Oklahoma! The classics never go out of style

Earlier this week, when I reported during our morning meeting here in the ES newsroom that I’d be attending a dress rehearsal of Sherburne-Earlville’s “Oklahoma!,” I did so with the expected accompaniment of my own moaning and groaning.

“Oklahoma? Again?” I thought as I agreed to attend and do a review, dreading seeing the Rodgers & Hammerstein go-to for what seemed like the 17th time.

But then Melissa deCordova asked a very good question. “Why do all these high schools keep doing the same musicals over and over again?” she asked. My first inclination was to jump to the “lack of originality” conclusion, but then I thought about it. There must be a better answer.

And there is. I think local high schools keep going back to musicals like “Oklahoma!,” “Carousel,” and the much-maligned (by me) “Sound of Music” for the same reason English classes keep reading Shakespeare, Hawthorne or Twain – classics really never do go out of style.

Musicals from this particular oeuvre tap into the American zeitgeist in the same way that classic novels do (OK, I know Shakespeare wasn’t American, but work with me here) ... they’re familiar, recognizable, and they teach young people the basics of the art form in a way that prepares them to take the leap into more esoteric fare later in life. So while these tried-and-true musicals may be laborious for someone like me who’s seen them one million times, they’re giving these young thespians the building blocks on which to construct, hopefully, a thriving love for – and perhaps career in – the performing arts.

So did that little newsroom epiphany make me appreciate “Oklahoma!” in a whole new light? Ehh, not exactly. As a friend of mine on Facebook noted after I posted something about wanting to hurt myself after “Surrey With The Fringe On Top” wouldn’t leave my head, “Oklahoma!” is really a bad play with terrific music.

That said, what was an eye-opener, and always is, is the fresh take that a new cast can give to a tired production – and that’s exactly what my friends up at Sherburne-Earlville are doing with “Oklahoma!” this weekend. Drama club in the fall, musical in the spring, it’s always a pleasure for me to travel to our neighbors to the north and see what this talented group of young people is up to – and I was, again, impressed with the efforts they put forth on stage.

I wasn’t surprised that Jeff Taylor would be playing the head cowpoke, Curly. With his deep, rich voice and commanding stage presence shown in past roles (think Capt. VonTrapp in last year’s show), Taylor’s a natural fit for the lead here. I probably had Emilee Smith pegged for Laurey, but instead she’s cranky old Aunt Eller, a role she plays with her usual crack comedic timing and magnetic personality. Haley Muth channels Miss Shirley Jones perfectly as the goody-two-shoes Laurey, and shines with Taylor as they sing their signature duet, “People Will Say We’re in Love.” Ryan Bagnall provides a captivating foil to their sugary romance as the menacing Jud Frye. His sullen rendition of “Lonely Room” makes him downright scary.

Personally, I think Curly and Laurey are doofuses who deserve each other. In “Oklahoma!,” I’ve always preferred the supporting roles, and S-E’s production is no exception. As the antithesis to the too good to be true Laurey, Maisy French’s rambunctious Ado Annie is the perfect comedic sidekick, full of vim and vigor. Take particular note of her best number, “I Cain’t Say No.” This girl’s got chops. She’s also got two suitors, both of whom provide some shining moments on stage. Brad Ward chews up the role of rope-wrangler Will Parker with gusto, and Alex Rodriguez nails the snake-oil charm of peddler Ali Hakim to a T.

There are no small roles, only small actors, so the saying goes. Taking lesser parts and playing the heck out of them are two S-E thesps – Craig Natoli, who channels Yosemite Sam as Annie’s dad, and Zoe Enscoe, who’s appropriately annoying as the giddy Gertie Cummings.

Oh wait, I guess I forgot to tell you the plot of “Oklahoma!” didn’t I? Umm, well, it’s set in Oklahoma in the late 1800s and there’s this box social and Laurey says yes to Jud but really wants to go with Curly and ... who cares, really. Again, “Oklahoma!” isn’t much known for its plot – it’s the music that counts here, and the Sherburne-Earlville troupe will have you humming a tune long after the final curtain drops.

Just hope, for your sake, it’s not “Surrey With The Fringe On Top.”

“Oklahoma!” is being staged Friday and Saturday nights at 7 p.m. in the S-E high school auditorium. Tickets will be available at the door.

Directed by Andrea Love and Anne Caton, the talented cast also includes: Jacob Taylor, James Behret, Jonathan Simmons, Ed Rigano, Austin Miller, Joelle Clark, Geana Giglio, Megan Rogers, Caitlin Weinell, Kayla Geier, Sofeia Eddy, Emily Palmer, Meaghan Weinell and Marissa Doing.

Follow me on Twitter ... @evesunjeff.

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