Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Directed by Gary Griffin
Conductor James Lowe
Choreographed by Gemze De Lappe in Agnes De Mille’s style
At the Civic Opera House, Chicago
Lush, lavish, and down-home Oklahoma! still resonates as an ode to America
Many theatre historians list four Broadway musicals as “quintessential American musicals” – they are: Showboat, Oklahoma!, The Music Man and Ragtime with Oklahoma!, the 1943 master work by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers as the “heart” of the odes to America. I agree. This show gave reasons why each soldier and sailor fought in World War II as it used the 1912 community and soon to be state, Oklahoma to symbolize the ethos of the American heartland. It did so in its groundbreaking “musical play” that found all the songs coming out of character and/or moving the story along plus Oklahoma! utilized dance (including ballet) to enhance and further the story. These elements totally revolutionized the art form. In Oklahoma! song, dance and dialogue blended seamlessly to tell its story.
It is so refreshing to see and hear Oklahoma! being done completely similar to the 1943 original. All the songs, all the respires, all the underscoring from Robert Russell Bennett’s original orchestrations are used as conductor James Lowe has 37 musicians in the pit to give Richard Rodgers’ score its due. The complete Oklahoma! is three hours and fifteen glorious minutes as we become immersed in world of early 20th Century America.
This musical play tells the story of two love-struck teens, Laurey (Ashley Brown) and Curly (John Cudia) who express their love by going at each other as Aunt Eller (Paula Scrofano) referees. The creepy farmhand, Jud (David Adam Moore) is obsessed with Laurey. The question of who will be with Laurey at the community social that night emerges. the classic tune: “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” set the tone while “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” stimulates our imaginations.
We meet the other teen lovers: Ado Annie (Tari Kelly) and her cowboy Will Parker (Curtis Holbrook). Ado Annie confesses to Laurey that she con’t resist any man in “I Cain’t Say No.” We have already met Will as he tells the community about his visit to modern “Kansas City.” That rousing number is the first of many dance-infused show-stoppers. Ali Hakim (Usman Ally), the traveling peddler, is involve with Ado Annie and he is trying to avoid marrying her.
The girls rejoice in a cute waltz “Many a New Day” and Curly and Laurey are concerned about the rumors that they are lovers in “People Will Say We’re in Love.” Later Curly and Jud meet as each carves their intentions about Laurey as we see Jud’s obsession.
The last scene of act one is the stunning dream ballet wherein after singing “Out of My Dreams,” Laurey falls asleep and dreams of a terrifying confrontation between Curly and Jud. This ballet was fabulously designed (originally by Agnes De Mille0 performed by Stephen Hanna and Jenna McClintock and the dance ensemble. This scene alone makes this production worthy.
In true Broadway musical form, act two starts with a show-stopping uptempo (brand dance style) ensemble number, “The Farmer and the Cowmen” that brings the conflict between the farmers who use fences and the cowmen who want open ranges. But Aunt Eller restores order between the two groups.
Both Ado Annie and Will express their love in “All Er Nothin’ ” while Curly and Laurey sing out in reprise: “People Will Say We’re in Love” after Laurey is frightened by Jud’s advances. Ali helps Will get the $50 he needs to impress Ado Annie’s father thus getting Ali out of his marriage to Ado Annie bind.
Curly and Laurey’s marriage is celebrated with the entire ensemble belting out the show’s signature number: the rousing “Oklahoma!” -wherein Curly sings as he envisions a new hopeful life in a new state – Oklahoma! The emotions run high as the promise of a good life emerges. We feel the communities hope yet the ugly confrontation is still unresolved as Jud interrupts the celebration to confront Curly over Laurey. After a fight, Jud dies as he loses the fight to Curly. Aunt Eller negotiates an on-the-spot trial that exonerates Curly. The newlyweds leave on their honeymoon in the surrey with the fringe on top to the reprise of “Oh, What a beautiful Mornin.’ “
This marvelous musical looks fine, sings terrifically as Ashley Brown and John Cudia evoke sparks and demonstrate expert vocals. Usman Ally is outstanding as the comic lover-peddler Ali Hakim. Paula Scrofano keeps things afloat as Aunt Eller. Tari Kelly is the lovable girl who can’t say no while Curtis Holbrook is the boy-next door cowboy short on wits but long on love for Ado Annie. David Adam Moore is a fine brooding Jud. Director Gary Griffin has cast many terrific Equity Chicago actors in supporting roles including Matt DeCaro, Susan Moniz, Andrew Lupp, James Rank, Ariane Dolan, Erica Mac and Skyler Adams among others.
Get to the Civic Opera house to experience the original Oklahoma! in all its glory, all its down-home charm, and all its artistic acumen. You’ll either discover or re-discover the genius of Rodgers & Hammerstein as they changed the landscape of Broadway musicals forever with Oklahoma! After seeing many fine productions of this classic show, I must report that Gary Griffin and the Lyric’s production is the finest, most heartfelt production of Oklahoma! I’ve ever seen! It is beautiful. It is nostalgic. And it is heartwarming. You’ll be humming tunes from this wonderful show for days. R & H would be proud of this production. Get your tickets fast since the show only runs through May 19. it sure is a “must see” theatrical event.
Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast
Date Reviewed: May 4, 2013
At the Lyric Opera of Chicago running time is 3 hours 15 minutes through May 19, 2013