Cain’t Say No to OKLAHOMA! at the Alhambra

The first collaboration of the writing duo of Rodgers (music) and Hammerstein (book and lyrics), OKLAHOMA! is the epitome of a “book musical”, where dialogue and music intertwine seamlessly to move a story forward.  The show may have been written over 90 years ago, but it provides today’s audience with a glimpse of prairie life in the Western Territories before they became States.  While based on a failed play, Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs, the musical reincarnation has been a tremendous success.  From the moment the show opens, the audience becomes invested in the intertwined lives of the characters as the show flies by.

OKLAHOMA! opens with Curly (Alexander Blanco) singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” and greeting Aunt Eller (Patti Eyler), who’s contentedly rocking her chair on the porch.  A box social – a party where the local gentlemen bid on the local maidens’ basket lunches – becomes the catalyst for the ensuing events.  Aunt Eller is coaxing Curly to bid on her niece’s basket, as her niece, Laurey (Isabella Fedele), bursts from the house.  The antagonistic way Curly and Laurey taunt each other, makes their attraction quite clear.  However, Laurey has a second suitor, Jud Fry (Alec Hadden) who scares her and she secretly wants Curly to take her to the social so she feels safe.

On opposite spectrum, Ado Annie (Natalie Drake) has Will Parker (Melvin Nash) as a suitor who loves her something fierce, while she has a side crush from Ali Hakim (Judd Caldwell), a traveling salesman who is more interested in a mistress than a wife.

These seven primary characters are wonderfully fun in their roles, without a weak vocalist in the group.  Curly and Laurey are the straighter characters around whom the story pivots, and their voices and back-and-forth fighting to wooing to fighting to wooing can make you want to smack some sense into them.  Ms. Eyler is a fabulous comedienne, and everyone is just waiting to see that next facial expression.  Ado Annie juggling her beaus and completely unable to make up her mind is consistently ditsy and dizzying as she strings along poor Will while Ali can only hope to get Annie’s father to hitch her to anyone but him.  I think the whole audience took note of Ali’s Persian “hello” vs. Will’s rancher “hello” to try with a special someone.

A special mention goes to Mr. Hadden as Jud Fry.  In a very upbeat musical, it can hard to stand out as simultaneously pathetic, sympathetic and dangerous.  He maintains that persona from beginning to end, making one not sure whether to hate him or cry for him.

The OKLAHOMA! cast was stacked with talent.  All of the vocals, characters, and accents lent to the authenticity of being at the dawn of state-hood.

The choreography in the show is the best I’ve seen since Fiddler, with a lovely danced storytelling in Laurey’s dream sequence.  The set was probably the best I’ve seen on the Alhambra stage through the years, actually opening through to the back to capture the depth of the land.

This is a family-friendly show, and I highly recommend the outing.

OKLAHOMA! is at the Alhambra Theatre, 12000 Beach Blvd., February 22 – March 31, 2024.  Ticket prices vary based on show and seating.  For reservations and a look at the treats yet to come for the season, go to alhambrajax.com or call (904) 641-1212.

By Cessy Newmon

About Cessy Newmon