You might think I’m as high as an elephant’s eye – or maybe I am in my own Dream Ballet – but I just came back from the revival of Arena Stage’s recently mounted and critically acclaimed and totally sold-out production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical Oklahoma! – and you know what? I like this revival better!
If you’ve told your friends and family that you’ve seen the show already and you don’t need to see it again – run and buy tickets! Director Molly Smith has made some tweaks – and I’m not going to give them away. I will tell you that you can now hear the corn swishing in the wind and you can hear every instrument from the 12 incrediby talented musicians that are musical directed by Helen Hayes Award winner George Fulginiti-Shakar. And now you can hear the crystal clear strumming of the banjo and guitar and the spine tingling sound of the harmonica, and all the solo turns that each wonderful musician has during the show. I have never heard such great sound in this theatre ever or in any other ‘in the round’ theatre that I have visited. Kudos to Sound Designer Timothy M. Thompson for a job well done!
And now this cast who has become a tight-knit family of friends – are more relaxed and so confident and are just having a great time! You can’t help but applaud wildly and whoop it up for their efforts. And now their performances are deeper and more emotional. And of course they all sing like angels. The singing by Eleasha Gamble (Laurey) and Nicholas Rodrigeuz (Curly) [he won a Helen Hayes Award for his portrayal of Curly] is stunningly beautiful, especially in their duets “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “The Surrey with The Fringe on the Top” – where divine harmonies abound. And for me the nicest thing about their performances is that they don’t overdo it. At times they sing powerfully, and then at times they sing softly and sell every Hammerstein lyric. You believe that they are meant to be together and you are ecstatic when they finally wed.
E. Faye Butler is even more lovable as the tough but very wise Aunt Eller. Cody Williams and June Schreiner are more adorable and dopier and sillier this second time around as Will Parker and his very confused and sexually potent love – Ado Annie. They once again steal the audience’s hearts – and stop the show twice – after they finish their two big solos “Kansas City”and “I Cain’t Say No!”. Mr. Williams’ acrobatics – including some back flips some fine-two-stepping, some jaw-dropping high kicks and soft shoe-ing during “Kansas City” – are breathtaking. And their duet “All er Nothin'” is endearing.
Nehal Joshi who plays the two-timing Persian peddler Ali Hakim is charming and funnier and is just having a blast! And Aaron Ramey is scarier this time around as Jud Fry and when you hear Aaron and Nicholas sing “Pore Jud is Daid” the sheer power and beauty of their voices blending together is worth the price of admission. Ramey’s ‘Lonely Room’ is earth-skaking and creepy. The ensemble is made up of amazing dancers and vocally strong singers.
Which leads us now to Parker Esse’s superb Helen Hayes Award-winning choreography which is filled with optimism and life – so exciting and uplifting – with athletic moves that could rival those performed by athletes at The Summer Olympics
Eugene Lee’s set design is still so clever and I loved Lee’s ‘smokehouse residence’ he built for Jud Fry. You are in Oklahoma! on that set! Michael Gilliam’s lighting adds an elegance to the production, especially in the Dream Ballet, and I loved Martin Pkeledinaz’s colorful costumes.
During these times when our country is close to defaulting with no light at the end of the tunnel to stop it – how lucky are we that we can escape into the optimism and joy and Americana that envelopes this joyful production of Oklahoma!
Oh shucks, what are you waiting for? A beautiful morning and a bright future awaits you in The Fichandler.
Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.
Oklahoma! information and tickets.