Dave Tinney’s creative mind has done it again. Oklahoma!, which played in the Ragan Theatre from Jan. 20-29, definitely was not what those familiar with the show had expected.
Tinney, the director of the show, took several creative liberties with the script and made Jud a Native American, Aunt Eller an African American and he turned the typical ballet sequence into a saloon-style nightmare.
The most interesting and impactful change Tinney made, with the help of Jud’s portrayer Jacob Squire, was that instead of hating Jud at the end, I pitied him. The way he was played, Jud wasn’t the horribly sinister guy he is usually portrayed as, just terribly misunderstood and misjudged. Hats off to Tinney for turning the villain archetype into a victim of ignorance.
As great as Squire’s performance was – there is no question about it – the scene stealer of the show was Kelly Coombs, who portrayed the fantastically girly, dim-witted but boy lovin’ Ado Annie. I found myself waiting for her to return to the stage, wondering what new quirks she would be bringing next.
Her skirt-twirling antics were beyond endearing. It was impossible to scorn her for her wandering ways as far as the peddling Ali Hakim and her beau from home Will Parker were concerned. She was too innocent and too down-right hilarious. Her song “I Cain’t Say No” was genius and far outweighed that of any other performance in the show.
Coombs has a very unique singing and speaking voice, but it’s obvious that there is a great power behind it. As a performer, she is top notch and is always a pleasure to see.
Right behind her was the fantastic, no-nonsense Aunt Eller, portrayed by Lita Giddins, a tiny woman with a big heart that leaps off the stage. It was wonderful to witness the love she has for everyone in the show. A great actress, I only wished she had more to sing.
Aside from those three performances, I was left underwhelmed by the acting. There was a lot of awkward breathing before lines were given, and what was more is that I didn’t believe the actors at all. It was painfully clear that most of the cast wasn’t comfortable with the dialogue, as the delivery was often times delayed and unsure.
The show itself was lacking energy and boring, with the exception of Coombs, whom I can’t see ever lacking energy. Even during my second seating at the show, the chemistry wasn’t fully connected and the energy lulled at some points, despite the jumping around and hoot’n’hollering.
The standout scene was the “dream sequence.” What used to be a ballet sequence turned into a sauntering of scantily clad girls. I think Tinney’s use of the “saloon” type girls was genius. Having Laurey’s arch nemesis Gertie saunter out last, dressed to, well, seduce, was a great move. It allowed the audience to really understand and see how Laurey views Gertie, and more importantly how she feels about Curly and really illustrates how she feels about Jud.
This is where Julie Garcia, who portrayed eternal tomboy Laurey Williams, shined. As she screamed out at the end of her dream, it was terrifying and a scream that shook to the bone. That was the moment that I believed everything I saw on stage and I felt everything the characters felt, something good musical theatre should do.
The set was great, considering the very small amount of wing space that is provided in the Ragan. The stretching background of the sun over the Oklahoma plains gave the feeling that the work was taking place in the middle of nowhere, which, during the settling of Oklahoma, is realistic and appropriate.
The lighting, though, had to be my favorite of the technical aspects of the show. The changes were phenomenal, especially in the dream sequence, and for “Lonely Room.” The lighting was essential in setting the mood, especially when other aspects of the work failed to.
Overall, it was a fun musical, with a great score and was worth seeing for the changes Dave Tinney made. However, the show ran about two and a half hours long and at times felt a lot longer. Because Ado Annie, who was proof that time flies when you are being entertained, was not in every scene, I am afraid I found myself looking at my watch the whole time, wondering if the wind also took the energy from the show as it came sweeping down the plains.