New ‘Oklahoma!’ saved from quaint old self

Curly, played by Davon Williams. All photos by Hubert Schriebl.

By David Lampe-Wilson
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical together was Oklahoma!, a celebration of America as seen through the transformation of the Oklahoma Territory into our 46th state. As staged at Weston Playhouse, Oklahoma!, is less an historic marker than a call for inclusion in our current socially fractured times. This approach works to varying degrees in a production that is solid in music and dance while being wobbly in exactly what era we are in.

For those who have somehow missed it over the last 75 years, Oklahoma! ushered in what’s called “the golden age of musicals” with its songs tied to character and plot development.

Mia Pinero and Davon Williams kick up their heels.

Based on the 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs, it is set in Oklahoma farm country in a world that’s about to change. This is represented by two tales of young love:  the dark tale of Laurey and her courtship by two rival beaus, and the comic romance of cowboy Will Parker and the flirtatious Ado Annie.

The show boasts an impressive catalog of Broadway standards – “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “I Can’t Say No!,” and “People Will Say Were in Love,” as well as the title song that seems tacked on just to have a rousing closing number. However, the structure of the musical is now a bit creaky. What was innovative in 1943 now seems, at turns, quaint, misogynistic and old-fashioned.

This might explain why Director Reginald L. Douglas peppered his production with so much brio and modern sass. In an attempt to represent the positive possibilities of American values, his production has not only given us several instances  of interracial romance, he has also slipped in a couple of gay cowboys as well. Dealing with modern issues permeates this production: Heck, if a character must sing “I Can’t Say No!” in these MeToo times, she had better pump it up with overt sexuality and demonstrate that she’s the one in control of exactly what she wants. Some audiences may consider this production as needed modernization while purists may view it as spoiling a classic; it depends on your perspective. Either way — fair warning – this ain’t your grandma’s Oklahoma!

Ali Hakim, played by Billy Cohen, and CoCo Smith’s Ado Annie share a kiss.

Solid performances and a continuing flow of energy propel the production forward. Mia Pinero’s Laurey is a fine soprano and she is partnered with a strong Davon Williams as Curly who, unfortunately, is often overshadowed by an overwhelming orchestra headed by Larry Pressgrove. Still, this pair proves an engaging and emotionally vulnerable couple. They are counterbalanced by Dan Lusari’s comedic Will Parker and CoCo Smith’s openly promiscuous Ado Annie, a couple of firecrackers providing an unending source of mirth.

Also offering memorable performances are Billy Cohen as Ali Hakim, Inga Ballard’s Aunt Eller and Philip Stoddard’s dark-hearted Jud. But the highlight comes at the end of Act I in “Dream Ballet,” a brooding fever dream that both sums up Laurey’s psyche and foreshadows events in Act II. Sarah Fischer and Sir Brock Warren as Dream Laurey and Dream Curly are well worth watching on any stage. Kudos to choreographer David Scotchford for being able to get so much emotion into such a tiny space.

Choreographer David Scotchford makes a stunning use of small area for Dream Ballet.

Alexander Woodward’s set is a landscape of weathered wood boosted by Jorge Arroyo’s blistering lighting. Costume Designer Sydney Gallas’s outfits run the gamut from pioneer petticoats to thigh-revealing short shorts – a dichotomy of design that reflects Director Douglas’s paradoxical production.

There is a lot of talent on the Weston stage and, if you can wrap your head around this time-warped production, you will find plenty to cheer about.

Oklahoma! continues through Aug. 10 at Weston Playhouse, 12 Park St., Weston. Performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; matinees are Wednesday and Saturday at 2 p.m. and Sunday at 3 p.m. For information, click here or call 802-824-5288.

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Filed Under: Community and Arts LifeIn the ArtsReviews

About the Author: After 30 years as a theater critic and arts editor for a Connecticut daily newspaper, David Lampe-Wilson transplanted to Vermont with his wife and two cats.

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