If you've ever wondered why musical theater fans think of Oklahoma! as the show that launched the "Golden Age" of musical theater, you need to get a ticket for this weekend's CCM performance of the 1943 classic by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. I attended the opening last night, and it's a stunning production firing on all cylinders. The cast is first-rate, especially senior John Riddle as handsome cowboy Curly McLain and Chris Blem as threatening Jud Fry. Julia Johanos is a feisty Laurey Williams, and CCM and Broadway veteran Pamela Myers comes back to where she got her start to play Aunt Eller, full of wisdom, piss and vinegar.
But it doesn't stop there: The big cast is accompanied by an even bigger orchestra — more than 30 players, by my count — the likes of which you'll seldom hear or see in any contemporary theater. And we do get to see them, because as the show's glorious overture is played, the orchestra pit is elevated to view with conduct Roger Grodsky in full cowboy regalia, including a 10-gallon hat and a string tie.
The production's director is dance professor Diane Lala, so you are in for a choreographic treat, too. The dancing is based on the show's original choreography by the legendary Agnes DeMille, and we get to see every bit of it, including the often-deleted dream ballet that concludes the first act. Sure, it makes a long show longer (it's about three hours from start to finish, with one 15-minute intermission), but it sure adds to the reminders as to why this show set so many trends and traditions in motion. The dancing of "Dream Laurey" and "Dream Curly" (Hannah Freeman and Max Clayton) is especially noteworthy.
The costumes, the wigs, the singing, the acting ... every aspect of this production of Oklahoma! is a showcase for CCM talent. There's one catch: It's only onstage through a 2 p.m. Sunday performance, so you need to call right away for tickets ($29 for adults, $19 for students, for Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., a bit less for the Saturday and Sunday matinees) — they'll be gone quickly. The box office number is 513-556-4183 or online link is here.