Entertainment » Theatre

Oklahoma!

by Steve Duffy
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Jun 6, 2019
Blake Price and Madison Claire Parks in "Oklahoma!" at the NSMT through June 16
Blake Price and Madison Claire Parks in "Oklahoma!" at the NSMT through June 16  (Source:Paul Lyden )

One of the greatest American musicals, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!," returns to the North Shore Music Theatre for the first time in more than 25 years, but it proved to be a lackluster opening to the theater's promising musical season. (For a full list of the upcoming productions, visit the North Shore Music Theatre website.)

When this Rodgers and Hammerstein's masterpiece opened on Broadway in 1943, it launched a new era in American musical theater — fusing story, song and dance through the stunning choreography of Agnes de Mille. It also began one of the most successful songwriting partnerships in Broadway history. At its heart, "Oklahoma!" is a love story between confident cowboy Curly and feisty farmer Laurey. As the road to romance and the road to statehood converge, Curly and Laurey are poised to carve out a life together in a brand-new state. But her indecision and the presence of the bullying farmhand Jud complicate matters.

Blake Price is Curly, the aw-shucks cowboy, a man with a beautiful voice and a commanding stage presence. With a voice of an angel, Madison Claire Parks (Laurey) lifts the lyrics through the rafters for the many iconic songs that she performed. Alex Levin is disturbingly dark as Jud; his brooding baritone captures the darkness of the story. The comic subplot focuses on Melissa Carlile-Price as the delightful Ado Annie. She is a bundle of energy, fun and laughter to the girl who "cain't say no." Susan Cella attempts to be the bedrock of the show as the wise and loving Aunt Eller, but just can't pull it off. She fumbles with some of her lines and wasn't able to capture her character's emotional gravitas.

It turns out it is a horse named Patrick, who carried Curly onto the stage, who stole the show.

Too often, the show verges on a high school production, save for the expert singing of the unforgettable score, which includes "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're in Love," "I Cain't Say No!" and the exhilarating title song, "Oklahoma!" (The musical direction by Mark Hartman is first-rate.)

But this isn't a concert, rather a by-the-numbers production of a wonderful musical that is, coincidently, getting fresh life on Broadway in a critically lauded production that views the musical through a contemporary prism. Not so at the NSMT, where the entire notion of multi-cultural casting appears to have escaped the production team and the old school comedy is as high as an elephant's eye. Nor does director Charles Repole's production mine the show's darker strains; still, it is a pleasure to hear the extraordinary songs sung as well as they are here and to see choreographer Mara Newbery Greer's robust, athletic evocation of DeMille's classic dances, including the famous first act ballet that is deftly recreated here.

The North Shore Music Theatre presents "Out At The North Shore: An evening for the LGBTQ Community," which includes a post-show reception with the cast at The Backstage Bistro on Thursday, June 13th.

"Oklahoma!" continues through June 16 at the North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA. For more information, visit the North Shore Music Theatre website.

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