Arts & Culture

Broadway musical 'Oklahoma!' revisits pioneer roots

Kitty Balay (Aunt Eller), George Walker (Curly) and Jackie Vanderbeck (Laurey) in a scene from PCPA Theaterfest's production of 'Oklahoma.'
Kitty Balay (Aunt Eller), George Walker (Curly) and Jackie Vanderbeck (Laurey) in a scene from PCPA Theaterfest's production of 'Oklahoma.'

One of musical theater’s most enduring — and endearing — works is playing at PCPA Theaterfest

“Oklahoma!” represents the first collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, whose powerhouse partnership would also result in “Carousel,” “South Pacific” and “The Sound of Music.” As such, it’s easily one of the duo’s best.

PCPA’s production, directed and choreographed by Michael Jenkinson, offers a more authentic, stripped-down take on the popular musical. “Oklahoma!” runs through Saturday at the Marian Theatre in Santa Maria before moving to the Solvang Festival Theater in August for a three-week stint under the stars.

Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, the musical — initially titled “Away We Go!” — is set in the Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the 20th century, as farmers and cattlemen alike are clamoring for statehood.

Headstrong farm girl Laurey Williams (Jackie Vanderbeck), who lives on a ranch with her Aunt Eller (Kitty Balay), is being pursued by two romantic rivals: cowboy Curly McLain (George Walker) and hired hand Jud Fry (Galloway Stevens).

Both hope to escort her to a “box social” dance, where lunch baskets prepared by the local lovelies will be auctioned off to raise funds for a schoolhouse. (The winner of each basket dines with the girl who prepared it.)

Curly might be the best bronc buster in the county, but he’s waited too long to ask Laurey out. Even after the cowboy promises to transport her in “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top,” she rebuffs him — playfully warning him that, if he continues to act so flirtatiously, “People Will Say We’re in Love.”

Laurey’s friend, Ado Annie Carnes (Karin Hendricks), has her own set of suitors — Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Joseph Cannon), whose silver-tongued sales pitches leave her swooning, and cowboy Will Parker (Jake Delaney), her sweet-natured but dimwitted fiancé.

Ado Annie’s father (Peter S. Hadres) has pledged to let Will marry his daughter provided he has $50 in cash. But when he learns of Ali’s dealings with Ado Annie, he makes the peddler promise to wed her instead.

Meanwhile, Laurey meditates on her future — unable to choose between Curly, whose shyness prevents him from sharing his feelings, and Jud, whose passion frightens her as much as it compels her.

PCPA’s production preserves the famous “dream ballet,” in which Laurey’s dilemma is translated into dance. Alex Stewart and Katie Wackowski appear as Dream Curly and Dream Laurey, respectively, in this lovely, lyrical segment.

Equally enjoyable is the fun, frolicsome soundtrack. From the first strains of “O What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” to the closing chorus of the title tune, this “Oklahoma!” sounds as fresh as when the musical opened on Broadway in 1943.

One of the strongest performances in the production belongs to Galloway Stevens as Jud Fry.

In just two numbers, “Pore Jud Is Daid” and “Lonely Room,” he lays bare the dark desperation and tragic longing at the heart of this troubled farmhand.

On the other end of the emotional spectrum is Karin Hendricks as Ado Annie, the girl who “cain’t say no.” An irrepressible flirt and flibbertigibbet, she brings sparkle to every scene she’s in.

But Kitty Balay as Aunt Eller is the glue that holds the show together, bringing her strong voice and steady stage presence to an essential role.

The rest of the cast includes Billy Breed as farmer Ike Skidmore, Casey Kooyman as cowboy Cord Elam and Andrea Hilbrant as giggly Gertie Cummings, who competes for Curly’s affections.

In keeping with the rugged prairie setting, DeAnne Kennedy’s set is spare, even austere — consisting of primarily of wagon wheels, wire, wooden platforms and chairs crafted from pitchforks and tractor seats. The most elaborate set piece evokes a farmhouse’s front porch with a few boards, window frames and a lacy screen door.

Frederick P. Deeben’s calico-and-plaid costumes, likewise, lack frills. There are high-necked blouses, voluminous skirts and straw hats for the women, and dungarees, leather chaps and cowboy hats for the men.

Lighting designer Michael P. Frohling sets the scene aglow with a series of vivid skyscapes.

Other key crew members include musical director Callum Morris, sound designer Elisabeth Rebel and fight director Mark Booher, PCPA’s artistic director.

Although this “Oklahoma!” lacks the lushness of the 1955 film version, the PCPA production nonetheless captures the appeal of a classic.

If you go 

‘Oklahoma!’

1:30 p.m. Thursday and Saturday,

7 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Marian Theatre,

800 S. College Drive, Santa Maria 

$29.50 to $37.50, discounts for seniors and students

8 p.m. Aug. 1 through 24

Solvang Festival Theater,

420 Second St., Solvang

$38.50 to $49, discounts for seniors and students

922-8313 or www.pcpa.org

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