1. Actually, Reason #1 shouldn’t be spelled out too clearly. Over-explaining it diminishes the palpable explosion of tension that happens in Act I (way to be a killjoy, other media!). A hint: this version of Oklahoma! has more notes from To Kill a Mockingbird and Shane than it does Howdy Doody and the effect is complicated, confusing and truly compelling. They don’t go “full Deadwood” on the old chestnut. There are plenty of “yeehaw” moments that will see you kicking up your petticoats and leaving your woes behind (which makes the former issue even more complicated). But overall, director Peter Rothstein deserves recognition for the carefully tuned balance of high drama and low brow laughs in this fresh take on a really old tune.
2. Matthew Smucker’s simple—yet stunning—stage design, which seizes cleverly on the only two things people-not-from-Oklahoma know about Oklahoma: a) it has a lot of open countryside, and b) there’s a movie version of the musical Oklahoma! What I mean by that: a beautiful, painted backdrop makes it seem as if we are looking through the theater wall and out onto a real sky; and occasionally wooden “curtains” sweep in to crop our view of it in such a way that echoes the old “letterbox” or widescreen lens from classic 1950s Westerns. Also, Jud’s cramped smokehouse is a feat of construction and design that would do M. C. Escher proud.
3. Seattle actor Eric Ankrim. As the leading man Curly, a hopelessly in love, hard-headed and cocky cowhand, he makes you want to ride away with him into the sunset—after you’ve slapped some sense into him. Which is just right.
4. Kyle Scatliffe’s performance of “Lonely Room.” More opera than musical, it’s the most captivating, and, strangely, most touching performance of the night – and it may permanently change perceptions of this classic story’s antagonist.
5. The kissing scene between Laurey (Alexandra Zorn) and Curly (Ankrim) catapults the love story from a Pepé Le Pew cartoon crush to a genuine PG-13 passion between two eager youngsters. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the Romeo and Juliet pool scene came to mind.
6. Donald Byrd’s choreography. The dream sequence is everything you’d expect from his dance company Spectrum Dance Theater—bold, sexy and a little scary. But truly satisfying and splendid are the early musical breaks where tap dance and ragtime move the ensemble in the showy, smiley, ebullient escapes that are ultimately what we turn to old-fashioned musicals for.
7. Because when a stage production is this exciting, seeing the movie doesn’t cut it.
2/3–3/4. Times and prices vary. The 5th Avenue Theatre, 1308 Fifth Ave.; 206.625.1900; 5thavenue.org