Also see David-Edward Hughes' recent review of Beauty and the Beast
Many a new day will likely pass before a production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein evergreen Oklahoma! receives a sprightlier local production than the one currently gracing the stage of Issaquah's Village Theatre. Steve Tomkins' straightforward, assured and chanceful direction and exuberantly lovely choreography and Bruce Monroe's full-bodied musical-direction of a big, beautiful band assure that this Oklahoma! will be the kind of enchanted evening that pays due tribute to the landmark first collaboration by composer Richard Rodgers (whose centennial has been celebrated this year) and lyricist/librettist Oscar Hammerstein.
A young vibrant company has been enlisted to tell the deceptively simple, turn-of-the-century tale (based on the Lynn Riggs play Green Grow the Lilacs) of farm girl Laurey Williams who must decide whether charming cowboy Curly or brooding farmhand Jud will be her escort to the box social. Laurey's decision to go with Jud is based on a disturbing dream, told in the now hackneyed dream ballet format. Originally done with dance doubles for the three principals, the current revival on Broadway employs the same actors for both.
Certainly this production's Laurey, the lovely Amanda Paulson, is a real triple threat who captivates most particularly with her footwork in Tomkins' ballet sequence, besides being a tremendously natural actress and winning singer (her "Out of My Dreams" being dreamy indeed). David J. Wilson happily sounds astonishingly like Gordon MacRae's film version Curly as he nails tunes like "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'" and "The Surrey With The Fringe on Top," and acts with homespun charm, while managing his choreographic chores competently enough.
Tim Safford is a handsome, brooding, if sometimes overly menacing Jud, who has enough sexual chemistry with Paulson's Laurey to make us see why she would give the loutish farmhand a second look. Safford looks at home in his choreography, and though his voice sounds the least trained of the three, he comes through quite well in his duet with Wilson to "Pore Jud is Daid," and in his eerie solo, "Lonely Room," despite diction problems on the latter.
Talented as the young trio of leads are, the performance of veteran Seattle character actress Pat Sibley, as Laurey's sage yet saucy Aunt Eller, is the touchstone of the production, and her exchange with Paulson late in act two is the show's most moving moment. In the broad comic relief department, Katie Tomlinson wisely understates the bumpkin side of Ado Annie a bit while belting out her big "I Cain't Say No" solo with gusto and is well-paired with Chad Jennings' endearingly dopey Will Parker, who makes up in characterization for rather uneven footwork.
David A. Austin is a big crowd pleaser as Ali Hakim, and Tomkins' staging of his "It's a Scandal!, It's a Outrage" makes this rather slight number bound to life. Winsome Krista Sevareid is a howl as Laurey's attractive but annoyingly giddy rival Gertie, while John Deveney is a trifle too understated and urbane to elicit big laughs as Ado Annie's gun-totin' Pa. A special mention is due to Adam Somers, who shines in the small role of Slim.
In general, the cast's ensemble women tend to outshine their male counterparts a tad and especially sparkle in the ballet, but all sound great, putting the exclamation point on the late act two rousing title tune.
Scenic designer Norm Scrivener's farmhouse and especially his smokehouse for Jud are well executed, though his drops tend to look far too brightly colored and hilly for the flat dustbowl locale. Peter Bracilano's handsome lighting design is about as ideal as can be, and Deanne Middleton's costumes are eye-catching and brimming with period detail.
Here's hoping Village's upcoming Sound of Music (Rodgers and Hammerstein's last collaboration) is every bit as satisfying as this loving revival of their first show has turned out. Oklahoma! runs through 10/27/02 at The Village Theatre, 303 Front Street North, in Issaquah, Washington and then runs Nov 1-17 to the Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett. For further information go to www.villagetheatre.org.