It has been more than 11 years since the Show Palace Dinner Theatre first did Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Oklahoma!, but longtime patrons still talk about it in glowing terms. "It was one of our favorites," said Nick Sessa, co-owner of the theater. When the owners took a poll of "what patrons want to see most" a couple of years back, Oklahoma! was one of the most requested.
On Oct. 1, the theater will open its new production of the classic for an eight-week run.
Since that first production, the Show Palace has joined Actors Equity Association, which gives artistic director Matthew McGee access to the country's top performers. The 24-member cast includes several newcomers (some of them familiar to local audiences from other venues), as well as Show Palace favorites.
Equity actor David Kelley (Sky in Guys and Dolls) plays Curly McClain, the cowboy who comes to the tiny 1906 Oklahoma village of Claremore and falls for the comely farm girl Laurey Williams (Mollie Fischer, Show Palace debut), never mind that the surly, menacing farmhand Jud Fry (W.C. Green, Emile in South Pacific, Elvis in Viva Vegas) has already spoken for her.
The rivalry comes to a head when Curly and Jud vie for Laurey at a barn dance, with violence barely averted by everybody's favorite, Aunt Eller (Susan O'Gara, Show Palace debut).
Romance is everywhere, as the spunky Ado Annie (Evie Hutton, Alice in Seven Brides for Seven Brothers) flirts with the spendthrift cowboy Will Parker (Daniel S. Hines, debut) and the wily traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Peter Clapsis, debut), who's most interested in Annie, but not really interested in matrimony.
Annie's dad, Andrew (Rick Kistner, Preacher in Seven Brides) would like to see his daughter wed, but not to someone who is broke.
The show was the first Broadway musical where the songs were integrated into the action and advanced the story, rather than simply being add-ons. It has some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's best: Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,' Surrey with the Fringe on Top, People Will Say We're in Love, and the show-stopping title song, Oklahoma!
There are also some of the funniest tunes, as when the amorous Ado Annie laments I Cain't Say No or Curly tries to persuade Jud to do himself in to gain pity in Pore Jud is Daid.
McGee directs the show, assisted by Scott Daniel (resident associate artistic director/costume designer/choreographer). Andi Sperduti (Kathy Selden, Singin' in the Rain) is choreographer, with Tom Hansen doing sets and lights, J.P. Kavanaugh as music director and Susan Haldeman (Domina in Funny/Forum) as stage and company manager.