Review: Brilliant ReImagined OKLAHOMA! at 3-D Theatricals

By: Jun. 20, 2017

Oklahoma!/book & lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II/music by Richard Rodgers/3-D Theatricals/directed by T.J. Dawson/choreographed by Leslie Stevens/musical director: Julie Lamoureux/Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center - through June 25/Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts - June 30 through July 9

When Oklahoma! was first produced on Broadway in 1943 it became the first smash hit for the newly formed collaborating team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II and was also the first real book musical, preceded only by Showboat. It was a breakthrough musical, which when given a first-class production, is still, some 74 years later, without question, one of the greatest American musicals ever written. "The Farmer and the Cowman" truly represents the philosophy of what America is all about, a unity and pride that is unmistakable. Oklahoma! is currently onstage in Redondo Beach, directed byT.J. Dawson, artistic director of 3-D Theatricals. He has beautifully succeeded in reimagining Oklahoma! for the 21st century. In the 40s it was not appropriate to portray racism onstage the way it clearly existed. Modern audiences, however, demand that musicals go a giant step further and explore life in all its complexities. I can thruthfully state that this Oklahoma! is quite unlike any production you have ever seen....and that means you should put it at the top of your must-see list.

Our country has always been referred to as a melting pot culture. The expression rings in this produciton of Oklahoma! There's Ali Hakim (Drew Boudreau), the traveling peddler, who sets his eyes on Ado Annie (Kelley Dorney). He is Persian. And in this production Jud Fry is African American (played by Rufus Bonds, Jr.). His hidden affections for Laurey (Julia Aks) are not only difficult for her to accept because of his low class, rough and cruel behavior, but being black in 1906 made you ... intolerable. Casting Fry as black adds a whole other dimension to the story. Fry seems beleaguered by previous war injuries and acts out oddly because of them. There may very well be some decency lurking beneath, but bigotry rears its ugly head.

The ensemble headed by Aks and Zachary Ford as Curly are magnificent triple threat performers. Aks has an operatic voice that dazzles and Ford has grown over the years into an exceedingly fine singer and actor. Tom Berklund as Will Parker makes his acrobatic dance moves look second nature and gives a superb performance. In line with the American Dream, both Will and Curly as played by Berklund and Ford show strength and determination in getting ahead and settling down with the women of their choice. Aks as Laurey is a much more complex character than previous Laureys we have seen. Dawson keeps the emphasis throughout on her tomboyish quality and her great outer strength in helping Aunt Eller ( the terrific Tracy Rowe Mutz) run the farm ... and on her fear of commitment to a relationship. When she pushes Curly aside, rejecting his advances, she is deeply struggling to understand her feelings and also her other unusual emotional connection to Jud Fry. Aks is as wonderful with Laurey's inner consternations as Kelly Dorney is with Ado Annie's openly aggressive reactions to the male element. Dorney's is a delicious performance full of feistiness and fun. Bonds is a sensation as Fry, exuding at times a brutal coldness, yet underneath we sense that there's a lot going on, some of which entails a sort of kind intent, apart from the expected cruelty. Boudreau as Hakim is hysterically delightful as the devious merchant, and E. E. Bell as Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie's pa, is simply great in a smaller role, as is Matt Merchant who stands out from among the 40+ ensemble as the stubborn, outspoken Cord Elam.

Much praise to director Dawson whose expert staging and pacing are just about perfect, as well as for his intelligent vision with this project. He has brought fresh life to Oklahoma! that makes it a far richer experience than when first produced. I especially loved the Indian ritual in the opening sequence, adding their race to the melting pot fold. I also reveled in the expanded "Dream Ballet". It was longer than usual, but so visually frightful, particularly to Laurey, who stands at the side contemplating her fate. The dancers are miraculous, due to Leslie Stevens' choreography which is full and riveting to watch. In "Kansas City" and the Act II opener "The Farmer and the Cowman" the stage is alive. There is activity in every inch of space, due to Steven's vibrant imagination and control of her dancers. Julie Lamoureux as always is a fab musical director. Alexandra Johnson's costumes are period.perfect. And the set from The Music and Theatre Company works magic as pieces move around and open out. It covers the entire stage, leaving no blank spots.

All of Rodgers' and Hammerstein's glorious songs simply glow, holding up the traditional part of this production, such as "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning". "People Will Say We're In Love", "I C'aint Say No", "Kansas City", "Out of My Dreams" and "Many a New Day".

Oklahoma! is a show for the books. With a production of this caliber - yes, 3-D may be rightfully proud - it is easy to see why the musical has endured on top for almost 75 years! Don't miss it! Look for remaining performances listed in the intro at top.

(photo credit: Salvador Farfan/Caught in the Moment Photography)



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From This Author - Don Grigware

  Don Grigware was a writer for BroadwayWorld through December 2019.                                    &... Don Grigware">(read more about this author)


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