If you’ve seen too many high school productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!,” you may think it’s a tired old horse. The glorious production at Ashland’s Oregon Shakespeare Festival will change your mind.
As reimagined by director Bill Rauch, this 1943 icon of American musical theater has been transformed into a happy fairy tale featuring captivating characters, some of whom happen to be gay. The leading man Curly is now a cowgirl who wants to marry Laurey. Will Parker’s sweetheart Ado Annie is Ado Andy.
The relationships are easy to believe. There were plenty of cowgirls in 1906. A cute flirty boy who sings “I’m Just a Boy Who Cain’t Say No” is no less realistic than a cute flirty girl. And Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler, could like both men and women.
The casting changes are fun and force us to think about what makes a good relationship, or a good person with solid values. But with or without those thoughtful messages, the production is brilliant, featuring excellent singing and breath-taking dancing.
The script holds up far better than I thought possible. The peerless songs fit the action perfectly. I’ve known the lyrics since I was a child, but they seem as fresh and funny as ever.
The Dream Ballet, usually performed by dancers representing the characters, was performed beautifully by the actors. And guess what; Laurey can tap dance! Now that’s a first.
Tatiana Wechsler as Curly and Royer Bockus as Laurey take turns playing hard to get, but their love is evident. Jordan Barbour as Will and Jonathan Luke Stevens as Ado Andy are both great dancers and expert comics.
Michael Sharon makes Jud Fry frightening but heartbreaking.
“Oklahoma!” is not to be missed.