets the girl, and the girl gets what every girl wants: marriage! What may not be common knowledge is that the musical is set in Indian Territory the year before Oklahoma became a State of the Union (1907). With echoes of terra nullius, Native Americans might as well be non-existent; the conflict is between crop farmers and cattle ranchers who decry the fencing of ‘our’ land. Who better to personify this wide ‘white’ land than the virginal Laurey, who is caught between two men vying for her affections? Will she choose swaggering cowboy Curly or glowering farmhand Jud – amiable or predatory masculinity? To exasperate her would-be lover, she flirts with Jud’s volatile affections without counting the consequences. Curly may not be the perfect match, but Laurey’s options are limited.