It might seem strange to learn that you can save your soul by going to Oklahoma.
Not the state. The musical comedy, I mean. For the ticket price of $25 and nearly 3 1/2 hours in a dimmed theater, if you allow it, your heart could be transported as you inhale the lush music of Richard Rodgers and drink in the quaint, always clever lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein II.
As a team, Rodgers and Hammerstein created something in “Oklahoma!” that ought to be experienced at least once. A full life might require it.
Gazette-Mail reviewer Eric Douglas was touching in his revelation that he had never been to a production of “Oklahoma!” before last Friday. It was also striking: How could this not have happened to him? To anyone?
The Charleston Light Opera Guild, a local company, is running a vast production of the 1943 show at the Little Theatre, with performances on Nov. 15, 16, 22, 23 and 24. At 70 years, the Guild is almost as old as the work. Its theatrical balance sheet gives it the assets required to approach its perfection. Under first-rate stage and musical direction, the enormous cast and orchestra of “Oklahoma!” are a full-fledged community endeavor, itself worthy of admiration and, yes, the patronage of sentient beings who value authenticity. Thus, residents of Putnam County are not eligible.
The genius of “Oklahoma!” as the first Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece in a long succession of Broadway hits, is irreproachable. The duo took a hum-drum 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” and built a landmark on the American cultural landscape. “Oklahoma!” though set in the prairie, was far from plain. The settings, story and structure of the show were revolutionary at its premiere in the midst of a world war to a society shifting from farms to city factories. It won a Pulitzer Prize for its creators.
“Oklahoma!” was ironic and counter-cultural. Broadway was uber-Vaudeville, sated on flashy and urbane shows, with Brilliantined men in top hats and gloves and chorines on tap dance lines bleached of real-world realities. With their innovation in “Oklahoma!”, Rodgers and Hammerstein brought audiences back down to earth and back to the land.
Not a single number in “Oklahoma!” is less than wonderful, from its opening ballad to a cornfield, “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” to the comic “Kansas City” to the defiant “Many a New Day” to the somber “Lonely Room.”
One of the funniest lyrics is by Will, the dancing cowboy who returns with tales of the phenomenons of 1906 Kansas City, where everything is up to date: “You can turn the radiator on whenever you want some heat. With every kind of comfort every house is all complete. You could walk to the privees in the rain and never wet your feet!”
Teenagers, wholly detached from the daily privations of not so long ago, could learn a thing or two from the simple but not simplistic experience of “Oklahoma!” — including its appeal to innocence and its invitation to create real-deal relationships far more fulfilling than the virtual ones they have latched onto in their stupid, corrosive smartphones. If I were their parent, I would be worried about their well-being.
An antidote is “Oklahoma!” So, substitute a few hours of spirit-crushing TikTok with a live performance of expressive wholesomeness that requires an attention span longer than a flea’s.
There are few better opportunities than in soaking in “People Will Say We’re In Love” for the first time. The duet, it is reported, has been the favorite of Queen Elizabeth and her consort, Prince Philip, since they met. Ballroom orchestras would strike it up when they entered.
It is no wonder. It is a beautiful set-piece for the playfulness and uncertainty of young love, a theme that dominates the play and leads to happy and unhappy outcomes. If there is electricity between the defiant farm girl, Laurey, and the bragging cowhand, Curly, any production of “Oklahoma!” is well on its way.
Why “Oklahoma!”? Why not?
Morose opinions abound here and everywhere. There is plenty to say and plenty of people to say them about the derelict state of American politics, the bankruptcy of social institutions, the shattering of morals, the banality of schools, the perfidy of courts, the sins of wars and the elusiveness of peace. Violence, mayhem and dissolution are the stock in trade for observations of life.
The fall of humankind is at hand, is it not?
Perhaps the ruins of existence are not so evident for a few blissful hours while perched on a seat at the edge of a meadow, where all the cattle are standing like statues and all the sounds of the Earth are like music.