Theater Review: Oklahoma!
Direction by Gary Griffin
Book by Oscar Hammerstein
Compositions by Richard Rogers
– The review below is an except. For full review, please click HERE
In the current state of the modern theatre, its a rare treat to catch a solid production of many Rogers and Hammerstein musicals, but even more rare to catch a great production with a full orchestra playing the original scores; if one is interested in catching great musical theatre – this is an immediate draw. For this reason, the Lyric Opera should have no trouble selling tickets for their newly-opened production of Oklahoma! taking place within the walls of the Civic Opera House.
Overall, Gary Griffin’s suitable and all-around committed production of Oklahoma! takes a storybook idea of what Hollywood would like this classic musical to look and sound like. Much of the staging Griffin displays has been made for still life sake; if one were to take a step back to see the whole stage, we get wonderful pictures but the downside is simplistic and presentation movements where audiences lose much of the chemistry between the actors on stage. Sets are shown impressionistically and help set tone for production but lack a sense of place spatially. Backdrops and color splashes of rustic tones seem to also bring in the sense of story to Lyric’s Oklahoma! but again, audiences get a sparse version here, even if the elements are committed to the overall vision. Mara Blumenfeld’s costuming has been colorfully brought to life on stage and helps to enhance the characters but seem a little too clean for the setting of a rural farm in Oklahoma.
Audiences will be treated to a robust and wonderfully lush-sounding cast but (outside of a few roles) will miss out on well-defined characters. Ashley Brown as the prim and proper Laurey comes out vocally shining in this production as we are treated to a talented voice who’s a brilliantly ideal R&H’s Soprano. John Cudia, who’s vocal prowess (esp during “People Will Say We’re In Love”) could blow the doors off of the Civic House, while David Adam Moore brings a nice sensitivity to the Judd Fry character. Outside the three main principles, thankfully Oklahoma! still floats due to the supporting cast performances in Curis Holbrook, Tari Kelly, Usman Ally and ensemble. Finally, James Lowe’s precise conducting is used proficiently by the rest of the cast members to which audiences receive a very well sung and thoroughly performed ensemble.
Known for the distinctive work of Agnes de Mille, Griffin’s production has very smartly brought in Gemze de Lappe to recreate the original 1943 choreography on the Civic House stage – it pays off huge. Yes, there were some missed steps and a few moments that could use some tightening up from a rehearsal or two, but on the whole, the entire dream ballet and production as a whole for Lyric is magnificently embodies why Oklahoma! was seen as groundbreaking to begin with.
Overall Griffin gives audiences a style to Oklahoma! that keeps the all-important grittiness from the people who are salt of the earth, and throws out a gussied-up, happy-go-lucky tale about simple folk, in a simpler time. With that said, there still is reason to see this production as Lyric has mounted a wonderfully sung, colorfully costumed and beautifully orchestrated production of a beloved musical in its full glory. And Honestly, when do you think you will get another chance to catch a combo like this before it becomes exist? If nothing else, Lyric’s Oklahoma! is a great lead-in to the upcoming Rogers & Hammerstein productions on slate for the next coming years.
~ Matt Miles, 24/7 Contributor
Producer of Fresh Roasted Films
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