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BWW Reviews: Oh, What a Beautiful OKLAHOMA!, at Broadway Rose

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Sing it with me: "OOOOk-lahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain. And the wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet when the wind comes right behind the rain." I bet you know the second line too -- Rodgers and Hammerstein's iconic musical is impossible to resist, and the Broadway Rose production shows why.

OKLAHOMA! tells the love story between Laurey, a stubborn young woman who lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller, and Curly, a strong and handsome cowboy. It's set around the turn of the 20th century, just before Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory combined to become the 46th state. Laurey and Curly's romance plays out against a backdrop of class prejudice and rivalry between the cowboys and the local farmers. OKLAHOMA! gave us such classics as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,'" "People Will Say We're in Love," and, of course, the infectious title tune. And as the first musical to incorporate dance as part of the story, OKLAHOMA! was central to the development of the Broadway musical form we know and love today.

The current production at Broadway Rose, directed by Sharon Maroney, is OKLAHOMA! at its best. It's everything you could possibly want from this musical (at least it's everything I wanted) -- a beautiful love story, great music and dancing, and also a deeply emotional tale of the conflicts and uncertainty experienced by people trying to sort out their future, both as individuals and as citizens of a divided territory that is soon to be a state.

I can't say enough about the company (which includes one of my major Portland theater crushes, but I'm not saying who). It will take you all of two notes of the opening song to fall in love with Jared Miller as Curly. By the end of the first scene, you'll be totally charmed by Nan Gatchel's Aunt Eller and wondering if the Deb Fennell Auditorium is big enough to contain Dru Rutledge's (Laurey) voice. By the time James Sharinghousen (as Will Parker) finishes "Kansas City," you'll be completely done for, and that's just the first third of the first act -- you still have Megan Carver's (Ado Annie) big song and the Agnes de Mille original dance sequence to go.

The principal actors are supported by the best ensemble I've seen in a long time, and their talents are showcased well by Maria Tucker's choreography (dancing cowboys, Yee-haw!) and Jeffrey Childs' music direction. Nothing is too big or too small. Everything is just right.

If you love OKLAHOMA!, you'll love this production. If you've never seen OKLAHOMA!, you'll love this production. Even if you hate OKLAHOMA!, why not give this production a chance to change your mind.

OKLAHOMA! runs through August 23 at the Deb Fennell Auditorium at Tigard High School. For tickets, visit www.broadwayrose.org.

Photo credit: Liz Wade


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