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Pittsburgh by Ann Miner


Oklahoma!

Oklahoma!
Matt Bogart and Shirley Jones
Taking a cue from the lyric "there's a bright, golden haze on the meadow," the Pittsburgh CLO production of Oklahoma! has a very sunny disposition. The dark undercurrent that runs through the story is minimized by an upbeat cast and direction (by Glenn Casale) that paints the serious tones of jealousy, abuse and death with a bright brush. It's difficult to complain, though, with the final product, which is a lovely presentation of Oklahoma!'s classic story and legendary score.

Known to millions as Laurey, from the hit 1955 film musical, Shirley Jones appears here in the matriarchal role of Aunt Eller. Still apple-cheeked and bright-eyed, Jones nearly hides her sweetness in the guise of the crusty and outspoken Eller, dropping her voice a bit and adding a bit of a growl. She sings well and is especially suitable as the center of the community. Our Laurey is Jessica Grové, appealing as the tomboyish willful young woman. As her handsome and sincere cowboy beau Curly, Matt Bogart performs with comfortable proficiency. The chemistry between the two is substantial and they sing the roles gloriously.

The sidekick roles of Will Parker and Ado Annie are played by Leo Ash Evens and Jennifer Cody, exuding youthfulness and a sweet form of daftness that serves the material appropriately. Cody's kewpie doll twang is funny in and of itself, and she avoids going over the top in this audience-pleasing performance. Evens plays Will with a natural ease that charms, making Will and Annie a great fit. A bonus in this production is seeing Jason Graae bring his unique form of comedic performance to the role of Ali Hakim, the "Persian" hawker of wares. He is a delight, bringing this secondary role into the spotlight.

As the source of most of the dark undertones in Oklahoma!, Jud Fry, Aaron Ramey (impressive as Henrik in 2005's A Little Night Music) is a bit miscast. He is not quite physically menacing enough for this critter. Ramey is very tall, but handsome and safe - with a washcloth and a comb, you could have another Curly. This is not to say the Ramey gives a poor performances. He does bring out a sad and slightly sinister side, and delivers an extraordinary rendition of "Lonely Room" with his dynamic voice.

The dream ballet (the production's choreographer is Mark Esposito), featuring Christa Capone and Jeff Davis, is all the more stunning due to the wonderful work by Musical Director Tom Helm and his talented orchestra. They get the show started stupendously with an overture that actually quieted the audience.

Maybe this Oklahoma! glosses over the gritty side of the story, but this production succeeds on every other level. A solid cast performing the beautiful Oklahoma! score are always appreciated, and audience members will leave with a smile.

Oklahoma! continues through July 1 at the Benedum Center. Schedule and ticket information is available at PittsburghCLO.org or by calling 412-456-6666.


See the current Schedule of Pittsburgh Theatre.


-- Ann Miner

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