He is best known for his leading roles in the original Broadway productions of Oklahoma!; Kiss Me, Kate; Kismet; and for playing Marshall Blackstone in the original production of Babes in Arms, (in which he sang the title song) and Hajj in Kismet, for which he received the Tony Award. He was also a prolific Shakespearean, notably starring as Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing opposite Katharine Hepburn.
Drake was mostly a stage and television star; he starred in only one film, Tars and Spars, but played several roles on television. His first musical television appearance was as Captain Dick Warrington in the January 15, 1955 live telecast of the operetta "Naughty Marietta". His 1964 stage performance as Claudius in the Richard Burton Hamlet was filmed live on the stage of the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, using a "quickie" process calledElectronovision, and shown in movie theatres in a very limited engagement. It was also recorded on LP. He played the President of the Stock Exchange in the 1983 Eddie Murphy-Dan Aykroyd film, Trading Places. His final stage appearance in a musical was in 1973 as Honore LaChaisse inLerner and Loewe's Gigi. Two years later he starred in a revival of The Skin of Our Teeth.
He was also a published author - writing at least a few plays: "Dr. Willy Nilly", an adaptation of Molnar's "A Doctor in Spite of Himself", an adaptation of Goldoni's "The Liar", and even at least one book on cards (specifically Gin Rummy).
Alfred Drake died of heart failure, after a long fight with cancer, in New York City at the age of 77 and is survived by his wife Esther, his two daughters Candace Olmsted and Samantha Drake, and two grandchildren.
Alfred Drake is remembered through an annual award given to an outstanding theater professional by the Brooklyn College Theater Department. The award is known as the Alfred Drake Award commemorating his service to the theater, and his time as a Brooklyn College student. Past recipients include producer Jordan Roth, playwright Sarah Ruhl, actors Cherry Jones and Olympia Dukakis, director Doug Hughes and designer John Lee Beatty.
He was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1981.