Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
Oklahoma! is the first of many collaborations by the unstoppable team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. It is based on the 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs, and the original musicalized version opened over seventy years ago on the Great White Way, running for over 2,000 unbelievable performances, and a number of award-winning revivals in years to come. In 1955, the film adaptions, starring Shirley Jones, won an Academy Award, and in 1944, Rodgers and Hammerstein won a special Pulitzer Prize for the show. The show is also notable for popularizing the “book musical”, in which the elements of written words, dance, and music are intertwined into one musical extravaganza. Some notable performers to take part in various productions over the years include Hugh Jackman, Patrick Wilson, Florence Henderson, Alfred Molina, Andre Martin, Patty Duke, Barbara Cook, and Christine Ebersole.
In 1906, Oklahoma was still a mere territory with the hopes of becoming a part of the United States. In said territory, Curly, a smooth talking cowboy with a golden throat, attempts, as has become routine, to woo farm girl Laurey, who lives with her Aunt Eller, hoping to ask Laurey to the box social dance that night. Stubborn Laurey, however, refuses his offer, accepting the offer of Jud Fry, the hired farmhand, to spite Curly, despite her discomfort of Jud. Meanwhile, another cowboy, Will Parker, has just returned from the modern Kansas City, laden with souvenirs and tales of his findings, boasting of his winnings of fifty dollars at the fair, because this means that he can now marry his sweetheart, the flirtatious Ado Annie. However, Ado Annie has become enamored with Persian peddler Ali Hakim. With love triangles a plenty, and the charming folk of times of old crooning the tunes of the Broadway favorite team of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Oklahoma! is the timeless, classic American musical.
Directors Jason and Lauren Morgan have created a beautiful thing; granted, they had a lot to work with: a beautifully talented cast with some wonderful material. Walking in, the space doesn’t seem much, but is utilized to the very fullest: every inch of the theatre is filled with intricate set pieces; gorgeous dancing, choreographed by Karen Matheny; and some downright lovely classical singing. The crew has created some perfectly picturesque pieces, transporting the crowd into the world of early 1900s farm life. All elements of this production work together impeccably.
It’s truly a marvel that this isn’t a cast of professionals- every member of the cast shines brighter than the next. As Curly, Chris Ramirez is absolutely perfect in character, and has some powerhouse vocals to boot, reminding one of the golden vocal tones of Hugh Jackman or Seth MacFarlane. Morgan Haney’s Laurey is his perfect counterpart: she embodies all the effortless loveliness of Laurey, with the gorgeous soprano tones to match. Their chemistry can only be matched by Becca Brown and Tim Brawner, as Ado Annie and Will: she’s loveably flirty, silly, and perfect in the role, and he’s got the high spirits to match, stealing every scene he’s a part of.
As Jud, Neil Rogers takes on this complex character with skill and booming vocals, making his journey as a character both scary and heartbreaking. But perhaps the scene stealer of all scene stealers is in Lana K. Hoover’s Aunt Eller: she’s the feisty glue that holds the people of the territory together, and perhaps no one is funnier or more attuned to the role as she. All in all, this is an outstanding cast and notably glorious production.
Oklahoma! is a musical theatre classic for all ages. Stolen Shakespeare’s production is one for the ages and is most definitely not to be missed: it’s beautiful, creative, and downright wonderful.
Fort Worth Community Arts Center
1300 Gendy Street
Fort Worth, TX 76107-4036
Runs through July 26th, 2015
Fridays and Saturdays at 8PM, and Saturdays and Sundays at 2PM
Tickets from $18-$20- see site for details
For information and to purchase tickets, go to http://www.stolenshakespeare.org, or call 1-866-811-4111