By Mary Boyle
In the whole of the musical theater world, there are few music and lyric writing duos as well known and successful as Rodgers & Hammerstein. The King & I, The Sound of Music, and South Pacific were among their Broadway hits, but the most influential and successful was their very first collaboration: Oklahoma! Since its opening on Broadway in 1943, this tale of romance on America's frontier has seen numerous award-winning revivals and national tours, including a 75th Anniversary staging happening on Broadway right now, and was even the winner of a special Pulitzer Prize. Oklahoma! literally set the stage for all Broadway musicals that followed, which makes it the perfect season opener for Skylight Music Theatre's 60th Anniversary Season, under the leadership of their new Artistic Director, Michael Unger.
Curly McLain (Lucas Pastrana) is a cowman in love, but his lady of interest, Laurey (Brittani Moore), seems to be playing hard to get. Though Laurey's Aunt Eller (Cynthia Cobb) and the rest of the community are sure the two are stuck on each other, Laurey already agreed to go to the dance with Jud Fry (Jeremy Peter Johnson), the creepy hired hand on her Aunt's farm. Curly and Laurey's romance isn't the only talk of the town, though: Will Parker (Sean Anthony Jackson), another cowman, has his heart set on Ado Annie (Hannah Esch), but neither she nor her father (Chad Larget) are taking him seriously. At the moment, the peddler Ali Hakim (Ehtan D. Brittingham) seems to have caught Ado's eye (and her eye may have a tendency to wander). Both Curly and Will need to work to get ahead of their competition in order to win the hearts of the ladies they love.
Directed by Jill Anna Ponasik, Oklahoma! is so much a part of our culture that, even if you've never seen the production before, you will almost surely recognize the music. From the opening number, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," to the title song, "Oklahoma (where the wind comes sweeping down the plains)," you may be surprised to find yourself singing right along. Lucus Pastrana, who was last seen as the title role in Pippin at Skylight last season, is perfectly cast as the leading man, Curly, alongside his fellow cowman and fellow Skylight regular, Sean Anthony Jackson, who plays Will Parker. Cynthia Cobb and Chad Larget, who are also no strangers to the Skylight stage, are brilliant as Aunt Eller and Ado's papa, respectively. Brittani Moore and Jeremy Peter Johnson make fabulous Skylight debuts as Laurey and Jud. Keep an eye out for two newcomers: Hannah Esch is so much fun to watch as the feisty Ado Annie, and Ethan D. Brittingham, who was seen last season in The Fabulous Lipitones at In Tandem, is wonderful as the rascally pedler, Ali Hakim.
Once you see it, it's easy to see why Oklahoma! continues to draw crowds 75 years after it first hit Broadway and how the music continues to be a part of our culture: it's simply as American as apple pie, and just as traditional, while still having the ability to speak to modern audiences. Skylight does it absolute justice. See it while you can.
Oklahoma! runs through October 13th at the Cabot Theatre, located within the Broadway Theatre Center at 158 N. Broadway in Milwaukee's Historic Third Ward. Tickets may be purchased in person at the Broadway Theatre Center BoxOffice, 158 N. Broadway, by calling (414) 291-7800, or visiting www.skylightmusictheatre.org
About Skylight Music Theatre
Skylight Music Theatre's mission since 1959: To bring the full spectrum of music theatre works to a wide and diverse audience, in celebration of the musical and theatrical arts and their reflection of the human condition. Skylight presents productions "Skylight Style" – bringing fresh approaches or interesting twists to music theatre works, creating meaningful connections, not only between the characters on stage, but with the audience, as well.