When the wind comes sweepin' down the plain in the Media Theatre's version of
, it comes with lots of high kicks, Western-boot stomps and whirling skirts. The show's got the long-leggedest cast members in metropolitan Philadelphia, and they know what to do with those things.
A dozen years ago, choreographer Tonda Hannum set Oklahoma! dancing for Media, and she's come back at it with a vision that befits Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1923 musical - their first, filled with infectious songs. This production nearly suffocates until the dancing begins in earnest, when everyone sings about up-to-date Kansas City; it's so static at the very beginning, I wondered whether artistic director Jesse Cline, who staged it, should have called it a concert version rather than a full-scale show.
The slow rev-up began Friday, opening night, with a shy orchestral overture rounded out with some off-key brass. At Scene 1, it was clear that Melissa Guyer's bland set - seven stand-alone, cloud-painted walls with six pilings in front, and skimpy cut-out windmills affixed to the sides of the stage - was not going to help.
The set is highly pragmatic; you can turn it into any Oklahoman location you like because it has no context. So, having old Aunt Eller knit in her chair while our hero Curly stands to the side and obsesses on, oh, what a beautiful morning it is, doesn't do much for us.
What the production failed to spend on sets, it put into the dancing and the costumes. Maggie Baker-Atkins decks out the women in flowing pastels and the men in handsome farm pants, a variety of cowboy boots, and neckerchiefs and hats. The plains never looked so good.
Sweet-voiced Jaimie Standish is the farm gal, Laurey, and her beau, Curly, is Joseph Spieldenner, who delivers a song and a wide smile with a clear punch. When he breaks into the first syllable of OOOOOOOO-klahoma, his voice says signature song, and the cast takes it from there to prove him right.
In the large cast, Melissa Bohon's a suitably flirty Ado Annie and Chris Gatterdam is solid as the boy who wants her to keep her eyes on him only. Veteran actress Susan Wefel is a pull-no-punches Aunt Eller. The heavy, Jud, is menacingly played by another fine singer, Bill Gross. Roger Ricker, as the panhandler Ali Hakin, is the scene-stealer; he runs with the role, all the while breathing dimension into a cardboard character.
Keep your eyes on Sara Antkowiak-Maier, who dances the female role in the dream sequence that ends Act 1. The dancing's smartly choreographed, and Antkowiak-Maier and the cast bring it off without a hitch, which is the cast's reverent approach, as a whole, to an American classic.
Music by Richard Rodgers, book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, directed by Jesse Cline, choreography by Tonda Hannum, set by Melissa Guyer, costumes by Maggie Baker-Atkins, lighting by Troy Martin O'Shia. Presented The Media Theatre.
The cast: Joseph Spieldenner (Curly), Jaime Standish (Laurey), Bill Gross (Jud), Susan Wefel (Aunt Eller), Chris Gatterdam (Will), Melissa Bohon (Ado Annie), Roger Ricker (Ali Hakim), Tim Haney (Carnes), Sara Antkowiak-Maier (Dream Laurey).
Playing at Media Theatre, 104 E. State St., Media, through May 27. Tickets: $35-$39. Information: 610-891-0100 or www.mediatheatre.org.