This fresh, new, decidedly darker non-Equity touring version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! is chock-full of crisp characterizations and dynamic dances, performed in front of an absolutely gorgeous picture-postcard set under alternately heady and foreboding atmospheric lighting that enhances the show’s suspense.
Produced by NETworks Presentations, LLC and presented Nov. 30-Dec. 5 in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium by Broadway Series South, the current National Tour of this milestone of American musical theater is based on the 2002 Royal National Theatre/Cameron Mackintosh Broadway revival, directed by Trevor Nunn and choreographed by Susan Stroman. (Stroman directed and choreographed the award-winning 2001 Broadway premiere of The Producers, which is still running, as well as the critically acclaimed 2004 National Tour of this new Mel Brooks musical, which Broadway Series South recently brought to Raleigh Memorial Auditorium Nov. 2-7.)
The current National Tour of Oklahoma! is superbly staged by director Fred Hanson, with Susan Stroman’s exuberant and daring dance routines, especially the magnificent “Out of My Dreams” ballet, crisply choreographed by Ginger Thatcher. The tour also features the Anthony Ward’s brilliant set and costume design David Hersey’s brooding lighting design (adapted by Ted Mather) — both from the Broadway revival — and a sound design by Brian Ronan that needed some fine-tuning during Tuesday night’s performance.
The small but peppy pit band, conducted by John Mezzio, includes associate conductor Daniel Harris and associate conductor Kasey R.T. Graham (keyboards), Mike Wyatt and Aaron Lee Watson (trumpets), Steve Duncan (trombone), Rick Kissinger and Ira Berman (reeds), Chris Frey (bass), and Tomasz Jarzecki (drums). But they sound like a full orchestra at its zenith.
Jeremiah James is a swaggering, bowlegged delight as Curly McLain, a handsome cowboy who can rope a steer blindfolded but hasn’t a clue about how to lasso the heart of his temperamental, bull-headed sweetheart Laurey Williams (played with brio by Julie Burdick). Pat Sibley is another delight as Laurey’s Aunt Eller Murphy, an indefatigable old pioneer woman who picks Curly up every time Laurey shoots him down.
Whenever Andrew Lebon saunters onstage, the temperature in the auditorium seems to drop 10 degrees. His dark, chilling portrait of Aunt Eller’s surly, reclusive, sinister, French postcard-ogling hired hand Jud Fry is evil personified.
Daniel Robinson is highly amusing as Curly’s fellow cowboy Will Parker, an easy mark for grifters who cannot hang on to his money or his woman, and Carrie Love is a hoot as Will’s man-crazy girlfriend Ado Annie Carnes, the girl who “Cain’t Say No”. Gordon Gray is great as Ado Annie’s crusty, old shotgun-wielding father, Andrew Carnes; Abbie Brady is a treat as Gertie Cummings, the insufferable mantrap with the shrill, ear-piercing laugh; and Sorab Wadia is an obvious audience favorite as wily Persian peddler Ali Hakim, who loves and leaves a bevy of frontier lasses until he schedules one assignation too many — and her father (and his shotgun) are close at hand.
Set at the turn of the last century in Oklahoma Territory, on the eve of statehood, Oklahoma! is a wonderful tribute to the plucky farmers and the cowmen (and women) whose true grit triumphed over tough times, tough terrain, and even tougher weather in the nation’s heartland. Don’t miss this exceptionally fine production of the landmark 1943 musical that revolutionized American musical theater.
Broadway Series South presents Oklahoma! Tuesday-Friday, Dec. 2-3, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 4, at 2 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 5, at 2 and 7 p.m. in Raleigh Memorial Auditorium in the BTI Center for the Performing Arts, 1 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina. $29-$64. BTI Box Office: 919/831-6060. Group Rates (for groups of 20 or more): 919/857-4565 or http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/group.html [inactive 5/05]. Broadway Series South: http://www.broadwayseriessouth.com/2004-2005/broadway.html#oklahoma [inactive 5/05]. Internet Broadway Database: http://www.ibdb.com/show.asp?ID=6697. Internet Movie Database (1955 Film): http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0048445/. The Broadway Revival Site: http://www.oklahoma-themusical.com/ [inactive 11/05]. The Tour Site: http://www.oklahomaontour.com/ [inactive 8/05]. Rogers and Hammerstein Organization: http://www.rnhtheatricals.com/show.php?show_id=30.