Let’s Cry: “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” from “Oklahoma!”

posted in: Art 4
They considered "Delaware!" but it just didn't... It didn't go.
Rogers & Hammerstein considered “Rhode Island!” initially. Little known fact that I just made up.

I saw Oklahoma! a few months ago. First time. The Lyric Opera in Chicago had put up a critically-acclaimed production of it, so one rainy night in May I slapped on a raincoat and braved the downpour in the name of art. I was quite wet when I arrived. Could I have possibly cared less about my wet feet when the lights went down and the story began?

The critics were right to be acclaiming all over themselves. The Lyric’s production was lush and bright; it clipped right along but allowed space for the moments that needed it. Aside from one actor that I remember not caring for particularly (one I cannot even recall now, so it must not’ve been that bad) the casting was pitch perfect — for a musical, obviously, this is especially important. But what delighted me the most was the musical itself — the melodies, the lyrics, the heart of the thing. Indeed, that is the highest compliment one can pay a production: that the presentation allowed the work to be seen at its most honest, in its purest state. The show got out of the way of the show, if that makes sense.

Have you heard “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” lately? Allow me, please, to share a few lyrics. A surrey, by the way, is a horse-drawn two-seater carriage, and the circumstances here are simple: Curly is trying to woo Laurey into going to a dance with him, so he’s boasting about his tricked-out ride. Now, you tell me if this don’t melt your heart:

“All the world’ll fly in a flurry
When I take you out in the surrey,
When I take you out in the surrey with the fringe on top!
When we hit that road, hell fer leather,
Cats and dogs’ll dance in the heather,
Birds and frogs’ll sing all together and the toads will hop!
The wind’ll whistle as we rattle along,
The cows’ll moo in the clover,
The river will ripple out a whispered song,
And whisper it over and over:”

You gotta be kiddin’ me. Cats and dogs dancing in the heather? Have you ever heard anything more darling in your entire life? Oh, right, you have. In the next line of the song when the birds and frogs start singing together and toads are hopping everywhere. And then the cows in the clover are mooing and lowing and everyone’s in love and good heavens! I was a goner, crying about the damned cats and dogs in the heather and then Rodgers & Hammerstein go and hit me with the last verse, all ritardando and legato and sotto voce :

“I can feel the day gettin’ older,
Feel a sleepy head near my shoulder,
Noddin’, droopin’ close to my shoulder, till it falls — kerplop!
The sun is swimmin’ on the rim of a hill;
The moon is takin’ a header,
And jist as I’m thinkin’ all the earth is still,
A lark’ll wake up in the medder.
Hush, you bird, my baby’s a-sleepin’!
Maybe got a dream worth a-keepin’
Whoa! you team, and jist keep a-creepin’ at a slow clip-clop.
Don’t you hurry…with the surrey…with the fringe on the top!

I’ll tell ya this much: if I ever find myself riding through a meadow, resting my head on my man’s shoulder and he starts telling birds to “hush” ’cause his baby might be having a nice dream, well, that man will get a big, fat, blue ribbon from me. He’ll get a big ol’ kiss, too. Why, he’ll get all kinds of nice things.

Thank you, Lyric Opera of Chicago. Thank you Messieurs Rodgers and Hammerstein. If you have a moment, I beseech you:

Oklahoma! “The Surrey With The Fringe On the Top” — Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae