Arizona Repertory Theatre’s “Oklahoma!” is way, way more than OK.
The musical, which opened Wednesday, was nearly swoonable thanks to glorious voices, choreography that furthered the story and was laced with inventive fun, dancers who moved like water, and a cast that never gave us a dishonest moment.
Admittedly, they had some mighty rich material to work with — the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about cowboys, farmhands and love in the 1906 Oklahoma territory is a classic with clever lyrics, lush music, and a story that’s mixed with darkness, humor and joy.
It’s hard not to like this musical, no matter who puts it on.
But this UA production is loaded with a student cast that is talented and polished enough to make us think we were seeing a big, professional show.
And that starts with the leads: Michael Calvoni as Curly, the cowboy in love with Laurey, played by Silvia Vannoy. Calvoni, who has proved himself an ace comedic actor in other Arizona Rep productions, proved himself a talented singer and solid romantic lead in this one. He had us the moment he strolled on stage singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” and never lost us.
The role of Laurey is not a very interesting one. She’s a bit fiesty, a bit sweet, a bit invisible.
But Vannoy never got that memo. She infused her Laurey with a personality that sparkled and compelled. And then she sang. Whoa, what a voice.
Kylie Arnold is far too young to be the aging Aunt Eller, but it made no difference. She moved, she talked, she looked and sang with a sort of knowing that comes with age. We had no problem believing she was the wise elder who kept order among the farmers and cowmen with compassion and humor.
Ryan Kleinman’s Will Parker, a cowpoke with a dim wit and a strong longing for the philandering Ado Annie, made us laugh while he seduced us with his voice; and Jud Fry, the murderous ranch hand with an eye on Laurey, was as dark and scary as you can imagine in Micah Bond’s hands.
New York City-based choreographer Mark Esposito’s giddy and gorgeous choreography veered from a hoedown to an exquisite ballet during a dream sequence. He had some talented dance majors to work with, but the whole cast seemed to move with a grace that astounded.
Danny Gurwin’s direction kept the momentum going and brought out rich, deeply rooted performances from the students.
After the curtain came down at Wednesday’s packed opening, a friend turned to me and said, “Try not to gush.” I tried, but I can’t help it: This production of “Oklahoma!” deserves lots of gushing. And a big audience.