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Oklahoma!
a Musical
CATEGORY :
by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers

COMPANY : Theater of the Stars [WEBSITE]
VENUE : The Fabulous Fox [WEBSITE]
ID# 2850

SHOWING : June 24, 2008 - June 29, 2008

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

PRODUCTION DESCRIPTION

This is the one that started it all! Come see Rodgers & Hammerstein's ground-breaking 1943 classic, "Oklahoma!" Thrill to "Oh what a Beautiful Morning," "I Cain't Say No," "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" and all the other songs from this timeless favorite. Staged with Agnes de Mille's original choreography!


CAST & CREW LIST
Ensemble Chris Bouchard
Children's Ensemble Sarah Gooding
Click to Submit Cast & Crew Info for this production
REVIEWS

[REVIEW THIS PRODUCTION]

Not OK!
by Dedalus
Sunday, June 29, 2008
2.5
Theatre of the Stars’ new production of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” is not so much a “live” production as an attempt to mount an embalmed (and lifeless) museum piece. This is not to say there isn’t precedent for this mindset – for example, classical music fans’ strange preference for works performed on “period instruments” (as if time has absolutely no affect on the tones produced by them). To my politically incorrect sensibilities, these are attempts to drain life and relevance from art and seal it up in airless venues.

For some reason, I’ve gone through life without seeing a “live” performance of “Oklahoma!” (The cynic in me would carp that I still haven’t seen one.) This is unusual given its place in musical history, given its importance in the development of Musicals, and given its (for the time – 1943) innovative style and structure. For all that, it still remains a bit of a dinosaur, a simple “will he ask her out” plotline peopled by paper-thin stereotypes, and a melodramatic ending that actually offends contemporary senses. Granted, Rodgers and Hammerstein have penned some of the most soaring melodies and heartfelt lyrics to ever grace a stage, and they still are (and should be) a reason to take notice.

Still and all, try to imagine my patter as if I were the Museum Guide taking you by this exhibit:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we will now hearken back to a time when Musical Theatre consisted mostly of Vaudeville and Minstrel Shows.”

(Just to digress – blackface is, and ought to be, scorned for its belittling of its subjects. Why not the same for “hickface” – that is, denigrating theatrical portraits of rural folks written and performed by those who’ve never been near a farm?).

“Note that, in an effort to recreate the original experience, our director has hired the services of a student of Agnes de Mille to recreate the original choreography. If the results make you wonder if Ms. De Mille’s reputation is over-rated, consider that she used living dancers, who had a modicum of energy. Here we are given automatons one can imagine counting the beats out loud. Strange as it may be some, putting some life into the process is not a lack of respect.

Note also that our director has blocked the crowd scenes without that distracting movement so often put into our modern musicals. Groups of people come on stage, look at the audience, sing, and then move offstage. In some cases, one or two people will move for no discernable reason other than the director thought it would look good. For example, during the fight scene, Curly & Jud circle left – two background watchers run right. The fighters circle right – two different watchers cross left. Today we would call this “quaint,” or the more technically apt, “pointless.” This group-no-blocking scheme, you will note, brings nothing at all to the title song, giving it no more life than if we were watching a choir on risers. It can hardly be called a “showstopper” because, by this point, there was really nothing to stop.

Note the sociological implications of the ending. A man has died (deservedly, you may say), but it’s more important to get our hero and heroine off on their honeymoon than to see justice done. Remember when audiences thought that was a good idea? Remember when they thought it was funny for a mob to threaten a judge to get what they want? Remember when lying to a judge was a perfectly acceptable form of dramatic resolution? Ah, those were the days!

Note the paper-thin characters. Note that no character brings any individuality to the story. Note their names are just afterthoughts – they could just as easily have been named Thick Hero, Sassy Ingénue, Dimbulb Floozy, Dumb-as-a-Box-of-Rocks Doofus, Surly Hand, Spunky Old Lady, Traveling Salesman. Their characters go no deeper than that. Note how every male walks with the exact same stance, thumbs hooked into (amazingly spotless) denims. Note how irritatingly vacuous every woman is.

Try not to remember that these characters are only one generation removed (if that) from the original Irish settlers, and have developed Texas twangs and brainless ways in that short time. While we’re on the subject of historical perspective, try not to remember that Ma Joad is probably in the chorus.

Thank you for visiting our museum, and please visit our Minstrel Show exhibit in the next hall.”


A few years ago, an updated version of “Oklahoma!” was revived in London and on Broadway. I saw bits and pieces of the PBS telecast, and thoroughly enjoyed them. I also thoroughly enjoy the songs of Rodgers and Hammerstein, even at their corniest. But the decision to ossify this show in attempt to “recreate the original experience” is wrong-headed and short-sighted. It totally ignores the fact that audience experience and expectation is a large (if not controlling) part of “the original experience,” and, much like those musicians who tout the virtues of “period instruments,” it takes what is a vital art form and reduces it to museum mummification.

I thoroughly disliked this placid and lifeless mounting. The cast all had fine (and strong) voices, but brought nothing but cliché and stereotype into the acting. I will be a cynic, and say I still haven’t seen a “live” production of “Oklahoma!”

I am thankful and grateful for the contributions “Oklahoma!’ has made to modern Musical Theatre. I am equally thankful that we have moved on.

This show is NOT OK!

-- Brad Rudy (BKRudy@aol.com)

Afterthought: For the first scene, the Fox’s tinker-toy sound system really went berserk, filling the house with static during most of the songs, and, at one point, going out completely with a loud crack. At that point, Jennifer Evans (Laurie) showed us she has the pipes of a trouper. She belted out the rest of “Many a New Day” at full voice, the orchestra toned down to give her “some room,” and the show came alive for the first (and only) time. Could it be that over-amplification contributes to the over-dullification of the modern musical?


[POST A COMMENT REGARDING THIS REVIEW]
In the interest of "authenticity" by redwriter
One would think if the artistic team was interested in honoring the elements of the original production, they would've also given the actors the technical constraints of the era. That would mean mics placed on the floor and in the wings. It's the reason a good "belter" in mid-century theatre was worth her weight in gold, because her voice could fill The Fox. It's also, incedentally, the reason the choreography was much more simplistic at the time. If the actors lost breath, they couldn't deliver the songs. I wonder if anyone told them that little detail.


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