It's time to take a fresh look at Oklahoma!, which has only been around for 71 years. Rodgers & Hammerstein's first musical is beloved for its struttin' cowpokes, down-home romances and, of course, for a score that includes "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," "Kansas City," "People Will Say We're in Love" and the rousing title song.
But on fresh examination, it's the show's left turns that keep Oklahoma! interesting. The courtship of Laurey Williams by Curly McLain is an overly sincere bore, but the one between big-grinning Will Parker and man-mad Ado Annie surely ain't. There's also the presence of a flirtatious Persian salesman and, stranger still, a psychopathic farm hand named Jud Fry who darkens Oklahoma!'s sunniness every moment he's on stage. And how about the extended dream sequence, complete with ballet dancer, that ends Act 1? No one's ever going to call Oklahoma! edgy, but at least it's not nonstop cute.
Welk Resorts' barn-like theater is an apt setting for this famed musical, and its relative intimacy brings the singing and dancing close to the audience. The acoustics can be tinny, however, rendering a couple of the characters (RC Sands' Pa Carnes and Sydney Blair's Ado Annie) difficult to understand when they're vocalizing. But the fresh-faced cast as a whole meets the expectations that come with a Broadway show as well-known as this one. While Kailey OíDonnell and Allen Everman as lovers Laurey and Curly are fine, it's the actors occupying the character parts who shine brightest. Ado Annie is the best part in Oklahoma!, and Blair is a skilled comedienne with an infectious smile. Robin Lavalley earns her share of laughs as wise old Aunt Eller, and Will Huse is truly disturbing as the menacing Jud.
The costumes, provided by The Theatre Company of Upland, are cartoon-colors cheerful, and while the set is merely serviceable, there is a cameo appearance by the eponymous surrey with the fringe on top.
Like so many of Rodgers & Hammerstein's collaborations, Oklahoma!'s legacy is assured. That doesn't mean you'll want to see it time and again. But if you never have, well, your education in musical Americana is incomplete.
Oklahoma! runs through Nov. 16 at Welk Resort Theatre in Escondido. $45-$48. welkresorts.com
Absurd Person Singular: The marriages of three couples are dissected in a play that's set at parties on successive Christmas Eves. Presented by Scripps Ranch Theatre, it opens Nov. 8 at the Legler Benbough Theatre in Scripps Ranch. scrippsranchtheatre.org
Calendar Girls: A stage adaptation of the 2003 film about a group of mature women who pose nude for a calendar to raise money for the fight against leukemia. Opens Nov. 8 at Swedenborg Hall in University Heights. Search for "Sullivan Players" on Facebook.
Honky: Race relations are examined in this play about a shoe company that sees sales to white kids soar after a black youth is murdered for his shoes. Presented by San Diego Repertory Theatre, it opens Nov. 8 at the Lyceum Theatre at Horton Plaza, Downtown. sdrep.org
The Laramie Project: Ten Years Later: Looking Glass Theatre explores the 1998 hate-fueled murder of gay university student Matthew Shepard in Wyoming. Runs Nov. 7 and 8 at the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Hillcrest. lookingglasssd.blogspot.com
Playwrights in Process: Cygnet Theatre again brings back its annual series of readings of new plays. There are four of them this time. Runs Nov. 7 through 9 at the Old Town Theatre. cygnettheatre.com
Grove: Ion Theatre presents a workshop production—meaning, it will evolve throughout the run—of a new play by Ion Producing Artistic Director Glenn Paris, about two estranged brothers who return home to visit a sick sibling and confront old secrets. Through Nov. 8 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. iontheatre.com
Henry V: The first main-stage production of the New Fortune Theatre Company is Shakespeare's play about the young English king who leads his army into battle against France and woos a French princess. Through Nov. 9 at BLKBOX Theatre in Hillcrest. newfortunetheatre.com
Rounding Third: Two dads clash amid conflicting Little League coaching styles. Through Nov. 9 at Broadway Theatre in Vista. broadwayvista.com
Water by the Spoonful: San Diego State University presents this Pulitzer Prize-winning drama about an Iraq War veteran who struggles upon his return home to Philadelphia. Through Nov. 9 at SDSU's Experimental Theatre. ttf.sdsu.edu
Freud's Last Session: Mark St. Germain's play chronicles a fictional meeting between renowned psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and novelist C.S. Lewis. Through Nov. 16 at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. northcoastrep.org
Spamalot: Fred is not yet dead in the musical version of the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Through Nov. 30 at Coronado Playhouse. coronadoplayhouse.com
The Hunchback of Notre Dame: A new musical adaptation of Victor Hugo's story of the not-super-attractive bell ringer Quasimodo and the enchanting gypsy Esmeralda. Through Dec. 7 at La Jolla Playhouse. lajollaplayhouse.com
Win Place or Die My Jockeys are Killing Me: Mystery Café's latest comic-caper dinner-theater production is set at the Thoroughbred Club at Upson Down Race Track. It's ongoing at Imperial House restaurant in Bankers Hill. mysterycafe.net