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Fine cast sings with presence and clarity

The revival of "Oklahoma," the landmark Rodgers and Hammerstein musical currently touring the country, demonstrates anew the vitality and freshness of a show that hardly shows a shred of age, yet the musical is some 38 years old this year!

We marvel anew at the integration of Agnes de Mille's choreography into the action, we thrill anew to the beauty and rightness of all the tunes that are among the most beloved Broadway has ever produced. And, with the cast assembled for the national tour, audiences can rest assured that they are seeing a production at least as good as -- and in some ways better than -- the Broadway version of this revival.

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One can actually get a sense of what an exciting, startling, vivid impact this show must have had initially, because it still retains so much magnificence , even if it also lacks the clean edges and tight attention to detail the original must have had. This untidiness is particularly to be noted in the execution of the de Mille choreography which is rather routine, not suffused with meaning and purpose.

Nonetheless, it is a marvelous production, quite wonderfully cast. Christine Andreas repeats the role of Laurey she performed in this production on Broadway. Hers is a smouldering, petulant, not altogether pleasant characterization, which adds a startling depth to a role that has too often been thought of as a typical ingenue type. And she sings superbly throughout -- a crystalline, pure soprano to match her radiant good looks.

As Curly, William Mallory is remarkably to the point, even if he does not have a mop of curls over his brow! He acts with disarming candor, and he sings with thrilling clarity and presence. In fact, one wonders if the two leading roles have ever been sung with such vocal sumptuousness. The two are impressive together, visually and historionically.

The cast is large and always solid. Standouts include Paige O'Hara's ebullient Ado Annie, Bruce Adler's suave Ali Hakim, Richard Leighton's frighteningly intense Jud Fry. One could have done with more vigorous delivery and much more personality from Mary Boucher, who seemed rather at odds with Aunt Eller, a pity for such a pivotal role.

In the pit, Jay Blackton kept the musical flowing with vitality and assurity -- not surprising from the man who first conducted the show at its original debut in 1943!

"Oklahoma" is currently playing Toronto, through April 19. The show then does a series of one-week spots across the country, ending up in Seattle in October.

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