Themes of love in ‘Oklahoma!’ appeal to all ages - Ka Leo O Hawaii: Features

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Themes of love in ‘Oklahoma!’ appeal to all ages

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Posted: Sunday, November 13, 2011 4:37 pm

The original production of "Oklahoma!" opened on Broadway in 1943 and ran for "a stunning 2,212 performances, a record that lasted for 15 years," according to dramaturg Yining Lin.

So, what's the big deal with this show? And, how does play director Lurana Donnels O'Malley's production differ from others? The answer: this show has something for everyone, especially in the hands of a director dedicated to "taking it beyond the clichés inevitably engendered by its success."

"I hold the musical in such high regard," O'Malley wrote, "that it has always bothered me when people offhandedly use it as an example of ‘feel-good' fluff."

"Oklahoma!" - ostensibly a love story - has its share of brightness and laughs, but the happy moments are punctuated by dark humor, violence and tragedy.

The lead couple, Karissa J. Murrell Adams (Laurey) and Brandon Gregory Martinez (Curly), are well matched in voice and style, with Adams taking the tough-girl stance to Martinez's "aw shucks" sincerity. The character of Laurey comes through when Adams is dancing, especially in the dream dance, a through-the-looking-glass sequence where Laurey's deepest fears and desires are revealed, choreographed by Harmony S.L. Aguilera.

Martinez and Garett T.K. Taketa (Jud Fry) have one of the most commanding scenes of the show. In the threateningly comic number "Pore Jud is Daid," Martinez reveals Curly's manipulative side. Taketa shows Jud to be a lonely man, angry at the world that treats him like dirt. With the aid of lighting designer Ray Moschuk, the audience can see Jud's wounded humanity in "Lonely Room." Martinez and Taketa succeed at going deeper than standard hero/villain roles.

Comedy shines in this production, with Brittni Michele Shambaugh's Ado Annie cheerfully celebrating frenzied passion and pretty-talkin' men. Her brightest moments are when she's paired with her two beaus, creating a comedic love triangle. Ali Hakim (played with smarts and an unerring command for comedic delivery by Walt Gaines) and Will Parker (endowed with a loyal and true character by Robbie Johnson) vie for Ado Annie's affection.

The cast performs well, particularly in singing and dancing.

Michelle Johnson (Aunt Eller) and Michael "Donut" Donato (Andrew Carnes) bring character and comedy to the musical number "The Farmer and the Cowman," a catchy song about putting differences aside and standing as a community. Johnson's Aunt Eller is a convincing matriarch, while Donato's Judge Carnes comes through as a softie who listens to whatever Eller tells him.

Instead of a realistic framework for the show, scenic designer Donald Quilinquin created an artistic impression of setting, using slats of wood hung at different angles. The sparseness of material combined with the use of hard lines and edges allows for ambiguity while indicating both the tangible and the abstract: a house, rolling hills, clouds, a map of the U.S., and rays of sunlight are variously and simultaneously suggested.

In the end, the show brings together banners that represent "Indian Territory," the Oklahoma Territory and statehood in a way that both answers and raises questions. While the musical's storyline is resolved, the larger narrative about the formation of the United States is only hinted at.

The success of "Oklahoma!" lies in the balance of different elements, resulting in one complex and cohesive presentation.