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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
It may seem a little ungracious of me to remark that while the score retains its ever-bright golden melodic haze, the corn-fed book (based on Lynn Rigg's Green Grow The Lilacs) seems just a little more vacant than what we have grown accustomed to over the years. Don't get me wrong, I still get just as much of a kick at the first sight of sassy Aunt Eller dexterously churning the butter as I do in noting how lackadaisically Curly welcomes the day's chores with "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." What I sensed this time .round, and likely the result of James Brennan's cheerily lackadaisical direction, was the general lack of purpose in the principals. Certainly the show's lovers, Curly and Laurie, are about as tedious a pair as have ever occupied a musical's plot. As portrayed by Adam Monley and Brynn O'Malley, respectively, they are even less affecting than they have a right to be.
Thank heavens there is the magic of the music to help counter both Curly and Laurie's inherent and persistent clinging to emotional immaturity. Monley, who last appeared at the Paper Mill as Romeo in a musical called Romeo and Bernadette, is commendable enough as Curly without putting a particularly distinguishing mark on the role. He is, however, good-looking and sings well enough to lure a mindless ingénue into a surrey with a fringe.
O'Malley, who may be remembered by Paper Mill audiences as Esther in Meet Me in St. Louis, has the misfortune of having to wear a really ratty-looking brunette wig and having her voice cruelly sabotaged by faulty electronic enhancement. This had the effect of making her singing sound strident. But let's give her this: when it's time for her to bat her long eyelashes at Curly during "People Will Say We're in Love" she almost makes us forget she's been otherwise mean and insensitive to Jud Fry, the only really interesting critter in the entire show. We can all be grateful for the formidably menacing performance of Andrew Varela, as that misunderstood rattlesnake with a passion for Laurie and French postcards. Varela's singing of Jud's solo aria "Lonely Room" was outstanding and helped to give significant heft to this musical's only truly flesh and blood character.
Although I was disappointed when Aunt Eller didn't kick up her heels over her head (as did the inimitable Charlotte Greenwood in the 1955 film version), it can be reported that Louisa Flaningham provided us with enough facial contortions to churn up the dancing dust beneath those friendliest of feudin' farmers and cowmen. The energy that Brian Sears expends as Will Parker is a plus. However, it is supposed to be fun to watch him give the rush act to that flighty slut Ado Annie which it nfortunately isn't because Ado Annie, as played by Megan Sikora, has an unbearably shrill voice. Considering the options he had from among the other farm-raised eligible, most of whom look as if they had been around the smoke house once too often, he understandably is still inclined to say "yes" to this man-hungry gal who ". . . cain't say no." But, when will the time come when we will be spared a squealing soubrette? Among the supporting cast, Jonathan Brody appeared to be having the most fun with his role as Ali Hakim, the slyly amorous traveling peddler.
Peggy Hickey's choreography features a notably bawdy version of the famous "Out of My Dream" ballet sequence without making it memorable. In the other principal dance numbers, "Kansas City" and "The Farmer and the Cowman" Hickey rightly emphasizes agility and virility, but without much more than might be considered obligatory. Designer Anthony Ward provided both the "purdy" fresh-from-the-farm costumes and the settings.
In 2002, and in marked contrast to this more tradition-rooted production, Broadway imported the Royal National Theatre's re-envisioned version of Oklahoma! under the direction of Trevor Nunn and with choreography by Susan Stroman who brought a tough visceral edge to the dances (originally created by the legendary Agnes DeMille.) In that production, we were given a glimpse of a more deeply complex relationship between the less than perfect pair of lovers. There was also a more psychologically dense undercurrent in the story that deals with misfits, foreigners, and a community's fear of social progress. (CurtainUp's review of that production).
Perhaps we shouldn't have expected more from Brennan's direction. He understandably avoids the Nunn-Stroman perspective, but his thrust is regrettably more regressive rather than progressive. But, no matter what is emphasized or not, Oklahoma! is a revered entertainment barely encumbered by its simple plot or by the fact that it takes place in a wide-open undisciplined territory that was about to become a state. Perhaps, even more than in 1943 or even in 2002, we can see this production as an opportunity to emphasize a people's need to believe in their country's future and by seeking an end to the fighting between "us" and "them." Why is it so difficult to see that this is all we need to bring us into a new era?
Try onlineseats.com for great seats to
The Little Mermaid
Shrek The Musical
In the Heights
Playbill 2007-08 Yearbook
Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide