Tag Archives: Bambi Linn

Friday Flashback #341

Eighty years ago today — on March 31, 1943 — Oklahoma! debuted on Broadway.

But the road to the St. James Theatre began 50 miles away, in Westport.

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 original poster has a story behind it. John Ford agreed to direct the show but was detained by film commitments. Substitute director John Haggott followed ideas he and Ford put together earlier in Hollywood.

The trio invited Richard Rodgers — who lived just a few miles away, in Fairfield — to see a performance. Inspired, he wrote a show with those elements with his lyricist partner, Oscar Hammerstein.

Three years later the Guild produced Oklahoma! on Broadway — with a grateful nod to 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 — 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.

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

Oklahoma! was revolutionary. It’s considered one of the first shows in modern musical theater. Up to then, songs did not really move plots forward. They were sung to entertain.

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

There’s one final Westport-Oklahoma! connection. Richard Rodgers’ grandson — composer/lyricist Adam Guettel (The Light in the Piazza) — married actress Haley Bond. Before graduating from Staples in 2003 (where she was known as Haley Petersen) she was an actor herself, with Players.

The high school troupe has (of course!) produced Oklahoma!. Theystaged it 4 times: in 1973, 1989, 1995 and 2012.

Players is known for their near-Broadway quality work.

Which, in Oklahoma!‘s case makes a ton of sense, given its birthplace — or at least, conception — right here in Westport.

Bambi Linn’s Broadway

Bambi Linn left Westport years ago. But when she lived here, she was one of our legendary arts icons: a former Broadway dancer who as a 16-year-old joined the chorus of “Oklahoma!”, and 3 years later played Louise — Billy Bigelow’s daughter — in the original 1945 production of “Carousel.”

She starred on Broadway for 17 more years. Her last show was “I Can Get it For You Wholesale.”

Bambi Linn is now 92. The New Yorker magazine caught up with her recently, at the “Carousel” revival. It opens next Thursday (April 12).

She attended a preview matinee with her husband, former ballroom dancer Joe De Jesus. (He taught countless Westport teenagers how to dance.)

Bambi Linn (right) as Louise, and Jan Clayton (Julie Jordan) in the 1945 production of “Carousel.” John Raitt played Billy Bigelow.

The New Yorker “Talk of the Town” story called Bambi Linn “petite and zesty.” It described her encounters with Renée Fleming, who now sings “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and Brittany Pollack, the current Louise.

It zips through Bambi Linn’s past (at age 6 she studied with Agnes de Mille; during “Carousel” she had enough downtime to go across the street to watch Ethel Merman in the 1st act of “Annie Get Your Gun”), and touches on the different ways in which the 2 productions — nearly 75 years apart — treat Billy’s beating of his wife Julie, and slapping of his daughter.

“I never thought of it as domestic violence,” Bambi Linn says. “I never thought of Julie as a put-upon woman. She loved him, so she was willing to accept it. But I come from an era way back.”

It’s a typical New Yorker “Talk of the Town” piece. You’re never sure what the point is, or why it’s there in the first place.

But it gets you thinking about something — or someone — you haven’t thought about in a long time.

Like one of Westport’s most famous Broadway stars, of all time.

(For the full New Yorker story, click here. Registration may be required.)