Joan Roberts, of 'Oklahoma!' fame, dies

Joan Roberts, who originated the role of Laurey Joan Roberts, who originated the role of Laurey in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1943 musical "Oklahoma!" died Aug. 13, 2012. She was 95. (2002) Newsday's obituary for Joan Roberts
Photo Credit: Newsday, 2002 / Ari Mintz

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Joan Roberts, who originated the role of Laurey in Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1943 musical "Oklahoma!" died Monday at age 95.

Roberts, who lived in Rockville Centre since 1946, auditioned for the role of Ado Annie in the first Broadway musical that teamed composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. (The role went to Celeste Holm, who died last month, also at 95.) Hammerstein favored Roberts for the leading female role in "Oklahoma!" Laurey's songs included "Many a New Day" and a duet with Curly (Alfred Drake), "People Will Say We're in Love."

Roberts followed up with three Broadway shows, including "High Button Shoes" (1947), then landed movie roles in "The Model and the Marriage Broker" (1951) and "Lovely to Look At" (1952). She didn't return to Broadway until the 2001 revival of Stephen Sondheim's "Follies."

Roberts appeared in documentaries about Hammerstein and director George Abbott, plus "Broadway: The Golden Age, by the Legends Who Were There." She wrote books about her career, among them "Stage Right."

In the 1960s, she toured in summer stock, including "Take Me Along" with Paul Hartman at Westbury Music Fair.

More recently, Roberts contributed to the local arts scene -- often backstage.

She gave concerts at Rockville Centre's Molloy College and advised students there on a production of "Oklahoma!" In 2003, she took part in a concert on the Rodgers songbook titled "Oh, What a Beautiful Evening" at Freeport High School.

Her oldest son, John Donlon, says his mother "loved counseling young people who were interested in getting into show business."

A native of Astoria, Roberts got her show-business start as a child extra in "Our Gang" films shot in Queens at Kaufman Studios.

Roberts, who died in a Stamford, Conn., nursing home, is survived by three sons: Donlon, by her first marriage, and Robert and James Peter, by her second.

A funeral Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Friday at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre.

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