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Theater Review: “Oklahoma!”

Anything but plain, "Oklahoma!" sweeps through the New Village Arts Theatre
Photo credit:
New Village Arts Theatre

Cowboys and farmers, the surrey with the fringe on top and that wind that comes whipping down the plain?

Yep, it’s “Oklahoma!” back for another visit. This time it’s in Carlsbad, where it plays through Sept. 25, at New Village Arts.

The 1943 blockbuster serves up optimism, love of country and just plain old-fashioned values with a love story, one sad and several funny characters, a lot of dance and the matchless Rodgers and Hammerstein score that probably half the world has committed to memory by now.

It was an unprecedented success, running five years.

The show that introduced “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’” to the world is set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 20th century, where the corn crop was primary and tensions often arose between “The Farmer And The Cowman.”

Aunt Eller (Susan E.V. Boland) runs her farm with a firm hand but a kindly heart, hoping that headstrong niece Laurey (Charlene Koepf) will stop flitting around and settle down with that nice cowhoy Curly (Jack French). But Aunt Eller’s hired hand Jud Fry (Christopher Lesson), a huge misunderstood mountain of a man, scary to look at and a glowering disposition, has his eye on Laurey as well.

Meanwhile, flighty Ado Annie (Alexandra Slade) is also of marriageable age and looking around for the right “feller.”

She thinks trying ‘em out first is a good idea, singing that “I Cain’t Say No.” Slade steals the show with her bubbly disposition and irresistible personality.

Back then, the village peddler was a staple, too, floating through now and again to sell his wares. Here’s he’s Ali Hakim (a hilarious Jonathan Sangster), selling as fast as he can and running the other way just as fast, giving Ado Annie little chance to cuddle up.

Meanwhile, Zackary Scot Wolfe is a delight as Will Parker, dim of wit but sweet and sincere, who has his eye on Ado Annie. Will he ever get her?

The conflict and drama will come to a head at the box lunch auction, where the men bid on the chance to share lunch with the lady of their choice.

Director Teddy Eck, new to town and to New Village Arts, keeps the action moving and the emphasis on characterization.

French’s good looks and lovely baritone voice as Curly make a good match with Koepf’s fine voice and spunky persona as Laurey. Good chemistry does not hurt, either.

“Oklahoma!” broke ground in another way, with an emphasis on dance and the insertion of a 15-minute ballet depicting Laurey’s dreams at the end of the first act. Julio Catano has scaled down the original Agnes de Mille choreography to make it more manageable by the acting cast (De Mille had a corps of dancers).

Music director Tony Houck manages to get impressive sound ot of two backstage instruments – piano and percussion – and together with cast member Morgan Carberry, who acts as a strolling fiddler, the music works.

Mary Larson’s period costumes, Chris Renda’s fine lighting, and Chad Goss’ sound design all play well on Christopher Scott Murillo’s set.

No question about it, “Oklahoma!” is old-fashioned theater.

But while farmers and cowmen may not have much to fuss about these days, men and women still do, and the relationships in this play are what make this a classic. And don’t forget that terrific score.

The details

“Oklahoma!” plays through September 25, 2016 at New Village Arts Theatre, 2787 State Street, Carlsbad.

Thursday and Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 3 and 8 pm; Sunday at 2 pm

Tickets: (760) 433-3245 or www.newvillagearts.org