MILWAUKEE - I vividly remember seeing my first musical, “Oklahoma!,” on my 16th birthday. Considering that was in 1948, it tells you how long this show and I have survived. Recently hitting Broadway again, this 1943 Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration continues to entertain audiences.
Upon entering the Cabot Theatre for Skylight Music Theatre’s production, one immediately notices that the small orchestra occupies a prominent place upon the stage, and although piano, violin, bass and a bevy of percussive musical instruments do justice to the music, it does diminish the space needed to give one the spacious environment characteristic of the Oklahoma territory before it became a state in 1907.
Director Jill Anna Ponasik sized down the production, which is often performed with a very large cast, but it is always interesting to see various interpretations and presentations of the same work.
As for the songs, there was humor in “I Cain’t Say No” and “ Kansas City ” and beauty in the ballads, “People Will Say We’re In Love” and “Out of My Dreams.” The spirited “Oklahoma" cannot be forgotten, and their rousing arrangement of this signature song was an unforgettable and beautiful finale.
Humor, romance and the flavor of an earlier time in our history were all in the mix.
The leads, Lucas Pastrana and Brittani Moore, filled their roles nicely, but I thought he was stronger than she. Aunt Eller was well-portrayed by Cynthia Cobb. I admired Jeremy Peter Johnson’s rendering of poor Jud, though I winced at the way he was treated. His “Lonely Room” was poignantly delivered.
The surrey was a surprise when it arrived upon the scene, and the song that presaged its existence was also a delight. The opener, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” still has appeal.
The peddler, Ali Hakim (Ethan D. Brittingham), Ado Annie (Hannah Esch), and Will Parker (Sean Anthony Jackson) made a humorous trio of characters. Ali was slick, Will was sincere, and Ado was slippery.
Although the dancing in any “ Oklahoma!” production is not as spectacular as the choreography in “West Side Story” or “Newsies,” it was fun to watch the Skylight cast’s vigor and be amazed at Stephanie Staszak’s moves.
It was enjoyable to encounter “Oklahoma!” again and appreciate how far the American musical has grown in depth over the last 76 years. The settling of this country will always be a fascinating story.
Music provided by musical director and pianist David Bonofiglio, violinist Pamela Simmons, bass player Tom McGirr and the incomparable percussive artist Michael “Ding” Lorenz was a delight, almost a concert that could stand alone.
The musical runs through Oct. 13 in the Cabot Theatre in the Broadway Theater Center , 158 N. Broadway, Milwaukee . Call 414-291-7800 or visit www.skylightmusictheatre.com.