In 1943 Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein changed the face of musical theatre with Oklahoma!, the first musical to incorporate its songs to help propel the plot. While one cannot argue its ground-breaking role, the real question is whether it deserves a revival 70 years later. Based on the Royal City Musical Theatre production on stage at the Massey Theatre the answer lies, as it often does, somewhere between yes and no.
On the yes side sits an incredibly gifted cast that sings this hackneyed story to great heights. Leading that charge is Sayer Roberts as Curly whose tenor is as crisp and clear as anything that you’ll hear on stage. Anywhere. From the opening number “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, that will send chills of delight down even the most jaded of critic’s spines, to his lead in the rousing 11 o’clock number Oklahoma!, Roberts once again proves he is destined for great things.
Roberts is joined by an equally talented group of musical principals that includes two professionals (Sandra Head and Brennan Cuff) in this community theatre production. Along with Head and Cuff who easily handle Rodgers’ music is Mark Turpin who brings his incredible voice to the enigmatic Jud. The ensemble also proves its chops in the music department and even as some mug reactions in the background, their infectious enthusiasm and ability to come together as a group is hard to ignore.
On the flipside, it is hard to overlook the stark black and white nature of the performances here, a result that one suspects comes from having choreographer do double-duty as director. Valerie Easton’s pedigree as a choreographer is on full show here, with a level of difficulty for this mostly amateur cast nothing short of amazing; that she was able to help pull such beautiful performances from Dan Bowman and Claire Wardle in the dream dance sequence is a testament to those abilities.
As director though Easton hasn’t helped her actors make the best decisions which means they don’t always find the authenticity that lies within the grey areas of their characters. For example, while Turpin sings his heart out, he fails to find the pain beneath the angry Jud and as Laurey, Quinn Carthwright plays the victim rather than the strong farm girl. Even Roberts, Head and Cuff, who are the most successful in finding their roles, could have spent more time finding out what makes their characters real.
Musical director James Bryson pulls some amazing vocal performances from the cast and while the orchestra can’t quite match the strength of those on stage, they work hard to bring Rodgers’ music to life.
Set designer Omanie Elias keeps things simple with a beautifully painted Oklahoma sky as backdrop and a few key pieces, ensuring there is plenty of room for Easton’s larger dance numbers. Chris Sinosich is once again in top form with her costumes.
While this production of Oklahoma! may not be the game-changer that it was in 1943, it boasts enough talent that makes this trip to the country (or in this case New West) worthwhile.
Music by Richard Rodgers. Books and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs. Direction and choreography by Valerie Easton. Musical direction by James Bryson. A Royal City Musical Theatre production. On stage at the Massey Theatre in New Westminster through April 27, 2013. Visit http://royalcitymusicaltheatre.com for tickets and information.