The current touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! is more than OK. Though this is a non-Equity production (the performers are not members of Actors Equity), the performances are energetic, well sung and well acted. Directed by Fred Hanson, this is an overall pleasing production, well paced and well cast. Those who know the show well may be disappointed that some cuts have been made - one song ("It's a Scandal! It's a Outrage") plus, according to Hanson in a Tribune-Review interview, "little nips and tucks you wouldn't notice." These cuts have supposedly taken the show from "just under three hours" to two hours and 50 minutes. Ten minutes of "streamlining" aren't worth tampering with a classic show; the cuts should have been left in.
Fresh-faced leads Jeremiah James (Curly) and Julie Burdick (Laurey) exude youth and the exciting but somewhat frightening aspects of first love. Both have significant touring/regional credits and sing well, with James being most impressive vocally. They are also appealing and natural actors, and Burdick brings Laurey's tomboy nature out in a cute way. Even more youthful is J. Michael Zygo, currently playing Will Parker. Zygo is also Dance Captain and his considerable dancing talents bring the crowd-pleasing "Kansas City" number to great heights. Carrie Love (what a great name for an actress playing Ado Annie) could rein in the overt comedy in her portrayal, so it doesn't seem "added on." The humor doesn't seem to be a part of Annie's personality, and it should be. Andrew Lebon as Jud Fry is a little uneven, but his first act work, with James on "Pore Jud is Daid" and his solo "Lonely Room," is effective.
The sets (by Anthony Ward, as are the costumes) are re-created from the Broadway version, and most work fine. The ever-present backdrop of a bowl-shaped landscape of land and a changing sky might have been more stylistic, and the giant corn ("as a high as a elephant's eye" should be an exaggeration) is still a bit scary. Costumes are excellent. Susan Stroman's choreography as re-created by Ginger Thatcher serves the story well, though the dream ballet seems less dramatic than usual, and is well executed by all, especially the talented ensemble. Though it's not always a requirement for good dancing, this group - men and women - can kick higher than seems humanly possible.
Most casual theatregoers will have a production of Oklahoma! in their recent memory - do they need another? It's hard not to recommend a chance to hear this beautiful Rodgers and Hammerstein score sung by such a talented group, and the well-told story (more than just a tale of a box social) brings interesting characters and situations always worth another look. This is a solid, entertaining production of a classic.
Oklahoma! runs through Sunday, January 2 at Heinz Hall, with performances December 31 at 7pm, Saturday January 1 at 2 and 8pm, and Sunday January 2 at 1 and 6:30pm. For ticket information, call (412) 392-9200.