With its DJ overhead mixing transitions between scenes and its two young protagonists riffing at warp speed about cultural stereotyping, over-parenting and the plain fact that sometimes thing suck, playwright Mike Lew’s Tiger Style at La Jolla Playhouse works overtime at being hip and relevant. It succeeds in Act 1, even though too often the diatribes delivered by co-stars Jackie Chung and Raymond J. Lee sound as if they’re coming right off the page of Lew’s sharpened script and not from any semblance to reality. This can be funny, however, as when the exasperated brother and sister Jennifer and Albert decide to go “western”: she resists analysis n a shrink’s office; he goes rogue at his office.
Then reality goes out the window completely in Act 2, when Jennifer and Albert go “eastern” instead, as in go to China. The antics there, variously involving a cookie-cutter general and broad humor about government surveillance and confinement in a Chinese prison, take Tiger Style into the unwelcome territory of parody. The abrasiveness of Lew’s “heroes” doesn’t help, either. Their moment of self-awareness at the end feels, shall we say, less than sincere.
Wholesome. In a word that’s Oklahoma!, the Broadway musical warhorse that was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration 73 (!) years ago. To this day, audiences apparently can’t get enough of it. Or should we say, to borrow from the show’s most memorable character, Ado Annie, they “cain’t say no”?
Anyway, the old girl (Oklahoma!, not Ado Annie) is the first production in New Village Arts Theatre’s 16th season in Carlsbad. There’s nothing particularly fresh about this iteration of Oklahoma!, but you’d have to be a total grump not to have a good time anyway. Jack French boasts a rich baritone as cowhand Curly, complemented by silken-voiced Charlene Koepf as his true love, Laurey, an underwritten character whose most dramatic turn in the show comes during the dialogue-less, 15-minute-long balletic dream sequence at the end of Act 1, a conception of the great Agnes de Mille’s.
As with most productions of Oklahoma!, the predictable courtship posturing between Curly and Laurey is relieved and enlivened by the presence of precocious Ado Annie, at NVA played with comic exuberance and sheer joyful electricity by Alexandra Slade. Neither Zackary Scot Wolfe, as beau Will Parker, nor Jonathan Sangster, as faux-beau Ali Hakim, can keep up with her. She’s a kick.
And on the subject of kicks, the choreography by Julie Catano is splendid, not only in light of NVA’s relatively compact stage but on its own merits. That famous dream ballet, while overlong, gives the large cast a chance to flash its flexibility in both senses of the word.
The prodigious Tony Houck is music director of the production’s three-person band (Houck, Nobuko Kemmotsu and Morgan Carberry), which except for fiddler Carberry is hidden from view throughout, and it gives a rousing account of itself. No one can deny that Oklahoma! delivers hummable tunes, or have you forgotten “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning!” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”?
Didn’t think so.
Having undergone extensive improvements to its theater, NVA can offer a more comfortable audience experience. In that vein, you can’t get much more comfortable than Oklahoma!
David L. Coddon is a Southern California theater critic.