BY HOLLY JOHNSON
Territory folks should stick together, territory folks should all be pals. Sweet, bumpy love affairs push on the plot of “Oklahoma!,” currently in performance by Broadway Rose Theater at the Deb Fennell Auditorium in Tigard. But the backdrop of settlers getting along as the territory looks to become a state is a theme that spreads across the stage like batallions of corn fields: those settling there are tight communities, with folks dependent upon each other for survival.
Sharon Maroney, at the company’s artistic helm, has directed a sharp, appealing production of the dated musical. Dated is not a negative term here. It implies a treasure. History, often American history, provides the backdrop of too many good musicals to mention. “Oklahoma!” was the first book musical, wherein songs and dances were integrated into a well-made story with emotional depth. It opened on Broadway March 31, 1943.
Maroney keeps the pace so bright that the viewer has no time for boredom or distraction. A tall, handsome Curly (Jared Q. Miller) praises the beauty of the landscape and a positive attitude in “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'”, which kicks off the show without pause. Laurey (Dru Rutledge) is the apple of his eye, and despite her general snappy behavior toward him, they’re a couple, as the song “People Will Say We’re in Love” attests. When the villain of the piece, the dirt-smeared, rough-talking Jud (Colin Wood) tries to endanger Curly with some mean weapons (well, mean for the early 1900s), the plot tightens and darkness blots the prairie sun.
Agnes de Mille’s original dances are tweaked and augmented to by talented choreographer Maria Tucker, who really crystallizes the dream sequence: It features tawdry, slippery dance hall girls who momentarily eclipse all the clean-cut farm girls. Here, Brynne Oster-Bainnson’s costumes really shine, red satin and black lace alongside pale crisp gingham, buckskin chaps and ribbons and bows.
The character roles are well-crafted: Joe Cote shines as Ali Hakim the amorous peddler, part exotic Levantine and part all-American salesman. And James Sharinghousen is truly outstanding as Will Parker, the guy who hankers to marry Ado Annie (Megan Carver). One of the top Portland-area actors, Sharinghousen is a bundle of energy that makes the stage shine. Nan Catchel is wonderful as the slow but sure Aunt Eller, who always seems to be there when the plot gets hot.
Stage designer Bryan Boyd has done a bang-up job, creating fields and skies, and one painterly scene of farm buildings dotted across a landscape. Gene Dent’s lighting bring us dawn and daylight with sweetness. Jeffrey Childs’ musical direction, and his first-rate orchestra, pull it all together. As does the memorable music of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
The show runs through Aug. 23 Thursdays through Sundays. For tickets visit the companywebsite or call 503-620-5262. The Deb Fennell Auditorium is located at 9000 SW Durham Road, Tigard.