Warm, fuzzy feelings abound as we meet the characters of a turn-of-the-century Okie settlement in the Western Nevada Musical Theater Company’s Oklahoma!
The theater group does a good job of capturing the spirit that makes Oklahoma! so popular. The well-loved musical was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, and the state of Oklahoma adopted its title track as their official song. It’s the first Broadway musical to be immortalized on a U.S. postage stamp.
When the curtain rises over the sunny farmhouse set and Curly (Ryan Rothchild) emerges from the back of the theater singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” it’s easy to believe him. Curly is a young cowboy whose good-natured heart belongs to Laurey (Merci Hase), a pretty farm girl. Her Aunt Eller (Kate Hinton) is the model of wisdom and stability, and the scenes where Curly comes over to the farmhouse to flirt with Laurey are thoroughly enjoyable.
Rothchild is delightful as Curly. With his strong singing voice and winsome smile, he conveys Curly’s exuberant spirit without ever being overly rootin’-tootin’. Rothchild has mastered one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best magic tricks—making the transition from dialogue to song feel seamless and natural. Hase, although she makes a beautiful Laurey and delivers her lines well, falls short on this point.
She speaks like an Oklahoma farm girl, but sings like she’s auditioning for the Metropolitan Opera. This departure from character is jarring and makes her lyrics difficult to understand at times.
While Curly and Laurey’s cute but predictable love story unfolds, a hilarious side plot follows the romantic trials of Ado Annie (Heather Dornoff), whose dilemma begins with the return of her most determined suitor, Will Parker (Joshua Jessup).
Parker has just won the $50 he needs to convince Annie’s father to grant her hand in marriage, but, unfortunately, Annie has fallen for the Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Jim DeZerga) in Will’s absence.
Dornoff lights up the stage, perfectly capturing Annie’s innocence and sexuality. Annie swoons over any man who “talks purdy” to her, even if she has to feed him the lines herself. She’s a tart, but of the sweet variety. Jessup is adorable as Will, the embodiment of “Aw, shucks.” He’s not the sharpest tool in the shed, but his love for Annie feels genuine, so we cheer for him.
This play is at its best when the principal characters are playfully bounding through the lighthearted scenes. When the story gets serious, it drops off.
A dark subplot involves Jud (Tony Windisch), a hired farmhand in love with Laurey. He is a mean-spirited, vulgar character with no romantic appeal. He wins a bit of sympathy in the first act, when the play explores the reason for his sour disposition.
Jud has been mistreated all his life. He looks at pornography because he has never had a real woman’s love. He resents farmers because he has never owned his own land.
The complex class issues raised by Jud’s character are completely glossed over in the second act, and his conflict with Curly wraps up a bit too simply.
On the whole, Oklahoma! exemplifies fine community theater. It’s fun, it’s lively and it showcases some impressive local talent.