The Paper Mill Playhouse offers a surprisingly uninspired revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein's classic musical.
While Trevor Nunn's 2002 Broadway revival featured a revisionist, often violent motif, Brennan's revival is far more straightforward. Not only does he use the original, unrevised book, he even employs old-fashioned blackouts in between scenes of dialogue. Perhaps it is telling that Brennan's director's note reads like a fifth-grade book report, aimlessly detailing facts about life at the turn of the century, and discussing almost nothing about the musical itself.
The cast itself is a mixed bag. As the serenading cowboy Curly, Adam Monley is handsome and charming, but never really draws us in. Brynn O'Malley, an absolutely gorgeous ingénue, comes off as one of the sophisticated Manhattan teenagers from TV's Gossip Girl rather than a simple farm girl. As Jud, Andrew Varela focuses on the character's emotional vulnerabilities, but never seems menacing or dangerous. (And with his neatly trimmed short haircut, he doesn't exactly come off as a dirty farmhand, either.)
On the plus side, Megan Sikora is truly crazed and horny as Ado Annie, which isn't a bad thing. Her sexpot energy, ample cleavage, wide eyes, and high-pitched character voice inject a badly needed dose of caffeine into the production. She's also able to sell every joke in the dialogue and every bawdy lyric in "I Cain't Say No." Conversely, as Aunt Eller, Louisa Flanigam (who took over the role recently from the injured Beth Fowler) tries to steal every scene by clowning as much as possible, even injecting some inappropriately large belly laughs during book scenes.
Peggy Hickey's choreography is serviceable at best, turning only "The Farmer and the Cowman" at the top of Act Two into a show-stopper. Her "Dream Ballet" lacks gracefulness and occasionally turns vulgar due to a strange buttock-slapping motif. And while "Kansas City" features some impressive leg kicks and splits, Brian Sears, playing Will Parker, unfortunately messed up his rope tricks.
Michael Allen's scenic design is effectively spare, enhanced mainly by a blue scrim at the back of the stage. Laurie and Aunt Eller's farmhouse looks more rundown than usual, complete with rotting wood. And Jud's shed looks damn scary, complete with steel chains, metal rakes, large hooks, and bits and pieces of porn.
The production's flaws notwithstanding, it's still easy to be transfixed by the show's musical beauty, lyrical brilliance, and dramatic wonder. But in terms of overall excitement, this remains an Oklahoma! that doesn't merit its traditional exclamation point.