When I read that Weston Playhouse Theatre was going to include Oklahoma! in their 2019 season my first thoughts were:
- Didn’t they just do that? Nope – It was 2002. Time flies.
- Maybe they’re playing it safe? For many of us, just saying ”Oklahoma!” will bring a smile to our faces, and have us humming, if not outright singing, the rest of the day. It tends to be familiar, and a “sure thing” for a certain generation of theatre goers. There’s nothing wrong with a play which will fill the house on reputation alone, as long as you deliver. This cast and crew delivers.
- That old thing? As much as I love the music and lyrics of Oklahoma!, I must admit, I was not excited to see it again. Having grown up listening to the music (my mom had the album) and seeing it a million times, what is burned into my brain is the film version, and some truly horrid “school” plays.
As “old” as it may be for many of us, I was shocked to read that for many of the cast members, and even the director, Reginald Douglas, Oklahoma! was new territory. How could they possibly do Oklahoma without “knowing” it? Yet, without changing the script, songs, or lyrics, they were able to give this production of Oklahoma! a 21st Century vibe.The cast includes many people of color. No reference is ever made to anyone’s skin color, and it never changes the way they interact with each other, but it definitely feels more modern. The costumes – no effort to be “authentic.” We’re talking ripped overalls and jeans, cutoff shorts, sundresses, and cowboy boots for just about everyone. Those cowboy boots are put to good use during the foot stomping dance numbers. There was no problem distinguishing between male and female, farmer and cowboy, but the costumes would be as equally at home at your neighborhood block party or line dance as they were on stage. Costume Designer, Sydney Gallas, clothed the cast in colorful, fun, modern, sexy attire, while still evoking the untamed west, and without feeling like everyone was covered in prairie dust and smelling of moth balls.
It’s a large cast, including members of the Young Company playing multiple parts singing, acting, dancing, playing instruments – all very strong, energetic, and talented.
- Mia Pinero – Laurey – newcomer to Weston – polished voice – expect big things from her in the future
- Davon Williams – Curly – wonderful voice and presence with leading man good looks – brings a level of vulnerability to the part not often seen
- Philip Stoddard – Jud – great voice – including Lonely Room, a song usually left out of most productions, gives Stoddard a chance to shine, and provides depth to, and sympathy for, his character
- Inga Ballard – Aunt Eller – strength, humor, and pragmatism – a perfect Aunt Eller
- Dan Lusardi – Will – fun, goofy, energetic – a singing and dancing dynamo
- CoCo Smith – Ado Annie – high energy, sexy, a total hoot – just like her counterpart
- Billy Cohen – Ali Hakim – in a multi ethnic cast, the only character with ethnicity – including the song, It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage! adds another fun song & dance number, and reaffirms Hakim for the cad that he is
- Munson Hicks – Carnes – Weston playhouse veteran, always welcome
- Sarah Fischer – Dream Laurey – plays multiple parts – dream sequence is amazing
- Sir Brock Warren – Dream Curly – plays multiple parts – dream sequence is amazing
- Peter Hughes – Cord Elam & Others
- Dominic Dorset (YC) – Fred & Others
- Jazley Genovese (YC) – Gertie
- Daelynn Jorif (YC) – Vivian & Others
- Grace Martini (YC) – Kate & Others
- Sammi Messina (YC) – Virginia & Others
- Bella Muller (YC) – Ellen & Others
- Ben Senneff (YC) – Ike & Others
- Alexander Tan (YC) – Slim & Others
Set designer, Alexander Woodward, created a very simple stage, mostly painted barn board, with a few doors which could open and close. The floor to ceiling, monochromatic set created a feeling of grandeur while its simplicity kept the emphasis on the actors and the story. A few props were all that was necessary to transform the front of Laurey’s house to Jed’s smokehouse, to the box social. The back of the stage was curved upwards to where six musicians played and also used to an interesting effect, providing Laurey a place to sleep during the dream sequence. Oklahoma! is a musical and music director, Larry Pressgrove, made the most of obviously wonderful material.
Not “knowing” Oklahoma!, I think, was the genius of this production. Without those preconceived notions to hinder them, this group took a play written by Rogers and Hammerstein in the 1940’s about a group of settlers in the Oklahoma territory in 1906, and made it their own. It was as if this was a new play being performed for the first time. The territory folks had to build a brand new state. Relying on their youth, energy, and optimism, they were able to set aside their differences, and the past, and work together to form a community looking to the future. Oklahoma became a state in 1907, the 46th state to enter the union. It’s not that statehood was a new concept, it had been around for over a century, but it was new for them. Just as this old play was new to this cast and crew.For a play that I have often dismissed as dated, I have come to see it as having a very modern message. Ultimately, this production is less about history, and more a lesson about different groups coming together to build a community and share in a common future. In today’s fractious times, we can all use that lesson. If farmers and cowboys can be friends, surely WE can be, too. Perhaps a little more listening and a whole lot more singing and dancing with our neighbors would help. This play is over 70 years old, but this production is “brand new.”
Oklahoma! is playing at Weston Playhouse thru August 10th. Feel free to wear your ripped denims and a pair of cowboy boots. Or not. No matter what you wear coming in, you’ll leave wearing a big smile on your face and the tendency to hum for the next week. Oklahoma! – Come see it again, for the first time.
For tickets, call the box office at 802-824-5288 or order online.
Weston Theatre Playhouse
703 Main Street
Weston, Vermont 05161