BWW Review: Musical Theater Heritage Brings OKLAHOMA! into the Modern Age
Musical Theatre Heritage not only brings OKLAHOMA! to the Kansas City stage, but also to 2019. The musical classic OKLAHOMA! opened on Saturday, June 8 at Crown Center and runs through June 30. The 1943 box-office smash was the first written by the team of Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the 1931 play by Lynn Riggs, GREEN GROWS THE LILACS, it is set out to tell the story of Laurey and her two suitors Curly and Jud in Oklahoma before it reached statehood.
The play ran a unique 2,212 performances after opening on Broadway and has since seen award-winning revivals, national tours, and an Academy Award-winning film in 1955. In 1944 Rodgers and Hammerstein II were awarded a special Pulitzer Prize for OKLAHOMA! Building on the musical SHOW BOAT, OKLAHOMA! exemplified the progression of the book musical.
This ain't your momma's OKLAHOMA! The musical Directed by Tim Scott, Musical Theater Heritage's Executive Artistic Director, subtly brings the award-winning musical into the present with the unexpected use of props, costumes, and choreography. In the Director's Note, Scott says, "I've chosen to set our production in an ambiguous moment in time. . .The opening stage directions simple read, "It's a radiant summer morning several years ago." The dream scene in the original OKLAHOMA! lasted 15 minutes, though Scott's version has a less lengthy presentation it helps facilitate the transition to the present.
Danielle Barger stars as Laurey the country girl who is pursued by Curly and Jud. Barger has a beautiful voice and has performed in several shows in Kansas City and with the Lyric Opera of Kansas City, the Lawrence Opera Theatre, Cimarron Opera, and the New Haven Symphony Orchestra. Barger performs with her chamber music ensemble L'Air Vivant.
Andrew Keeler makes his Musical Theater Heritage debut as Curly, one of Laureys suitors. His presentation of "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin" immediately lets you know you are in for another memorable evening presented by MTH. I don't know that I have heard a lovelier duet than "People Will Say We're In Love" as performed by Barger and Keeler. A New York resident Keeler has performed and directed across the country.
Aunt Eller is fabulously played by Elizabeth Reese. She has a lovely voice and is delightful to watch. She has previously appeared at MTH in CATS. In Kansas City, she has performed at The Coterie in Crown Center. She has also performed with Guthrie Theater, Texas Shakespeare Festival, and is a founding member of Astra Theatre Company.
The dramatic role of the evening goes to Taylor Harlow who gives a superb performance as Jud, the farmhand vying for Laurie's attention. Musical Theater Heritage is always able to garner some of the best talents for their productions and Harlow is living proof. Though he lives in Brooklyn he is a Kansas City Native Theatre artist.
OKLAHOMA! continues at Musical Theater Heritage in Crown Center through June 30. Purchase tickets online at www.musicaltheaterheritage.com.
Photos by Brian Paulette