80. Lyric Opera premieres a new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA!
“Oklahoma!” debuted in 1943. The one-of-a-kind musical combined elements of music, comedy and dance into one super-sized showcase. This first collaboration between Rodgers & Hammerstein defined what a Broadway musical blockbuster could be, would be, and should be. Seventy years old and unstoppable, OKLAHOMA! is the hottest destination this May.
‘People will say I’m in love.’ And they would be right. I loved this show. I grew up on the 1955 movie version with Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae. I not only know every word to every song but I know most of the book too. Under the direction of Gary Griffin, the baton of James Lowe, the choreography of Gemze de Lappe, this is as good as it gets. The romance charms. The comedy crackles. And the singing enchants. I grinned the entire time. I knew exactly what was going to happen every moment but I stayed on high alert. I didn’t want to miss one note, one step, one kiss. OKLAHOMA! is like stepping back into a favorite memory and having a superior ensemble reenact it for your personal pleasure.
And this ensemble is superior. The magnanimous John Cudia (Curly) and the radiant Ashley Brown (Laurey) anchor the show with their courtship. We fall for Cudia during an unforgettable entrance of ‘Oh what a beautiful morning‘ and he continues to swoon beyond the curtain call. I’m in agreement with the feisty Paula Scrofano (Aunt Eller) if I was younger, I’d marry Cudia ‘and have him sing purdy to me every night.’ As the target of his affection, Brown balances perfectly the moxie and vulnerability of young love. Her ‘Many a new day‘ commands as the single gal’s anthem. Later, she wistfully and exquisitely sings ‘Out of my dreams.’ Despite some character flaws, I was crushing on David Adam Moore (Jud). Moore belts out a mesmerizing ‘Lonely Room.‘ Wow, these songs are timeless. Rodgers composed a score with distinct and haunting melodies. Although the music could stand alone, Hammerstein layers in significant meaning to either swoon or lampoon the situation.
Hammerstein wrote a lot of playfulness into this show. The characters are eccentric and lovable individuals. And no one takes him/herself too seriously. In the final scene, Scrofano basically tells Brown to not get bogged down in the drama. (Ironic words at the world-renown Lyric Opera). What keeps this show from getting too sentimental is the ongoing humor. And Hammerstein’s jokes are still funny. Bringing the frolicking buffoonery are Curtis Holbrook (Will), Tari Kelly (Ado Annie) and Usman Ally (Ali). This trio is full of personality, singing and zinging. In addition, Holbrook busts some dazzling moves with rope tricks and cowboy stepping. There is never a dull moment in this spectacle with the ‘fringe on the top.’
OKLAHOMA! is the state you want to visit. O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, OKLAHOMA! is something to see!
Running Time: Three hours includes one intermission
At Civic Opera House, 20 N. Wacker
Based on the play “Green Grows the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Conducted by James Lowe
Directed by Gary Griffin
Wednesdays, Saturdays, Sundays at 2pm
Wednesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays at 7:30pm
Thru May 19th
Buy Tickets at www.lyricopera.org
Photo by Dan Rest