“Oklahoma!” Roots Run Deep In Westport

In its long and storied history, the Westport Country Playhouse has never staged Oklahoma!

But our local theater played a crucial role in creating that classic American musical.

In 1940, a production of Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow the Lilacs incorporated turn-of-the-century folk songs and a scene with a square dance. Theatre Guild producer Theresa Helburn suggested to Lawrence Langner and his wife Armina Marshall — founders of both the Playhouse and Guild — that it would make a good musical.

The trio invited Richard Rodgers — who lived just a few miles away — to see a performance. Three years later the Guild produced Oklahoma! on Broadway, based on Green Grow the Lilacs.

Over the years, Oklahoma!‘s bond with Westport tightened even more. At just 17, dancer Bambi Linn made her Broadway debut in the show. She was Dream Laurey, the dancer in the dream in which Laurey tries to decide between Curly and Jud.

Bambi Linn, as Dream Laurey in “Oklahoma!” on Broadway.

Bambi Linn — whose Broadway career flourished after Oklahoma! — moved to Westport in the early 1960s. She and her husband, Joe de Jesus, taught generations of young Westporters to dance.

Though Oklahoma! never made it to the Westport Country Playhouse, audiences will soon see it here. It’s Staples Players‘ fall production, opening November 9.

“It was revolutionary,” director Dave Roth says of the 1943 production. “It’s considered one of the first shows in modern musical theater. Up to that point, songs didn’t really move the plot forward. They were really just there to entertain.”

Oklahoma! told its story through music — and, thanks in part to Bambi Linn, dance.

Oklahoma — the state — may be 1,500 miles from here. But the road from Oklahoma! — the musical — to the Staples stage ran right through the Westport Country Playhouse, just a couple of miles down the road.

PS: There’s one final Westport-Oklahoma! connection. Richard Rodgers’ grandson — composer/lyricist Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) — is engaged to actress Haley Bond. Before graduating from Staples in 2003 — where she was known as Haley Petersen — she played Cinderalla (Into the Woods), Marian the Librarian (Music Man) and Irene (Hello, Dolly!), among other Players productions.

Not Oklahoma!, though. The last time Players presented the ground-breaking — and Westport-connected — musical was 1995.

(Click here for Staples Players ticket information.)

15 responses to ““Oklahoma!” Roots Run Deep In Westport

  1. Looking forward to this classic musical, sure to be another Staples Players hit!

  2. Thank you for remembering my wonderful mother, Bambi Linn!

  3. Life-long Westporter

    Bambi Linn taught me the role for the dream ballet when Staples Players performed Oklahoma in 1974 and I danced her part. She was wonderful to work with. Good luck Players! I’m sure it will be great.

    • Bradley Jones

      And I remember you being positively divine in that production.

      • Hi Brad. You are very kind. Those days were a lot of fun, weren’t they? Glad you have had so much success. My dancing days are long gone. Best Regards, Lisa

  4. Oklahoma all around

    After growing up in Westport (I danced with Bambi for many years, and even played Ado Annie in 8th grade at Coleytown), I now live in Oklahoma City. Y’all should come visit!

  5. One of my favorite plays ! My father ( who,with my mom were great theater supporters and moved from Westport 6 years ago) used to sing songs from that play! Great memories.

  6. Michele Wrubel

    Looking forward to seeing Westporters come and support the incredible Staples Players where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain!

  7. Thanks Dan, for connecting the dots in our fascinating Westport theater history!! Now to have a daughter in the Staples Players production of Oklahoma means so much more! You are awesome!!!

  8. I recall seeing Shirley Jones around in Westport.

  9. I recall seeing Shirley Jones around in Westport many years ago.

  10. Don’t miss the Max Wilk connection too; his wonderful book about the creation of this play is a great resource. And Max was a Westport treasure!

    Sent from my iPhone

  11. Joyce Barnhart

    In the early 70’s Joe DeJesus renovated a lovely old farmhouse on Hillandale Road near Center Street. The first owners after the renovation had children who attended Green Farms School and loved their house. The connection to Bambi Lynn and Oklahoma made it even more special.

  12. Another Westport connection is our own Patsy Englund, a wonderful actress who was one of the first replacements for Ado Annie!

  13. Abby Peterson

    I still have my costume from this show…we had to make our own dresses for our production in the ’74. Fun