Oh, What a Beautiful Musical: Regent University’s “Oklahoma”

It’s a staple of theatre, often left unappreciated. With a classic plot, and realistic characters, Oklahoma endures as an American classic.

“Oklahoma” opens this weekend at Regent University! It is one of the great pioneers of musical theatre. At first, it may seem your run-of-the-mill, melodramatic musical about a guy and a girl falling in love. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

Regent’s production is special for more than just the content of the show. “We have an excellent cast,” says Emily Hall, a fourth year bachelor’s in fine arts student and wardrobe supervisor. “One of the best, for sure… Everyone is working so hard. Mark Paladini is an excellent director. He has a great vision for the show.” Everything about the show has had a unity to it, which makes it so much more real for the audience. “Mark was very focused on making sure that this wasn’t a cartoon world. He wanted it to be natural,” praises Madison Mattfield, another fourth year bachelor’s of fine arts student, who is in the ensemble of the show. “I was able to enjoy becoming part of the set, the lights, the costumes, and just enjoying that natural feel that the show has.” And that’s what makes the show so alluring. It’s fun, it’s real, and it’s earnest.

Characters "Curly" and "Laurey" embrace. Shot for the upcoming play at Regent University, Virginia Beach, Va. Apr 2017. (Regent Theatre)

Characters “Curly” and “Laurey” embrace. Shot for the upcoming play at Regent University, Virginia Beach, Va. Apr 2017. (Regent Theatre)

The show first opened in the wake of World War II, when entertainment was key in encouraging and rallying soldiers before they shipped out to Europe to fight. In light of this, composer Richard Rodgers and writer Oscar Hammerstein II created a musical that focused on dramatic choices and story driven music instead of the big, spectacular shows that had been so popular since the invention of the musical. This was practically unheard of—musicals never focused on plot. But Rodgers and Hammerstein had a very specific vision. “This is the beginning of realism in musicals,” said John Forkner, a second year master’s of fine arts student playing the role of Judd. And he’s right.

“Characters were more complicated,” Forkner said. He also said that characters “were three dimensional… It’s a story about two kids who grow up.” “Oklahoma” features the hero, Curly, and the damsel in distress, Laurey. But these characters are more than their archetypes. Curly surprises the audience by showing his flaws in the first act. Laurey doesn’t realize the impact her actions have on others, and that makes her play with people’s emotions in a way that isn’t healthy.

When first released, audiences were presented with a musical that let them see characters they could identify with, characters who didn’t have perfect lives. The payoff for the realism is worth it. “Oklahoma” is a beautiful show with characters we can love and root for, with musical numbers that make our heart soar and plummet along with Curly and Laurey.

“This story is classic,” says Kelli Overmyer, an actress playing the role of Laurey. “To me, this show has everything. I adore the romance, the laughter, the fights, the community, and the hope that Rogers and Hammerstein meticulously carved into every moment. It’s one of my all-time favorites and I am giddy with gratitude to be able to share it again!”

So come see the show that will make all your finals and life related blues go away, even if just for the evening! Oklahoma opens this weekend on Friday and runs until the April 30. Don’t miss this amazing, beautiful, and heartwarming show.

Sarah Chaffee is a staff writer for The Daily Runner