A production as big as the state of Oklahoma fills the stage of the Central City Opera House in the company’s 2012 rendition of the musical Oklahoma!.
The star of the show is the music, the time-honored tunes of Rodgers and Hammerstein that have been mainstream since the musical debuted on Broadway in 1943 and later was adapted for the screen in 1955. Oklahoma! was the first musical of that partnership.
The Central City cast does a fine job with the traditional songs right from the beginning when Curly (Mathew Worth) swaggers down the aisle through the audience singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” right down to the rousing full-cast finale of the theme song “Oklahoma!”.
What is not traditional is the set. Where are the cornfields? Where is the “bright golden haze on the meadow”? Curly sings: “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and it looks like its climbin’ clear up to the sky.” Instead, we get a map of the Oklahoma territory and a half-constructed back porch of a farmhouse with industrial structures that don’t belong on the 1903 farm.
Director Ken Cazan chose the historical significance of the territory becoming a state over nostalgia in his minimalist approach to the set. He opted out of quaint and cornfields.
But Oklahoma! is first a Midwestern farmland love story, then a statement of statehood. The latter comes only in the final scene. It’s the relationship stories that hold this memorable musical together.
The story revolves around the handsome love-stricken cowboy Curly being rejected by farm girl Laurey (Maureen McKay), the niece of matriarch Aunt Eller (Joyce Castle). It’s about the brooding, disturbed hired hand Jud Fry (Paul LaRosa) who is obsessed with Laurey. (While LaRosa’s baritone voice is exceptional and his duet with Worth “Pore Jud is Daid” is a highlight, he is too good-looking and not mean-spirited enough to be a convincing Jud who frightens Laurey and everyone else.)
Then there’s vivacious Ano Annie (Kaitlyn Costello) and her relationships with anyone wearing pants. Costello steals the show with her flirty character, wanting to run away with Persian peddler (Gene Scheer) while boyfriend Will (Curt Olds) was away in Kansas City. Costello performs a show-stopping “I Cain’t Say No” and contributes heavily to the comical scenes, along with Scheer, who is hilarious. Her facial expressions, singing and dancing are truly theatrical. This is her first appearance with Central City Opera and, hopefully, not her last.
While at times the stage seems cluttered with the large cast, the music rings loud and clear. . .listen carefully to the words. Nothing is more true than “People Will Say We’re in Love.”
The show runs three hours with one intermission.
Oklahoma! performances continue with matinees at 2:30 p.m. July 13, 31 and August 10 & 11; evenings at 8 p.m. July 19, 21, 27 and August 3.
On August 5 & 7, special limited performances will be at the Newman Center at the University of Denver Campus at Evans and University Blvd. in Denver.
For tickets to either venue, call 303-292-6700 or visit www.centralcityopera.org.