Published by The Oklahoman – Read original article here

Oringially published on June 24, 2015

Photo - <p>Mat Govich (Curly McLain) and Kirsten Scott (Laurey Williams) portray an unlikely romantic couple in the Lyric Theatre production of “Oklahoma!” [Photo by KO Rinearson]</p>

OKLAHOMA! offers a new take on a classic in Oklahoma City production

It’s easy for Oklahomans to become complacent about seeing yet another production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” Because it’s a musical we’ve grown up with, we rarely encounter a fresh take on this familiar classic.

But that’s exactly what director Michael Baron set out to achieve with the opening production in Lyric Theatre’s summer season. Not only does he succeed handsomely, he goes a step further by casting actors who often depart from the norms we’re used to seeing.

Take Jud Fry, for example. We usually encounter a big burly guy whose gruff demeanor is predictable. But Baron cast a lanky Kasey Yeargain, a young actor who makes one rethink the character anew. Yeargain brings a powerful baritone to his characterization, one that soars when he launches into the impassioned “Lonely Room.”

We also expect to find a ditzy comedienne cast as Ado Annie, the girl who never met a man she didn’t like. Not only does Morgan Mabry deliver the goods; she brings a brash yet natural effusion to her role that yields abundant laughter. She’s truly a standout.

It’s that kind of freshness that permeates this production, one that doesn’t allow an actor to take anything for granted. The character Andrew Carnes has very little stage time, but Vince Leseney makes quite a lot out of what could easily be a throwaway role.

Melissa Griffith has mastered Gertie Cummings’ giddy laugh but she cleverly manages to prevent it from becoming something an audience dreads. Andi Dema offers an understated approach to the peddler Ali Hakim, but he too gets the desired laughs.

Lyric favorite Julie Johnson returns as the irrepressible Aunt Eller, a tough old broad with an equally sharp wit. And though her Okie twang may be a bit severe, she ultimately wins you over with her solid stage presence.

Christopher Rice is everything one could ask for as Will Parker, a gregarious cowboy who never let his lack of common sense get in his way. He’s also a joy to watch when he kicks up his heels in the dance segment that turns “Kansas City” into a showstopper.

What makes or breaks a production of “Oklahoma!” however, is the effectiveness of the romantic relationship between Laurey and Curly. Yes, we know they’ll end up together, but it’s their journey that keeps us interested in the outcome.

Kirsten Scott and Mateja Govich are particularly well-matched here. Scott’s Laurey is far more nuanced than the usual petulant girl we see. She’s a strong-willed farm girl who enjoys Curly’s attention but loves the battle of wits that makes their eventual romance so rewarding. Her “Out of My Dreams” is particularly enchanting.

Govich is relaxed and easygoing, an actor who inhabits the character Curly with ease and assurance. He also offers a nicely layered characterization, one that captivates even more when he launches into the delightful “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'” or the lilting “Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”

Brian J. Marcum demonstrates considerable skill in recreating Agnes de Mille’s original choreography, and Jo Rowan illustrates just how powerful the idea of telling a story through dance can be in her winning approach to the celebrated “Dream Ballet.”

Whether providing subtle musical underscoring or harnessing the excitement of this musical’s title number, conductor David Andrews Rogers reminds us just how innovative Rodgers and Hammerstein were in all matters musical.

A hearty round of applause to Baron and his cast for turning what could easily be a perfunctory retread of “Oklahoma!” into something joyous, grand and fresh. Oh, what a beautiful evening this is.

Photo caption: Mat Govich (Curly McLain) and Kirsten Scott (Laurey Williams) portray an unlikely romantic couple in the Lyric Theatre production of “Oklahoma!” [Photo by KO Rinearson]

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