WESTON – Weston Playhouse’s production of “Oklahoma!” sure looked different – because it was celebrating today’s America.
But it didn’t feel much different at Saturday’s opening night performance, because, although it premiered in 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein created a masterpiece that embraced Americans universally. And Weston’s multi-racial, multi ethnic production reveled in that American ideal.
Not only that, the refreshing Weston production, directed by Reginald L. Douglas, added new spins and turns, including new choreography, but underscoring its essence rather than changing it. It was an exciting and beautiful night.
“Oklahoma!” has been a staple of American theater since it first opened. Composer Richard Rodgers’ score and Oscar Hammerstein II’s libretto reflect the American pioneering spirit in that regardless of setbacks, the way is forward. And if that isn’t the way America is going right now, that’s the way Americans want it to be.
The story, based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs,” is set in what is now Oklahoma in 1906, just before statehood. The farm girl Laurey and the cowboy Curly are dancing the courtship dance, but the troubled Jud wants in too.
Mia Pinero played Laurey as a savvy modern young woman, but with teenage tendencies when it comes to Curly. Pinero also sang with a brilliance and depth that revealed Laurey’s inner side. Davon Williams was a perfect rooster as Curly, singing like a cowboy hero, who became sensitively tender before it was over.
Philip Stoddard gave unexpected depth to the enigmatic Jud, both theatrically and vocally. Stoddard is a brilliant singer.
Lightening up that serious courtship is the fickle Ado Annie and her guys. Ado was played with a witty ditziness, with just a touch of seriousness peeking out, by CoCo Smith. Dan Lusardi was uncannily real and delightful as Will Parker, her earnest but not-so-bright suitor. Billy Cohen gave the Persian peddler and lothario Ali Hakim a delightful comic Brooklyn flavor.
Most of the show’s moments of maturity were delivered by Laurey’s Aunt Eller, given a powerful presence as well as a bit of fun by Inga Ballard. Ado Annie’s irascible father Andrew Carnes was made irresistible by Munson Hicks, a most recognizable Weston veteran.
And then there was the dancing. Effervescent and imaginative new choreography by David Scotchford was danced with flair, particularly by the Weston Young Company. Still, it was the “Dream Sequence,” often eliminated, that proved spectacular. Although a bit complex, stylish musical theater dancing mixed with and gave way to a love ballet culminating in tragedy. Sarah Fischer and Sir Brock Warren were the amazing dancers who played the couple.
The music was simply “Oklahoma!” Music director Larry Pressgrove, another Weston veteran, led the cast and seven-piece band in this timeless score. No point in tampering with perfection.
The only big problem Saturday was amplification and the sound system. Nearly everything was too loud, but more importantly, vulnerability or tenderness was often amplified out of particularly the women’s singing voices. It wasn’t that long ago that “Oklahoma!” was performed without any amplification – at Weston.
The physical production had Weston’s usual polish. Alexander Woodward’s unusual set proved appropriately atmospheric, made up entirely of vertical barn boards including movable panels. It also placed the band on a perch in back, which may have been partly responsible for balance problems.
Creative and sophisticated lighting by Jorge Arroyo underscored the storytelling while not overpowering it. And Sydney Gallas’ costumes had a modern and homey flair without losing the period. The staging looked great.
Weston Playhouse’s “Oklahoma!” was at once refreshing and reassuring – a great piece of musical theater well-performed.