The Lake Worth Playhouse presents Oklahoma!. Based on the 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs, by author Lynn Riggs, Oklahoma! was the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The original production opened at the Shubert Theatre in New Haven in March 1943 under the title Away We Go!. Some minor rewrites included the insertion of the song "Oklahoma!" and the decision to re-title the show after the new song. The freshly renamed Oklahoma! made its Broadway debut at the St. James Theatre on March 31, 1943. The production was a box-office smash, and closed on May 29, 1948, after 2,212 performances. It was followed by a record-setting ten-year national tour. Oklahoma! marked a revolution in musical drama by introducing a number of new storytelling elements and techniques. Most important are its use of song and dance to further the plot and define the characters rather than act as diversions from the storyline. A special Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein for Oklahoma! in the category of "Special Awards And Citations - Letters" in 1944.
A 1951 Broadway revival of Oklahoma! ran for 100 performances at The Broadway Theatre. A second revival in 1979 at the Palace Theatre ran for 293 performances and received two Tony Award Nominations. In 2002, the National Theatre production (which ran in London at the Olivier Theatre in 1998) opened on Broadway at the George Gershwin Theatre, closing on February 23, 2003, after 388 performances. This production received eight Tony Award nominations and eight Drama Desk Award nominations. A well-known Academy Award winning film version of was released in 1955 starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.
Together, Rodgers and Hammerstein wrote Oklahoma!, Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, The Sound of Music, Cinderella, State Fair, Flower Drum Song, Me And Juliet, Allegro and Pipe Dream. Among their many accolades are thirty-four Tony Awards, fifteen Academy Awards, the Pulitzer Prize, and two Grammy Awards. While the musicals of Rodgers and Hammerstein have been described by some as antiquated and lacking in appeal to the contemporary audience, it should be noted that they not only wrote memorable melodies and poetic lyrics, but fearlessly addressed topics 50 years ago that are controversial even by today's standards. They gave us a villain in Oklahoma! who indulges in dark, antisocial behavior linked to his fixation on pornography, domestic violence in Carousel, and racism in South Pacific.
Oklahoma! is set in the Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, on the verge of Oklahoma's statehood. It revolves around the story of a cowboy named Curly McLain and his romance with Laurey Williams, who lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller. Conflict arises with the unwanted advances of the Williams' surly and slightly sinister farmhand Jud Fry toward Laurey. A secondary romance exists between Laurey's flirtatious friend Ado Annie and the likeable but dim-witted Will Parker. The secondary pair's romance is threatened by the attentions of a smooth-talking traveling salesman named Ali Hakim. In addition to all this is the growing conflict between the farmers and the cowmen.
From the opening notes of "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'," it is clear that this production knows what it is doing musically. The handling of the singing style of Rodgers and Hammerstein can not be faked. Tom Cooch has a firm handle on the part of Curly, as both a singer and actor. He is confident without being arrogant and flirtatious without being coy. Jeanette Thompson is made for the role of Laurey. Her sweet, legit soprano sound and blonde hair are reminiscent of Shirley Jones in the film version of the musical. These two actors carry much of the show with their singing. The ensemble in turn does a wonderful job of performing the music in the manner in which it was intended. Musical director and conductor Toni Stamos should be proud of what she has done with this Lake Worth Playhouse production of Oklahoma!.
Andy Christler sings the part of Jud Fry nicely, but is lacking a tad in the bass register and is not truly physically imposing enough to be menacing the way the role is intended. Shane Blanford shows enjoyable dance skills as Will Parker, and is well paired with Kaitrin Lynch as Ado Annie. While Lynch is decent in this role, she needs to be bigger with her comic choices. Courtney Mullen dances an especially lovely performance as Dream Laurey in the Dream Ballet. How rare to see someone get to display real balletic ability in musical theatre.
Some make-up and costume choices are off, such as the cleavage-baring outfit worn by Ado Annie, the painfully bright yellow hat and colorful dress worn by Gertie Cummings, and Will Parker's low rise jeans. In addition, there needs to be a commitment on the part of the actors to live in the moment and whole-heartedly be their characters. With that in mind, it is hard to believe that one of the ensemble males would go on stage with layered, shoulder length hair and Will Parker would have surfer-white, bleached blond hair with two inches of dark roots. These surface production value issues that prevent this production from being completely polished are hopefully something that the playhouse staff and actors will continue to work on.
Oklahoma! appeared at the Lake Worth Playhouse from October 9–25, 2009. The theatre is located at 713 Lake Ave. in Lake Worth, Florida. The Lake Worth Playhouse is a Resident Community Playhouse. For tickets and/or more information about the theatre and its programs, you may contact them by phone at 561-586-6410 or online at www.lakeworthplayhouse.org.