In any successful development office, donations arrive in the mail with regularity. Some come from individuals, others from corporations and foundations. But one envelope that arrived recently left Penny Voss scratching her head.
“The return address said Rodgers and Hammerstein,” said Voss, who joinedOMRF in January as vice president of development. “OMRF receives gifts from all sorts of different sources, but this one puzzled me.”
The check—made out to OMRF for more than $7,000—was no mistake. As Voss soon learned, the payment represented OMRF’s annual royalty share from performances of the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical Oklahoma! This most recent check brought the total for fiscal year 2007 to just over $30,000.
Through an estate gift, every time the state’s namesake musical is performed, OMRF receives one-quarter of one percent of box-office royalties. The payments, which have totaled more than $350,000, will continue as long as Oklahoma! plays on stages around the world.
The gift traces its roots to Claremore native Lynn Riggs, who in 1931 penned the play (Green Grow the Lilacs) that Rodgers and Hammerstein used as the basis for their musical Oklahoma! When Riggs died, he willed equal shares of his royalties on the musical to his four siblings. Riggs’ brother William Edgar lost his wife to heart disease and his daughter to cancer, so upon his death in 1977, he donated his portion to support heart disease and cancer research at OMRF.
“Mr. Riggs chose a unique way to give back to our state,” Voss said. “Through his generosity, Curly, Laurey, Ado Annie and Aunt Eller can help find treatments for diseases that touch the lives of nearly every Oklahoman.”
Debuting in 1943, the original production of Oklahoma! ran for a then-unprecedented 2,212 performances. There have been many revivals of the musical since, including national tours and a 2002 Broadway revival that earned a Tony Award. Last year, the play was staged thousands of times, from an all-female production in Japan to a more traditional staging by high-schoolers in Lynn Riggs’ hometown of Claremore.
Voss expects that Oklahoma’s centennial year will bring quite a few productions of the state’s signature musical. “We may not be a brand new state anymore, but Oklahoma! still shines.” And next year, she said, there will be no confusion. “I’ll be ready when that check arrives.”