Very rarely does a show reveal its fate within the first three seconds. Rarer still is when that fate rests squarely on the shoulders of one performer, an actor whose job it is to enchant the audience within the time a takes to sing a single word. In this case, the word is “There’s”—as in: “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow” from Oklahoma!’s opening number “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin.’” By the time the actor playing Curly has sung that sentence, the audience has usually received a pretty solid indicator of where their production will be heading. At Lyric Stage, as soon as Bryant Martin sings the opening syllable the answer is clear: we are in for a beautiful time.
With an incredible cast, flawless music direction courtesy of Jay Dias, and perfectly timed direction from Cheryl Denson, this Oklahoma! gets everything right. Even the infamous Dream Ballet, a doozy of dance storytelling that many companies struggle with, is crisp and heartbreaking thanks to a chorus of talented dancers and choreography by Ann Nieman (based on the original work made famous by Agnes de Mille).
The classic musical may have been written in 1943, but even the hokey moments ring true here thanks to nuanced performances from actors who—for the most part—know when to ground themselves in reality and when to paint a broad stroke. Bryant Martin, as mentioned above, owns the stage before he even sets foot on it, giving us a cocky, charming cowboy with a luscious baritone well equipped to do justice to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s legendary melodies. And ladies, I heard your reaction when he finally came onstage—let’s just say that it’s no hard task to stare at Martin for nearly three hours.
As his foil (and that’s meant as the highest compliment), Kyle Cotton is as dark and twisted a Jud Fry as one could wish for. Rather than play him as a lumbering, menacing bully, Cotton chooses instead to display Jud’s insecurities with a painful honesty. He rarely looks anyone in the eye, and practically curls up into a ball when forced to interact with others. But behind that excruciating shyness simmer murderous and lascivious urges that slowly build until Cotton emerges as a truly terrifying villain. His rumbling voice is showcased nicely in “Lonely Room,” a song incorporated from the 2002 revival.
Rounding out the love triangle is Savannah Frazier as sweet and feisty farm girl Laurey. While her clear soprano is lovely, she sometimes comes off as lackluster when surrounded by the rest of the highly expressive cast. Erica Harte and Sean McGee make an adorably lusty comic couple as Ado Annie and Will Parker, and Brad M. Jackson gathers plenty of laughs as the Persian peddler, Ali Hakim. The ensemble, many gifted with dance skills, are so animated you might wonder if that’s coffee growing at the back of Michael Schweikardt’s set (borrowed from Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma) instead of corn.
As the satisfyingly enjoyable closing production of Lyric Stage’s season, this is an Oklahoma! that seems to have sprung out of your dreams and into reality.
Photo by Michael C. Foster