A Real Pur-Dee Show
By R. J. Donovan
On the 60th anniversary of where it all began, “Oklahoma!” has come home to The Colonial Theatre. Performances run through June 5.
Musical theatre fans will remember that “Oklahoma!” was once called “Away We Go.” And when it opened its out-of-town run at The Colonial in 1943, it was not yet a landmark musical. Rodgers and Hammerstein rewrote and reworked things, audiences responded, and the show that had opened with uncertainty closed with an exclamation point.
The story centers on Laurey and Curly, a farm owner and a cowboy respectively. Curly is smitten with Laurey. Despite the mutual attraction, she bristles with hostility at his attentions. There’s a charity Box Social coming up and Curly wants to escort Laurey. However, she agrees to go with Jud, her fairly menacing hired hand.
Meanwhile, cowboy Will Parker has been exploring the up-to-date grandeur of Kansas City. Having won $50 at a rodeo competition, he returns to win the hand of his true love, Ado Annie, who, unbeknownst to him, has become involved with a traveling peddler. Annie is the “girl who cain’t say no.”
Curly eventually confirms that Jud is as dangerous as he seems, with Laurey trapped by his affections. At the auction for the Box Social picnic hampers, both Jud and Curly bid furiously against each other for Laurey’s hamper. Each man gives up everything he has -- Jud to win Laurey and Curly to save her from Jud, which he does.
Curly eventually wins Laurey’s heart, but a drunken Jud resurfaces at their wedding reception to try and kill Curly. During a fight, Jud is killed when he falls on his own knife. Curly is absolved of any guilt and he and Laurey happily ride off to their honeymoon.
The score is filled with songs that have become musical theatre standards. “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” “Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” “Many A New Day,” “People Will Say We’re In Love” and the title song.One of the high points in the production is the “Out Of My Dreams” ballet that concludes the first act.
The version of the show playing at The Colonial is based on the Royal National Theatre’s revival that spent time on Broadway a couple of years back. Direction then was by the renowned Trevor Nunn and choreography was by Tony Award winning Susan Stroman.
For this tour, direction is by Fred Hanson and Stroman’s choreography has been recreated by Ginger Thatcher.
This tour is fine indeed. Not necessarily slamming its exclamation point into the ground with emotion, but fine all the same. The company sings with enthusiasm and dances with athletic style.
Brandon Andrus is Curly and Amanda Rose is Laurey (above top, left and right). Both have fine singing voices.
However, the two actors who shine are Daniel Robinson (middle photo, above) as straight and steady Will, and Tom Lucca (left) as the ominous Jud. Both draw your attention whenever they are on stage.
An agile dancer blessed with a winning stage presence, Robinson is great whether spinning his lasso, leading “Kansas City” or tirelessly chasing after Ado Annie.
At the other end of the emotional spectrum is Lucca, who sings with power and creates a brooding Jud, oozing genuine malevolence.
“Oklahoma!” holds its place in American history for good reason. It was one of the first musicals that was really of one piece. Every element, every character, every song and every dance contributed to the whole.
While that seems to be common sense now, it wasn’t the way it had previously been done. Ultimately, “Oklahoma!” influenced all the shows that followed it.
Six decades later, it still tells its simple story with purity of heart. As the song says, “you’re doing fine Oklahoma.”
"Oklahoma!" is at The Colonial Theatre, 106 Boylston Street in Boston, through June 5. For information, call 617-931-2787.
Production Photos: Joan Marcus
-- OnStage Boston
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