BWW Reviews: OKLAHOMA at the 5th Avenue Theatre
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by Jay Irwin
What do you do with a dated overdone musical that every High School on earth has done in order to make it fresh for a professional run? Well, you could pair up with a local dance theater to punch up those outrageous dance sequences to give the audience something new. That's exactly what the 5th Avenue Theatre did when they teamed up with Spectrum Dance Theater in order to try and polish up their production of "Oklahoma". The problem is that it punched up a bit too much and made it feel a bit too new. Luckily the leads of the show still knew how to tell the story and that's what made the show enjoyable.
Don't get me wrong, the dances were pretty and all, although not as astounding as I've seen there (specifically thinking of the wonderful dance sequences in "Seven Brides for Seven Brothers" they did back in 2008). But at times it felt like it was an experiment on how may pelvic thrusts they could throw in which came across less as cute and silly and more anachronistic for me. This is "Oklahoma" not "Cabaret".
But then, maybe I'm remembering this show as being more wholesome than it actually is. Upon this viewing I was reminded how really screwed up (and not all that well constructed) it really is. Guy loves girl and girl loves guy, but since they are constantly saying how much they hate each other I'm not exactly sure how they have ever gotten to know each other to figure that out. But they do. Problem is other creepy guy loves her too. And when I say creepy I mean psycho creepy. Meanwhile other guy loves other girl but she has a problem saying "no" to ALL the other guys in town. Aw, but she sings about it so it's OK. So first guy, after singing a song to creepy guy about how he should kill himself, ends up admitting his feelings for first girl and they get married. But after the wedding creepy guy shows up and he and first guy fight and creepy guy is killed in the fight. Well that's too bad but we have a honeymoon to go on to and a life to begin together on this not at all gloomy beginning. Well let's sing about something else so as to not make it gloomy anymore. There, all forgotten! And this is a wholesome family musical set in 1907? You'd think it was written by Kurt Weill and not Rodgers and Hammerstein.
OK, so the dances were not as period as I would have liked and the story's a little Brechtian, but how was the rest? Well as I said, luckily the leads seem to have a grasp on what they were in as they managed to make their characters thoroughly engaging. They sang pretty and told a story quite well that might give some nightmares. Eric Ankrim is a completely lovable goofball as Curly and has a powerhouse voice to boot. Alexandra Zorn matches the strength of his character and voice note for note and the two have amazing chemistry together. Kirsten Delohr Helland is hilarious as the overly amorous Ado Annie and forms a perfect love triangle with the love struck but dim Will Parker (Matt Owen) and the scheming Ali Hakim (Daniel C. Levine). Kyle Scatliffe as the sociopathic Jud turns in one of the subtlest yet still dangerous performances of the role I think I've seen. And Anne Allgood as Aunt Eller may seem a little young for the role but still manages it with spunk and vigor and remains a force to be reckoned with.
So while I may not agree with the tag line on the 5th Avenue's poster for the show that this is "One of the greatest musicals of all time", they certainly managed to make an enjoyable evening even for someone who may not have the softest place in his heart for the show.
"Oklahoma" plays at the 5th Avenue Theatre through March 4th, for tickets or information contact the 5th Avenue box office at 206-625-1900 or visit them online at www.5thavenue.org.
Photo credit: Chris Bennion