Yee-haaaw! Set in the early 20th Century, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is back in all of its classic honor. Directed by Molly Smith, it is being shown at the Arena Stage in DC. It first debuted on Broadway in the midst of World War II. Oklahoma territory is on the brink of statehood, and the people in the town deal with everyday life, in a humorous but at times serious manner. An American timeless musical, with all the fixings of cowboys, farmers, and romance seems to charm audiences wherever it goes.
The story is mainly of two stubborn young adults who love each other, but pride among other things get in the way of their relationship. Curly (Nicolas Rodriguez) really likes Laurey, played by Eleasha Gamble, but when things become twisted in conversation, and Laurey acts indifferent, their romance is put on hold. Meanwhile, dark and intimidating Jud Fry (Aaron Ramey) wants Laurey to be his girl, and despite and reservations and frightfulness she agrees to attend the box social dance with him. Curly is going with another girl, and deep down inside Laurey is bothered, but doesn’t show it, hence the musical number Many a New Day.
Another romantic plot involves Laurey’s overly flirtatious friend Ado Annie (June Schreiner) who is innocently boy-crazy and “can’t say no to men”, especially when they are “talking purty” to her. With her adorable face, she’s still learning. Will (Cody Williams) is in love with her and has to go through some things, (and people), to get to her hand in marriage. Eventually, the love between both couples fall into place.
The cast was on point in displaying the range and emotions of the characters. Aunt Eller, played by E. Faye Butler, came across as a strong woman with a past of her own, who just wanted to see her niece happy. She was also essential as the no-nonsense type of person, keeping peace between bickering farmers and cowboys in the yard. Butler’s voice and accent are great, and rounded out her character well. The peddler Ali Hakim (Nehal Joshi) kept the laughs going. If you had any doubt of what his character was feeling inside, his facial expressions told it all. The interactions between him, Ado Annie, and her father brought life to the production in a unique way. He was very entertaining.
The costumes throughout were simple, and very appropriate for the time. The green colored costumes in Laurey‘s “dream sequence” were beautiful and stood out.
The dance numbers added to the show and moved the plot along. The choreography was exciting and you saw dancers jump, slide, and flip. The boot-stomping cowboys were revved up the energy of the show.
In the second act, Will has everything he needs to marry Ado Annie and they finally come together. But not without some challenges first. Ado Annie still has her ways, and this leads to the All Er Nothin dance number, where Will makes it clear he expects for her to be faithful. This serves as good comedy as Ado Annie shows that she is not going to relinquish her independence just yet.
Love, drama, good old-fashioned country fun is what Oklahoma! is made of. The dances are good, the music and lyrics catchy, and it’s literally great theater for those interested in an oldie, but goodie!
Roger and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma is playing at the Arena Stage’s Mead Center for the American Theater now through December 26! Tickets are available. Click over to http://www.arenastage.org/ for more information.
TRR Theatre Revue by Karen Brundidge