By John Horan Jr. -- firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The timeless charms of "Oklahoma!" are manifest at the Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre.
The production, directed by Harold Herman, captivates with its gorgeous singing, convincing acting, imaginative choreography and handsome sets.
"Oklahoma!," the first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, changed musical comedy for good. Building on the pioneering "Showboat," which opened the theater's season, the musical weds the songs and dances to the story, advancing the plot and reflecting the characters' feelings.
The tale is modest -- whether Curly or Jud, the rough farm hand, will get to take Laurey to a picnic in the Oklahoma territory -- but its simplicity is enhanced by the superb music. The show, a cavalcade of hits, reaches its pinnacle with the spirited title song, with its elaborate harmonic filigree.
Instead of a rousing opening number, the musical begins with "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'," sung simply by the affable Curly, David Murgittroyd.
His glistening tenor is matched throughout the show by the radiant lyric soprano of Catharine Kuntz, an enchanting Laurey. They also bring depth to their characters, conveying the fits and starts of young love.
As Jud, Rory Dunn boasts a polished baritone and a subterranean speaking voice that adds to the menace of his character.
In the comic subplot the free-spirited Ado Annie, played with boisterous frivolity by Erika Conaway, is torn between her old reliable beau, played by Bradford Frost, and the scheming peddler, Ali Hakim, portrayed by Kevin Selwin.
Ably reprising their roles from the 2001 production are Susan McCormack-Pike as the lovably officious Aunt Eller and the still-spry-at-85 Gene Babb as Annie's mercurial father.
Robin Higginbotham's fanciful choreography retains some of Agnes de Mille's original concepts, especially the extended dream sequence, which replicates the plot and combines basic ballet with more modern turns such as the guys as a troupe of dancing horsemen and red-bedecked show girls conveying menace. But Higginbotham also adds her own clever touches along the way.
Wm. McConnell Bozman's rustic sets are complemented by the often dramatic lighting designs of William Pierson. Jennifer Flitton Adams supplies an abundance of colorful costumes.
"Oklahoma!" continues through July 4 at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre. The box office phone number is 665-4569.