HIGHLY RECOMMENDED 'Oklahoma!'
In 1943, a new musical by Rodgers & Hammerstein opened on Broadway. Based on the 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs” written by Lynn Riggs, this new musical told the amazing story of a territory, known as “Oklahoma !” was ready to mature and become a state. 75 years! Wow! By all count, this is one of those love or hate musicals. I know that before we left for the Marriott tonight, Jane mentioned, ” I have seen this show over and over”, but after viewing this special anniversary production, she began to realize that my view on “live theater” is correct. A different director, different venue and a different cast, does make a difference. The director ( Aaron Thielen) made some modifications and his interpretations made some of the scenes feel as if they were new to the show. The choreography by Alex Sanchez was designed to fit the theater-in-the-round stage at Marriott Lincolnshire and thus did not feel as if it were a replication of the Gower Champion dance numbers.
The use of “ballet” is wonderful. The overture opens with us meeting our heroine, Laurey, as a young girl ( Maya Lou Hlava) coming to live with her Aunt Eller ( Susan Moniz, showing why she is indeed one of our favorites). This is a short ballet leading up to the appearance of our hero, the cowboy, Curly (deftly handled by Brandon Springman). During the opening numbers, we do get to meet Laurie ( the adorable Jennie Sophia) and begin to see the chemistry between these two characters, although they play at” not being in love”.
A great deal is happening and we have to follow closely as it all takes place in just a few days. This was the turn of the century ( the last century- the 20th) and the Unites States was experiencing great growth, westward. The territory of “Oklahoma” was being inhabited by both farmers and cowboys, and they were not on the best of terms, each feeling that the other was stepping on their toes and stealing their property. This epic story is about finding happiness, no matter the cost as well as bringing opposites together and bringing happiness to all.
This was the first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who went on to bring us many , many great scores and musicals that are still bringing joy to the generations that have followed. The cast assembled to bring this tale to life is young and highly energetic. All of them were unborn when this show opened and many of them were still not alive when the show was resurrected for Broadway a second time. Now, they are dancing and singing to the score that brings audiences musical numbers such as “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'”, “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top”, “Kansas City” (I must tell you that this number comes alive when Will Parker (the delightful Aaron Umstead) does his dance and roping, “I’m Just A Girl Who Caint Say No” ( handled to perfection by the lovely Michelle Lauto as Ado Annie Carnes), “The Farmer and The Cowman” and of course the title song “Oklahoma!”- what a song list!
The casting is ideal with Ado Annie’s dad being played by Terry Hamilton, the evil farm hand, Judd Fry ( portrayed to perfection by Shea Coffman, and they kept his solo number in-“Lonely Room” beautifully done”!), Evan Tyrone Martin as the Persian Peddler, Ali Hakim, The “dream dancers”-Benita Bunger/Laurie, Lucas Segovia/Curly and Alejandro Fonseca/Judd-what a piece of work ( this number is a show on its on), and the ensemble:
Brandon Block, Miranda Borkan, DeShawn Bowens, Nick Cosgrove, Max DeTogne, Noah Gouldsmith, Johanna McKenzie Miller, Madison Piner, Zachary Porter, Ken Singleton, Kyra Sorce, Adrienne Storrs, Elizabeth Telford and Jessica Wolfrum, Steven Strafford and newcomer Jeff Max. They truly fill the stage with the energy of the story and make this 2 1/2 hours seem like a great deal less.
Because Marriott is an in-the-round-stage it is difficult to do much in the way of set design, but Kevin Depinet knows how to utilize the stage here and with the projections (Anthony Churchill) on the canvas surrounding the theater, we see the “bright golden Sun on the meadow” and the clouds roll in. There are several changes of the structures that the actors/dancers do and I wanted to applaud the choreography on the handling of the scene changes. They are terrific. The lighting (Jesse Klug), sound (Robert E. Gimartin) and props ( Sally Weiss) are up to their standards ( set very high at this theater) and of course, as is the tradition, the costumes (Brian Hemesath) are perfect and the musical direction conducted by Patti Garwood is more than one can expect. Always!