Show History



Although the setting for, and characters in, Oil City Symphony are fictional, the show plays on a familiar trope of getting the band back together one more time. Miss Reaves, the evening's supposed guest of honor (who is seated in the audience, but never seen) is based on performer/writer Mark Hardwick's music teacher, Denny Eaves. In fitting with the style and conceit of the show, the songs by various composers are classic Americana tunes.

The performer/creators of Oil City Symphony acted in Pump Boys and Dinettes together and then began playing piano duets. Debra Monk joined them as a drummer, and the trio soon expanded to a quartet with Sharon Scruggs, who was later replaced by Mary Murfitt. This group came up with the idea for Oil City Symphony and performed it.


An early, hour-long version of Oil City Symphony played at the Westside Arts Theatre and the South Street Theatre on 42nd Street in New York City. Producers then sent the show to Dallas, where it was developed, expanded and honed before playing Baltimore and coming back to New York.

Oil City Symphony opened Off-Broadway in November of 1987 and exploded into popularity. It eventually played 626 performances at the Circle in the Square Theatre on Bleecker Street in New York City.

Oil City Symphony has been produced regionally across the United States. It returned to Manhattan in October of 2000, where it played at the 75-seat cabaret space, Danny's Grand Sea Palace, in Midtown. Given the setting, this Equity staging of the show adopted the concept that musicians were performing at Cap'n Danny's Oriental Seafood Shack, site of annual alumni gatherings in the fictional Midwest town of Oil City.

The original 1987 stars and creators, Mike Craver and Mary Murfitt, reteamed for the production, with Murfitt directing.

Cultural Influence

  • In 2012, Debra Monk performed the song, "Ohio Afternoon," (which she wrote with Mark Hardwick) as part of the If It Only Ever Runs a Minute concert series at Le Poisson Rouge. In addition to this song from Oil City Symphony, the evening featured songs and stories from A Man of No Importance, The Gay Life, Molly, Musical Chairs, Parade, The Prince of Central Park, They're Playing Our Song and Violet.
  • The original cast recording of Oil City Symphony was released on August 1, 1988.
  • Before collaborating on Oil City Symphony, author/performers Debra Monk and Mark Hardwick co-wrote the Broadway show, Pump Boys and Dinettes, along with several other actor/performers.


  • The four performers who originally appeared in Oil City Symphony are also the show's writers.
  • Author/performers Debra Monk went on to a major role in Assassins and a Tony Award for her part in the play, Redwood Curtain, after her turn in Oil City Symphony. She is now a household name of the American theatre.
  • In some of its late-run New York advertising, the show was billed simply as Oil City because there was concern that potential theatregoers might be confused and think that the show was actually a performance by a visiting symphony.
  • Author/performers Mark Hardwick and Debra Monk were fellow students at Southern Methodist University.