Highly Recommended ***** As the highly Jeff Nominated Paramount Theatre begins its new “Broadway Season”, thoughts were ,can Corti and company keep up the pace? Can Corti continue to bring the highest of quality to the stage of his beautiful venue in Aurora? The answer my friend ( as Peter, Paul and Mary would have said) is blowing in the wind, and yes, they have continued with their tradition of making audiences rave as they leave the theater. “Oklahoma” is the initial production for the 2015/2016 season, and everything is up to date with this sterling production directed by Corti himself with great style and grace depicting a story that made history and a musical that remains one of this country’s true classics. The story is about the turn of the century (the early 1900’s) and the coming of age, and statedom, for Oklahoma!
Over the years, many of our local theater companies have brought this classic piece to their stages. In recent years, even The Lyric Opera, now doing at least one major “American” musical each season took on this one, as did Light Opera Works. Often people ask how we can go and see a play that we have recently seen and reviewed. The answer is one that is very easy to explain. First of all, each director will interpret the script in his or her own way, and of course with different voices and actors, as well as musical directors and technical aspects, every production is different enough to make it comfortable to see again. It is different, even when it is the same!
For those who do not know the history of the show, “Oklahoma” set the standard for the musicals of today, incorporating a story with music and lyrics that worked with the story telling of the show. It also incorporated dance and in many cases a topic of a serious nature that came from the news or real life situations. The early 1900’s were turbulent times in our country’s western states. Farmers had migrated west to work the land and grow crops so they could survive. Ranchers felt the land was better for grazing and raising cattle. The tension between the farmers and cowboys was ideal for Rodgers & Hammerstein II to take on. They took a play written by Lynn Riggs, “Green Grow The Lilacs” that dealt with the topic and transformed it into the major musical that we have watched on stages for over 70 years!
Corti has put together his production using all of the original musical pieces, as well as original dances created by Agnes DeMille and choreographed by Katie Spellman. The “Out Of My Dreams” ballet is spectacular! Scott Davis has designed a set that allows for our imagination to see things simply, so that we can focus on the importance of the words being said and sung. The voices that have been found to play each of the role sin this story are amazing, starting with the opening number “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ “, sung by our hero, Curly (brilliantly played by Colte Julian, who amazingly is from Oklahoma), as he comes down the aisle from the audience to the stage. Attracted our attention pretty quick!
On the stage, Laurey (the adorable Allison Sill) and her Aunt Eller (the feisty Caron Bruins). They are farmers and Curly a cowboy. We can see that there is a love connection that neither wants to talk about as it would interfere with the lives of each. Despite all the tension, one can see that along the way it will be the perfect match and they will live happily ever after. Getting there is half the fun. Another couple that is involved in the same type of routine is farm girl Ado Annie ( Lillie Cummings is divine in this role) and her cowboy, Will (fun loving Carl Draper who can dance and do some roping as well) who is not bright, but is reliable and loyal to the woman he loves.
If one were to look deeply at each of our main characters, one might see that they are different in many ways, but also the same. Each is a “loner” or and outsider, not being like the others of the community. Curly is a drifter, living and working from day to day, willing to give up all he owns for a chance to own a farm. Laurey, who has no real family, owns a farm, something that women were not known for during this era. Should she take a mate, the land would be his. Perhaps that is why Judd is also interested in his employer. As I said, you might look at each of the characters and find that to be the case.
Their lives have some others involved as well. For Laurey and Curley, a farm worker, Judd Fry, (deftly handled by Peter Saide) who is in love or perhaps lust with Laurey and is willing to kill or die for her, and in the case of Will and Ado, the Persian Peddler Ali Hakim ( the always reliable Kareem Bandealy) is interested in Annie until the topic of wedded bliss interferes. Annie’s father is played by another Chicago favorite character actor, Don Forston and the ensemble of singers/dancers and actors are highly energetic and talented. The orchestra of 18 members under the direction of Tom Vendafreddo is powerful yet never overpowers the fine voices of this cast.
“Oklahoma” is a lengthy musical with a first act that is one hour and 30 minutes and a second that is one hour and yes. there is a ten minute intermission. Back in the day, all of the musicals had longer first acts, allowing for the overture and the exposition of meeting all of the characters. It worked! It still has the appeal that it did back in the day as well. I spoke to some younger audience members who had never seen this show or even the movie version, and they understood more than I would have anticipated. They got it! Songs that they had previously heard were the opening, “The Surrey with The Fringe On Top”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”, the title song and Ado Annie’s “I Caint Say No”. There are others but it is the full production that I feel will be another Jeff Recommended one leading to a few more nominations for the new season.
Wednesdays 1:30 and 7 p.m.
Thursdays 7 p.m.
Fridays 8 p.m.
Saturdays 3 and 8 p.m.
Sundays 1 and 5:30 p.m.
Tickets range from $41- $56 and can be purchased at the box office, by calling 630-896-6666 or online at www.ParamountAurora.com
Valet parking is available and there is street parking, some metered, some not around the theater. There are also dining spots in this, the second largest city in Illinois. If you have not attended a Paramount production, you owe it to yourself and family to do so. If you have, don’t miss another one.
To see what others are saying, visit www.theatreinchicago.com, go to Review Round-up and click at “Oklahoma”