There's a lightness and ease to Waukesha Civic Theatre's version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic "Oklahoma!" that feels like "a hawk making lazy circles in the sky" from the title tune.
All the performers fit comfortably in their roles, like a well-worn pair of cowboy boots, and the familiar tunes were as sweet as the first bird of spring. The choreography just seemed to grow right out of the scenes on opening night like the corn stalks that covered the stage.
There is yet another aspect director John Cramer was able to extract from this well-known musical. Besides the fun, he has emphasized the funny. I never realized just how much humor there is in this show.
There was, happily, no attempt to tinker with the essence of this musical, but to simply allow the wonderful stories, beautiful songs and distinctive characters to materialize on stage as they were meant to.
The marvel is that this is one of the largest WCT casts in recent years - some 49 members. Yet, there is never a jumble of bodies on stage -- none of those traffic jams that come when a production tries to fit 10 pounds of potatoes in a 5-pound bag - even during the ensemble numbers
All this couldn't have been accomplished without strong collaborations with all those responsible, including music director Anne Van Deusen, choreographer Becca Osmon, stage manager Kelly Krause and others.
The charming love story of the handsome cowboy Curly and the pretty farm girl Laurey during the early 1900s when Oklahoma was preparing for statehood just never grows old. Neither do the other endearing characters like Will and Ado Annie, Aunt Eller and the smarmy peddler Ali Hakim.
Brandon Haut opens the show as Curly, strutting onto the stage and intoning "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning." Haut's voice is thin, but pure, and fits his mild-mannered character well. He's really met his match when Jacqueline Boelkow as Laurey bursts out of the farmhouse door and immediately takes charge in Scarlett O'Hara style.
The comedic fulcrum of the show is Aunt Eller, the go-to gal for family and townsfolk because of her wisdom concerning everything from romance to territory justice. Denise Meagher as Eller draws in the audience and her good sense and big heart make everyone wish she were their aunt.
Even more comedy comes from the Will and Ado Annie roles, played by Max Mainwood and Julie Moore. Ado Annie is a plum comedic role for any actress and Moore aces this test. Her "I Cain't Say No" is all wide-eyed naiveté and her pantomime alone could've told the story. Moore is perfectly paired with Mainwood, who combines his character's likability and dim-wittedness to a T. Both have incredibly expressive faces and movements that keep their scenes in motion.
Nathan Danzer as Ali Hakim gets a lot of mileage out of the peddler's many funny lines as his character finds all his amorous advances toward the female customers he meets on his travels get him into plenty of hot water.
The one bad guy in the show, Jud Fry, the loner farmhand who pines for Laurey, is played with apt sullenness by Danny Strayer, who pours out his feeling for his sorry lot in "Lonely Room."
A real plus for this show is the extensive choreography that never seemed heavy or plodding, even with many sizes, ages and skill levels of performers. Clever choreography used small groupings of dancers, who sometimes ended up in the aisles. Especially beautiful was "Out of My Dreams," with Laurey and the girls, which segued into the "Dream Ballet." Boelkow's Laurey moves with grace and urgency as she is torn between the two men who love her in the dreamsequence.
Musically this show is perhaps WCT's finest in recent years. Ensemble scenes have fullness of sound with beautiful blends, never sounding strident or harsh, even with a good many children in the cast. Each song left you wishing for more.
However, one thing the ensemble might want to watch for is reacting to the speaker too quickly, which happened a couple times in "The Farmer and the Cowman," stepping on a couple of good lines.
There is such a sense of genuine joy in this show that went beyond a forced exuberance. This cast was truly having fun, while keeping the integrity of show.
It only makes one wish that this era of the feel-good musicals would return.
IF YOU GO
Who: Waukesha Civic Theatre
When: Through March 24
Where: 264 W. Main St., Waukesha
Tickets: (262) 547-0708
Information: www.waukeshacivic theatre.org
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