Entertainment, Lifestyle

‘Oklahoma’: Oh what a start to Music Theatre’s season

The cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! will be performing at North Shore Music Theatre through June 16. (Paul Lyden)

BEVERLY — “Oklahoma,” the 64th season opener at North Shore Music Theatre, is more than OK. The classic American musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein is a fun, rip-roaring blast that’s filled with memorable songs, rousing dance numbers and a first-rate cast.

It’s been 25 years since NSMT has presented this musical, and owner/producer Bill Hanney, who resurrected this theater-in-the-round 10 years ago, and his team were wise to bring it back. It’s a winner.

A cowboy, Curly McLaine (Blake Price), and farm girl Laurey Williams (Madison Claire Parks) are smitten with each other but too stubborn to admit it. When lonely, disturbed farmhand Jud Fry (Alex Levin) asks Laurey to the big dance, and she accepts to make Curly jealous, it triggers a chain reaction of harrowing events.

Laurey’s BFF, the flirtatious Ado Annie (Melissa Carlile-Price), is also caught in a romantic triangle, though hers is amusing. Cowpoke Will Parker (Sean Bell) has returned from Kansas City with $50 in winnings, enough to get his beloved’s father to bless their marriage. But in his absence, Ado Annie has taken up with Ali Hakim (Cooper Grodin), a smooth-talking Persian peddler.

Aunt Eller (Revere native Susan Cella) and Ado Annie’s dad Andrew Carnes (Tom Gleadow) work overtime trying to keep everyone and everything on an even keel.

Director Charles Repole keeps the action moving, aided immeasurably by Mara Newbery Greer’s guidance of Agnes de Mille’s innovative choreography. The dance numbers, especially a long dream ballet at the end of Act 1, are spectacular. There is a lot of talent in this cast.

Blake Price and Parks have great chemistry, and both are wonderful singers. Price is winsome as Curly and brings a freshness to the oft-played “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning.” The two shine during a lovely, tender “People Will Say We’re In Love.” Curly’s entrance, riding a horse, is unexpected and delightful.

Carlile-Price is a hoot as Ado Annie, drawing laughs whenever she’s with her suitors Will and Ali. Her “I Cain’t Say No” is a showstopper. Grodin and Bell are hilarious together, especially during a scene where reluctant fiancé Ali buys useless goods from dimwitted Will so he’ll have the 50 bucks to wed Ado Annie. The “Persian goodbye” and “Oklahoma hello” scenes will have you laughing.

Levin is terrifically menacing as brooding farmhand Jud Fry. He somehow makes you feel sorry for his despicable character. His strong baritone makes “Lonely Room” a winner. Levin and Blake Price are marvelous in the clever, witty “Pore Jud is Daid” and both are superb as suitors bidding for Laurey’s affection in a tense Act 2 auction scene.

“Oklahoma” also celebrates the pioneering spirit of settlers building new lives amid the territory’s impending statehood. That part of the plot is secondary here; it’s the human relationships that rightfully matter here.

Oh, what a beautiful start to the NSMT season. “Oklahoma” runs through June 16.

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