Sunday, March 4, 2012

Oklahoma! at the 5th Avenue Theater

I'm not ashamed to admit it: I like musical theater. Almost everyone I know hates (or claims to hate) musicals, but occasionally I drag Chris and Oscar to one. Last night we went to see Oklahoma! -- the first musical written by the legendary team of Roger and Hammerstein and first performed on Broadway in 1943 -- at the 5th Avenue Theater. It's a classic, but I don't remember ever seeing it before. Is that possible?

I might have seen it as a child, because I definitely recognized a lot of the songs, including "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey With The Fringe On Top," "I Cain't Say No," "People Will Say We're in Love," and of course the title song. The plot was really corny and old-timey: Essentially, cowboy Curly wants to take a farm girl to the box social but she's irritated that he asked her at the last minute, so instead agrees to go with Jud, a farmhand she's afraid of. You can absolutely imagine how this all ends up.

The Seattle version of Oklahoma! has been controversial because a black man plays Jud, a bad guy. There's a scene in the play where Curly holds up a noose and basically tells Jed to hang himself, and there's a dream sequence where Jed forces himself on his would-be girlfriend. I bought the tickets before reading about the uproar in the paper, so I can't say whether I would have noticed the actor's race. I'm used to seeing all races in theatrical productions, and the casting director claimed that he meant the casting to be colorblind and was not trying to be provocative. In any event, the actor playing Jud had an amazing voice.

Production aside, the 5th Avenue Theater itself is worth checking out. Modeled after China's Temple of Heavenly Peace, the Summer Palace, and the Forbidden City, the interior is unlike any I've seen before. The center chandelier is held in the teeth of a coiled dragon, and dragons feature prominently in the design elements. It's very striking. It's also really comfortable, and even though we were way up in the balcony, we could see and hear fine. I'd definitely like to see another show here.


  1. I love the music but not the story.

  2. Interesting....back in the fall, I went to see Oklahoma done in Portland with an all-black cast. Jud was white! And the travelling peddler man was middle Eastern. Very interesting, amazingly well done and much better than the original!