Arena Stage opens their 60th season with an American classic.
By Julie LaPorte
The atmosphere on opening night of Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at Arena Stage was celebratory, and for good reason – Artistic Director Molly Smith has a hit on her hands. Oklahoma! kicks off the inaugural season at the newly renovated Mead Center for American Theater and is playing through December 26.
“Arena is in the midst of her own harvest,” says Smith. “This is a moment of great joy and optimism for the new Arena Stage, and so too it was for Oklahoma, a frontier on the cusp of becoming a state. My idea is simple: I want to create an Oklahoma that looks and feels like it’s 1907 on the frontier – a place in the middle of becoming. Our production of Oklahoma! reflects Arena and America today: modern, diverse and cross-cultural.”
In a territory on the verge of statehood, Aunt Eller (E. Faye Butler) holds her family and friends together with love and feisty commonsense. Her niece Laurey (Eleasha Gamble), a sassy and head-strong girl, is in love with Curly (Nicholas Rodriguez), a charming and free-wheeling cowboy. But Jud (Aaron Ramey), the brooding and lonely farmhand, burns with unrequited love for Laurey.
Naive farmer Will (Cody Williams), is chasing after boy-crazy Ado Annie (June Schreiner), who has her eye set on Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Nehal Joshi). Ado Annie’s father, Andrew Carnes (Hugh Nees) stands by with his shotgun, attempting to preserve the virtue she seems so eager to lose. The rest of the cast was brilliant – rounding out the story with singing and dancing that left everyone cheering.
From the first familiar strains of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning” to the rousing closing bars of “Oklahoma!,” the audience was swept up in the magic and charm of this stunning play. The success is due in no small part to the work of Music Director George Fulginiti-Shakar and Choreographer Parker Esse.
“The sound of our production will be a cross between the lushness of a symphonic orchestra and the plain-folkiness of a western string band,” says Fulginiti-Shakar, who celebrates his 15th production with Arena Stage. “We are using a restored score just released with the addition of a fiddle, banjo, harmonica and rhythm.”
Esse adds: “My goal is to capture the ‘modern times’ of the early American frontier. I hope to infuse these movements to reflect not only the hardships these settlers had to endure but also the wishes, dreams and romantic desires that would have filled their heads and distracted them from their harsh everyday realities.”
This is a must-see production that will entertain the entire family. For more information and tickets, visit Arena Stage.
Julie LaPorte is a freelance writer living outside Washington, D.C. For the past year she has served as a columnist for Washington Life Magazine – penning reviews for the Performing Arts and the Paint the Town columns. She also works as a political marketing copywriter for candidates in local, state and national campaigns as well as for Congressional franked mail