SPRINGFIELD, Mo.– When it comes to musical theatre, there are very few shows as revered as Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!. Knowing this, Kyle Wiley Pickett was shocked to learn the show’s iconic musical numbers had never been performed in concert.
Shock only mounted when Pickett, Conductor and Director of the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, learned he’d be the first person in the world to conduct Oklahoma! in concert, and that he’d get to do it free of charge.
“I wanted to do a concert version of a musical,” Pickett recalls.
His plan: Put the music of an iconic show front and center and enlist the Missouri State University musical theatre department to cover any dialogue.
His first call was to MSU’s Robert Westenberg.
“When Kyle first approached me about the collaboration,” Westenberg says, “he told me the theme for the year was ‘Americana’ and that he really wanted to do a Rodgers and Hammerstein. I was all for that.”
When Kyle called to request the orchestra materials from R&H’s library of works, he was told what he was looking for didn’t exist.
“I called…the library that is responsible for all their materials. And I said ‘I’d like to do a concert version of Oklahoma!.’. And they said, ‘We don’t have one.’. And I said, ‘Are you sure?!’.”
A couple weeks later, Pickett says, he got a callback. As it turns out, the concert version did exist.
“It’s just it’s never been done before,” the R&H library told Pickett.
Pickett says the person on the phone followed up with a question, “They said ‘Would you like to do the world premiere performance of Oklahoma! in concert?'”
Pickett said yes.
Taking on a never-before-seen performance like this would mean hurdles for his symphony and the MSU cast.
Of course, as Pickett and Westenberg learned, their inevitable struggle came with a perk.
“It hasn’t had an officially sanctioned concert version,” Westenberg says. “So when R&H found out about that, they said ‘We’d love for you to do that,’… and they very graciously offered us to be able to do it royalty-free.”
“Part of the process of doing new material is that there are going to be mistakes, there are going to be problems, there are going to be things you’re going to discover and you’re going to figure out, so they basically said it’s an exchange,” Pickett explains.
Even still, both Westenberg and Pickett assure show-goers they’ll have a great time.
“I really do think this is one of those times where you’re going to hear these sounds in a way that you haven’t been used to hearing,” Pickett says. “And it’s gorgeous.”