Oklahoma! – Review by Tom Holehan

“Oklahoma” is More Than OK at Goodspeed

Everything is up to date at Goodspeed Musicals where a glorious revival of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic, “Oklahoma!”, has already been extended by popular demand until September 27. It’s easy to see why the enduring popularity of this golden age chestnut continues; it’s just great entertainment!

Surprisingly, this is the very first production of “Oklahoma!” the Goodspeed has produced and it was clearly worth the wait. The charming tale of rugged cowboy Curly (a boyish Rhett Guter) and his pursuit of the elusive Laurie (Samantha Bruce, just right) doesn’t have the most complicated of plots even with the secondary, more comical romantic triangle played out between Laurie’s friend, Ado Annie (Gizel Jimenez), cowboy Will Parker (Jake Swain) and Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Matthew Curiano, stealing scenes with wild abandon). Putting a serious damper on all the romance is anti-social loner Jud (Matt Faucher), who works on Laurie’s farm and has a seriously unhealthy attraction to her.

Under Jenn Thompson’s able, brisk direction the nearly three-hour musical never lags and she’s assembled a uniformly excellent company of actors. Guter, who proved to be the best thing in Thompson’s production of “Bye Bye Birdie” last season at Goodspeed, brings all the charisma from his performance as the Elvis-inspired rock star in “Birdie” to the boots and chaps-clad Curly in “Oklahoma!”. His beautiful tenor voice opens the show (“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”) and never disappoints from that moment on. I might have preferred a Curly with rougher edges and more arrogance, but Guter’s chemistry with Miss Bruce is so palpable that there is an audible sigh of relief when this magnetic couple finally embrace. “People Will Say We’re in Love”? Absolutely.

And there’s not a sour note in the entire company. Terry Burrell brings welcome starch and grit to the role of Aunt Eller, Laurie’s guardian, while Jimenez’s take on the agreeable Ado Annie is both smart and sassy. Her rendering of Ado Annie’s signature song, “I Cain’t Say No!”, has rarely been so funny. Best of all may be Mr. Faucher’s Jud, who, in addition to his powerful singing (“Lonely Room” is a standout), manages to make the villain of this musical simultaneously creepy and sexy.

Credit also to choreographer Katie Spelman whose recreation of the musical’s classic, 15-minute dream ballet at the end of Act One is just as daring, potent and timeless as it was over seventy years ago when the legendary Agnes de Mille first created it. All told, you probably won’t find a better revival this season than the one currently gracing the Goodspeed stage.

“Oklahoma!” continues at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut through September 27. For tickets, call the theatre box office at 860.873.8668 or visit: www.goodspeed.org.

            Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: tholehan@yahoo.com.

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