On Sunday afternoon, the three of us went to a matinee performance of Oklahoma at one of the high schools. Two years ago they performed Pirates of Penzance which we attended and were impressed by the abilities of all involved. What I learned then was that the three local high schools pool their resources and talent to do one big musical allowing many people to be a part of a production and have that unique experience of participating in a big show. It also provides a larger pool of talent to pull from. I had not known that in advance. I am simply a fan of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas (ever since my third grade put on a production of H.M.S. Pinafore) and I thought our son would enjoy the pirate aspect.
Once again, I was very impressed. The acting and singing made for a very enjoyable afternoon. In some ways, it was better than the production of Pirates (although I prefer Pirates’ story and humor). It seemed to me that the singing abilities of the actors were more even. Before, there had been a few weaker ones which had been ameliorated slightly by the mikes they use, but it was still hard to hear certain actors. This time, hearing was not a problem.
My area of expertise is costumes and they were also quite good. However, what really caught my eye were the sets and the lighting. I know little about sets and really nothing about lighting so usually I don’t dwell on them, but this time it was hard not to notice. The contrast created between the man-made structures and the vast plains was well captured by the sets and the panoramic painting of the prairie on the backdrop. And then, the way the lights illuminated the drop was stunning. There was such depth between the clouds and sky. And the tones communicating the time of day by the quality of light was masterful. I found it hard to believe a high-schooler was that skilled.
I had never seen Oklahoma, so I was not that familiar with the story. I think it is unfortunate that it is from the early Western genre when the good guys and the bad guys are easily recognizable and there is little nuance and zero sympathy for the “bad guy.” The bad guy, Jud, is “just” a hired hand and is portrayed as a loner and drifter—undoubtedly very poor. Although Aunt Eller admits at the beginning that he is the best hand she’s ever had, after that his story becomes rather predictable. He is “in lust” with the heroine while the hero is “in love.” He is surly and brusque. In the end, he dies, by accident, by his own hand. Luckily, everyone still gets to celebrate the hero and heroine’s wedding. But because Jud is portrayed as of a lowly station, we are left to conclude that poor people are bad and not to be trusted. Perhaps it is their own fault? Because it originally opened in 1943, it’s a bit perplexing why the poor were not shown more sympathetically since the Great Depression, with as many as a quarter of the working populace unemployed, had been so recent. Perhaps, the theatre going public was not perceived as that concerned. In any case, like the audiences of the 40’s, I don’t go to musicals expecting in-depth commentary on poverty, but it was still disappointing.
I would have recommended seeing it, but it was the last show of the run. Also, the last big show for the retiring theatre teacher at Bellingham High School. She certainly went out with a bang!