Arts and Entertainment

'Oklahoma!'

I’ve never been a big fan of musicals.

First of all, I can’t sing for diddly, so it doesn’t make sense to me why anyone, in the course of everyday life, would suddenly break into song when a few lines of explanation would suffice. It’s too weird. To commence belting out a love song in the middle of a seduction strikes me as fully obnoxious, not romantic, and choreographed dance numbers bring to mind the arrangement of bowling pins awaiting the scattering action of a 12 pound ball. Somehow, I’ve always considered the whole musical thing existentially silly and inherently embarrassing.

For me, musicals have the same relation to the genre of drama that, say, curling has to the world of sports: oddly dressed and overly happy people occupied in irrelevant acts that only a handful of the world population enjoys, and those that enjoy it, enjoy it way too much.

Imagine my profound consternation, then, when the good folks at Oak Harbor’s Whidbey Playhouse invited me to a special press screening of “Oklahoma,” the king-dandy of slap-happy, whee-diggity-dog musicals. All those effervescent cowboys and corn-fed farmers’ daughters dancing and prancing, singing and carrying on! Egad! It was like getting called to report on a car wreck of clowns on nitrous oxide. The best I could hope for was a sort of sick kick out of it all.

The story of “Oklahoma,” written by two fellows named Rodgers and Hammerstein, basically revolves around a series of countrified courtships involving ranch hands, salesmen and maidens of varying moral rectitude. Everybody keeps swapping mates in this saucy, slapsticky way, with the central tension residing in the issue of whether Curly (played by Tim Brown) and Laurey (Karol White) will actually end up together in the final tally. There’s also this deeply disturbing character named Jud Fry (excellently portrayed by Joel Green) who looks to stand in the fated couples’ way, and a plaid-clad peddler/womanizer named Ali Hakim (the fantastic Brian Baker) who can’t commit anything but his lips to the next available chippy.

Throw in some singing every five minutes or so, a mesmerizing dance-dream sequence, a high-stakes picnic basket auction for eligible girls, and that’s essentially the gist of the thing. It’s like a wonderful Rube Goldberg contraption designed to fill all available space with song and square-dancing, when the story holding it all together boils down to a limerick.

Did I say “wonderful?” Yeah, I guess I did. Expecting a personalized fiasco, I was actually surprised to enjoy this well produced, finely directed and competently performed production. Not exactly converted to the genre as a whole, I will admit that I won’t be so quick to dismiss musicals ever again, a fact that no doubt will bring tears of joy to the eyes of all my gay friends.

First off, it’s a real bonus that the whole show is supported by real live music, with keyboardist Priscilla Wilbur and stand-up bassist Patricia Stengel-Felger providing a continuous soundtrack that is able to adjust to the cadence and tempo of each individual singer and song. And as for the singing, everyone holds his or her own, with some especially strong performances being turned in by Brown and Emilie Mann as that kiss-and-tell bobblehead Ado Annie Carnes.

Most important, however, was the thrilling revelation that musicals can be so darn SEXY! “Oklahoma,” for all its bucolic seeming-innocence and aw-shucks charm, smolders with a wild, sultry heart. Relentless flirting and rustic double-entendres create a libidinal atmosphere that is the more powerful for being always implied. Maybe that’s why everyone’s singing and dancing all the time. They just can’t help it.

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