The achievements of Rodger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! (1943) are well known: since the musical opened, critics have proclaimed it a new version of the genre, distinguished by its “integrated” form, in which all aspects of the production—score, script, costume, set, and choreography—are interrelated and inseparable. Although today many scholars acknowledge that Oklahoma! was not the first musical to implement the concept of integration, the musical is often considered revolutionary.
Building on the work of Tim Carter, I use the correspondence and press materials in the Theatre Guild Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University to situate the idea of integration into two intimately related discourses: contemporary notions of aesthetic prestige and World War II-era politics. By comparing the advertising of Oklahoma! to the Guild’s publicity for its previous musical productions (especially Porgy and Bess, which was labeled integrated in 1935), I demonstrate that press releases from the show’s creative team strategically deployed rhetoric and vocabulary that variously depicted the show as both highbrow and lowbrow, while distancing it from middlebrow entertainment. I then describe how the aesthetic register implied by this tiered rhetoric carried political overtones, connotations that are lost to us today because the word “integration” has become reified as a purely formal concept.
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