Written in 1943 by musical titans Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, “Oklahoma” was a theatrical milestone that changed the face of musical theater forever.
But that was 70 years ago. Who would have dreamed that this American classic would still be a rousin’, foot-stompin’, feel-good musical today? Well, it is. In fact, the sold-out opening-night audience at the Carpenter Center gave it a standing ovation; then left the theater with a smile on their lips and the songs in their hearts.
Not only that, but as word got around that this Musical Theatre West production would be directed by Davis Gaines (“Phantom of the Opera,” “Man of La Mancha,” “Spamalot”), tickets started selling like hotcakes. So if you want to see the show (and you’d be crazy if you didn’t), you have to act fast.
(Up front disclosure: “Oklahoma” was the first musical I ever saw. To say I was impressed is an understatement. I went home, saved my pennies, and bought a long-play, vinyl recording. Then I played it over and over until I memorized every song.)
Because of these childhood recollections, I might have been bored with the MTW revival, but the exact opposite happened. From the opening scene when Curly sings “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” on Anthony Ward’s knock-out set, under Jean-Yves Tessier’s fabulous light design, I was hooked!
Follow that up with “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Kansas City,” “I Cain’t Say No,” and “People Will Say We’re in Love,” plus a dozen other hits from the fathers of Broadway musical theater,” and I was a complete goner — along with everyone else in the theater.
Of course these Rogers/Hammerstein classics have to be put across by performers who can sing, dance, and project dramatically. And indeed they are! The entire cast is outstanding.
And, it goes without saying, the orchestra has to be top-notch — as it is under Dennis Castellano, who acts as both musical director and conductor. As for choreography, once again Lee Martino outdoes himself, especially in his awe-inspiring cowboy routines, and in his narrative “Dream Ballet” (danced superbly by Katya Preiser and Steve Ewing, who play Laurey and Curly as Laurey sleeps).
In case anyone has never seen “Oklahoma” (either on stage or in the movies), here’s the plot in a nutshell. The time is 1907, the place is Indian territory that is not yet a state, and there’s tense rivalry between the farmers (who want to settle down and farm the land), and the cowboys (who want the territory to remain open).
Laurey lives with her aunt on one of the outlying farms. She’s secretly smitten by Curly, who’s head-over-heels in love with her, but she refuses to show it. After all, he’s a “cowboy,” her avowed enemy. (All the characters are taken from the book, “Green Grows the Lilacs,” by Lynn Riggs; and are typical of types that might be found in this setting.)
You’ll be elated by the outstanding talents of the lead characters: Bryant Martin (Curly), Madison Claire Parks (Laurey), Saundra McClain (Aunt Eller), Teya Patt (Ado Annie) and Luke Hawkins (Will Parker). You won’t be disappointed by the supporting cast either: Christopher Newell (Jud), Amin el Gamal (Ali Hakim) and Andrew Carnes (Stephen Reynolds).
Of course both guys get their girls, the farmers and the cowboys become friends, and everything ends happily. So what are waiting for? Drop what you’re doing and go get tickets now.
The production continues through March 3 at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, 6200 E. Atherton, on the CSULB campus. For tickets, call 855-1999 X4; go on line at www.musical.org; or visit the MTW box office, 4350 E. Seventh St.