George de Mars and Sophie DeLeo (Carol Sly)

Jordan Goodson, a student at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology , reviews George Mason High School’s ‘Oklahoma’ as part of The Cappies Critics and Awards Program.

 Across the stage stride cowboys with checkered shirts and shining spurs, wholesome girls with picnic baskets, a saucy old aunt with more than enough homespun wisdom to spare, and an eccentric foreigner. Though temperatures in the real world may be dropping, and winter is fast approaching, George Mason High School’s auditorium brims with all the warmth and charm of a Midwestern summer, with their delightful production of “Oklahoma!” 

Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, “Oklahoma!” was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical, premiering on Broadway in 1943 and running for 2,212 performances—a record at the time. Since then it has seen multiple revivals, and has been said to be the single most influential American musical, serving as a model for innumerable musicals to follow. The show, set in 1906 Oklahoma territory, centers on a farm girl named Laurey and her budding romance with the cowboy Curly; complications arise when sinister farmhand Jud develops a dangerous fixation on Laurey. “Oklahoma!” also features a subplot surrounding Laurey’s best friend, the coquettish Ado Annie, and Ali Hakim, a supposedly Persian peddler.

As the sweet but stubborn Laurey, Sophie DeLeo proved to be the show’s vocal powerhouse— her clear, lovely voice showcased in songs such as “Many a New Day.” Her chemistry with Curly (George de Mars) was endearing: the two perfected the push-and-pull of lovers who won’t admit they’re in love. Lilly Constance beautifully portrayed the flirtatious, simpleminded Ado Annie, making distinct choices such as a stumbling physicality and a glassy-eyed, slack-jawed expression that solidified her character in a hilarious manner. George Castillo, as her fiancé Will, provided Constance with a wonderful straight man to her over-the-top comedy, in duets such as “All Er Nuthin.”

Though their characters couldn’t have been more disparate, twins Joe Warren (as Jud) and Alexander Warren (as Ali Hakim) gave brilliant, nuanced performances. Joe Warren was appropriately intimidating, giving off a menacing aura with his gruff voice and violent temperament shifts. He also managed to portray the psychological complexity of his character without losing his frightening edge, rendering Jud a touch more sympathetic but still thoroughly villainous. On the other side of the spectrum, Alexander Warren infused his performance of Ali Hakim with broad, exaggerated humor, employing a cartoonish accent and rapid-fire speech to embody the dubiously Persian peddler.

Adding to the production’s rustic ambiance were its technical elements, particularly the aesthetically-pleasing set and costumes. The set comprised of a reversible farm house, a painted backdrop of corn beneath a bright blue sky, and a spinning windmill—all helping to give the show a pastoral quality. The costumes, designed by Grace Housman, were colorful, quaint, and appropriate for the time period. Though there were some microphone errors, the lighting changed seamlessly, and several stylish effects—such as shadowing and mood lighting— were implemented. The choreography for the rousing musical numbers, created by Meredith Johnson, was simple but effective, utilizing the actors’ skills and forming attractive stage pictures—especially in the show’s famous “Dream Ballet.”

“Oklahoma!” is a classic, a staple of American musical theatre, and for good reason: the story is compelling, the characters engaging, and the music entrancing. To get “Oklahoma!” right, however, performers must put their heart and soul into their production—and, with skillful performances, cheerful commitment, and a winsome flair, George Mason High School did just that.