Tag Archives: Eugene Loring

Oklahoma! — the dance continues

Gregory J. Hanks, Timothy Ware, Jurran Muse and Don Kenneth Mason put some kick into "Oklahoma!" Photo: Patrick WeisenhampelPatrick Weishampel

By Martha Ullman West

I’ve already expressed my outrage at the comments posted on Marty Hughley’s preview of Oklahoma! in The Oregonian that confirmed what I already knew: We are decades away from a post-racial society, whatever that means. It will be a joyful day when we celebrate our differences rather than tolerating them, like a drug reaction.

So I thought I’d go see for myself whether Portland Center Stage‘s not-quite all-black cast (Jonathan Raviv, magnificent as the Persian peddler, isn’t African-American) would change the dramatic impact of a musical I grew up with. I still own the original cast album; I still know almost all the music and lyrics by heart, and I love the ground-breaking dances, which furthered the plot rather than stopping the drama.

Original Dances by Agnes de Mille, the program says. √ā¬†Choreographer Joel Ferrell, it also says, whose dances for My Fair Lady I much enjoyed several years ago when Center Stage presented its pared-down version. For Oklahoma!, Ferrell’s choreography for the ensemble is just dandy: the clog/tap dancing of the men in Kansas City, the two-steps and waltzes for social occasions. But the cluttering-up of the Dream Ballet with, of all things, a bed and dance-hall girls of extreme vulgarity, is a huge disappointment. That’s picking up on Jud’s fascination with pornography, but it’s way over the top. And I wish Laurie’s dream double were actually a ballet dancer. Perhaps that wasn’t practical, but I suspect DeMille got that idea from Eugene Loring‘s Billy the Kid, in which Billy’s dream sweetheart is the only dancer on pointe.

Having said all that, I loved this Oklahoma! — the pace of Chris Coleman’s direction, the characterizations, the detail, the bits, the subtleties and the broadness we call dynamics. Its one flaw is the cluttered dream ballet, which I remember for its simplicity and stripped-down horror. And I especially loved Rodney Hicks’s Curly, Brianna Horne’s Laurey, and Justin Lee Miller’s Jud Fry.

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Gregory J. Hanks, Timothy Ware, Jurran Muse and Don Kenneth Mason put some kick into “Oklahoma!” at Portland Center Stage. Photo: Patrick Weishampel.