Monday, August 16, 2004

Oklahoma! (The Musical)

Ever seen one of them ballet dudes dancin in cowboy boots?

As a wannabe writer of musicals (embarking upon my first attempt soon) I have been frustrated lately to live in the middle of the country, about as far as I can get from musical theater goings-on on either coast. However, we've got something special right here in Oklahoma that they ain't got in New York or LA!

I took my family to see Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! at its national home at the Discoveryland! theater in Sand Springs this weekend, right here in Oklahoma. If you live in the state and you haven't seen the show yet, shame on you! If you live fer away, it's worth some travelin.

Oklahoma! is considered to be the first true American musical; a groundbreaking show after which all that followed were patterned. This is because it was the first that was more than a mere review, in which a collection of songs are presented around a theme, loosely tied together with dialog. Oklahoma was the first to use the songs to tell a story, setting a new standard for musical theater.

The songs of course are fantastic. All are very memorable and catchy. Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics are clever beyond compare. The Discoveryland! production, which has run for 29 years, is fantastic as well. The performance was polished to a sheen, with all the lines delivered to their best advantage. The actors squeezed every drop of humor out of the song lyrics and script. There were many belly laughs from the audience. Lisa and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The production is all the much better by virtue of being staged in an outdoor amphitheater. The set is nestled among actual trees. Horses and carriages (including the famed surrey with the fringe on top) enter across a wooden bridge and exit into the woods behind the barn. Cicadas provide soft background music during sections of dialog. At one point as Curly and Laurie sing about the stars above, the stage lights dim and the actual articles twinkle down on the audience below.

Lisa points out a further advantage to the outdoor setting - refreshments! We had ice cream, popcorn, and soda pop during the show, just like at the movies!

It was cool to hear the song "Oklahoma" it it's original setting as part of the show. I've heard it a billion times (since it is our state song) and the audience always claps and sings along and it's all quite spirited. But it was nice to hear the song without the clapping, and enjoy the intricate arrangement and the lyrics within the context of the story. (Of course the song was reprised as an encore so the audience could clap and sing along one time as well!)

The Discoveryland! experience is more than just the show; it's a whole evening of fun and entertainment. You can opt into the cowboy dinner, and there are two half-hour pre-show acts: native american dancers and cowboy singers. We did the dinner, which was good, but the lines were so slow we missed the dancers. The advertised opening time is 6:00, but if you want the dinner get there well in advance because you will have to stand in a slow ticket line before going in.

Evalyn (3 years old) enjoyed the pony rides while we waited in line for our food. She enjoyed the singing and the horses in the show, but well before the end of act one she became squirmy and wanted to leave. We persevered however, and her interest perked up during the dream sequence, which is a ballet that becomes a bit scary as Laurie gets shoved around by Judd and his cronies. Evalyn became a bit concerned at that point (Why are they doing that to her!?) but we assured her it was only a dream, and we drew her attention to the real Laurie, who can be seen the whole time sleeping on the porch.

During the intermission, Evalyn got rid of some energy running up and down the walk to the parking lot, and she settled in nicely for act two. She came home with a souvenir horse puppet (we named him Curly) who this morning was still singing bits of songs from the show.

So should you take your kids? There are some fight sequences and some startling gun shots, though a gun is never shot at a person. There are also some bawdy bits, but those are likely to go over a youngun's head. The story is mostly about mushy love stuff so some kids may not get into it. But I recommend it for any kid who loves music and can sit through a long movie with no trouble. And of course it is a must-see for adults. We plan to go again in a couple of years when Evalyn can appreciate it a bit more.

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