St. Louis Post-Dispatch
June 17, 1998
'Oklahoma!' soars in anniversary opener by Judith Newmark Laurey, the belle of the Oklahoma Territory, has let a teasing squabble with her sweetheart, Curly, get out of hand, and now they won't go together to the box social. But Laurey assures her girlfriends it doesn't bother her: "Why should a woman who is healthy and strong/blubber like a baby cause her man's gone away?...Many a new day will dawn before I do."
At that moment, there's a lot to take in: the timeless Rodgers and Hammerstein song, Andrea Burns' soaring voice, the dance ensemble's lyrical evocation of young womanhood in all its tender, self-confident bloom, a swirl of old-fashioned pastel comtumes. "Oklahoma!" is suddenly more than the sume of its parts, and The Muny's 80th season is off to a glorius start. That level of complex joy - joy made up of many different elements, meticulously brought together - never falters for the rest of the show, right up to the happy ending.
The show, which began Monday, gets off to a somewhat slower start, as director Paul Blake allows each well-cast actor to take time to establish his or her character. But it's time well spent. Within just the first 15 minutes, there are two classic numbers, "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning" and "The Surrey With the Fringe on Top." This score only gets better and better. Fifty-five years after audiences first saw "Oklahoma!," its music still sounds new minted.
The cast is outstanding, starring Burns as Laurey and James Clow as Curly. They look and sound great together, especially in their gorgeous duet, "People Will Say We're in Love." Whe it reaches the sweeling instrumental passage after the lyric "Give me my rose and my glove," it breaks through the limits of theater and sounds like love itself. That's an achievement for the orchestra but also for the actors, who open the way for the music's emotional force with thier ardent delivery.
There are also real sparks from the comic couple, Muny favorite Nancy Ringham as Ado Annie and John Bolton as her fleet-footed, slow-witted sweetheart, Will Parker. Each of the supporting roles is clearly etched as well, with Bruce Alder as the peddler, Joneal Joplin as Ado Annie's father and June Squibb as Laurey's tough, kindly Aunt Eller. Mark Lotito gives a thoughtful performance as Aunt Eller's sullen hired hand, Jud Fry. Physically clumsy, head down, hands fumbling, he show Jud as a man of real, and hurt, feeling, without compromising his menace. Also, Lotito and Clow give a delivery of the satric "Pore Jud Is Daid" that should be taped as a diction lession for aspiring singers everywhere.
You can catch all of Oscar Hammerstein's devastating lyrics. This production reminds us that, along with Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers, choreographer Agnes de Mille was crucial to the creation of "Oklahoma!" Gemze de Lappe, who was a premier dancer in "Oklahoma!" on Broadway, restages and adapts de Mille's dances here; they add immensely to the show's overall look and emotional force. Dancers Callye Andra Robinson and Randall Graham give especially touching perfomances in the long dream-ballet that closes the first act. The whole show is long, actually. The first act doesn't end until 10 o'clock. But with a procutions as compelling as this one is, you don't find yourself checking your watch too often.

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