25 years later, you’re looking good, ‘Oklahoma!’
BEVERLY – The farmers and the cowboys had not been seen on the stage of the North Shore Music Theatre for a quarter-century. NSMT Producer/Owner Bill Hanney celebrated their return and the 10th anniversary of his re-opening of the theater by including in the cast a living, breathing equine performer.
The surprise entrance got the NSMT production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” off to a rousing start at a recent performance, and the cast took it from there.
A recent dark revival on Broadway generated mounds of controversy with its reimagined characters, but NSMT hewes to the traditional staging of the show offered in recent years by companies such as the Ogunquit Playhouse and the Trinity Repertory Theatre.
So the singing, dancing, and assembly line of R&H classics are all intact, including the groundbreaking “dream ballet” authored by Agnes de Mille that is one of the iconic elements of the classic.
“Oklahoma!” takes place outside a town named Claremore in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906, on the eve of the territory becoming a state.
It includes a witty book by Oscar Hammerstein II and the gorgeous score by Richard Rodgers and Hammerstein, much of which was revised and rewritten in the beautiful Ladies Lounge of the Colonial Theatre in Boston during an out-of-town tryout when the play was then known as “Green Grow the Lilacs,” named for the Lynn Riggs play the musical is based on.
The songs – staples of the American musical theater canon since the show’s Broadway debut in 1943 – have long since joined the Greater American Songbook, including “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Kansas City,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and the title tune.
Leads Blake Price (cowboy Curly McLaine) and Madison Claire Parks (Laurey Williams) have the vocal chops to do justice to the music in their up-and-down, off-and-on romance, and Parks also exhibits the necessary sassiness and spunk of a young woman not willing to take a back seat in a man’s world..
The supporting cast is also strong. Revere native Susan Cella is a welcome presence whenever she returns home to perform, and she slips into the role of the sprightly, wise, tough-talking but warm-hearted Aunt Eller Murphy as easily as if she were putting on a pair of slippers.
Ado Annie Carnes (Melissa Carlile-Price) is a free-spirited young woman who believes love makes the world go around – and she aims to make the world go around.
She’s being pursued by a young cowboy named Will Parker (Sean Bell) who aims to buy Annie’s hand in marriage by using the $50 he earned at a rodeo in Kansas City to convince Annie’s shotgun-toting dad, Andrew Carnes (a very funny Tom Gleadow) of his honest intentions.
Annie’s fallback plan, when things go awry, is Ali Hakim an itinerant “Persian” peddler, a callow traveling salesman interested in what Annie may have to offer but in avoiding commitment – and Andrew Carnes’ shotgun – at all costs.
And while Price’s Curley may be right purty, he’s strong enough to confront the menacing farmhand Judd Fry (Alex Levin), his isolation and resentment growing by the minute to a simmering anger ready to explode in a crackerjack take of “Lonely Room.”
The production numbers are smartly staged – especially the second-act “The Farmer and the Cowman” – with the choreography of Mara Newbery Greer added to the original work of Agnes de Mille.
Director Charles Repole has, with several past successes, mastered the intricacies of working in NSMT’s in-the-round stage.
Kudos to Hanney and NSMT for not trying to nickle-and-dime the glorious score; there are 14 pieces in the orchestra led by the talented Mark Hartman.
There are those who regard classics as “Oklahoma!” as outdated and blank canvasses on which they can create a whole new show.
If characters, attitudes and sensibilities are dated, or out-of-touch, it’s because a musical – or a drama or comedy, for that matter – may take place many years ago and reflects the attitudes and sensibilities of that time. It is a snapshot of a time or place, in this case the Oklahoma Territory in the early 20th Century.
Enlightened it wasn’t. But that didn’t stop it from spawning a timeless musical classic.
The North Shore Music Theatre production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!.” Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. Directed by Charles Repole. Choreographed by Mara Newberry Greer. Music direction by Mark Hartman. Scenic design by Kyle Dixon. Lighting design by Jack Mehler Sound design by Daryl Bornstein. Hair and wig design by Rachel Padula-Shufelt At the North Shore Music Theatre through June 16. Nsmt.org.