Theatre Review: “Oklahoma!”
By Kevin M. O’Toole
In a talk immediately prior to Weston Playhouse Theatre Company’s preview performance of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!,” Director Reginald L. Douglas confessed that he had never seen another stage production of the classic musical or even viewed the popular movie version. As a result, Douglas combed the text to answer a multitude of questions, such as why is it that Ado Annie “cain’t say no?”
Douglas also worked closely with Music Director Larry Pressgrove and the rest of his creative team to forge an interpretation that would dust off any cobwebs while adhering to what audiences have come to love about Rodgers & Hammerstein’s groundbreaking 1943 musical. Last Friday’s vibrant preview performance left no doubt that “Oklahoma!” still displays “plenty of heart and plenty of hope.”
Theatregoers entering the theatre were greeted by the suggestive set by Scenic Designer Alexander Woodword: stark grey barn board panels that reached up, down and around, including a ramp that led to an upper level where the very visible orchestra was already playing. Details of the small town in the Indian Territory circa 1906 would be provided by words, lyrics and dance.
Various members of the cast, mostly clothed in denim, if not period costume, were planted onstage playing guitar and mandolin or in the aisles and seats, singing along to an old Stevie Wonder tune. This welcome allowed the audience to take it all in before the music segued into a delightfully choreographed overture and then into Curly’s rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” that formally opens the show.
As Curly, Davon Williams was the very essence of what used to be called a man’s man, even as his character expressed doubts about the right course. Williams also exhibited a booming baritone singing voice that could charm, too. As Aunt Eller, Inga Ballard made it plain that her character would not suffer fools, but provide ballast when people started talking nonsense.
Mia Pinero was up to the task of portraying Laurey, who initially is coy about her true feelings for Curley and in the spirit of couples since time began, plays hard to get. Pinero’s soprano delivered particularly in the numbers with the other women: “Many a New Day” and “Out of My Dreams.”
Philip Stoddard gave an appropriate menace to Jud Fry, the farm hand who pines for Laurey and cannot have her. While the current revival of “Oklahoma!” now on Broadway apparently offers a more nuanced appraisal of Jud, Weston’s production and Stoddard paint Jud Fry as a mangy cur.
Much of the comic relief in the show is provided by the characters of Ado Annie and her two suitors: Ali Hakim and Will Parker. As Ado Annie, CoCo Smith armed her unabashedly promiscuous character with an endearing brashness and a squeaky singing voice that served well in “I Cain’t Say No.” As Will Parker, Dan Lusardi gave Ado Annie’s main buckeroo an “aw shucks” manner that was the perfect foil for the much worldlier, if ethically iffy peddler Ali Hakim, hilariously played by Billy Cohen.
Special mention must be made of the stunning dream ballet re-imagined by Choreographer David Scotchford and in particular, the pas de deux performed by Dream Laurey (Sarah Fischer) and Dream Curley (Sir Brock Williams). Some of Scotchford’s choices that appeared elsewhere in the show were more sexually overt than to what one may be accustomed to witnessing in a more traditional production of “Oklahoma!”
Weston veteran actor Munson Hicks, as Andrew Carnes, and members of Weston’s Young Company rounded out the talented large cast.
Costume Designer Sydney Gallas’s decision to put Ado Annie in fire engine red short shorts and a Young Company member in a denim miniskirt did not work particularly well, but that is a minor quibble. The soaring harmonies of the cast as the penultimate title number, “Oklahoma!,” built to a crescendo were stirring. You simply must see Weston’s production of this celebration of Americana. In the words of Andrew Carnes: “it ain’t too early and it ain’t too late.”
Performances of “Oklahoma!” continue at the Weston Playhouse through August 10. For ticket information, call the WPTC box office at (802) 824-5288 or visit its website at www.westonplayhouse.org.