The Muny’s flawless fusion of song, dance and story breathes new life into its 11th production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s landmark musical, “Oklahoma!”
This robust interpretation has been buffed and polished to a brilliant sheen by a crackerjack creative team.
You may think you’ve seen the 1943 game-changing great American musical enough for a lifetime, but trust me, you need to see this one.
A cast of the highest caliber radiates such joy, never wavering, whether it’s performing a rollicking hoedown in “The Farmer and the Cowman” or harmonizing beautifully to the title song.
Thanks to music director Kevin Stites’ perfectly calibrated vocals, the classic number “Oklahoma!” is a stunning showstopper that took my breath away.
Director Rob Ruggiero has punctuated a show deserving of its exclamation point in such a fresh way, retaining the 1906 time period’s innocence and emphasizing the rugged American spirit of the settlers in Indian territory.
The ensemble bristles with energy while retaining their characters’ dignity, going beyond caricature. These aren’t local yokels in rural America, but determined, dynamic individuals carving lives out on the land during a much simpler time.
Dashing Ben Davis is a noble, supremely confident Curly, who has his eye on spunky farm girl Laurey (Christine Cornish Smith). She is drawn to both Curly and hired hand Jud (a powerful Alexander Gemignani), an ultimately tragic figure whose undercurrent of menace simmers until he boils over in frustration and anger.
Davis commands the stage from the get-go with a sensational “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’,” and blends beautifully with Smith’s crystal-clear vocals on “People Will Say We’re in Love.”
Gemignani, an award-winning Broadway performer, delivers a gut-wrenching “Lonely Room.”
The animated characters of fireball Will Parker (Clyde Alves) and his flirty sweetheart Ado Annie (Jenni Barber) provide delightful comic relief, as does a winning Ali Hakim (Nehal Joshi), all warmly received by the audience. Sparks fly, and the trio shows their characters’ playful sides.
Tony winner Beth Leavel crackles as Aunt Eller.
Stites’ luxurious orchestrations spotlight how magical the first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II was, changing musical history and earning a special Pulitzer Prize.
The dance is exceptional. Susan Stroman has allowed her choreography, created for the acclaimed 1998 London revival, to be re-staged here for the first time, and Ginger Thatcher has added some nifty flourishes. Crisp and vivacious, the dancers’ energy is a wondrous sight to behold. Agnes de Mille’s dream ballet is shaken up by some showgirls.
Steeped in Americana, “Oklahoma!” honors the hands that built our country, and the Muny acknowledges this classic with a dynamic, vigorous production that splendidly closes out a memorable 97th season.
At a glance
When: 8:15 nightly through Sunday
Where: The Muny outdoor theater in St. Louis’ Forest Park
Tickets: www.muny.org; 314-361-1900