Escondido, CA--- When “Oklahoma!” opened out of town, scouts sent it back to New York with the succinct message: "No Girls, No Gags, No Chance." After the New York opening, the line was revised to read: "No Girls, No Gags, No Tickets.” It ran for 2,248 performances breaking all of the then existing records for length of run and box office receipts. It was 1943; March to be exact, when the book musical “Oklahoma!” opened on Broadway at the St. James Theatre: raves=3, favorable=2, mixed=1 and no pans.
With music by Richard Rogers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (the first of their collaborations) the story unfolds in what was then Indian Territories before Oklahoma became a state. It pits the farmers against the cowboys (“Farmer and the Cowmen”) as the basis for the bigger picture.
“Kansas City”, “Farmer and the Cowman” “Oh, What a “Beautiful Mornin’”, “Surry With the fringe on Top”, “People will Say We’re In Love” and of course “Oklahoma!” make up only some of the great Rogers and Hammerstein tunes from this show that are forever etched in our collective memories.
It’s tough keeping a good show down and every now and then it’s good to bring it back to the fore for some good old fashioned folk lore, lively entertainment and just plain great music. Overall, director/choreographer Dan Mojica keeps the pace moving on a high note in this current production at the Welk Village Resort. It continues through Nov. 16th.
“Oklahoma!” based on the Lynne Riggs play “Green Grow the Lilacs”, sails or should I say dances and sings its way through one musical number after another with some dramatic emphasis centering around the little ‘off kilter’, mysterious Jud Fry (“Poor Jud is Daid”), the silly romantic comings and goings of Ali Hakim and Ado Annie (“I Caint Say No”) and the on again off again romance of Curly and Laurie and the cowboy/farmer riff.
Love stories and comedy (some tongue in cheek, some a little too long) abound in the triangular relationships between cowboy Curly McClain and farm girl Laurie Williams and the petulant Jud Fry, and Ali and Ado Annie and Will Parker. It’s at Laurie's farmhouse that the we meet up with everyone; Jud Fry (Will Huse) Laurie’s farm hand, Ado Annie (Sydney Blair), Will Parker (Andrew J. Koslow) and Ali Hakim (Ariel Neydavoud) the Persian traveling salesman and of course, Laurie’s aunt, Aunt Eller (Robin Lavalley).
Doug Davis designed and built the almost comic book looking sets that worked just fine on the limited Welk stage.
The show feels a bit dated and is uneven in spots yet we can overlook some of corny dialogue and attitudes by chucking that up to affectation (too much so in some cases) and zero in on the very youthful and energetic but limited cast of sixteen.
It shines with star power with the handsome cowboy Allan Everman, who stands head and shoulders leading the company as Curley McLain, and lovely yet vulnerable Kailey O’Donnell as Laurie Williams, the hard to get farm girl who thwarts him at every turn. Both have outstanding voices and great range.
The chemistry is there and the romance rings true to form allowing the ongoing struggle between Jud Fry and Curley, as they vie for her attention to reach a predictable yet hokey take on the way the law worked then. (I hate to say it, but some things never change in some states.)
Will Huse gives us a surly yet impressive interpretation of the much aggrieved and frightening Jud Fry as he stalks Laurie and threatens just about everyone else that gets in his way. One might go so far as to say that he’s the rotten apple in this bunch. His solo number “Lonely Room” is sung with heartfelt feelings. I must admit that I did have some pangs of sadness for his character.
Robin Lavalley, who stands (my guess) no higher than five feet, is perfect as the go to, know it all adult in the room that seems to put it all in perspective. Andrew J. Koslow (he’s one of the best dancers in the ensemble; he was dance captain in their show “Chicago” last year) is perfect as the handsome but slow on the uptake Will Parker whose infatuation with Sydney Blair’s Ado Annie is a kick to watch.
Ado Annie is a plumb comic role and Blair gets it more often than not but her counter mate, Ariel Neydavoud’s Ali Hakim pushes the envelope a bit too hard to little avail. RC Sands does an admirable job as Ado Annie’s father, Pa Carnes, in tracking down his daughter’s admirers (with his shot gun) and Arielle Meads is lovely as dream Laurie in “The Dream Ballet”/ “Out of My Dreams”.
But when the entire cast comes out singing “Okla homa! “Okla homa!” "We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand. And when we say Yeeow! Ayipioeeay! Yeeow! We’re saying “Your doin’ fine Oklahoma” - Oklahoma “O K L A H O M A!”, it’s OK.
With musical director Justin Gray’s musicians in the pit, and the sounds reverberating throughout the theatre, chills ran up and down my spine and yes, “Oklahoma” you’re doing just fine, “Oklahoma!"
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Nov. 16th
Organization: Welk Village Theatre
Production Type: Musical
Where: 8860 Lawrence Welk Drive, Escondido, CA92026
Ticket Prices: Start @ $45.00