Opening night of the groundbreaking musical “Oklahoma!” at the Erica Starr Theatre left the audience beaming, laughing and gasping as the plot wound itself into hearts of many, the same way it has been since 1943. The show ran from Nov. 15-18.
With a Pulitzer Prize and two Tony awards, “Oklahoma!” has a reputation for sweeping audiences off their feet with every performance. The show follows farm girl Laurey Williams (played by Monica Olivia) and cowboy Curly McClain (Kyle Ward) as they lay a foundation and build a relationship on top of the unturned soil of 1906 Oklahoma territory.
“This was a moment in time when there was promise,” Director and Choreographer Kyle Craig-Bogard said. “There was hope for the future. That’s what this show did when it was created: it reminded us of that promise of a better life. It reminded us that we were all going to take pride in this opportunity to create a wonderful place to live.”
Filled to the brim with social messages and themes, “Oklahoma!” left a staple on musical theatre that has never quite been erased. The 34 cast and ensemble members remind the audience of what the show is about: coming together as a community and chasing a better life.
“It teaches about respect and the importance of community and the effects of change in the places we live, which is very applicable to what’s happening in America right now,” actress Monica Olivia said. “It also is super empowering for women with Aunt Eller being an extremely independent and hardworking older woman, Laurey being strong even though she’s working through emotions she’s afraid of, and Ado Annie being confident and in control of her sexuality. This show has really shown me that classic shows, things that people call ‘old’, still have such an important place in history and in our lives right now.”
Working alongside Craig-Bogard was Music Director and Conductor Dr. Laura Avery, who worked on all 15 musical numbers. Underneath the stage was a 20-piece orchestra, seamlessly carrying the show from one song to the next.
“It is a part of our musical theatre history,” Craig-Bogard said. “This one rings true for me because the original choreographer, Agnes de Mille, her choreography is groundbreaking. She created story dance in musical theatre. Before this show, dancing was just entertainment. This was the first show that had dance that forwarded the storyline. It’s very groundbreaking in that way.”
Sam Houston State University’s take on the show is as breathtaking and refreshing as one would hope. The dance numbers tell a story of their own, even the iconic and difficult to tackle “dream ballet” sequence left the theatre in silent wonder.
“I really did love the singing, the choreography, the music and the orchestra were great,” audience member Jonbeth Voltaire said. “I really love what they did with the lighting and the sounds and the costumes. They really knew what they were doing. I really loved it and I hope to see more of them. This really showed me that this is a top notch musical theatre group.”
It’s worthy of note that the entire 2017-2018 production season is dedicated in memory of Frank “Poncho” D. Roberts, Sr. who graduated from SHSU with a BFA in Theatre in 2009. Before the curtain opened on “Oklahoma!”, a dedication to him was read aloud from the playbill.
“Poncho will be remembered for his generosity, his love of this department, his vests and of course his signature phrase which binds all who knew him: ‘Togetherness one more time.’”
That same sense of togetherness is what sets this show apart from the rest, and it’s what makes the SHSU Department of Theatre and Musical Theatre so special. Togetherness is the thread that sews the story of “Oklahoma!” together, and it’s the magic that keeps audiences entranced.