Magnetic and unforgettable as Curly in the original 1943 Broadway production of Oklahoma!, Alfred Drake (b. Bronx, New York, October 7, 1914 – d. New York City, July 25, 1992) commanded the New York musical stage for over a decade, creating the roles of Fred/Petruchio in Kiss Me, Kate (1948–51) and Hajj in Kismet (1953–55). For the latter two roles he won Tony Awards®, and for Kean in 1962 and Gigi in 1974, two more nominations; he was awarded another Special Tony® in 1990 as perhaps “the greatest singing actor the American musical theatre has ever produced.” Although Drake had no film career to speak of, he appeared in theatre and television for over four decades; until 1959 he was the highest paid leading man in Broadway history.
Born Alfred Capurro, he belonged to the Glee Club at Brooklyn College and studied singing in New York City. Drake appeared in the chorus of The Mikado and three other Gilbert and Sullivan revivals in 1935, and a year later understudied a leading role at the City Center in White Horse Inn. He sang the title song in Babes in Arms in 1937 and was featured in Two Bouquets (1938) with Patricia Morison, who would co-star with him a decade later in Kiss Me, Kate. He took increasingly important parts in several revues before scoring a smash hit in the long-running (1943–48) Oklahoma!
Drake appeared with Burl Ives in the folk revue Sing Out, Sweet Land (1944), played Macheath in Duke Ellington’s short-lived Beggar’s Holiday (1946), and starred as the union organizer in a 1947 revival of The Cradle Will Rock. The lead in Kiss Me, Kate was undoubtedly Drake’s greatest success, as it allowed him to show off his charm and wit to its marvelous fullest. Before his next great hit, Kismet, in 1953 he filled in for vacationing Yul Brynner as the King in The King and I, a role he had turned down two years previously. Three more musicals – Kean (1961), Lorenzo (1963), and Gigi (1973) – were box-office failures, but won Drake great praise in the press.
Alfred Drake acted in many plays in which he did not sing: he played Othello and Benedick for the American Shakespeare Festival, appeared on Broadway in The Liar (1950) and The Gambler (which he helped to adapt from the Italian, 1952), and was particularly applauded for his interpretation of King Claudius in John Gielgud’s 1964 Broadway production of Hamlet, starring Richard Burton. His farewell to Broadway was in The Skin of Our Teeth in 1975, but he did appear in the film Trading Places in 1983 as the bespectacled President of the Exchange.
Unfortunately for posterity, Drake did not have the opportunity to re-create his greatest roles on screen. Oklahoma! went to Gordon MacRae, Kiss Me Kate and Kismet to Howard Keel. His voice, however, may be marveled at on many original cast albums.
From 1944 Alfred Drake was married to Harvey Brown, with whom he had two children. He died of cancer at seventy-seven.