The corn stalks rise to reveal Aunt Eller, her niece, Laurey and hired hand, Jud Fry hard at work on their homestead in early Oklahoma territory, delivering us back to simpler days in America’s Heartland, where the daily bustle meant churning butter by hand and preparing lunch baskets to raise funds for the schoolhouse. All seems right in this picturesque setting complete with a weathered farmhouse, horse-drawn crop harvester and old-fashioned windmill.
This was a glimpse of director T.J. Dawson’s beautifully staged and historically relevant retelling of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” which commenced at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts this past weekend. Dawson’s artistic vision once again proved glorious in this near-flawless revival of the 1943 Broadway hit.
At first glance, Laurey, played by Julia Aks appears to be an independent pioneer woman, much like her Aunt Eller. Donned in work pants, unlike most of the apron-skirted women in Claremore, Laurey is a farm girl, unpolished, rough around the edges and unaware of her own beauty. Though she comes across content with her life, we soon realize, she longs for something more – love, protection and all the comforts that come with being in a relationship. It becomes apparent the quick-witted banter directed towards Zachary Ford’s Curly, is really sexual tension, as the cowboy Casanova is equally smitten by her.
But there’s another man, who seeks the heart of Laurey, farm hand Jud Fry, played here by Rufus Bonds Jr. Sadly, he’s an outcast, misunderstood by townsfolk and his personal demons force him to live within the confinements of his own mind. A reluctant Laurey agrees to accompany Jud to the box social, where things become awkward during the bidding war for Laurey’s basket, pinning both Jud and Curly against one another in this emotionally-charged scene.
Like the original choreography by Agnes de Mille, Leslie Stevens, who choreographed this production, did an outstanding job assimilating all 52-members of the gifted cast into each of the over-the-top, knee-slappin’ dance routines. (“Kansas City” and “The Farmer and the Cowman” being my favorites). Likewise, visually breathtaking was the 15-minute “Dream Sequence” featuring a sweeping, interpretive ballet awakening Laurey’s subconscious unveiling some of her past memories, greatest fears and an eerie premonition of certain dangers yet to come.
And perhaps, there was something in the water as Laurey’s friend, Ado Annie also had her fair share of suitors seeking her hand in marriage. The bubbly and boy-crazy flirt was brought to life by Kelley Dorney. And the men snatched up in the comical, 3-way hijinks were Drew Boudreau as Persian peddler Ali Hakim and Tom Berklund as gullible, hunky and ex-sweetheart of Ado Annie, Will Parker. The trio, by far shared the most chemistry on stage and their lighthearted horseplay made the 180-minute production pass quicker than a bullet through a knot hole.
Tracy Rowe Rutz is the spitfire town matriarch, Aunt Eller. She is also the voice of reason when a deadly altercation threatens to divide the sleepy town and determine the fate of Curly and Laurey’s impending life together. And laughing her way through life (literally) as Gertie Cummings is Cloie Wyatt Taylor. But the audience had the last laugh as a wardrobe/prop mishap between Taylor and Tom Berklund garnered huge cheers from the audience. Gotta love live theatre!
Of course, Alexandra Johnson’s costume designs were an integral part of this revival, as were the sets by The Music and Theatre Company and props furnished by Melanie Cavaness and Gretchen Morales, authenticating the look and feel of early America perfectly.
3D Theatricals “Oklahoma!” is a hee-haw hootenanny good time! Dawson’s gorgeous reimagining of the “Sooners State” rich and sometimes rough-and-tumble history is guaranteed to satisfy fans of the original and a whole new generation for this revival. And much like the catchy Rodgers & Hammerstein’s tunes in the show, you’ll surely remember this one for a long time comin’.
“Oklahoma!” is playing at the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts until July 9, 2017. Tickets are available by calling the box off at (800) 300-4345 or Order Online.