Marriott meshes veteran cast and outstanding dance numbers in ‘Oklahoma!’
Of course audiences going to Marriott Theatre’s ‘Oklahoma’ will hear and love Rogers and Hammerstein’s highly singable “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” “Kansas City,” “I Can’t Say No,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Oklahoma.”
Some folks were singing those popular, ingrained –in-American-culture songs as they left the theatre Wednesday night after the show’s official opening.
This cast has the vocal chops backed by impressive musical theater credits desired for an R&H show. As an example, Laurey, an orphaned farm girl is portrayed by Jennie Sophia who played Fiona in Goodman Theatre’s ‘Brigadoon’ and Fantine in Drury Lane’s ‘Les Misérables.’
Curly, the male lead, a cowboy who is smitten with Laurey, is played by Brandon Springman, a veteran of Marriott productions including ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ and ’Singin’ in the Rain’ plus several Drury Lane shows including ‘42nd Street’ and ‘Billy Elliot.’
But what really make this stalwart of American musicals stand out on its venerable 75th anniversary are the exceptional choreography of Alex Sanchez and the insightful direction of Aaron Thielen.
Sanchez perfectly evokes the drama of frustrated love in the show’s Act I-ending “Out of My Dream” ballet. He also creates the atmosphere needed to illustrate “Kansas City,” “The Farmer and the Cowman” and the rousing “Oklahoma.”
A director, choreographer and dancer, Sanchez had previously directed and choreographed Marriott’s ‘Newsies’ and ‘Evita’ and choreographed the theatre’s ‘On the Town’ and ‘Mary Poppins.’
What could have been seen as dated because the show opened on Broadway in 1943 and was set in a turn of the last century town in the Oklahoma Territory, was in Thielen’s hands, a still-important expression of self and cultural images, strong females, regional pride and mating concerns.
Particularly notable is how characters are introduced during the Overture, the roping skills of the cowboys and an adjustable set design by Kevin Depinet that resembled barn raising. The place and period are well set by Brian Hemesath’s costumes.
Plus there are a couple of memorable performances. The unhappy Jud Fry farm hand is interpreted so well by Shea Coffman that he becomes the character no one wants to applaud but grudgingly do so because he’s so good at being bad.
Evan Tyrone Martin, cast as Ike Skidmore, was terrific opening night when he stepped into the role of the Persian peddler Ali Hakim who likes and attracts women but wants to remain a bachelor.
Michelle Lauto now surely owns the part of the irresistible, high spirited Ado Annie Carnes even though she was in Marriott’s ‘Ragtime’ and Royal George’s ‘Spamilton.’
In addition, everyone seeing ‘Oklahoma” likely wishes they had a sensible and caring Aunt Eller, played by Marriott Theatre veteran Susan Moniz who also was Helen in the Broadway tour of Fun Home.
With music direction and orchestration by Ryan t. Nelson and conducting of Marriott’s orchestra by musical supervisor/keyboardist Patti Garwood, the show’s musical pace made ‘Oklahoma’ feel very much alive now in 2018.