Since we already reviewed Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! when it first debuted at Arena Stage last fall, here are five reasons you should absolutely not miss this quintessentially American musical while it’s playing at Washington D.C.’s most impressive stage again. There’s a reason the first production enjoyed a sold-out, award-winning engagement, and if you miss it this time too, you will definitely regret it. So forget about scoring those impossible-to-get tickets to The Book of Mormon and head to downtown D.C. for a night of unforgettable theatre.
1. It’s Required Viewing: Just as there are movies everyone should see at least once (Citizen Kane, The Godfather, Pulp Fiction, etc.), there is a canon of musicals that every theatre-goer should consider “required,” and Oklahoma! is near the top of the list. Rodgers and Hammerstein are American masters, and if you only have room for one musical this year, make it this infectiously joyous classic.
2. Amazing Performers: The fall production was the talk of the town, and most of that buzz centered around the fantastic cast, like the exceptional Nicholas Rodriguez (Curly), who won the 2011 Helen Hayes Award for Lead Actor in a Musical and Eleasha Gamble (Laurey), and E. Faye Butler (Aunt Eller). But the real show-stealers are the younger couple in the musical: Cody Williams (Will Parker) and 16-year-old wunderkind June Schreiner (Ado Annie), who stand out among the supporting cast with their lively performances of “I Cain’t Say No” and “Kansas City.” There’s no weak link in the Broadway-worthy ensemble, which is refreshingly culturally diverse for a musical set in the homesteading territory.
3. Fabulous Show-stoppers: There’s not a false note in the production. Every song is sweeping and memorable, from Curly’s exuberant opening “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” to Ado Annie’s sweetly coy rendition of “I Cain’t Say No” (which works perfectly since Schreiner is only 16 — and older actress can make the song seem tawdry) to the beautiful Curly-Laurey duet “People Will Say We’re In Love,” and of course one of the catchiest songs in musical-theatre history, the grand finale, “Oklahoma!”.
4. Comic Relief: There’s much more comedy in the musical than I remembered from the movie, and it’s delightfully delivered by the humorous supporting players, like Ali Hakim and his “Persian goodbyes,” or Ado Annie’s perfect mix of naivety and hot-blooded flirtatiousness. Aunt Eller’s sassy words of wisdom are amusing, and Will Parker’s sparkly eyed smile is downright heart-stopping. The laughs are always perfectly timed and a welcome counter-point to the dramatic elements personified Jud Fry’s intensity.
5. The Movie Isn’t Enough: I’m a huge fan of Fred Zinnemann’s 1955 movie musical starring the incomparable Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones as Curly and Laurey. It’s a personal favorite, but there’s nothing like experiencing a musical live, even if you already know every song by heart. The Arena Stage production is a jubilant winner, and if you’re not cheerfully belting out “O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A, Oklahoma!” all the way way home, I’m not sure you have a soul.