Pioneer musical dances its way into Scarborough

David Wicken (Ali Hakim) and Avra Fainer (Ado Annie) rehearse Oklahoma!, which runs at the Scarborough Village Theatre from April 24 to May 10.

The granddaddy of all musicals hopes to have everything going its way later this month at the Scarborough Village Theatre.

With songs and dances weaved into an ingenious storyline with powerful dramatic aim, Oklahoma! epitomizes the expansion of the book musical, according to director Mimi Woods Doherty.

The piece features musical motifs that recur throughout the work to tie the music and story more closely than any musical done before it debuted in 1943.

“All of the dance and musical numbers really add to the story and are not just separate interludes,” says Woods Doherty, 31, who studied dance at Pittsburgh’s Point Park College, as well as musical theatre at Sheridan College.

“Oklahoma! is considered the first real piece of musical theatre.”

A fusion of song, dance and story, Oklahoma!’s initial Broadway production dates back 65 years and marked the debut of a partnership between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II that would ultimately give the world such classics as South Pacific, Carousel and The Sound of Music.

For Oklahoma!, there are many ear-grabbing songs including Oh, What a Beautiful Morning, The Surrey with the Fringe on Top, and Kansas City.

“Everybody kind of knows the storyline and can recognize at least one of the songs,” Woods Doherty says. “I think everybody who sees the show will leave singing the songs in their head.”

Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs, by Lynn Riggs, Oklahoma! is a combination of romantic fun and love dilemmas, wrapped around serious themes of obsession and violence for settlers living in the Oklahoma territory around the turn of the 20th century.

A box-office smash hit, Oklahoma! ran for a then-unparalleled 2,212 performances on Broadway. It later enjoyed award-winning revivals and even a film adaptation in 1955.

“It is a feel-good musical and a love story in which everybody who is supposed to be together actually ends up together,” says Woods Doherty, who teaches drama and musical theatre to children in schools and community centres across Toronto. “And I think many people will come out to see it.”

Rich Burdett, 41, who plays Curly McLain, a cowboy in love with Laurey Williams (“the Belle of Claremore,” played by Laura Higgs), agrees.

“Oklahoma! will always bring people in,” says Burdett, also a graduate of York University’s theatre program, and a father of two. “A lot of the older people and the musical theatre people will know the play.

“Plus, it is a family show that people can bring their kids to see.”

But this musical represents much more than just a family show, according to Burdett.

“Oklahoma! is a slice of life. The stories in the play are universal love stories,” Burdett says. “All of it is about human relationships.”

A sing-along with Oklahoma! will also take place on May 3 at 2 p.m. General admission is $24, but seniors and students pay $20. Call 416-396-4049 for tickets.