The big musical “Oklahoma!” has been packed into San Luis Obispo Little Theatre with all of its familiar music, lively and lovely dancing, comedy and drama intact.
Written in 1943, it has become a classic. The first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, “Oklahoma!” marked a turning point in musical theater, telling a dramatic story as well as showcasing memorable music. Many of us know the familiar songs by heart.
The story, set in 1905 in the Oklahoma Territory on the verge of statehood, tells of the romance of cowboy Curly and farm girl Laurey, threatened by bad guy Jud Fry. Another, more comical triangle involves Laurey’s friend Ado Annie, her boyfriend Will Parker and peddler Ali Hakim.
The simple story is punctuated by such enduring songs as “Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and “If I Loved You.”
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When a musical is so familiar, its characters often become stereotypes — the handsome cowboy and the feisty girl whose feelings are expressed mainly in song. But director and choreographer Zach Johnson and his actors avoid that tendency and create real personalities worth caring about — even the bad guy.
Marcus DiMaggio is just right as Curly. He’s cute and likable, willing to display his vulnerability and instantly gain the sympathy of the audience. He also has a great voice. And like everyone in the cast and ensemble, he can dance. He played the role at Coast Union High School in Cambria several years ago and gives it added maturity and charisma this time.
Lauren Moore plays Laurey as a strong personality, resisting Curly’s attention at first, then frightened by Jud Fry’s threatening advances. She has a lovely, clear voice.
The character of Jud Fry, the frustrated and bitter hired hand who has his eye on Laurey, is often played as a real villain, but Travis Nefores manages to give him some depth and even a touch of sympathy.
Kerry DiMaggio, sister of Marcus who plays Curly, is delightful as Ado Annie, the “girl who cain’t say no.” She has a strong voice that can belt or soar, and she is funny as she tries to choose between cowboy Will and peddler Ali Hakim. Devin Day is good as Will and Lester Wilson is a kick as Ali Hakim. Michelle Hansen is another comic character as Gertie Cummings, the girl with the deadly laugh.
Aunt Eller, the wise elder who sees through the young people’s facades, is well played by Janice Peters. Jim Lowrey plays the judge, another guiding force in the scenario.
One of the highlights of “Oklahoma!” is Laurey’s dream ballet. The talented ensemble joins two elegant dancers in this number, which goes from grace to combat-like moves. MJ Johnson is the dream Laurey and Randy Lee Hose is the dream Curly. They are both superb dancers.
The ensemble provides the energy that fuels the song and dance sequences. Other members of the lively group are Rebecca Canfield, Kelly Fidopiastis, Jeff Larson, Danielle Mendoza, Redzuan Rahim and Wade Tillotson. All are fine singers and dancers. John Laird is musical director.
The set is fairly simple but functional. A big windmill and a row of cornstalks set the mood. The front porch of the farmhouse revolves to reveal Jud Fry’s smokehouse quarters. The rest of the stage is left open for all of the dancing and frolicking. David Linfield is set designer. Sharon Woodside designed the period costumes.
“Oklahoma!” has been playing to sold-out houses and it’s easy to understand why. The iconic musical is presented with high-spirited affection, and the songs will stay with you for days.