Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Directed by Jim Corti
Musical Direction by Tom Vendafreddo
Choreography by Katie Spelman
At Paramount Theatre, Aurora
Golden voiced Colte Julian leads splendid remount of Oklahoma!
When we first hear Curly belt “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” from the aisle, we know we are in for an amazing journey back to 1907 in the soon-to-be-a state – Oklahoma. Colte Julian quickly convinces me that he is the finest performer to play Curly that I’ve seen- and I’ve seen many sing the role of the cowboy who is smitten by Laurey. Julian anchors a fabulous cast that does homage to the landmark 1943 “musical play” Oklahoma! This classic American musical still holds up after 72 years, featuring one of the most recognizable set of tunes ever penned for the stage! Paramount’s production is fresh, energetic, and heartwarming. Oklahoma! was written to show the soldiers and sailors what they were fighting for in WWII. It is still evokes fundamental American values today.
Oklahoma! opened in 1943 on Broadway, lasted over five years (an unheard of run in that era of 2,248 performances) toured the USA for ten years playing to over 250 cities and an audience in excess of ten million. Critically acclaimed as the first “musical play,” where all the songs came out of character, furthered the plot where music, lyrics, and book combined with dance to tell the story. Oklahoma! was the first Broadway musical to incorporate ballet as a storytelling devise in the famous “Dream Ballet act-ending number.” In short, Oklahoma! changed how Broadway did musicals making it a landmark show where song and dance became key elements in the storytelling.
Oklahoma! was the first collaboration for Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, who went on the reshape Broadway with Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, State Fair and The Sound of Music. Stephen Sondheim lovingly referred to Oklahoma! as “Oscar’s picnic.”
We hear Julian’s Curly establish the mood of optimism in “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and the terrific “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” as Curly describes his buggy to take his girl to the picnic. That song’s rhythms reflect the prancing of the horses. We then meet cowboy Will Parker (Carl Draper) as he returns from a rodeo telling us “Everything’s up to date Kansas City” that becomes the first of several “showstoppers” featuring a tuneful catchy Rodgers score. The dancing by Draper and the cowboys was smart, energetic and fresh. Ado Annie (Lillie Cummings) tells Laurey that “I Cain’t Say No! ” to the boys. The girls have their turn in the cute waltz, “Many a New Day.”
Curly and Laurey (Allison Sill) produce romantic sparks with the pre-love song “People Will Say we’re in Love.” Theses two do justice to one of the greatest love songs ever!
Act one ends with a stunning dream ballet wonderfully choreographed by Katie Spelman that vividly shows Laurey’s fear of Jud.
Act two opens with a terrific barn dance showstopper, “The Farmer and the Cowman,” which depicts the tension between the farmers who fence in the land versus the cowboys who need open range for their cattle to grace. The tension from farmhand Jud Fry (the strong Peter Saide) and Curly over who will become an item with Laurey happens on Curly-Lauey’s wedding. We first hear the rousing “Oklahoma” anthem depicting the optimism of folks settling a new state. Will and Ado Annie become an item, Jud is defeated and Curly and Laurey start their marriage off. Life in is America hopeful.
Audiences will once more discover why Paramount Theatre, under Jim Corti’s leadership, continue to mount world class musicals. I agree with those who say that Paramount’s production of Oklahoma! (and others) should eventually be moved to downtown Chicago then Broadway. Oklahoma! is that good!
At Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd, Aurora, IL, call 630-896-6666, www.paramountaurora.com, tickets $41 – $56, Wednesdays at 1:30 & 7pm, Thursdays at 7pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 3 & 8pm, Sundays at 1 & 5:30 pm, running time is 2 hours, 40 minutes with intermission.