We Love Arts: Oklahoma! at Arena Stage

Ensemble of Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Photo by Suzanne Bluestar Boy.

Arena Stage’s 2010 production of Oklahoma! has been revived for another run. Don reviewed the original production in November of last year. Here’s Rachel’s take on the current remount.

Modern America is riddled with stress. This stress is self-inflicted. 40-hour work weeks, a 24-hour news cycle, social media overload – these are all characteristics that personify our society. America wasn’t always the go-go-go place that it is now. There was a simpler time when people couldn’t be bothered by a phone call in the middle of the night or a flashing red light on a mobile device telling them that they’ve got e-mail to check and tweets to read.

Oklahoma! is a reminder of those days gone by.

Eleasha Gamble as Laurey and Nicholas Rodriguez as Curly in the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Photo by Suzanne Bluestar Boy.

The show is hokey. There’s no doubt about that. The southern accents feel forced at times and the songs are clichés set to music, but there’s something wholesome and reassuring about the story. Back in a time where Oklahoma was still a territory searching for a spot in the union, Rodgers & Hammerstein use that piece of America’s past to create a novel love story. It’s a love story where men fight for their lady’s affection by proving their worth through hard work.

Oklahoma!’s leading men, Curly and Will Parker, both find themselves in a situation where the girl of their dreams isn’t easily accessible. But after some impromptu wooing and coming into some cash by selling their prized possessions, they demonstrate how deep their love is.

Curly, played by Nicholas Rodriguez, stole the show. He looks and sounds like a 21st century incarnation of Richard Beymer, who played Tony in the 1961 film adaptation of West Side Story. He’s got a pure voice and a contagious smile that infects the audience the second he steps on stage.

Eleasha Gamble’s Laurey made for a sturdy vocal pairing. Their harmonies were entwined like a symphony of strings producing a chord. Gamble was a delight as Laurey. She kept the character strong-willed with a vocal ability to match Laurey’s independent woman mentality.

Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!
June Schreiner as Ado Annie Carnes, Nehal Joshi as Ali Hakim and Cody Williams as Will Parker in the Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Photo by Carol Rosegg.

June Schreiner (Ado Annie) and Cody Williams (Will Parker) reminded the audience that hokey can still be cute. Schrenier’s Ado Annie was reminiscent of the orphan Annie … had the little red-headed, curly top been portrayed as an innocent and naive, yet boy-crazy, teenage flirt with blonde pigtail braids. She’s got that “cute” factor that’s just downright adorable. Williams’ vocals were often overpowered by the pit orchestra but his dance moves more than made up for it. He’s as fluid as they come, much like Ray Bolger’s Scarecrow in the 1939 film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.

Three other characters standout in this particular production for their role interpretations: E. Faye Butler as Laurey’s Aunt Eller, Nehal Joshi as Persian gypsy Ali Hakim and Aaron Ramey as farmhand Jud Fry. Butler’s sense of humor garnered laughter from the audience from the start due to her genuine line delivery. Joshi’s performance seemed reminiscent of Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat (in a good way). And Ramey put a darker spin on an already sinister character. It was almost as if Gaston from Beauty and the Beast joined forces with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom to create a whole new Jud Fry.

The ballet company should also be acknowledged along with the creative team behind-the-scenes. The “Out of My Dreams/Dream Ballet” sequence had a sinister carnival feel to it with the lights spinning in-the-round and seeping out of the wooden floor planks. The lighting effects brought the dream inside Laurey’s head into the audience’s. It was mesmerizing to watch while set to Rodger and Hammerstein’s score.

If given the chance, go see Oklahoma!, it’s sure to put a smile on your face even in the dog days of a D.C. summer. Just keep in mind that you’re likely to find yourself singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” for the rest of the night and well into the next day. You’ve been warned.

Tickets are still available and the show runs through October 2, 2011.

Rachel moved to DC in the fall of 2005 to study Journalism and Music at American University. When she’s not keeping up with the latest Major League Baseball news, she works on making music as an accomplished singer-songwriter and was even a featured performer/speaker at TEDxDupont Circle in 2012. Rachel has also contributed to The Washington Examiner and MASN Sports’ Nationals Buzz as a guest blogger. See why she loves DC. E-Mail: rachel@welovedc.com.

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