"Oklahoma!," at Tuacahn
by Eric D. Snider
Published on June 22, 2001
From the first strains of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" to the last chorus of the title song, "Oklahoma!" at Tuacahn is a solidly entertaining theater experience. Great acting, singing and dancing are not often found all in the same show, but here they are, coexisting peacefully and making a rather outdated old musical seem as fresh and fun as it must have been when it premiered in 1943.
The dialogue in "Oklahoma!" is as corny as Kansas in August (to quote another Rodgers and Hammerstein show), and several elements of it are downright strange. This production embraces the script's old-fashioned charm and doesn't shy away from weird moments like when Curly goes out to Jud's shed, admires his pornography collection, then tries to persuade him to kill himself.
These things work because of the stellar acting, which makes the now-familiar characters into new, real people. Jud (Eddy Schumacher), the creepy farmhand who vies with Curly (Brian N. Clark) for Laurey's (Alison Akin Clark) affection, is not just an oily villain; he's a sad loner who warrants a little sympathy. Curly and Laurey's coyness in pretending not to be in love with each other -- and even going with someone else to the town "box social" to prove it -- seems like a legitimate snag in a relationship, not like two kids behaving stupidly.
Clark Johnsen is very good as cowboy Will Parker, most notably in "Kansas City," which turns into a fantastic dance number. He makes a nice pair with Kirsten Louise Kenison, who plays Ado Annie (the girl who "cain't say no" but who draws the line at premarital sex, bless her heart).
Even the two comic relief roles avoid caricature. Ciro Barbaro plays Ali Hakim, the Persian con man who's trying to get out of a potential marriage to Ado Annie; Mindy Smoot is the piggish, ringletted Gertie Cummings (Curly's back-up date at the dance). Both are extremely funny -- Barbaro is like a twisted Professor Harold Hill; Smoot snorts and giggles with delicious enthusiasm -- but neither crosses the line into cheap laughs.
Brian Clark and Alison Clark are married in real life, and they have an easy charm together on stage. Brenda Cox exudes turn-of-the-century down-home matronliness as Laurey's Aunt Eller; this is a woman you would love to have as your own aunt.
Sensibly directed by Derryl Yeager, this production is mostly free of the random extravagances that have beset past shows at the wondrous outdoor facility. When the show is big, it's because it makes sense to be big. In particular, the dance numbers (which Yeager also choreographed) are as dynamic and rousing as Rodgers and Hammerstein could have hoped, impeccably danced by the liveliest bunch of cowmen and farmers you ever did see. We can overlook a guy flying across the stage on a wire for no good reason when the show also treats us to such honest spectacles as the famous "Dream Ballet."
For once, a production of "Oklahoma!" can be seen not just as a lesson in musical-theater history, but as an actual night of honest-to-goodness entertainment.
Copyright © Eric D. Snider.
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