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Washington DC by Susan Berlin

Oklahoma! (Encore Run)

Oklahoma!
Eleasha Gamble, E. Faye Butler and
Nicholas Rodriguez

In its initial run last fall, Molly Smith's production of Oklahoma! became the highest-grossing production in the 60-year history of Arena Stage in Washington, DC. This past spring, the production received four Helen Hayes Awards: Outstanding Resident Musical; Outstanding Lead Actor, Resident Musical, for Nicholas Rodriguez as Curly; Parker Esse, Outstanding Choreography; and George Fulginiti-Shakar, Outstanding Musical Direction—and now it's back on the Fichandler Stage for a 12-week encore run.

The best news about the remounted production is that, if anything, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical is even more exuberant and moving than it was before. Almost all of the original cast has returned, including all the leads, but now Aunt Eller (E. Faye Butler) speaks her lines with an even sharper edge, Will Parker (Cody Williams) dances even more buoyantly, and Ali Hakim (Nehal Joshi) courts laughs even more shamelessly.

Smith's tough-minded view of life on the prairie demolishes any belief that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II created bland stories of an idealized past. Esse's rethinking of Agnes de Mille's iconic choreography is muscular and exuberant, from the acrobatics of "Kansas City," where Williams leads the male ensemble, to the stylized brawl of "The Farmer and the Cowman," to the emotional highs and lows of the dream ballet.

As Laurey, Eleasha Gamble is by turns cheerful, down-to-earth and intense, with a pure and powerful soprano voice. She plays the character as a young woman who isn't sure what she wants out of life—whether in her flirtation with Curly (Rodriguez) or her contradictory feelings toward Jud Fry (Aaron Ramey)—but with enough inner strength and fearlessness to go looking for an answer. Rodriguez swaggers amusingly and sings robustly, Ramey is physically and vocally powerful as Jud, and the staging of "Pore Jud is Daid" is perfect.

As embodied by June Schreiner, Ado Annie bubbles with excitement and glows with happiness, ideally matched by rubber-legged Williams. Joshi plays Ali Hakim as a sharpie who isn't nearly as slick as he thinks he is.

Arena Stage
Oklahoma!
July 8th - October 2nd
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Original dances by Agnes de Mille
Aunt Eller: E. Faye Butler
Jud Fry: Aaron Ramey
Curly: Nicholas Rodriguez
Laurey: Eleasha Gamble
Ike Skidmore: Lucas Fedele
Slim: Andrew Hodge
Will Parker: Cody Williams
Cord Elam: Philip Michael Baskerville (as of July 28)
Sam: Vincent Rodriguez III
Jess: Alvon Reed
Fred: Shane Rhoades
Ado Annie Carnes: June Schreiner
Ali Hakim: Nehal Joshi
Gertie Cummings: Cara Massey
Vivian: Emilee Dupré
Ellen: Cyana Paolantonio
Kate: Jessica Wu
Virginia: Annie Petersmeyer
Aggie: Kristyn Pope
Andrew Carnes: Hugh Nees
Dream Laurey, Sylvie: Hollie E. Wright
Dream Curly, Mike: Kyle Vaughn
Male Swing: Aaron Umsted
Female Swing: Jessica Hartman
Directed by Molly Smith
Choreographer: Parker Esse
Music Director/Conductor: George Fulginiti-Shakar
Fichandler Stage, Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater, Sixth and Maine avenues SW
Washington, DC
Ticket Information: 202-488-3300 or www.arenastage.org


Photo: Suzanne Blue Star Boy


-- Susan Berlin


Also see the Current Theatre Season Calendar for D.C.



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