“Oklahoma!” is a favorite of Music Circus audiences. The current production is the 14th since 1954. This production is directed by Linda Goodrich, her third for Music Circus, the last being “Singing in the Rain.”
According to many theater historians, “Oklahoma!,” the first musical collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who later brought the world the likes of “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music,” changed the face of musical history when it debuted in 1943, for telling an emotional story through music, lyrics and dance like never before.
Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, “Oklahoma!” brought something akin to folk art to professional theater and won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1944 and recently won the Tony for best revival.
The story is set in the Oklahoma territory — in 1906, the days just before statehood — and touches ever so lightly on the ongoing feud between farmers and cattlemen.
As an aside, pay attention to the films shown on the screens surrounding the theater before the show starts. There is a nice history of the Oklahoma territory then and today. (I’m sure lots of women nudged their husbands when they showed Pawhuska, OK, the home of the “Pioneer Woman.”)
This is mostly a story of cattleman Curly McLain (Ryan Vasquez), who is in love with Laurey Williams (Emilie Kouatchou), who lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller (Jennifer Allen) and the hired man, Jud Fry (John Rapson). Jud has his eye on Laurey; she, in turn, is sweet on Curly, though won’t admit it.
Vasquez, who is making his Music Circus debut, has played the title role, among other roles, in “Hamilton” on Broadway. He is a perfect Curly — tall, charismatic and self-assured, with a powerful voice.
Kouatchou, also making her Music Circus debut, is a perky, flirty Laurey, attracted to Curly, but reluctant to give him the satisfaction of knowing it. She, too, has a beautiful, powerful voice, and the chemistry between the two of them is strong.
Rapson, as the dark hired man, has his heart set on Laurey as well, but his intentions are less honorable and he becomes a very scary character when he gets her alone.
It’s a simple story without a deep plot, but with songs like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,’” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” and “People Will Say We’re In Love,” the songs become the thing people remember most.
Brit West is the sex-starved Ado Annie Carnes, who has “known what’s right from wrong” since she was 10, yet “can’t say no” to any man who gives her any attention. West is adorable and doesn’t quite understand that the peddler Ali Hakim (Jeff Skowron) isn’t as interested in her as she thinks.
Skowron is great as Ali Hakim; his discomfort at finding himself engaged to Annie is very funny, as he finds a way to extricate himself.
Pierce Cassedy is Will Parker, who went to Kansas City to win $50 in a rodeo so that he could ask for Annie’s hand in marriage. His “Kansas City” is a wonderful song and dance number, especially for those cowboys in their tap boots.
Ron Wisniski, a Music Circus regular in meaty minor roles, is both Annie’s father and the territory judge, which comes in handy later.
Also of note is Ashley Arcement in the role of Gertie Cummings, who sets her sights on Curly. She has the most annoying laugh and does it perfectly. Often.
The dream ballet features Taeler Cyrus as Dream Laurey, Conrad Sager as Dream Curly and Stephen Hanna as Dream Jud.
It’s best not to think too carefully about the moral of this story, which seems to be that if you kill an unlikeable guy accidentally, you don’t need to go to trial because everyone would rather see you head off on your honeymoon. Poor Jud is dead and doesn’t get the nice funeral Curly promised him.
“Oklahoma!” is a timeless piece of theater and is worth the trip to Music Circus, whether you’ve ever seen it before or not. Your toes will tap and it’s almost a sure bet that you’ll leave the theater humming at least one of those old familiar songs.
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