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Oklahoma Review – Alive and Kicking at Seventy

By Barbara Keer

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Hear Ye, hear ye:

American baritone David Adam Moore made his Wrigley Field debut on May 6th, 2013 before the Chicago Cubs took on the Texas Rangers.  The pre-game radio broadcast included Moore singing the National Anthem. (Cubs won!)

 



Moore is currently singing and dancing the role of “bad guy” farmhand Jud Fry in Rodgers & Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! at Lyric Opera of Chicago through May 19. He also starred as Stanley Kowalski in André Previn’s opera A Streetcar Named Desire (Student Night performance) in April. He has performed with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony Orchestra, St. Louis Symphony, the opera companies of Seattle, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and San Diego, at Carnegie Hall, at La Scala (Milan) and with the major companies of Geneva, Paris, Tel Aviv, among others.

 

OKLAHOMA! is seventy.  I find that hard to believe because it is so fresh and alive even at its advanced age.  After various struggles, Oklahoma, based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs was first performed at the St. James Theatre, New York on March 31, 1943 and in celebration of it’s 70th birthday, OKLAHOMA!  is currently being performed at Lyric Opera of Chicago for the first time, opening on May4, 2013, With music by Richard Rogers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and original dances by Agnes De Mille, it is a delight to eyes and ears, uplifting and compelling.

 



We began our evening with dinner at the Florian Opera Bistro , which was the perfect way to set the tone, for the production. Our servers were very efficient and upbeat and all the servers had kerchiefs around their necks and the host had a straw hat.  Some audience members also got into the western spirit, wearing western clothing.

 

There were many children and young adults in the audience and I overheard several people say they had never been to the opera house before and others said they had only been there once.  During intermission, it was clear that everyone was having a wonderful time.

 



OKLAHOMA! tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain(John Cudia*) and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams(Ashley Brown). A secondary romance concerns cowboy Will Parker (Curtis Holbrook*) and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie (Tari Kelly*). The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943. It was a box-office smash and ran for an unprecedented 2,243 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an Academy Award winning 1955 film adaptation It has long been a popular choice for school and community productions.

 

 

As I listened to the wonderful songs that I have known for many years, I was amazed when the words that I thought were long forgotten popped into my head.  It was a wonderful feeling to be reacquainted with the beautiful melodies and clever words that comprise OKLAHOMA!. On the Lyric Opera of Chicago website, Renee Fleming, Anthony Freund and Sir Adrew Davis discuss the merits of an opera company offering musical theatre and the specific merits of  this production, look (here).

 

With only 14 chances to see this production, I suggest securing tickets quickly because what I heard on the WFMT fund-raiser is true.  It was said that the winner of tickets to the opening night of Lyric’s OKLAHOMA! would enjoy the production so much they would feel like they “died and went to heaven”.  It was surely a heavenly experience.

 

There are many historical facts about this musical.  It brought Rogers and Hammerstein together for the first (but not the last) time.  It changed the course of musical theatre.  Agnes De Mille’s dance was integrated into the production in such a way as to move the story forward for the first time.  Gemze de Lappe, choreographer, was a member of the 1940 touring company as a dancer and tells her fascinating story on the Lyric website.  And all of the background adds up to an experience the audience is likely to remember for years. (see below)

 



The resources of Lyric come together to create a production that is spectacular.  There are the characters with fantastic voices, the sets, a full chorus of singers, another full chorus of dancers, a full orchestra and fabulous costumes.  In 1943, OKLAHOMA! lifted the spirits of a war weary nation.  It will lift your spirits 70 years later.

 

The dance sequences are so important in this production and really serve to move the action forward.  The dream sequence came on seamlessly, conveyed feelings, powerfully and beautifully and more effectively than words or music.

 



Cast: Curly McLain  (John Cudia*) Laurey Williams (Ashley Brown), Jud Fry (David Adam Moore) Ado Annie (Tari Kelly *), Will Parker (Curtis Holbrook*) Aunt Eller (Paula Scrofano*), Ali Hakim (Usman Ally*), Gertie Cummings (Andrea Prestinario*), Director (Gary Griffin), Conductor (James Lowe*) Set Designer (John Lee Beatty*) Choreographer (Gemze de Lappe*) Associate Choreographer (Victor Wisehart*) Lighting Designer (Christine Binder), Chorus Master and Assistant Conductor (Valerie Maze) English Diction and Dialect Coach (Jill Walmsley Zager*)

Don't miss this moving, spectacular production!

 



Civic Opera House

20 N Upper Wacker Dr , Chicago, IL 60606
(312) 332-2244, lyricopera.org

 

 

Photos: Dan Rest

 

 

Addendum:

 

10 Things You May Not Know About OKLAHOMA!

10) Oklahoma! – now celebrating its 70th anniversary! – marks an important turning point in the history of musical theater.  It was brilliantly ahead of its time in its seamless integration of dialogue, song, and especially dance. 

9) Chicago has always loved Oklahoma! – just 6 months after the show’s triumphant 1943 Broadway premiere, it opened at Chicago’s Erlanger Theater, playing to sold-out houses for a year!  

8) Unlike most Broadway musicals today, Lyric’s Oklahoma! features a world-class, 37-member orchestra – the lush sound imagined by Rodgers & Hammerstein.  The amazing duo went on to create Carousel, South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song, and The Sound of Music.

7) Renowned sound consultants collaborated with Lyric Opera on a new sound system this season especially for Oklahoma!

6) Oklahoma! bucked the trend of starting with a big chorus number, instead opening with the now-famous “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” for a single character, Curly – a role that has been portrayed by stars including Alfred Drake, Howard Keel, Gordon MacRae, John Raitt (Bonnie’s dad!), and Hugh Jackman.

5) Composer Richard Rodgers was the first ever of only 11 people to have won all four top show business awards including the Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony (EGOT). Other EGOT winners include Audrey Hepburn, Rita Moreno, Mel Brooks, and Whoopi Goldberg.

4) Agnes de Mille’s legendary Oklahoma! choreography marked the first time dance was used to move the story forward—especially in the thrilling "Dream Ballet" and the rousing "The Farmer and the Cowman.”  Her choreography is supervised at Lyric by her close associate, Gemze de Lappe – who danced the “Dream Laurey” in the national company in 1943.

3) The year before Oklahoma!, Agnes de Mille – niece of the great Cecil B. de Mille – created the celebrated American ballet, Rodeo with music by Aaron Copland. De Mille danced the leading role of the Cowgirl in Rodeo’s premiere at the Metropolitan Opera House.

2)  Oklahoma! was based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs, who was born on a farm near Claremore, Oklahoma (the setting of the show).  The same year that Oklahoma! premiered, he was the Hollywood screenwriter for two Sherlock Holmes films starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce.

1) Lyric Opera’s Oklahoma! team reads like a Broadway & operatic “Who’s Who,” with:



Published on May 06, 2013

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