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Oklahoma! gets reinvention and standing ovation

The new production of Oklahoma! features a largely black cast.
Photo courtesy of DCPA Press

Fresh insights on race relations

The 75th anniversary of the musical Oklahoma!, currently in performance at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, is worth the watch.

Starting with a wonderful rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” there is a sense of passion from this mostly African-American cast. This upbeat musical, based in an all African-American town in the early territory of Oklahoma, is phenomenal.

According to the program, Director Chris Coleman opens the second mostly African-American cast for the Denver Center of Performing Arts Theatre Company. The “story is the same hopelessly optimistic and yet physiologically dark yarn audiences have adored” since the musical opened in 1943.

The performance, altered from the original all white cast, had the crowd uneasy—wondering if the changes could attest to the original production. The constant clapping and cheering assured that the changes were natural and well executed.

The musical serves as a testament that love is love and that everyone can experience it, no matter their differences.

The skin color of the actors told a story that is too often ignored. Historically, all African-American towns in Oklahoma were more common than was taught in history class, giving a new meaning to celebrating differences for the artists performing and audience members watching.

The story follows Curly McLain (Antoine L. Smith), a rancher, trying to win over the heart of Laurey William (Ta’Nika Gibson). It is set in a prominent African-American town in 1906, that’s full of studly men and pretty women who are farmers and ranchers.

The story also follows citizens of the town working together to raise money for a school, creating a sense of community not only on stage, but in the audience too.

Through the bold choices made by the cast, this 75-year-old musical took a refreshing tactic to keep the audience rooting for the two to overcome all that is thrown their way.   

Aunt Eller (Sheryl McCallum) is a strong foundation for the musical.  She’s humorous yet wise, providing insight for others on stage. McCallum truly brings this character to life giving a lasting impact through her strong vocals.

The fast-paced music, elegant dancing, and proud acting allows for a perfect night out. The most memorable is the dance before  intermission. It is full of twisting and turning, smiling faces and tapping feet that add to the storyline without the use of words, proving that unspoken communication is just as powerful in storytelling as oral communication.

While this musical has a runtime of two hours and 35 minutes, it feels as though it lasts only half an hour. The energy from the actors and band is reason alone to buy a ticket and see the musical.

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