Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, who controlled the rights to their record-breaking, landmark musical Oklahoma!, took their time putting together a film version, with the movie not arriving until 12 and a half years after the show's Broadway opening. The songwriters' unusual power over the production assured that it would be more faithful than most Hollywood treatments. Only two songs, "Lonely Room" and "It's a Scandal! It's a Outrage!," were excised from the stage show for the two-and-a-half-hour film, for which conductor Jay Blackton and arranger Robert Russell Bennett were retained. The casting responded more to musical values than to box office clout, with Gordon MacRae, best known for several cinematic pairings with Doris Day, taking the male lead role of Curly and 20-year-old Shirley Jones, a Rodgers and Hammerstein discovery, making her film debut as Laurey, the female lead. The two, along with Gloria Grahame in the showcase role of lusty Ado Annie, brought a vocal assurance to their singing that allowed them to be intimate and conversational, giving detail to an otherwise lavish (and possibly oversized) production. These qualities come off especially well on the soundtrack album, as do Bennett's expanded orchestrations, which really shine in the stereo separation denied them on the original Broadway cast album. The result is an outstanding rendering of the score that gives it a bigger, broader interpretation and has continued to sound impressive over the decades, which may be one reason why the album, which topped the charts upon release and sold more than two million copies, has remained in print continually since it first appeared. The 2001 reissue added more than 30 minutes of music, most of it instrumental underscoring for dance sequences that borrowed from the melodies of the songs, particularly the 14-minute "Out of My Dreams Ballet."
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann