The prairies of America are generalized as the empty middle space of the country. Oklahoma, the musical’s namesake setting, lies in the southern middle of these neglected, grassy states. However, Walnut Hills High School’s performance of “Oklahoma!” proved to be the opposite of such lulling grasslands.
Debuting in 1943, the first Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!” set the standards for this infamous duo. Set in 1906 in the era of westward expansion and the pursuit of freedom, the story follows Curly McClain and Laurey Williams, two unofficial love birds who constantly taunt each other, and the obstacles they overcome. Jud Fry, the disturbing hired hand, is the greatest barrier between them due to Laurey’s reluctant agreement to go to a social gathering with Jud to get back at Curly. The plot is based off of Lynn Riggs’ play, “Green Grow the Lilacs.”
Consistent accents and notable character development helped the production keep rhythm throughout. The simplicity of the set strongly expressed the average Oklahoman lifestyle of that time period. The audience was immersed in the “Dream Ballet,” which was a prime scene with complex choreography and technical elements such as fog machines and the dramatic use of backdrop lighting. The costumes of the overall production were perfectly chosen and the petticoats stood out as they were made by students. The props, led by Sarah Wagner, were astonishing, especially the realistic gun that made the audience jolt every time it was fired.
With a blue bandana and over-the-top facial expressions, Nick Witzeman contributed hilarity as well as heart to the production through his vocals and lanky character. His onstage chemistry with Erin Speno (Laurey Williams) was successful as they portrayed a real, easy to believe romance. Speno and featured dancers kept the audience enthralled with their characters-like charm and grace when dancing. Maddie Eaton had the crowd laughing as she played Ado Annie and in the “Oklahoma hello,” her and Bradley Buchman pulled off a memorable stunt.
Isaac Shapiro was successful in his portrayal of the antagonist, Jud Fry, as his begrudged quality was realistic and added edge to the show. Such a character as Aunt Eller with a gun made the audience jump, wielding the gun was actress Helen Kinskey. She performed as an elderly woman with matured spunk and played the maternal leader of the town very well.
Walnut Hills’ production of such a theatrical classic as “Oklahoma!” was performed with exceptional modern talent and well exceeded “O.K.”