While we’re in the midst of the run up to the Republican and Democratic nominating conventions and issues of who is and who isn’t an American and questions of borders and fences are hot in the debates, I can’t think of a better time for IU Opera Theater’s fine production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic confrontation between farmers and ranchers, Oklahoma!
The show is built around three love triangles, one political and two personal. First the politics. Two groups want Oklahoma, but different Oklahomas.The cattlemen want the open range of Oklahoma for the pastures and the drives. The farmers need the Oklahoma with fences for their crops. It’s a made to order conflict between groups with legitimate and sharply conflicting desires.
Then there are the personal triangles. There’s Curly, a ranch hand who wants to marry the difficult farm girl Laurie, while her hired hand Jud Fry casts a dark shadow. Then there’s Will Parker the prize winning roper who’s all enthralled with the feisty farm girl Ado Annie who has eyes for the exotic peddler, Ali Hakim.
Mitchell Jones gave a good accounting of the virile you Curly. Emily Dyer was very good as the on-again, off-again object of his affection. Christopher Seefeldt was menacing, but drew a bit of sympathy as the dark Jud Fry. Kole Howie was a sprightly Will Parker both vocally and in leading some of the dancing. Rebekah Howell was a hoot as the winsome Ado Annie. Bruno Sandes appeared as Ali, the peddler who’s always getting caught in his own schemes.
IU Opera Theater’s expansive production of Oklahoma! is directed by Gabriel Barre with help from choreographer Jennifer Paulsen Lee. There’s a lot of dancing with quite a variety. There are the exuberant dances of the cowboys, the more conventional dances of the farmers at the box social and the very ethereal and demonic dream ballet. Dancers from the IU Ballet were smoothly integrated into the scenes and Patrick Mero’s lighting cast a devilish glow on the darker moments of the production.
The love triangles do get sorted out, though neither Curly nor Will nor Ali is going to have an easy time of it, but marriage is a powerful and attractive image.
And the other triangle, the political one…the affair between the ranchers and the farmers and the land…well, at the end what unites them is a vision a little like a marriage, it’s of an Oklahoma becoming a “brand new state,” a place where both groups will have a place and dignity on a national scale. It was a potent picture of diverse people coming together when Oklahoma! Premiered in 1947, may something like that prevail today.
Constantine Kitsopoulos conducted. Sound reinforcement for dialog and the singing worked very well. After listening to many recordings with either a pit or a studio orchestra, the lush sounds of the IU orchestra were a delight.
IU Opera Theatre’s Oklahoma! Has final performances Friday and Saturday April 15th and 16th at 7:30
At the theatre for you, I’m George Walker