Review: Virginia Musical Theatre’s “Oklahoma!”

The overall tone of this musical is lighthearted, but the essence of the story runs deep.

Oklahoma! is a story about love and everything that comes along with it; jealousy, confusion, courage, and joy.

The Virginia Musical Theatre presented this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic at the Sandler Center last weekend. The events take place in the territory of Oklahoma as it’s on the verge of becoming a state in the Union. The simple and unassuming set, made up of a farmhouse, windmill, smokehouse, and fence, represented the time period perfectly.

Oklahoma! centers on the love triangle between Curley (Troy Hedspeth), Laurey (Kimberly Markham), and Jud Fry (Garney Johnson). Curley, a cowboy, and Laurey, a farmgirl, clearly have feelings for each other, but her independence and stubbornness cause her to keep him at arm’s length. Jud Fry is the troubled and reclusive farmhand who also loves Laurey, to the point of obsession.

Troy easily achieved the confidence and smooth Southern drawl that the role of Curley calls for, and skillfully handled the range of emotions in the story and the songs (the playful “Surry with the Fringe on Top” to the ominous “Pore Jud is Daid”).  Troy’s clear, effortless singing voice was among my favorites in the show. Kimberly’s portrayal of the tough yet fragile Laurey was convincing, though her lines at times felt rushed. Her musical numbers, however, were beautifully carried by her operatic voice; the duet between Curley and Laurey, “People Will Say We’re in Love,” was terrific.

The overall standout performance for me was Garney Johnson as Jud Fry.

His gruff, booming voice was spectacular. His performance of “Lonely Room” was especially moving; Garney was able to simultaneously convey Jud’s rough and angry characteristics and his underlying sadness and despondency.

Oklahoma! also features the sassy and wise Aunt Eller (Kathy-Lee Wilson), and includes another (quite different) love triangle between Ado Annie (Dowler Young), Will Parker (Jonathan Regier), and the peddler Ali Hakim (Michael Dimirsky). In this case, Ado Annie takes turns wanting to marry each of the two men. Dowler’s quirky and spunky performance of “I Can’t Say No,” and the comedic interaction between these three characters generated a lot of laughter.

The show creatively incorporates a contemporary ballet sequence representing Laurey’s nightmare about her uncertainty over Curley, and her fear of Jud; choreographed by Todd Rosenlieb, the dancers performed this intense and emotional scene with great energy and expression.

Oklahoma! may have had its debut performance on Broadway over 60 years ago, but the story is timeless. It is about the delights and the hardships in love, and in life, and how we help each other through them.

As the show came to a close, the Virginia Musical Theatre cast sang that last high note of “O – K – L – A – H – O – M – A, Oklahoooooooooma!” and their rich, harmonizing voices rang through the theater. My breath caught as the heartening song of new hopes and new beginnings surrounded me, and it stayed with me long after the show was over.

This article was originally published on AltDaily in February of 2011.

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