Having survived a near-fatal financial crisis — by being bailed out when Millburn township purchased the 70-year-old landmark theater — the Paper Mill Playhouse has selected American classic “Oklahoma!” to regain its footing. As staged by James Brennan, the venerable tuner remains richly appealing and musically bountiful, showcasing the indelible beauty of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s rapturous score in a lush production lively with folksy allure and down-home romanticism.
Some of the homespun, back-slappin’ humor feels a tad dated, but never the infectious lilt of “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” or the clip-clop charm of “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top.”
As confident bronco-buster Curly, Adam Monley sings with a robust, mellow baritone. Brynn O’Malley’s Laurey initially seems a little mean-spirited but the “right purty” girl blossoms when she sings “Out of My Dreams.”
Will Parker, just back from Kansas City, is rendered with a heavy dose of hayseed appeal by Brian Sears, while his hard-to-get sweetheart, the saucy Ado Annie, is perky and dangerously flirtatious as acted by Megan Sikora. The sexual innuendos layered in “I Can’t Say No” have seldom been so blatantly revealed.
Lecherous Persian peddler Ali Hakim is broadly etched by Jonathan Brody. Louisa Flaningham gives a no-nonsense account of feisty, level-headed Aunt Eller. And Andrew Varela provides a villainous Jud Fry, redeeming the always sluggish smokehouse scene in which Curly confronts Jud with a bold reading of the often omitted dark soliloquy, “Lonely Room.”
The tuner’s most satisfying pleasures are its dance numbers, especially the dream ballet that brings act one to a somber close. Peggy Hickey has reworked the unforgettable choreography originally created by Agnes De Mille. The movements are zestful and airy; Sabra Lewis and Kyle Vaughn dance as the young lovers with fervent passion and balletic grace.
Anthony Ward’s costumes blend nicely with his muted picture postcard Western setting.