Nobody does big American musicals like Lyric Stage, the Irving theater company that does only musicals and only in the biggest way possible. Their season-ender, Rodgers and Hammerstein's 70-year-old classic Oklahoma!, brings the show back to where it started, with all the usually omitted songs back in place, 30 singers and dancers on the Carpenter Hall stage and a 33-piece orchestra in the pit. Closing Sunday, this is a production musical lovers will be talking about for years.
It's all there now: the dream ballet (elegantly danced by Mallory Michaellann Brophy and Hayden Clifton), the big square-dance sequence mixing farmers and cowmen with their pretty partners, even the mournful solo by villainous secondary character Jud Fry (Kyle Cotton), singing about his "Lonely Room," where women never tread.
Director Cheryl Denson and producer Steven Jones found young, fresh-faced actor-singers for the leads, some local, some from out-of-town auditions. When Bryant Martin, as leading man Curly, strolls on at the top of the first act, crooning "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," he's the dreamboat every R&H musical needs. Farm girl Laurey is played by Savannah Frazier, who looks like a young Celeste Holm (one of the stars of the original Broadway production of this show). They have perfect chemistry, teasing and taunting as their characters dance around the subject of love. Their duets blend their voices like butter and cream.
Cotton, a UT-Austin grad student, brings a tremendous singing style to the Jud Fry role, but it's his acting - intense and grounded in reality - that brings the character out of the realm of creepy bad guy. Now you understand why Laurey's drawn to him: he's sexy. What girl hasn't been attracted to a bad boy?
The love triangle of Curly-Laurey-Jud is at the center of Oklahoma!, but the secondary characters bring the funny. Erica Harte is a deliciously silly Ado Annie, flirting with everything in pants and not at all sorry when she gets caught two-timing her beau, Will Parker (Sean McGee). Their second act number "All Er Nuthin" is downright adorable.
More comedy comes from Brad M. Jackson as Persian peddler Ali Hakim. In most productions, the Ali scenes fall flat. Not here, where Jackson employs expert timing as he juggles women all too eager to escape the boredom of the prairie for what they imagine is an exciting life with a traveling salesman. Director Denson so often finds gold in the performances of smaller roles. With Jackson, she's got a 24K clown.
This Oklahoma! may be closer to the first Broadway production than any of the New York or London revivals in recent decades. Musical director Jay Dias dug into the archives for original orchestrations and reinstated not just the Jud Fry song but Ali Hakim's hilarious "It's a Scandal," where he rails against the behavior of women much as Professor Henry Higgins does in My Fair Lady.
Ann Nieman's choreography simplifies the floaty leaps and cowboy stomps of Agnes de Mille's revolutionary steps, but the dancing's still thrilling, rising from the bowlegged walk of men who ride horses, and the swishy way prairie girls moved in gingham skirts. Scenery from Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma paints a lovely picture of farmhouse, windmill and a big sky full of clouds.
Oh, what a beautiful evening.
Here's a short clip of Bryant Martin and Savannah Frazier singing "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" from this production.
Oklahoma! continues through June 24 at Lyric Stage, Irving. Call 972-252-2787.
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