BWW Review: The MUNY's Spectacular OKLAHOMA!
It's most certainly a renowned and respected classic of musical theatre, and the fact is that it's so popular that you're likely to find a production playing somewhere in the world at any given moment. One of my early reviewing assignments was covering the show back in 2007, the last time it played here. Of course, I'm talking about Rodgers and Hammerstein's iconic OKLAHOMA!. This lovingly rendered production breathes new life into a show that's an absolute natural for the outdoor setting that The MUNY's stage provides. See it, and be enriched by a vibrant presentation that's a perfect way to introduce your family to the considerable charms of this musical, as well as the venue staging it!
Hammerstein's book lays out parallel love triangles with distinctly different approaches. One follows a dramatic course as a cowboy named Curly woos a farmer's daughter named Laurey, while the lustful and untrustworthy farmhand Jud leers on. The other finds the promiscuous Ado Annie promised to Will Parker, but dallying with any man she happens to come across. In this case, her father decides that peddler Ali Hakim's late night rendezvous with Annie is cause enough for marriage.
Ben Davis delivers a winning performance, and his soaring and pleasant voice is heard to great effect on "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're in Love," and "Poor Jud is Dead." Christine Cornish Smith is equally delightful as Laurey, and she displays a particular quality that really suits material like "Many A Day" and "Out of My Dreams." Alexander Gemignani is very effective as Jud, with the character's girl and gun fondling tendencies notably enhanced by a dark demeanor that seems to shadow his every move.
Jenni Barber is bubbly and vivacious as Ado Annie, delivering "I Cain't Say No" with girlish enthusiasm. She's paired with Clyde Alves who brings sharp comic timing to the role of Will Parker, and makes a vivid impression performing "Kansas City." Both players have found the right approach that allow them to brighten the stage with their appearances. Nehal Joshi is wonderfully over the top as Ali Hakim, the finagling peddler who finds himself reluctantly attached to Annie, while Beth Leavel stands out among the large supporting cast with her fine portrayal of Laurey's Aunt Eller.
I'm always impressed with director Rob Ruggerio's work, and he definitely doesn't disappoint here, with a terrific cast putting forth a great deal of energy and vitality that makes this a truly special production. Ginger Thatcher's recreation of Susan Stroman's choreography is spectacular (and decidely different than the original work of Agnes de Mille), and so is Kevin Stites' music direction, which gives the tale a lush and robust sound. Michael Schweikardt's scenic design is gorgeous, and exquisitely lit by John Lasiter. Amy Clark's finely crafted costume designs help to bring these characters to life, and so do John Metzner's wigs.
The MUNY closes their season with a must-see classic that truly demands your attendance. Get out and see OKLAHOMA!. This splendidly conceived and executed production continues through August 16, 2015.