All American boy, all American girl, all American town. What comes to mind? I love what Portland Center Stage director Chris Coleman has done with "Oklahoma!" blasting old tropes by setting this musical in a historical all-Black town, showcasing the all-Americanness of these first Oklahomans.
What a cast! Rodney Hicks as Curly has a rich, warm, vibrant voice that could melt butter on cornbread. Brianna Horne with her big-eyed, long-faced beauty is a tough and tender Laurey, country bumpkin and princess at once. And who wouldn't be charmed by Marisha Wallace's Ado Annie, ditzy and adorable, singing her heart out?
I've never been a big Oklahoma fan, to tell the truth. What I've seen has been too straw-hat, corn-pone for my taste. But this - with it's dazzling dancing, its energy and gorgeous choir - it's a winner.
The Rodgers and Hammerstein script seems thin and stereotypical, even for a musical, but this production managed to bring out relevance. It's a show about loving the simple things. "All the sounds of the Earth are like music," sings Curly. How often, in our busy lives, do we listen to the winds, the crickets, the chickadees? "Don't you wisht y'd go on forever?" he asks, painting pictures in our imagination, reminding us how fleetingly we live.
In contrast to having only what you need and enjoying the present, "Everything's up to date in Kansas City," as the town sings. It's this hustle and bustle and greed that disturbs the beauty of now. And "Pore Jud is Daid," is an amazing and darkly funny duet with Hicks and Justin Lee Miller, reminding us of the fact of death, for all of us.
The darkness grabs you by the throat. Indeed, I was mesmerized by Miller's portrayal of the depraved Jud Fry, with expressionless face and hunched bearing. And yet through the nuanced performance we gather that he has been dehumanized by snap judgments. In Laurey's dream sequence, lyrical dancing and lovely orchestral strains give way to maniacal piano thumps, and a pristine white wedding bed spins out of control, the room invaded by hurky-jerky dolls thrust upside down in frightening, twisted postures. What can be trusted in this world?
In a place where there is so much misunderstanding, where we are vulnerable to so much change - where even the farmer and cowman can't get along - how can we find peace? Oklahoma will soon be a state, and we rejoice. But should we? A trusted hired hand appears as a murderer. Are we wrong to keep believing?
Yet we return to the simple things: the cattle standing like statues, the lark waking in the meadow. We return to each other. We sing and shout for the joy of being, just as we are, here in America.