'OKLAHOMA!' at Marriott Theatre
The Marriott Theatre marks the 75th anniversary of OKLAHOMA! with a production that celebrates the best of Rodgers and Hammerstein - delightful dance numbers, impressive vocals and eminently hummable tunes - while offering a fresh take on a beloved classic.
Marriott Theatre artistic director Aaron Thielen centers this production around Laurey (Jennie Sophia) as a strong female lead. While remaining faithful to the script, Thielen adds several appearances by a young Laurey (Maya Lou Hlava), which develop her backstory as an orphaned child. Jennie Sophia gives an admirable performance as the adult Laurey, a hard-working young woman who co-runs a farm with her Aunt Eller (Susan Moniz). In particular, Laurey's fortitude as she navigates the unwanted attentions and outright threats from violence-prone Jud Fry (Shea Coffman) remains a relevant story for today.
Sophia and Brandon Springman (Curly) lead a vocally strong cast and deliver pleasing renditions of classics such as "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'." In addition, the dancing is a particularly memorable element of this production, and choreographer Alex Sanchez takes full advantage of the Marriott's intimate, in the round space to showcase the talented performers. The famous ballet sequence at the end of Act I - featuring Benita Bünger (Dream Laurey), Lucas Segovia (Dream Curly) and Alejandro Fonseca (Dream Jud) - is only one highlight among a stylistically diverse range of dance numbers.
The supporting cast features several outstanding performances, including Michelle Lauto in a comic turn as Ado Annie Carnes, Laurey's impulsive friend who is caught in a love triangle between earnest cowboy Will Parker (Aaron Umsted) and flashy traveling peddler Ali Hakim (Evan Tyrone Martin). In addition, Shea Coffman makes a suitably menacing Jud Fry, with a physical presence and poorly contained rage that justify Laurey's fear of him. Jud's loneliness, as glimpsed in the scene set in his solitary lodgings, offers some understanding of his actions, if not sympathy for his character.
This variety of compelling and entertaining characters rounds out a production that is well worth seeing for the dancing and singing alone, making it clear why OKLAHOMA! has remained a pillar of the musical theater canon for so long.