note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Sheila Barth
When Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s rollicking new musical, “Oklahoma!,” opened pre-Broadway at the Colonial Theatre in Boston in 1943, titled “Away We Go!,” audiences were dazzled by its tuneful music, large cast, gorgeous costumes, sets and lively choreography.
That same energy and regalia is recreated at the Reagle Theatre of Greater Boston at the Robinson Theatre. And, yes, this production boasts a classic surrey with the fringe on top.
New York choreographer extraordinaire, Gemze de Lappe, who danced in the original touring production and has choreographed revivals of “Oklahoma!” nationally and internationally, originally worked with legendary creator Agnes de Mille. She has recreated de Mille’s zesty choreography here. Multi-award-winning Musical Director Dan Rodriguez, conductor Jeffrey P. Leonard and their large orchestra provide rich accompaniment, from overture to finale.
The gracious, graceful de Lappe, who is in her late 80s, is very spry and animated. Her eyes twinkle as she and 28-year-old director Holly-Anne Ruggiero discuss working together with a cast of 60 professional and community performers at Reagle, (including singer Jaime Lyn Slatt of Winthrop), breathing new life into this timeless stage classic.
Besides several energetic ensemble numbers, de Lappe has choreographed an exquisitely romantic yet dramatic dream scene, in Act I’s “Out of My Dreams” and especially “Dream Ballet,” with New York Theater Ballet lead dancers Rie Ogura and Joshua Andino Nieto. Also, the farmers and cowhands kick up their heels with Will Parker (played by Gloucester native-Broadway performer Steve Geary) in a rollicking “Kansas City,” and in the second act’s dance-fight number, “The Farmer and the Cowman”.
Although the stage is vibrant with talent, lovely star Eliza Xenakis in the lead role of Laurey adds a youthful independence here. Her soprano voice blends beautifully with co-star Stephen Mark Lukas as her beau, Curly, especially during their flirtations in “People Will Say We’re in Love”. She’s also outstanding, frolicking with the female ensemble in “Many A New Day”.
Portraying his evil role to the hilt as dark, dirty, pathological skunk, Jud Fry, is crowd-pleaser, Doug Jabara. His rich baritone resounds during his comic duet with Curly, “Poor Jud is Dead,” followed immediately by his angry solo, “Lonely Room,” where he unleashes his evil intent. Wiry Todd Yard delightfully provides comic relief as Ali Hakim, the peddler with the roving eye. Main characters also include Ellen Peterson as Laurey’s Aunt Eller, whom everybody respects in this corner of Indiana Territory seeking statehood status, circa 1907, and Maggie McNeil as Ado Annie, Will’s girlfriend, who “cain’t say no” to fellers who talk purty, like peddler Hakim.
David Wilson’s lighting enhances bright mornings and sunsets, changing tone and mood during rollicking ensemble numbers and dramatic, moody scenes.
Provided by the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, (which presented its own restored production last spring), Reagle’s lavish costumes are also based on the original 1943 production.
This production is a delightful romp into the past, inspiring hope that other theaters will also bring back more of the spectacular, gorgeous musicals that dominated major theaters and opera houses.
From overture to finale, “Oklahoma!” is fabulous. My sole complaint is the cast’s pseudo midwestern accents, which sound forced and awkward.
BOX INFO: Rodgers and Hammerstein’s two-act musical, based on the play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” by Lynn Riggs, appearing at the Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston, through July 17, in the Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington St., Waltham, Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday, 2 p.m.; Saturday, July 16, at 2,7 p.m.; and Thursday, July 14, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: $35-$57; youths, 5-18, $25; student, rush, group and senior discounts available. Call 781-891-5600, or visit www.reaglemusictheatre.org or the Box Office.