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'OKLAHOMA!' Classic musical gets dose of reality in latest version



Published: Thu, April 28, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Palace Theatre production begins a two-week run on Tuesday.

CLEVELAND -- In bright Technicolor glory is how most of us remember Rodgers & amp; Hammerstein's definitive musical "Oklahoma!" with Shirley Jones and Rod Steiger singing away in the 1955 feature film.

However, there is a darker side to "Oklahoma!" one that depicts more of the hardships and realities associated with life on the range before Statehood arrived for the Sooner State. Theater fans searching for a different, starker take on the cherished American musical will find the play's two-week run that begins Tuesday at the Palace Theatre of interest.

"They kind of dusted it off a little bit, gave it a little different look," said "Oklahoma!" actor Jeremiah James. "Most of the time when 'Oklahoma!' is done, it's definitely more colorful and more cartoon-y. And this version of the show, which was revamped in 1998, they stripped it down and really got it back to bare bones. They wanted to make it a little bit more dreary and give it a sense of like dusty wide-open space. And then of course, there are a lot more sexual undertones. So, it's a little bit darker version than has ever been seen before."

Same play, new role

For the 25-year-old James, "Oklahoma!" marks a return of sorts to his youth, where he performed in the production a decade ago. As the goofy and lovable Will Parker, James admits he didn't fully grasp the dialogue, whereas now he appreciates the show as a "wonderfully written piece of American history." This time out for James, he's offering his own perspective with the portrayal of notable leading character Curly.

"It's great," James said. "Curly, even though he is the leading man, has a very poetic and very silly aspect to him and I try to keep a little bit more of a fun-loving aspect with the character than is most often played. Usually, Curly is played borderline arrogant and I try to keep him a little bit more loose."

Perhaps a different "Oklahoma!" than most will remember, the upcoming production has made its way through London and Broadway before a national stateside tour kicked off last summer. Still, it's the same old story -- cattleman and farmers battle over land, while Curly and Jud seek the hand of farm girl Laurey -- filled with a soundtrack of one memorable song after another. This includes "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'," "People Will Say We're In Love," and of course the title song.

While its been over six decades since "Oklahoma!" ostensibly jumpstarted the career of Rodgers & amp; Hammerstein, who would go on to pen other hit musicals like "Carousel," "The King and I," "South Pacific" and "The Sound of Music," there is something magical about the Broadway duo that remains alluring today.

"I would say that they are the Mozarts of American musicals," James said. "These guys were the first to do it. It's kind of like classic rock. Like Led Zeppelin and the Beatles were the beginners and everybody after that kind of just copied. So with these guys, you can never go wrong with the originals."




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