The corn may be as "high as an elephant's eye," but the cornfield is definitely a field of dreams in this new production of Oklahoma! at the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The NETworks national touring presentation is based on the Royal National Theatre/Cameron Mackintosh Broadway revival production, directed by Trevor Nunn. This Rogers and Hammerstein ground-breaking musical, inspired by Lynn Riggs' play, "Green Grow the Lilacs" is directed by Fred Hanson, with Susan Stroman's choreography recreated with panache by Ginger Thatcher. The Anthony Ward sets and costumes and David Hersey litmus lighting bring a fluid and oftentimes humorous projection of the Oklahoma territory.
Oklahoma! is a musical story about dreams and reality...covered with a blanket of optimism and good cheer that protects all from the nighttime monsters in the closet. Curly, played with gusto, grace and requisite swagger by Brandon Andrus, is a cattleman with dreams of an unlimited future he immediately declares in "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'." Part of Curly's vista is a lovely and extremely stubborn farmer, the fair Laurey. Amanda Rose delicately fleshes out a character caught between the independence of the Oklahoma frontier and the "happily ever after" dreams of the young women around her. The playful tension between the two would-be lovers is complicated by the brooding and subtly sinister farm hand, Jud Fry. Tom Lucca ably brings Jud to life and complicates matters for the audience in a shaded and often sympathetic portrayal. Jud's quest for a dream of something real in contrast to the despair he voices in "Lonely Room" adds emotional and sexual undercurrents to a potentially one dimensional villain. Ambiguities also are evident in the "Out of My Dreams-Ballet." Laurey's fears and hopes coalesce with her feelings about Curly and Jud and emerge in the beautifully and sexually surrealistic dance sequence. The effortless fluidity between the characters and the music is particularly evident at this close to Act I.
Paralleling the main characters' relationship is the comic relief provided by a supporting trio. Ado Annie, a true sexual altruist is given voice by Sarah Shahinian. In "I Cain't Say No" we quickly realize the plight of the two men in her life. Daniel Robinson's portrayal of Will, Annie's devoted and somewhat dense suitor is a delight. Robinson is great with a rope and demonstrates an athletic ease with his dance moves. Colin Trahan brings a wink and a smile to his portrayal of Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler who inadvertently becomes a suitor.
The steely but sweet coordinator of the mixing and matching is Aunt Eller. Pat Sibley brings a narrator's sense of order to the characters' conflicts. Aunt Eller begins the play center stage, listening to Curly's optimistic greeting in "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin. " She becomes the preacher/enforcer urging peaceful coexistence when "the Farmer and the Cowmen," ensemble goes from song to slugs at the beginning of Act II. When the story ends, all of the principals about to live happily ever after in the new state of Oklahoma, Aunt Eller is the delighted matriarch in this field of dreams.
The optimistic story of new beginnings, the power of determination, grand vistas and the joy between a "feller and a gal" is so beautifully integrated into the music, we too are lulled into that field of dreams. It is only upon reflection that we note the dark underbelly of our fantasy doesn't always fall on its own knife.
For more information go to: http://www.ocpac.org/onstage/Event.asp?EventID=328