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Laurey (Samantha Bruce) and Curly (Rhett Guter) in Oklahoma! at The Goodspeed. (Photo by Diane Sobolewski )
Aunt Eller (Terry Burrell) surrounded by the cast of Oklahoma! at The Goodspeed. Photos by Diane Sobolewski )
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Revivals of American musical classics are the Goodspeed’s frontier, and you can’t get much more classic than Rogers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! set in the Wild West during the summer of 1906.
The show features some of the most gorgeous music and choreography to ever grace the Broadway stage—and regional stages throughout the country—since it opened in 1943.
And this Goodspeed production doesn’t disappoint. It’s lively and colorful and full of humor and pathos and corn—plenty, besides what’s growing “as high as an elephant’s eye” on stage.
So, yes, the musical, based quite closely on Lynn Rigg’s 1930 play Green Grow the Lilacs, has some serious mood swings from pure silliness to intense seriousness, which can be hard to reconcile, but director Jenn Thompson has somehow woven all these disparities together in a cohesive and magical whole that allows the audience to suspend disbelief without much effort.
The straightforward plot focuses on the unrequited love (until the happily-ever-after ending) between Curly and Laurey, as Laurey keeps putting off Curly’s advances, specifically to go to a box social with him. Rhett Guter couldn’t be more suited to the role of the hopelessly romantic, handsome cowboy who only has eyes for this one farm girl, kicking off the show with the musical icon of optimism: “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” which is then reprised in sweet short bursts throughout the two-act play. And Samantha Bruce is just right as the feisty, feminist- before-her-time, who is afraid of getting hitched if it means compromising her freedom.
But, before she realized that she was playing with fire, Laurey makes the near fatal mistake of agreeing to go to the box social with the dark and dangerous Jud Fry, who is angry and alienated, living alone in a dreary smokehouse. Matt Faucher gives a superb performance as the unpredictable, moody man, also obsessed with Laurey, but in a far less innocent way than Curly. He brings chilling passion to his solo, “Lonely Room.”
Laurey has no solos, but her lovely voice complements Guter’s in the tuneful, “People Will Say We’re in Love” and upbeat “Surrey with the Fringe on Top.”
Back to the lighthearted roles, Gizel Jimenez plays a funny and loveable Ado Annie, Laurey’s ditzy, oversexed friend. She is more intrigued by Ali Hakim, the snaky Persian peddler—played by Matthew Curiano with wit and style, despite the ridiculous racial stereotype—than she is by nice guy Jake, played by Will Parker, who is essentially Curly’s twin with less going on upstairs.
In the requisite matriarch/patriarch roles are the spunky Aunt Eller (Terry Burrell) who runs the farm and gives sage advise, and C. Mingo Long as Ado Annie’s straight-shooting father Andrew, the wise small town judge who makes sure Curly doesn’t spend his wedding night in jail.
The Goodspeed has outdone itself with scenic design by Wilson Chin and lighting by Philip S. Rosenberg that despite the small stage makes the audience feel enveloped in expansive western blue skies with fluffy white clouds, cornfields, windmills, and hay bales all glowing in endless sunshine, contrasted with the dark, foreboding interior of the smokehouse.
Fabulous costumes by Tracy Christensen range from leather cowboy chaps to frilly party dresses.
Katie Spelman recreates the choreography made famous by Cecile B. de Mille—an exquisite 10-minute silent ballet at the end of Act I in which Laurey, after sniffing an elixir purchased from Ali Hakim to help her see more clearly, looks on as her dream double, danced by Madison Turner, foreshadows her future.
It isn’t until the end of the production that the entire company performs the theme song, “Oklahoma!” that does the state proud, in a grandly sung and orchestrated rendition (by musical director Michael O’Flaherty).
Oklahoma! is at The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam through Wednesday, Sept. 27. For tickets and schedule of performances, call the box office at 860-873-8668 or online visit www.goodspeed.org.
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