Earlier this year, two of my nieces had lead roles in their high school production of Oklahoma! – while I couldn’t be there in person, one of the performances was filmed, and I was able to watch it last night. Prior to that, I’d never seen the show and really knew nothing about it except for the title song. I find that older musicals always contain at least one tune that surprises me with its origination therein – in the case of Oklahoma! that song was the opening number, sung by the male lead, Oh, What a Beautiful Morning. I’ve always enjoyed the tune, so it was fun to hear it in situ.
While the plot of the musical isn’t the most earth-shattering, there is complexity. Part of the complexity comes in the form of a mentally ill man, presented as criminally inclined, who introduces violence into the plot in an interesting supporting role. Class considerations come into play, as he is the hired hand of the female lead, his love interest. This production did a nice job of keeping the tension real between the characters straight through to the final scene.
Further complexity is provided by the narrative being situated historically, when the Oklahoma Territory was on the precipice of statehood. A song about cowboys and farmers being natural enemies includes the lines, “Territory folks should stick together/Territory folks should all be pals,” hinting at an interesting era of solidarity, when everyone understood the importance of all people coming together for the common good. Further clues to the idiosyncrasies of territory life are revealed through the character of a peddler of miscellaneous wares and an auction to benefit the local schoolhouse.
Of course, I was really watching this high school production so I could see my nieces in action, and they were wonderful. There’s no mystery at all as to why they were cast in the primary female roles. My oldest niece had the female lead, the pensive and chaste town beauty, while the next oldest played the biggest female supporting role, a comic foil boy-chaser role. Each had many moments in the sun; they sing beautifully, and their acting was a treat to watch. Their stage presence and talent, which are fortunately matched by that of the male lead, an earnest suitor (with whom they’ve been friends since birth), carry the show.
My oldest niece graduated last weekend – she will rightly view her Oklahoma! performance as a crowning achievement to her high school career. And neither niece is done yet – the oldest is off to college on a full vocal music scholarship in the fall, and the younger one just secured the lead in an upcoming production of Beauty and the Beast – a true Belle.
Thanks for reading.