Starlight's 'Oklahoma!' is superlative
Expert staging and likable cast bring out the best in qualities
by Robert Eisele
The Kansas City Star
June 24, 1998

The term "classic" is often overused in our superlative-prone society.  But Rodgers and Hammerstein's "
Oklahoma!" is the genuine article:  an American musicial masterpiece as timeless in its appea as it is ageless in its simplicity.

The touring production that opened Starlight Theatre's summer season Monday night has all the elements necessary to fully appreciate this enduring tale of life on the plains at the turn of the century.

There's an attractive cast with voices perfectly suited to the demands of musical theatre, some crisply executed adaptations of Agnes De Mille's ground-breaking choreography by Gemze de Lappe, and some expert staging by Paul Blake that takes full advantage of the epic proportions of the outdoor playhouse's expansive stage.

Hammerstein's adaptation of Lynn Riggs' "Green Grow the Lilacs" provides a servicable framework for some of Broadway's most memorable songs and dances.

The story follows the bumpy courtship of cowboy Curly McLain (
James Clow), the best broncobuster and bulldogger in 17 counties, and winsome and flirtatious farm girl Laurey Williams (Andrea Burns).

Set against the backdrop of an Oklahoma territory on the verge of statehood, the couple's love eventually triumphs over complications involving the misplaced affection of a disturbed farmhand (Mark Lotito).

Clow and Burns are perfectly cast as the show's central characters, displaying exceptionally strong singing voices and winning personalities.

This production is blessed also with a superb supporting cast, including note-worthy perfomances from Nancy Ringham as the loose-lipped Ado Annie and John Bolton as her gullible cowboy suiter, Will Parker (imagine a taller, less cyncial, singing-and-dancing David Spade).

Blake's direction keeps the action moving at a good clip, with the possible execption of a somewhat long first act.

One miner quibble:  If Cowboy Curley is "so bowlegged he couldn't stop a pig in the road," why not allow him to make his entrance on horseback?  It seems a missed opportunity, give the scale of Starlight's stage and the openness of it's wing space.

But that's a minor complaint.  This "Oklahoma!" is the perfect way to usher in the season.  It's as fresh and welcome as a field of lush summer sunflowers, blooming anew with the rediscoverd pleasures of Rodgers' tuneful score and Hammerstein's vibrant imagery.

It doesn't get much better than this.

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