OKLAHOMA by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, directed by Donna Feore (Stratford). At the Festival Theatre, Stratford. Runs in rep to November 4. $26-$108. Rating: NNN
Fundamentalists are messing with U.S. political culture, the invasion of Iraq is taking a terrible toll and America is doing everything it can to trash Kyoto.
So there's something profoundly disturbing about having to sit through a show like Oklahoma that so hopelessly romanticizes old-school American values.
Thing is, when Stratford sinks all that dough into a musical, the results are wondrous.
Forget about epic themes. The plot here is wafer thin who's gonna take Laurie to the box social which is ironic, given that the show has an honoured place in the musical canon as America's first book-driven musical.
This production gives the story a bit more gravitas by including Jud's often cut Lonely Room number, shifting audience sympathies away from the corn-fed good guys to the darkest character, played by the terrific David W. Keeley.
But let's get real. It's the songs and dances by the farmers, cowboys and their gals that bring in the crowds. As usual for a Stratford production, this show is expertly sung, especially by Dan Chameroy and Blythe Wilson as Curly and Laurie. And you try performing a full dance number while singing in perfect four-part harmony the way the women's chorus does in Many A New Day.
I'm told that the day Kyle Blair was cast as Will Parker he was hustled off to lasso school to learn how to use a rope. He gets an A the results, seen in a sensational version of Kansas City, are mind-boggling.
I still have a problem with the character of Ali Hakim, the peddlar. The performance by Jonathan Ellul is fine and the audience ate it up, but I got a whiff of racism from the exoticized outsider sexually preying on the innocent young women even when it's played for comic effect.
It's okay, though. By the time the wind comes sweeping down the plain in the title song and classic 10 o'clock number, I'm right there.