"Oklahoma!" is thoroughly entrenched in American musical theater history, but it's no museum piece. Richard Rodgers' music and Oscar Hammerstein II's book and lyrics seem as fresh today as when they first thrilled Broadway audiences in 1943. Their songs led the hit parade in those days, and they're still part of popular culture.
A touring production based on the Royal National Theatre/Cameron Mackintosh revival on Broadway has made its way to San Francisco. Even though it has a non-Equity cast, there's no shortage of talent, especially in the dancing of Susan Stroman's choreography for the 2002 Broadway production as recreated by Ginger Thatcher. That production also is the inspiration for Fred Hanson's direction, which is based on Trevor Nunn's.
The cast seems young, but the work is polished. Supporting roles are especially noteworthy with Pat Sibley as the wise Aunt Eller, understudy J. Michael Zygo as Will Parker (he does some great rope-spinning in "Kansas City"), Carrie Love as the libidinous Ado Annie Carnes, Sorab Wadia as peddler Ali Hakim and Andrew Lebon as the menacing Jud Fry. Julie Burdick is bright and appealing as Laurey, the farm owner who falls for Curly, a cowboy played by Jeremiah James. James has the looks and swagger for Curly, but he seems to use mainly a reedy head voice for such songs as "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" and "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top." In general, the solo voices seem more rooted in the popular realm than the classical, somewhat to the detriment of the music.
Brian Ronan's too-loud sound design, coupled with the theater's poor sound system, makes conductor John Mezzio's orchestra sound tinny in the overture, as if it were recorded music rather than live musicians. The handsome sets and costumes are by Anthony Ward, the lighting adaptation by Ted Mather from David Hersey's design.
This isn't a perfect or ideal "Oklahoma!" but it's close enough to please most older folks who know the show well plus the young people who might be experiencing its marvels for the first time.
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