Theater review: A minimalist take in Renegade's 'Oklahoma!'

While Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1943 homespun musical "Oklahoma!" seems an unusual selection for the edgy and fearless Renegade Theater Company, director Mary Fox makes some bold choices to give it a new spin.

Renegade theater's "Oklahoma!" (Facebook photo)

While Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 homespun musical “Oklahoma!" seems an unusual selection for the edgy and fearless Renegade Theater Company, director Mary Fox makes some bold choices to give it a new spin.

Opening in the midst of a world torn apart by WWII, the original production contrasted fun and frivolity with the darkness and foreboding that was just outside the theater doors.

Seventy-five years later, Renegade’s show is effective using that same mix, giving audiences plenty to laugh at and also taking them into the depths of darkness in the human soul.

"Oklahoma!" is set in turn-of-the-20th century western Indian territory and tells the story of the farmers' and cowboys’ rivalries and the romantic entanglements of these hearty souls braving life on the prairie.]

Zachary Stofer is Curly, a rough-and-tumble cowboy, typically cast with a fresh-faced young hero with a crystal clear baritone voice. Stofer is a good bit older, more craggy, and with a raspier voice that strains to reach some of the notes. His acting is uniformly strong, portraying the bashfulness and the arrogance of the cowboy persona.


Played with charm and spunk by Louisa Scorich is Curly’s love interest, the farm girl Laurey. Scorich has the power and strength in both her beautiful voice and believable acting to give a more traditional musical theater take. That contrasts a bit jarringly at times with the style of the rest of the cast.

Much of the comedy of the show comes from a capable trio of veteran actors: Jody Kujawa, Jennie Ross and Rob Hadaway. Kujawa used his trademark over-the-top style as Ali Hakim the Persian peddler, and Ross has never been better playing the bigger-than-life, free-loving Ado Annie.

One dramatic change in the Renegade production is the gender bending casting of women in several  of the men’s roles. That worked to mixed degrees of success, less so with the character of Will Parker (Alyson Enderle) and with hilarious double entendres and charm from Rob Hadaway as Aunt Eller.

Another of the choices was to cut or shorten many of the dances from the original. The abbreviated mystical dream ballet, for example, lacks much of the dramatic symbolism of the two sides of Laurey’s agonizing choice between good and evil.

Jud Fry, the show’s villain, is given a more sympathetic portrayal from Abe Curran. He brings out more of Jud’s malevolence in his solo “Lonely Room,” one of the evening’s strongest performances.

Playing with a bare stage and just four wooden boxes, the cast fills the space with many broad strokes, colorful portrayals and great energy. The onstage five-piece band, led by musical director Patrick Colvin, gives an appropriate down home country flavor to the lush full score’s traditional use of over 25 musicians.

Some musical theater purists may not be happy with what Renegade is calling a “stripped down … bare knuckle” take on the musical. The younger opening night Renegade crowd, many of whom may never have seen “Oklahoma!” before, were enthusiastic, enjoying this minimalist interpretation.

If You Go


What: Renegade Theater's "Oklahoma!"

Where: Zeitgeist Teatro, 222 E. Superior St.

When: Oct. 13, 19-20, 25-27 at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 14, 21

Tickets: (218) 336-1417, , $20 adults, $16 seniors and students

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