Wednesday, July 31, 2019

WOBT: "Oklahoma

Rodgers and Hammerstein's first hit musical Oklahoma! opened on Broadway in 1943, won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944, has had countless productions worldwide since then, recently won a 2019 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, and is currently being directed by Sam Wallace at the Way Off Broadway Theatre in Prattville...75 years, and it has lost none of its charm and vigor.

Set in the Indian Territory a few years after the turn of the 20th Century, the farmers and cowmen of the soon-to-be State of Oklahoma have their disputes, but eventually set aside their biases and come together in unity [an example we could follow today].

While we are gently and humorously reminded of their feud during the two-hour stage time, the play's focus is on two love-triangles: farm-girl Laurey [Sarah Olguin] is being wooed by cowboy Curly [Gage Leifreid] and his lonely obsessive rival Jud [Josh Williams], who works on Laurey's Aunt Eller's [Ashlee Lassiter] farm; a comic counterpart romance pits cowboy Will [Hunter Lee Smith] against Persian peddler Ali Hakim [Braden Fine] for the attention of Will's flirtatious fiancee Ado Annie [Alex Rikerd].

With its catalogue of now classic songs that are early examples of how lyrics became integral to the storytelling and character development, Mr. Wallace's energetic cast deliver each one with clear understanding. -- Mr. Leifreid opens the show with "Oh, what a beautiful mornin'" that sets the tone for an optimistic future of Statehood, and woos Laurey with "Surrey with the fringe on top"; Mr. Smith's dynamic presentation of "Kansas City" [with the assistance of the ensemble] is a paean to 20th Century progress and his duet with Ms. Rikerd in "All er nothin'" balances her earlier "I cain't say no" -- one of the best renditions in this show.

As everyone prepares for the annual box social, the romantic denials in "People will say we're in love" are beautifully rendered by Mr. Leifreid and Ms. Olguin, whose stage chemistry is palpable. -- As Curly tries to dissuade Jud from dating Laurey in "Pore Jud is daid", their rivalry comes to a head and almost ends in disaster.

Threats of a shotgun wedding for Ali Hakim and Ado Annie, a sympathetic telling of "Lonely Room" by Mr. Williams that provides some complexity to Jud's obsession with Laurey, a knife fight, a wedding, and final wrapping up of the love stories, end with a celebration of Statehood in the rousing title song, "Oklahoma!" and reprise of "Oh, what a beautiful  mornin'".