The last weekend is fast approaching to catch the much talked-about "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!" at the 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle. Closing March 4, this big-hearted, high-kicking musical is a wholesome slice of Americana that celebrates a young and growing nation filled with possibility.
This gloriously reinvented song-and-dance stage hit is packed with familiar favorites from the beloved 1955 film like "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "I Cain't Say No" and, of course, "Oklahoma!" A new twist or two is added as well, some of which found favor with audiences and at least one that caused a big stir. Overall, one thing is certain: a remarkable cast and an extraordinary collaboration with Tony Award-nominated choreographer Donald Byrd and Spectrum Dance Theatre bring this classic to vibrant life on the 5th Avenue stage.
Set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906, "Oklahoma!" tells the story of charming cowboy Curly McLain (played by Tacoma native Eric Ankrim) and his romance with farm girl Laurey Williams (played by the gorgeous Alexandra Zorn). Ankrim, in one of the lead roles in 5th Avenue's staging, brings oodles of charm to his character. His delivery of "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" more than does justice to this song, one that audience members familiar with the film wait to hear with anticipation. Ankrim will be back on the 5th Avenue stage next month in "First Date," a new musical in collaboration with ACT Theatre that opens March 10 at 5th Avenue Theatre.
Kyle Scatliffe as Jud Fry is another aspect of "Oklahoma!" that's catching lots of buzz – especially his performance of the song "Lonely Room," which reviewers have called captivating and touching. With a hungry eye for Curly's girl Laurey, the simmering, dangerous Jud creates a lovers' triangle that adds dramatic tension to the musical – and more. Scatliffe is African-American, so casting him as the antagonist love interest to a white woman set in 1906 didn't sit too well with some audience members and theater reviewers. Finally, 5th Avenue Theatre had to respond. Panel discussions and even a town hall meeting were held to air the controversy, which surely helped publicize the play as much as it helped bring conversations about race and equality.
Choreographer and Spectrum Dance Theater Artistic Director Byrd said of his approach to the collaboration: "There were things I wanted to explore based on the research I had done. The musical takes place at a time when the Oklahoma Territory was being considered for statehood. In 1907, Oklahoma had more all-black communities than the rest of the country being put together."
According to a press release issued by the theater, "[F]rom 1865 to 1920 African Americans created more than 50 identifiable towns and settlements in Oklahoma, some of which still exist today. There was even a movement to make Oklahoma an all-black state. The new 5th Avenue production has been inspired by and captures some of this history."
Despite the debates, "Rodgers & Hammerstein's Oklahoma!" will leave you with a bounce in your step and a song on your lips. It's remaining run is Feb. 23, 24, 25 and 26 and March 1, 2, 3 and 4. Single tickets start at $29. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit www.5thavenue.org or call the box office at (206) 625-1900.