Oklahoma!, at Cabrillo Stage, July 27, 2013

Cabrillo Stage’s not-to-miss Oklahoma!

OK_3By Philip Pearce

Cabrillo Stage’s Oklahoma! deserves that exclamation point. It’s alive, it’s wonderfully staged and acted, it’s beautifully danced and it’s full of all that gorgeous music.

Having last seen Oklahoma! on stage back in the late 1940s, I’d forgotten what a stark blend of light and dark this twentieth century classic is. The engaging spirit of upbeat numbers like the title song, Oh, What a beautiful mornin’ or People will say we’re in love is what tends to linger. That, and the raucous comedy and ebullient dancing. But, face it, the central plot is simply about whether a cowboy named Curly or a ranch hand named Jud will take a local girl named Laurey to a box social. Bland and sugary? Look closer.

Jud the farmhand, who wins the first round and actually squires Laurey to the event, is a psychotic loner whom the cowboy Curly spends a central scene of Act I trying to unseat by persuading his rival to hang himself. Poor Jud is daid may be darkly funny but its basic message is, “I want you dead and I’ll do pretty much anything I can to help that happen.” The scene ends with the solitary Jud’s haunting and scary Lonely room, a number bleak and sinister enough for Sondheim or Bernstein at their darkest. Laurey then has a drug-induced dream which starts with her starry-eyed vision of marriage to Curly to the lyrical waltz-beat of Rodgers’s Out of my dreams, but descends into a nightmare when Jud threatens to rape her. Not your standard parish hall operetta! The box social question safely settled with Laurey and Curly’s marriage, the crazed Jud is then stabbed to death in a knife fight, a good fourteen years before West Side Story, and Curly is charged with his murder.

Rodgers and Hammerstein not only revolutionized the mechanics of American musical theater (no more splashy opening chorus, no more un-plot-related songs or dances) but drastically expanded the range of what popular composers, lyricists and playwrights dare to imagine in words and music. .

Cabrillo Stage gets the blend just right. Unstinting praise for everybody down to the youngest nine-year-old member (Gavin Mazzia) of a skilled ensemble. Among the principals, Will, Ado Annie and Ali Hakim, played respectively by Jordan Sidfield, Vanessa Vazquez and Andrew Ceglio, belt out their show stoppers nicely and cavort ably through all the fancy comedy stuff. Alice Hughes is all heart and brio as Aunt Eller. Kevin Johnston is a tormented and vicious Jud with a strong baritone voice. Matt Taylor and Emile Marsilia act their central ‘Benedick-Beatrice’ courtship with energy and wit, and, together with Johnston, make a significant improvement on one element in the original Broadway performance. Back then, Alfred Drake, Joan Roberts and Howard DaSilva were replaced by look-alike dancers for the central dream ballet. Cabrillo’s Curly and Laurey and Jud not only sing gorgeously but dance their roles effectively, in both the world of dreams and on the solid soil of Oklahoma.

That the same individual named Kikau Alvaro both directed and choreographed this slick, big, bouncy production boggles the critical mind, all the more because his picture in the program makes him look about seventeen. Exclamation point!

Fifteen performances of Oklahoma! at Cabrillo Stage remain, through August 18. Photo by Jana Marcus