From the opening moments, when Curly (Matthew Worth) enters from the back of the hall singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" to the final reprise of the title number, this Oklahoma! rocks! Central City Opera's compact stage and exquisite acoustics (except for the orchestra seating!) are filled with a rare combination of dances, crowds, harmonies, and solos that leave no doubt: this classic has legs way beyond its first 70 years.
If it weren't for the fact that Worth is in demand for his tenor-quality operatic baritone, he could be starring on Broadway. With acting skills to match his voice, his intimate appearance, singing the first stanza of the opening number while leaning against the wall in the orchestra section stage-left of the audience, was exactly what Oscar Hammerstein III described in 1943, after he and Richard Rogers had a first draft of the book, an adaptation of Lynn Rigg's play, Green Grow the Lilacs:
|Curt Olds (Will Parker - Center)|
and members of the Bonfils-Stanton Foundation
Artists Training Program
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Before I did anything else, I wrote the lyrics to the first song in the first act. That was for Dick and me—to set the mood of the show for us. And to set the mood for the audience, too. When 'Curly' sings off-stage as the curtain goes up, and then wanders into the front yard of Laurey's farmhouse singing 'Oh! What a Beautiful Morning', you can feel the audience smile and relax and settle back. At least that's what we aimed for.
They hit the target, of course, and director Ken Cazan shows us exactly what that means throughout this top-notch production, beginning with a feisty chemistry between Curly and Laurey (Maureen McKay) and amplified with a rollicking ensemble of superb voice, forming an astonishingly well-tempered chorus under the Associate conductor/Choir Master Adam Turner. The harmonies add another dimension to one of the best collection of songs in the American musical theatre canon.
|Maureen McKay as Laurey|
and Matthew Worth as Curly
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
As a musical, Oklahoma! is less demanding in the high ranges than most operas, but McKay makes the most of the few opportunities, her soprano effortlessly producing fireworks, solo or in some sparkling duets with Worth. Their repartee and the push-pull of their attraction in "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" is undyingly sweet.
And did we mention the hoofing? As always, Rogers and Hammerstein's devotion to expanding the form comes through, in this case a combination of an old-fashioned western barn dance and an exquisite ballet scene, originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille. The chorus does a bang up job recreating the fun of a hoedown, while Ballet Nouveau Colorado stalwarts, Sarah Tallman (as Dream Laurey), Colby Foss (as Dream Curly), and Ben Delony and Marian L. Faustino (as Solo Dancers) recreate de Mille's striking metaphor.
And what would Oklahoma! be without Will Parker (Curt Olds) and Ado Annie (Kaitlyn Costello), the straight-shooting cowboy and the easy of virtue farmer's daughter? Add a dash of Ali-Hakim (Gene Scheer) and you have a recipe for first-class comic relief and social commentary on love, marriage, and sex, as timely in 1943 as today.
|(L to R) Kaitlyn Costello as Ado Annie,|
Curt Olds as Will Parker, and Gene Scheer as Ali Hakim
Photo: Mark Kiryluk
Paul LaRosa shines as the antogonist, Jud, with his warm baritone, brooding, dark moods, and threatening undercurrents. Joyce Castle is an endearing Aunt Eller.
Christopher Zemliauskas and the Festival Orchestra's lush rendition is exactly what Rogers and Hammerstein ordered.
Central City Opera's exquisite production of Rogers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! runs through August 11th, in repertory with Giacomo Puccini's La Bohème, Benjamin Britten's The Turn of the Screw, and Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium. 303-292-6700 or centralcityopera.org.