Director T.J. Dawson takes a little-known bit of early 20th-century Oklahoma Territory history (its U.S. government-encouraged racial diversity) and reinvents the granddaddy of all contemporary musicals in 3-D Theatricals’ stunning 21-century revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!

Unfolding for the most part over the course of a single day, the R&H classic introduces us to Curly (Zachary Ford) and Laurey (Julia Aks), whose flirtatiously barbed words reveal two independent souls clearly made for each other even as hired hand Jud Fry’s (Rufus Bonds, Jr.) twisted designs on Laurey promise not-so-clear skies ahead.

Around for comic relief is budding teen vixen Ado Annie (Kelley Dorney), who “Cain’t Say No” either to beau Will Parker (Tom Berklund) or to Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Drew Boudreau).

This pitch-perfect blend of the dramatic and the comedic keeps Oklahoma! fresh nearly three-quarters-of-a-century after its Broadway debut, book writer Hammerstein having taken Lynn Riggs’ play Green Grow The Lilacs and complemented it with Rodgers’ unforgettable melodies and his own plot-propelling lyrics.

This enduring freshness is more than enough for most directors assigned an Oklahoma! revival, but not Dawson, whose research uncovered a 1906 Oklahoma Territory peopled not merely by lily-white farmers and cowmen but by Choctaw Indians and African-Americans as well.

Indeed, it’s a Choctaw tribal ritual that opens Dawson’s Oklahoma! even before Curley shows up to warble “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’” to a butter-churning Aunt Eller.

Aks’s Laurey is no crinoline-clad ingénue but a shirt-and-trousers-sporting farm owner doing a man’s job in a man’s world, and when Curley invites her to imagine a ride together on “The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” the couple’s sexual attraction burns up the stage.

African-American hired hand Jud Fry is neither frightening beast nor dangerous hunk but a man whose skin color has contributed to his loneliness and isolation, and though ensemble scenes spotlight whites, blacks, Mexicans, and American Indians cohabitating in relative harmony, it’s clear that a black man’s interest in Laurey was at the very least frowned upon by the white majority.

Is this exactly the Oklahoma! that Rodgers and Hammerstein originally planned? (Hammersteins pre-Broadway book did specifically refer to Jud as “colored,” an adjective Dawson has restored.) Would Curley’s interest in an African-American Gertie Cummings only have raised a few disapproving eyebrows as it does here?

Regardless of the answer, 3-D Theatricals’ Oklahoma! is a must-see no matter how many you’ve sat through before.

Aks’s Laurey is oceans’ deep, engages in Hepburn-Tracy banter with a never-better Ford’s jocular charmer of a Curley, and both leads are gorgeously voiced.

Bonds reveals Jud’s heartbreaking loneliness in a stunningly sung “Lonely Room,” and if this reinterpretation encourages more sympathy than usual for the hired hand, Bond doesn’t shrink back from Jud’s perversions.

Dorney’s Ado Annie is a bubbly delight, Berklund makes Will as hunky as he is gullible, his dancing (and trick-lassoing) in associate choreographer Greg Samples “Kansas City” just one example of  brilliantly reconceived production numbers (the rest of them by choreographer Leslie Stevens), and scene-stealer Boudreau gets every one of Ali Hakim’s laughs.

Last but not least, Mutz is everything you could wish for from an Aunt Eller, deliciously dry-humored and still frisky at fifty.

Featured players E.E. Bell (Andrew Carnes), Dustin Ceithamer (Slim), Corky Loupe (Ike Skidmore), and Matt Merchant (Cord Elam) are all terrific as is Cloie Wyatt Taylor, who gives Gertie a cacophonous laugh that goes on and on and on.

Stevens’ choreographic gifts take particularly high flight in a “Dream Ballet” that takes Laurey from childhood (Caroline Moulios, a lovely Young Dream Laurey) to young womanhood (Missy Marion and Dustin True, dance stunners as Dream Laurey and Dream Curley) to a sexually-confused future so frightening, the Act One-closer could easily be retitled “Nightmare Ballet.”

Dawson’s Oklahoma! clocks in at over three hours (even the often cut “It’s A Scandal! It’s An Outrage!” remains to give the menfolk a chance to strut their song-and-dance stuff) but interest never lags, and its all-ages ensemble of over fifty makes you feel you are witnessing an entire community.

Adult ensemble triple-threats Elizabeth Adabale, Arron Aguayo, Vincent Ancieto, Ceithamer,Jason Chacon, Katie Rose Cunin, Natalli Dorn, Caitlyn Faucher, Amy Glinskas, Jordan E. Jackson, Emily King Brown, Danielle Kohberger, Marion, Stefan Miller, Nick Morganella, Christine Papandrea, Dylan Pass, Jessica Ordaz, Matthew Ryan, Juliana Saenz, Eran Scoggins, Justin Matthew Segura, Allyson Spiegelman, Molly Stilliens, Kevin F. Story, Laura Thatcher, True, Stephanie Urko, and Estevan Valdez dazzle throughout.

Youth ensemble members Johnisa Breault, Olivia Curry, Isaac Dawson, Barrett Figueroa, Tyler Jenkins, Emilie LaFontaine, Wyatt Larrabee, Joaquin Zachary Law, Moulios, Angelina Pendleton-Mendez, Kayla Joy Smith, Grace Briella Wilcox, and Kaitlin Yamano are all pretty darned terrific too.

Production design is Broadway caliber all the way, Jean-Yves Tessier lighting to exquisite perfection The Music And Theatre Company’s gorgeously spare sets, Alexandra Johnson’s costumes, Peter Herman’s wigs, and Melanie Cavaness and Gretchen Morales’s props  as projection designer Andrew Nagy fills the Oklahoma skies with flock after flock of birds in flight.

Julie Ferrin provides an expert blend of instrumentals and amped vocals. Fight director Michael Polak scores bonus points as farmers and cowmen get into fisticuffs like never before.

Lisa Palmire is production stage manager and Terry Hanrahan is assistant stage manager. Jene Roach is technical director. Christy Lewis is trick roping coach. Musicians are provided by Los Angeles Musicians Collective.

Like Broadway’s recent The King And I and South Pacific revivals, 3-D Theatrical’s Oklahoma! takes a Rodgers-&-Hammerstein classic that’s been done to death and daringly reinvents it for contemporary audiences. It is a triumph for all concerned.

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Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., Redondo Beach.

–Steven Stanley
June 17, 2017
Photos: Salvador Farfan/Caught In The Moment Photography


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