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.