This is your grandmother’s Oklahoma! — and it’s still great | Theater | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

This is your grandmother’s Oklahoma! — and it’s still great 

click to enlarge Ruth Gottschall, Sara Jean Ford, and Nicholas Rodriguez in Oklahoma! - PHOTO: ARCHIE CARPENTER
  • Photo: Archie Carpenter
  • Ruth Gottschall, Sara Jean Ford, and Nicholas Rodriguez in Oklahoma!
Between the lyrics, the exclamation point in the title, and the sheer number of stalks onstage, musical theater doesn’t get much cornier than Oklahoma!

Pittsburgh CLO’s production is the “classic” version of the 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein hit, not the sexy, modernized revival that took home two Tony Awards earlier this month. This Oklahoma! carries you through its two-and-a-half hour runtime with the buoyant earnestness it’s always had. And, as they always have, the darker, sharper edges of the musical are lurking just behind that earnestness.

Most of the story takes place in real time, over the course of a single, somewhat dramatic evening. Here’s the plot: Farmgirl Laurey (Sara Jean Ford) has to decide whether to go to a party with Curly (Nicholas Rodriguez), the nicest, cutest cowboy around, or her family’s scary hired hand Jud (Matt Faucher).
That’s about it. Along the way, there are dream ballets, group dances heavily influenced by Agnes de Mille’s original choreography, show-stopping musical numbers — Ashley Blanchet as Ado Annie, involved in a love triangle of her own, is a comic standout — and the answer to the age-old question, “Should the farmer and the cowman be friends?” (The answer, of course, is yes, they should!) It’s everything people who say they hate musicals hate about musicals, and it’s executed perfectly here.

The gorgeous set, complete with cornfields and more than one map of the Oklahoma territory (you know, like the title of the show?) goes a long way. So does the leading cast. Rodriguez and Ford have great chemistry, and his sincere, classical tenor complements her sweetly playful soprano in the pair’s big duet, “People will say we’re in love.” Laurey playing hard to get with Curly feels more dated than anything in the show, but Ford does strong character work to make it legitimate, and anyway, Rodgers and Hammerstein have committed worse crimes against women.

Ford has a particular talent for playing Laurey’s nervousness around Jud that makes his brooding adoration of her even more threatening, so when the extent of his darkness reveals itself — and Laurey’s nervousness turns to terror — we understand that she, like us, has only had her worst suspicions confirmed.

There is, of course, a happy ending. And you’d never mistake any Oklahoma! number for a new composition. But although the boys are wearing leather chaps and the girls are in bloomers and poofy skirts, the show doesn’t feel out of date. This Oklahoma! is proof that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to make it fit a 21st-century surrey.


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