Oklahoma! is the place to be

Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Performed by Blythe Wilson, Dan Chameroy, Nora McLellan Jonathan Ellul, Kyle Blair, Lindsay Thomas, David W. Keeley and company.
Director & Choreographer: Donna Feore
Stratford Festival
Festival Theatre
April 10 to November 4, 2007

Live! On Stage
Review by Mary Alderson

Oklahoma!, this year’s musical at Stratford’s Festival Theatre, brings great energy to the stage. As Rogers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, Oklahoma! changed the way Broadway musicals were presented and set the benchmark for future productions. A groundbreaking show, Oklahoma! was the first musical to have the songs as integral parts of the plot.
The story of Oklahoma! is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. Riggs, a cattleman’s son, was born in Oklahoma in 1899. He tells the tales of the early pioneers in Oklahoma when it was still a territory. These settlers believed their lives would improve when Oklahoma was declared a state. The play relates the conflict between the cowboys and the farmers: the cowboys wanted their cattle to be able to roam free, while the farmers wanted to put up fences and work the land. The musical version includes the love story of Curly and Laurey. In addition, it touches on what might be considered a modern problem – stalking, as Jud Fry makes unwanted advances towards Laurey.
With Blythe Wilson as Laurey and Dan Chameroy as Curley, the singing is excellent. Wilson is in her 5th season at Stratford, and will be remembered for her voice as Nancy in last year’s Oliver! Chameroy has been at Stratford for 6 seasons, but last year appeared in High Society at the Shaw Festival.
Wilson also deserves credit for dancing the dream ballet herself. In many productions, a different dancer steps in for the dream sequence, but Wilson, in addition to her fantastic singing voice, shows she is a polished dancer as well.
Providing the comedy is Johnathan Ellul in his Stratford debut, playing Ali Hakim, the Persian Peddler. Ellul was at Victoria Playhouse last summer in Too Many Cooks, and before that, he was in Wang Dang Doodle and Annie at London’s Grand. (You will recognize him as the driver revving his engine in the car commercials on TV.) With his flair for humour, he will no doubt be showing up in more comedies in the future.
Nora McLellan plays a kinder, gentler Aunt Eller. McLellan was a favourite as Mama Rose in the Shaw Festival’s version of Gypsy a few years ago. Londoner Kyle Blair is back for his 7th season at Stratford and is excellent as Will Parker, the cowboy who can sing, dance and twirl a lariat. Lindsay Thomas is hilarious as Ado Annie, the girl who “cain’t say no.” David W. Keeley gives a very good interpretation of Jud Fry – scary but with a human element that evokes some sympathy. Stephanie Graham as Gertie has the most annoying laugh and handles her fight scene well.
The energetic cast does justice to the wonderful score – songs like “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”, “Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, “People will Say We’re in Love”, and of course the theme “Oklahoma” has everyone leaving the theatre singing. “The Farmer and the Cowman” gives the cast a chance to show off some fun choreography – everything from acrobatics to square dance.
The lighting is excellent. From the darkened theatre, the light panels representing the sky slowly go from a dark blue-purple right through to orange and yellow as the sun comes up on a “beautiful morning’”.
Donna Feore as both director and choreographer has given this good cast an opportunity to show their true triple threat talent. With great singing and amazing dance, this production of Oklahoma! shows why the old musical continues to be popular.

Oklahoma! continues at the Festival Theatre, Stratford until November 4. For tickets, call the box office at 1-800-567-1600 or check www.stratfordfestival.ca.

Mary Alderson offers her view of area theatre in this column on a regular basis. As well as being a fan of live theatre, she is a former journalist who is currently the Community Economic Development Officer with the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation.