If you're a fan of Broadway musicals, you've probably seen Rodgers and Hammerstein's ground-breaking Oklahoma! After all, it's been around since 1943 and is a box-office smash no matter how many times or in how many places it's done.
But, hold on there. Unless you see the Oklahoma! playing through Nov. 20 at the Show Palace Dinner Theatre, you just think you've seen Oklahoma!
This is the new and restructured revival version that keeps the fine bones of the original — those incomparable R & H songs, Oh What a Beautiful Mornin', Surrey with the Fringe on Top, People Will Say We're in Love, and the rousing title song — and story of the settlement of the state in the early 20th century.
And the characters have the same names — Curly the cowboy, Laurey the farm girl, Jud the ranch hand, Ado Annie and Will Parker the flirts, Ali Hakim the wily peddler and feisty Aunt Eller. But this new version adds complexity to each one, giving the show more depth and meaning and making it incredibly more enjoyable and satisfying.
Call it more realistic (never mind the show still doesn't mention my American Indian ancestors, the Sooners, who were displaced to make room for their corn fields; but let us not quibble).
The changes are enhanced by directors Matthew McGee and Scott Daniel's terrific casting, with many of the 24 singer/dancer/actors talented enough to take over a lead role; choreographers Daniel and Andi Sperduti's show-stopping dance numbers; Tom Hansen's eye-popping sets and lights; and stage manager Susan Haldeman's command of the whole she-bang.
Trust me on this one: Seeing this Oklahoma! is a whole new experience.
The most noticeable change is in the usual arch-villain, the grimy, hog-slopping Jud Fry (W.C. Green), who lusts (and I do mean lusts) for the prim and proper Laurey (a lovely Mollie Fischer), even as she pines for the clean-cut Curly McClain (a handsome David Kelley).
As re-written and as done by Green, Jud becomes an almost sympathetic character, cursed by birth with a simple mind, but deep down a human being aching with love and affection for Laurey, who is frightened by his coarse manner and too-intense, misguided longing.
Kelley's Curly is still smitten by Laurey, but he isn't as easily won as in the original, drawing out the sexual tension, making him multidimensional and showing off both their acting chops.
Evie Hutton's adorable Ado Annie is still man hungry, but in this version, she doesn't ditch it all at the wink of Will's eye. This Will (a very charming Daniel S. Hines) realizes that Annie is as tough to pin down as he is; if he's a tomcat, then she's a tomkitten, with All Er Nothin' cutting both ways.
And there's more to Ali Hakim (Peter Clapsis) than a pushcart and some baubles. Clapsis' Ali has charm and wit far beyond the stereotype Persian. Rick Kistner's energetic take on Annie's dad Andrew is a delight. Finally, Susan O'Gara's likeably tough, but tender Aunt Eller is still the glue that holds the community together.
The jaw dropper, however, is the all-new ballet and jazz Dream Sequence that closes act one, when Laurey's worst nightmares are played out amid stage smoke and hellish lights. This sets up a rousing second act, when exposition and singing give way to rough-and-tough action and a breathless, breath-taking finale.
Indeed, the new Oklahoma! sweeps across the stage with a look and feel as fresh as a prairie mornin'.