Oklahom… uh…

Surely I’m going to Hell because I don’t really care for stage musicals.  I mean, I like music a lot.  And I like theater.  But musical theater, on the whole, just sort of leaves me cold.  Unless it’s something manic along the lines of a good Gilbert and Sullivan operetta or Something Funny Happened on the Way to the Forum, I find myself twitching and fidgeting in my seat, yawning, laughing at even the most somber dance numbers, and massaging my ribs where Jennifer has elbowed me for the dozenth time because I was snoring. And God help me if there’s a romance in the plot. In such situations, I usually wish for a cyanide pill, or at least for enough social immaturity to stand up in the middle of the song and yell, “For crying out loud, SHE DOESN’T LIKE YOU, so just GET THE HELL OVER YOURSELF AND GET A JOB!”

Last night we saw Oklahoma!, which is a particularly pernicious example of the genre. Granted, I did like the scenes with Jud, and I thought the scene where Curley was deliberately baiting Jud was well written Oklahoma!and intense, and the scenes with Ado Annie or Ali were funny, but on the whole the play was as much about the drama queens as any other such play that I’ve seen. Of course, there were problems with the production; I knew I was in trouble when the overture started and the entire orchestra was just a little bit flat, for example. Although this was, at least, better than the last stage musical I saw by the same company, where each member of the orchestra was engaged in a contest to see who could play in the most keys at once. The actress who played Laurey had studied in the school of acting which emphasizes that if dialogue cannot be delivered with emotion, it should at least be delivered as quickly as possible (and, ideally, slurred with a very fake accent and directed at the rear of the stage instead of the audience). The leading man had studied Hugh Jackman for his performance, I think, but he did well enough. On the other hand, the woman who played Ado Annie is an accomplished character actress, and I was amused by her; and the guy who played Jud pretty much stole the show every time he was on stage.

But I had a problem with choreography as well. Now, granted, choreography is hard to do, although if my younger sister can put together a professional-looking dance routine in a church production, then surely someone in a large community theater could as well, right? But when the sound of the dancers’ slippers sliding across the stage is louder than the orchestra, which sounds anemic by comparison, it’s very hard for me to take the dance routine seriously. And the production company we watched has as part of its charter the need to insert at least one interpretive dance routine into each show; something which goes beyond plot and talent into the realm of the truly bizarre and surreal. I understand that the dream ballet sequence was actually written into the script of Oklahoma!, but it felt very forced to me. And pointless. And noisy, because ballet slippers are supposed to be quiet and not drown out the orchestra. I couldn’t help myself; I laughed a couple of times (and I have the bruised ribs to show for it), but at least I wasn’t the only one. The two women who sat next to me also laughed.

The dream ballet was remarkable for one other amazing accomplishment, something that I thought was impossible: the women in the bustiers and fishnet stockings actually bored me. I found myself counting the lights on the ceiling rather than watch them. I think it must have been because the women themselves were looking furiously bored; I believe that this was meant to be an Artistic Statement, but it didn’t work. Mind you, I like looking at women in bustiers and fishnet stockings as much as the next man, but only when said woman obviously doesn’t mind being looked at. (And yes, I’ve talked this issue over with Jennifer who doesn’t mind; or, at least, who says she doesn’t mind.)

My reaction to Oklahoma!, though, was pretty much the same as my reaction to most stage musicals. It’s hard for me to stay interested. If the production is done very professionally, with high production values, then it may work for me; but otherwise, I find it difficult to stay engaged. When we saw The King and I, I was utterly enthralled by the fellow who played the King, but nothing else on the stage did anything for me. I loved Little Shop of Horrors. Carousel made me wish for some serious artillery. And so on.

Surely, I am going to Hell for this. But as long as the Devil has nothing to do with Rogers and Hammerstein, I think I’m okay with that.