Review by Danny Gaisin
I’ve probably viewed the Rogers & Hammerstein blockbuster “OKLAHOMA” thirty times since originally seeing it at Montreal’s His Majesty’s Theatre back in 1953. Even enjoyed it in both French and Hebrew! Theatre Sheridan’s rendering is about as terrific a version as it gets! Of course there is the requisite hoedown, but audiences will be toe-tapping throughout the entire performance.
The musical’s plot deals with the early 1907 year when the okla humma (Choctaw name) Territory was about to become the 46th State. The ‘Sooner’ residents were farmers and ranchers and both groups were mutually distaining. The relationship between cowboy Curly and agrarian Laurey is sort of a Romeo & Juliet tale…albeit with a happy ending.
This spectacular presentation is directed by Tim French about whom this columnist has previously used such adjectives as ‘immaculate’; “ingeniously refashioning”; ‘creates a tribute’ etc. All of these describe what he does with this seventy-year old benchmark of the evolving Broadway musical genre.
French seems to understand the rationale for the plot’s categorical animosities (fence building; parsimony; migratory vs. sedentary existences) yet doesn’t dwell on these negatives. Instead, he and his charges exude the optimism that was intrinsic for the pioneer psyche. His choreographic interpretations are so well conceived and so meticulously executed that this show could be of interest for balletophiles even without the baker’s dozen of memorable & certainly hummable hit arias. The Kansas City; “Farmer & the Cowman” hoedown; and especially Laurie’s dream sequence are such creative compositional routines that they could be integrated into the repertoires of any of Canada’s celebrated corps de ballet.
The set and costumes by Kelly Wolf capture & furnish a feeling of authentic Southwest that one can almost smell the hayfields. An intricately elaborate system of barn and smokehouse raising; repudiates the need for scene-change delays. The small orchestra under Lily Ling are technically faultless; never overpowering, and the off-key counterpoint during the dream dance is novel and imaginative.
The primary love interests are humorously portrayed by Michael Cox & Julia McLellan. Cox’s ‘Curly’ has just enough arrogance to be the right side of comedy, and his voice has the range (no pun intended) and clarity to convince his audience about ‘the beautiful morning’; and his imaginary ‘Surrey’. McLellan is a quadruple threat…she has a marvellous voice; clear diction; dances up a storm and is a consummate actor. These two thespians make their ‘People will say” duet a high point of the performance. Upsetting this twosome is a dynamic effort by Jacob MacInnis who’s Jud Fry persona is menacing yet manages to bring surprising humanity to the character with his interpretation of the ‘Lonely Room’ solo.
The secondary social relationship is the threesome of Will Parker; Ado Annie & Ali Hakim. Parker is a cowboy; A.A. is his intended and Hakim a travelling salesman- just like in all those chestnut jokes. Aaron Hastelow’s Parker may be a little slow on the uptake but his singing and certainly dancing abilities belie the character’s I.Q.! His big ‘Kansas City’ number almost stops the show and had some audience members quietly reciting the clever lyrics. The oversexed Ado Annie is drolly acted by Leanne Miller whose eyes and facial expressions twinkle. With a sort of type-casting, Amir Haider plays Hakim who cleverly utilizes an instinctive comedic sense of Bob Hope-ish pauses and facial asides. A Sheridan specialty is instilling its’ charges who appear in support roles, with a strong sense of commitment to the overall effort of producing a play. Oklahoma’s chorus and ensemble members contribute full measure of dedication and symbiotically derive obvious enjoyment from their participation. They are all great, but we couldn’t help but notice the 1000watt smiles and dance talent of Margaret Thompson & Katie Kerr.
The play almost ends with the biggest number in the show…the thematic OKLAHOMA and it is a sensational smash. But, there’s still more…a reprise of ‘Beautiful Morning’ with the newly-weds aboard that surrey; a denouement & then one more repetition of Oklahoma, (this time with yours truly et al. joining in for the “O.K.” and the “♫Yip a yo e yay – – -OKLAHOMMMMMA!!!♪”)
RR & OHII’s hit will be at the Sheridan Theatre until Feb. 25th. Boots, chaps & 10-gallon hat optional!