Inside D.C. entertainment

'Oklahoma!': A brief guide to musicals with exclamation points!

November 9, 2010 - 05:30 AM
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Photo by Carol Rosegg

Musicals! They're so enthusiastic to begin with! But you have to be extra-excited about Arena Stage's first musical of the season, thanks to the exclamation point tacked on to the end of Oklahoma!, the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein musical currently playing in the Fichandler Theatre. Oklahoma, of course, isn't alone in its unbridled enthusiasm. Many musicals over the years have utilized one of our most overused punctuation marks - sometimes rightfully, and sometimes to no effect. Here are some notable examples.

Oklahoma! (1943): One of the most beloved American musicals, Oklahoma! won Rodgers and Hammerstein a Pulitzer in the category "Special Awards and Citations - Letters" in 1944. Exclamation points are pervasive throughout the book, between the title song and the male ensemble's "It's a Scandal! It's an Outrage!"
Enthusiasm: It's been revived four times on Broadway, and was made into a feature film.

Oliver! (1963): The musical adaptation of Charles Dickens' Oliver Twist made child stars of Davy Jones of the Monkees and Phil Collins of Genesis.
Enthusiasm: A critical success, it received 10 Tony nominations, and held out for 774 performances.

Cannibal! The Musical (Film 1996, stage 2008): The creators of South Park are behind this musical adaptation of the tale of cannibal Alferd Packer. It also debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2008, and was scheduled to transfer to London's West End, but was canceled when the copyright holder withdrew the rights. The song, "Shpadoinkle" is a parody of "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'" from Oklahoma!.
Enthusiasm: "With catchy, stick in the head tunes, dirty jokes and no shame, Cannibal the Musical is sharp, hilarious and for any fans of Trey Parker’s more recent work, an absolute must see," says Skye Crawford for Fringe Review UK.

Carnival! (1961): Most recently produced at the Kennedy Center in 2007, the story of orphan Lili and the circus has seen a number of celebrity cast members since its original production, including Jerry Orbach, Anne Hathaway, and puppets by Jim Henson.
Enthusiasm: Seven Tony nominations, two wins.

Sarafina! (1988): Using the exclamation point to emphasize social change, Sarafina! tells the story of students in the Soweto Riots during apartheid in South Africa. Even though several students are shot during the musical, it ends with a cheerful farewell.
Enthusiasm: Six Tony nominations, and a NAACP Image Award.

Drat! The Cat! (1965): This little show about a lady cat-burglar is twice as exclamatory.
Enthusiasm: Drat! The Cat! was short-lived — only eight performances. Despite this, it got a Tony nod for scenic design.

Hello Dolly! (1964): You probably already have the title song in your head. it's Carol Channing's most memorable role, as the meddling matchmaker.
Enthusiasm: Tony champion of 1964, with 10 awards.

Mamma Mia! (1999): The most popular songs by ABBA come together in the story of a young woman searching for her father before her wedding day. It ends with danging in the aisles, glitter and happiness. Also, it includes the exclamation-heavy song "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)."
Enthusiasm: Nearly 10 years later, Mamma Mia! is still on stage, and has traveled the world and been made into a feature film starring Meryl Streep.

O Pioneers! (1999): The decades-long success of Oklahoma makes Willa Cather's novel a seemingly natural choice for adaptation into another exclamation point musical. O Pioneers! never made it to Broadway, though, thanks to its weak musical score.
Enthusiasm: "O Pioneers! is one of those musicals where you look forward to the book scenes," said Talkin' Broadway in a review.

Repo! The Genetic Opera (2008): Where to begin? Repo! was a musical with a limited run, which was turned into a film - a very terrible film. It is a horror rock opera about repo men that can repossess human body parts. Paris Hilton is one of the stars. So is Sarah Brightman of the Phantom of the Opera, as "Blind Mag." Also, "Repo! The Genetic Opera holds the record for the most songs ever composed into one film, with a total of 64."
Enthusiasm: Due to its limited stage run, reviews are unavailable, but the film got a 33% on Rotten Tomatoes, and earned Paris Hilton a Golden Raspberry Award for worst supporting actress.

Oh, Kay! (1926): This prohibition-era musical is best remembered for its Gershwin songs, most notably "Someone to Watch Over Me."
Enthusiasm: The musical was made into a silent film, but never into a movie with sound.

Tick, Tick... BOOM! (2001): Hey, this title sounds deserving of an exclamation point! But this is not about bombs. It's a a musical about writing a musical, from Rent's Jonathan Larson.
Enthusiasm: Off-Broadway, it won an OBIE and received seven Drama Desk nominations.

Fela! (2008): The story of the Nigerian musician and human rights pioneer is now starring Patti LaBelle on Broadway, and is produced by Jay-Z and Will and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Enthusiasm: 11 Tony nominations, with wins in choreography, costumes and sound.

Boobs! The Musical (2003): Not a counterpart to the Vagina Monologues, Boobs! is actually a revue of the 50's cabaret singer Ruth Wallis. Gennifer Flowers - yes, that one - joined the cast briefly in 2004.
Enthusiasm: Said Anita Gates in the New York Times: "The show is just a saucy piece of silliness, and it gets off to an adolescent start (the Bride of Frankenstein with singing breasts), but there's a lot of talent onstage in ''Boobs! The Musical,'' subtitled ''The World According to Ruth Wallis.''

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