The first show at Reagle Music Theatre of Boston's 43rd season is Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" which is based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. The recreation of the 1943 Broadway production of "Oklahoma" features Agnes De Mille choreography recreated by Gemze de Lappe; original Miles White costumes and Lemuel Ayers sets recreated in collaboration with the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Chancellor John Mauceri, former maestro of the LA Philarmonic; dancers from the New York Theater of Ballet as Dream Curly and Dream Laurey; and a full live orchestra and a cast of 53. The show is set in Western Indian Territory just after the turn of the 20th Century and follows the on-again-off-again romance of headstrong lovers Curly and Laurey, a handsome cowboy and a willful farm girl. This high-spirited musical known for its seamless integration of book, score and dance is concerned with the rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys. The original Broadway show opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for 2212 performances. Director Holly-Anne Ruggiero infuses this show with energetic performances from all her cast members while musical director Dan Rodriguez and conductor Jeff Leonard keep the harmonic balance of the cast splendidly all night long. Gemze's choreography is outstanding especially "Kansas City", "Many a New Day", Dream Ballet, "The Farmer and the Cowmen" and "Oklahoma". This classic musical is given a fabulous rendition at Reagle and wins them a thunderous standing ovation at the close of the show.
Holly creates many picture postcard moments with her blocking of the scenes in this show. Gemze's choreography is breathtaking especially the full Dream Ballet scene and is excellently executed by the cast. The two leads in this show are dynamite together. They have fantastic voices, great chemistry and superior acting prowess. Tall, dark and handsome Stephen Mark Lukas is terrific as Curly. He displays the cockiness needed to play this cowboy and has topnotch comic timing especially with Aunt Eller. Stephen's fabulous baritone voice fills the theatre from his first notes in "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" as well as in "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" as he woos Laurey, his two duets "People Will Say We're in Love" and ''Poor Jud". However his lead vocal in "Oklahoma" stops the show with its powerful rendition. Stephen's charismatic presentation and strong stage presence make his Curly a memorable one. Gorgeous brunette, Eliza Xenakis is fantastic as Laurey with her superb soprano voice. Her Laurey is spunky, has a backbone to stand up for herself especially in the confrontation scene with Jud, yet is also sweet and tender when she needs to be. Eliza's voice soars off the charts in "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and "Surrey" segments, the "People Will Say We're in Love" duet with Curly and in her solos "Many a New Day" and "Out of My Dreams". She and the girls do a rousing dance in "Many A New Day" while Joshua Nieto and Rie Ogura play Dream Curly and Dream Laurey stopping the show with their breathtaking, artistic dance talents. Kudos to the whole dancing chorus in this segment. The chemistry between Stephen and Eliza keeps the audience entranced all night long.
The supporting cast is lead by Steve Geary as Will Parker. He is a terrific dancer who leads the male dancers in "Kansas City", showing off his tap dance skills while Maggie McNeil plays Ado Annie and sings "Cain't Say No" and the duet "All or Nothing" with Steve. A huge scene stealer in this show is Todd Yard as Ali Hakim, the womanizing peddler who likes to flirt with every pretty girl he meets. He is a hoot when he sings "It's a Scandal" where he complains about having to marry a girl because of her father's shotgun. His flirting ways catch up to him when he is forced to marry the constantly laughing, Gertie wonderfully played by Olivia Kenwell. He has many funny lines and makes them all hit pay dirt. The feisty Aunt Eller is excellently played by Ellen Peterson who shows off her strong singing voice throughout the show and her dancing skills and voice in "The Farmer and the Cowman". I last reviewed Ellen as a Cockney woman in "My Fair Lady" at NSMT last month. She wins many laughs in this roles and displays the strength needed back in 1907 by a pioneer woman who had to be strong to survive in the wilderness. Rodgers and Hammerstein always wrote a strong mother figure in their shows and Eller is the voice of reason in this one showing her dramatic chops when she comforts Laurey after Jud's death by explaining you have to take the good with the bad because it is all part of life. Ellen shows her comic side in the flirting scenes with Curly to make him realize he is in love with Laurey, in the auction scene and "The Farmer and Cowmen" scene when she shoots a gun to make everyone stop fighting. The villain of this piece is Jud Fry, a murdering varmint who is one of R&H's dastardly characters. Jud is marvelously played by Douglas Jabara. He captures the crazed intensity of this stalker and scares the audience with his volatile temper. Doug's voice soars in "Poor Jud" but it is in "Lonely Room" where he stops the show with his powerful rendition. This song is reminiscent of "The Soliloquy" from "Carousel". I last reviewed Doug as the Baker in "Into the Woods" in 2008. Brad Walters garners many laughs as the gruff Andrew Carnes while threatening Ali Hakim with his rifle, arguing with Will over his engagement to his daughter and singing of his dislike for the cowboy's in Farmer and Cowman song. The show brings back many happy memories for me having played Andrew Carnes back in 1998 and assistant directing it in 1980. Kudos to everyone for bringing this classic show to life. So be sure to catch "Oklahoma" before the Surrey leaves town.