OKLAHOMA! May 6, 2006
Oklahoma! Is More Than OK at Cerritos
By Glen Creason
As far as American Musicals go “Oklahoma!” is pure, glittering gold in the vaults of theatrical treasure. The first of its kind and the beginning of the greatest collaboration ever for the genre this musical play seems to have a life of its own that has passed on from generation to generation. It originally delighted audiences when folks marveled at the miracle of radio and continues into the world of Ipods and Hi-Def. TV. This creation of the truly great Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein will probably have our great-grandkids whistling “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and there are plenty of reasons why the evergreen is still vibrant in this classic.
At the Performing Arts Center the NETworks staging of the Royal National Theater/Cameron Mackintosh Broadway Production (whew) brought us a reverent yet quite animated send up of the granddaddy of true American musicals. It reminded the old-timers and introduced the youngsters to the magic of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The production was colorful, lively and smart from the clever yet functional sets and costumes of Anthony Ward to the economical choreography of Susan Stroman. There was a nice live mini-orchestra that brought evocative warmth to the familiar melodies and offered a platform for the young players to strut their Dick and Oscar stuff on this night. Young Spencer Plachy had the most daunting task, playing the demanding role of Curly that has been cast in stone by singing greats like Alfred Drake, John Raitt and Gordon MacRae. Yet, Plachy more than held his own, as a matter of fact he buoyed up the entire company with his strong presence and fluid baritone. Opening with one of the most famous songs in musicals right from the chute he made “Oh What a Beautiful Morning “ his own and set the tone for a serious night of “Oklahoma” to follow. The challenges of the play involve the necessity of multi-task-acting for the players including dancing, singing and acting all in one play. Jessica Lavin as the crucial “Laurey” was a believably delicate dreamer who plays the game of romance and her strong voice shone on “the Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and in duet with Curly in “People Will Say We’re In Love.” Her waiflike demeanor worked nicely amidst the darker moments with the brutish Judd.
Exceptional in the cast were the rock-solid Pat Sibley as Aunt Eller who was a literal cornerstone and the wonderful Sorab Wadia replete with superb comic timing as Ali Hakim. Andrew Lebon provided deep dread and a rich bass voice in his portrayal of the ill-fated Judd. Sarah Shahinian as Ado Annie sparkled alongside J. Michael Zygo as Will Parker with great dancing and boundless energy. The lengthy dream sequence to end Act I, the sweet ballet of “Out of My Dreams” and the intricate dance number/fight scenes of “the Farmer and the Cowman” were beautifully done. They punctuated the dialogue and music perfectly while opening the stage up from some intense emotional scenes. Of course, the grand finale of “Oklahoma” was stirring and once more a testament to the genius of the two men who put this masterpiece before the footlights over sixty years ago. It is now and shall forever be a great night of musical theater.