Oklahoma! A Closer Look at an American Play

Authored by Paulette Zander

Playbills depicting four plays by Rodgers & Hammerstein

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II wrote many successful Broadway plays in the 1940s and 1950s, including The King and I, South Pacific, Oklahoma!, and Carousel. Their first musical, Oklahoma!, debuted in 1943 and ran for an unprecedented 2,212 performances – 5 years and 9 months. This was a record that it held for 15 years (Stavropoulos 2019). These four plays share some common societal elements such as marginalization and interracial relationships, but their first musical, Oklahoma!, introduces other disturbing themes. What might seem on the surface to be a lighthearted musical about simple people negotiating their relationship dilemmas, all the while engaging in snazzy dance routines and singing now timeless classic songs, it is in reality a much more complex look at the early American west (Indian Territory) during the Depression.

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August Wilson and the Amplification of Black Stories on Broadway

Authored by Roseanne Pensabene

Brown, Mary E. (2020), Collage of Playbills (l-r), Seven Guitars, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, Jitney, Fences, The Piano Lesson, and Two Trains Running, all written by August Wilson. From the Harris Papers archive, Marymount Manhattan College, Manhattan, New York. Courtesy of Mary E. Brown.

August Wilson was a wildly lauded playwright in the 1970s and 80s, and used his abilities to share the stories of the struggles African Americans faced and the responsibility to make sure those voices were heard and that they had a place in the theater. Stories of Black Americans were told by Caucasians, which is problematic in of itself, as indicated in Wolfe (1998) “No people can gain authenticity by either accepting others’ judgment of them or looking to others for approval” (4). Wilson exhibited the Vincentian value of respect by giving a platform and awareness to struggles that were so often hidden and ignored (St. John’s University 2017). He also made sure to give opportunities to African Americans within the theater community with the creation of Pittsburgh’s Black Horizons Theater.    

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Ludlam’s Feuding Families in Corn-William Harris Papers

Ludlam’s Feuding Families in Corn-William Harris Papers

Authored by Renee Pistone

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Clipping of the musical Corn that was performed in 1978 from William Harris Papers

The object here is the program for the musical Corn. The program is archived in the William Harris Papers at Marymount Manhattan College (Brown 2001, 4). This program is the image selected for my AS-L project because Corn’s theme is Vincentian compassion for all marginalized people. This AS-L project gives voice to those in theatre who are misunderstood and often not heard from. Mr. Harris’ expert critique about Corn helped fill the seats. Harris embraced difference and appreciated Ludlam’s genius and the extraordinary performances in Corn. Corn won an Obie award as a critically acclaimed play that propelled Ludlam’s career forward. The information below takes the readers on a tour of one evening with theatre off-Broadway critic William B. Harris. Marymount Manhattan College is known for its dance and theatre programs and it is the perfect location to archive the William Harris Papers.

Mr. Harris went to the theatre at One Sheridan Square Playhouse to tell the world about Corn in 1978. The Chelsea Playhouse Theatre was later named after Ludlam along with the street in front of it. Ludlam influenced people within the gay community and anyone else open to his unique artistic style.

Ludlam gives meaning to the country singer Lola’s struggles to reconnect with her troubled past. The struggles that Lola faced are found in amusing songs and dances (Harris 1978, 1). The main character Lola overcomes exploitation from a greedy Manager to showcase Corn’s social justice themes (Edgecomb 2017, 17). The play features feuding families and images of Americana. Corn’s message is to encourage universal love and peace (Kaufman 2005, 25). In many ways their lives intersect because Ludlam created plays that helped people overcome life’s obstacles. Meanwhile, Harris wrote his reviews to bring attention to Ludlam’s quest. The Vincentian philosophy involves helping others in order to deepen our faith. It is especially important to stand up for people who face persecution due to some aspect of their identities.

Playwright Charles Ludlam wrote Corn to provide the audience with a parody about social justice issues (Ludlam 1992, 3). Ludlam’s plays routinely feature themes related to sexuality and acceptance of others.

References

Brown, Mary. 2001. “William Harris Papers: Archives.” Marymount Manhattan College, http://www.mmm.edu/offices/library/archives.pdf.

Edgecomb, Sean. 2017. Charles Ludlam Lives, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.

Harris, William. 1978. “As Corny as Kansas in August and Better.” The So Ho Weekly News.

Kaufman, David. 2005. Ridiculous: The Ridiculous Life of Charles Ludlam, New York: Applause Books.

Ludlam, Charles. 1992. Ridiculous Theatre: Scourge of Human Folly. New York: Theatre Communications Group.

William Harris Papers-Paul Zindel

Authored by Erika Wilson

Zindel watermarked image

Clipping of the play to be performed at the Biltmore Theatre

The Effect of Gamma Rays On Man-In-The-Moon Marigolds was written by Paul Zindel. His novel received a Pulitzer Prize in 1964 and eventually became a popular Broadway performance. Some of the advertisements and review clippings from various Broadway performances of the play are archived in the William Harris Papers at Manhattan Marymount College. An impressive collection of 96 scripts, 4,450 folders of clippings and a collection of photographs gathered by Mr. Harris during the decades of the 1960s to the 1990s (Manhattan, 2016).

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William B.Harris Papers-James Mundy

Authored By: Adina C. Brizel

1989 Theater Review of James Mundy's 'Sinners and Saints'

1989 Theater Review of James Mundy’s ‘Sinners and Saints’

One of the many treasures in the archives of Marymount Manhattan College is the William B. Harris papers. Harris, a theater and dance critic for the SoHo Weekly News and Theatre Crafts magazine accumulated over 96 unpublished play scripts and 4,450 archived boxes of clippings connected to various authors and playwrights over a thirty year period. When Harris died in 2000, his family donated his entire collection to the performing arts library at Marymount. Continue reading