Oklahoma (the state)

Aah, Oklahoma! The lush, pioneer-tinged score and dance numbers; the epic rivalry between Curly and Jud as they battle to see who will take Laurey Williams to the social; and of course those celebrated, go-America lyrics: "Oklahoma, Ev'ry night my honey lamb and I / Sit alone and talk and watch a hawk / Makin' lazy circles in the sky!" It's what a musical is supposed to be, I've always thought, and so when the opportunity arose for me last week to see it on location--that is, IN Oklahoma itself--I made sure not to miss it. I packed my bags, bought my plane ticket, and headed for Woody Guthrie country.

It turns out the benefits of this revival go beyond mere atmosphere. Writer/director Jay Wilkinson has preserved the integrity of the original story, but drastically updated the material by moving the time period a century forward, right smack in the middle of contemporary Oklahoma. Wilkinson's overhaul of the frontier setting probably sounds like blasphemy to the hardcore fan, but is actually strangely effective.

The love triangle of Curly, Laurey, and Jud has been replaced by housemates Justin, Alex, and Colin, characters based on some of Wilkinson's old high school buddies. Instead of fighting each other, though, Justin and Colin work together to thwart Alex's upcoming wedding, and win his love back. It's a wonderfully current interpretation, helped along by Wilkinson's keen eye for the details of our times. Diatribes are peppered with allusions to George W., rising gas prices, and even nanobot technology.

The actors are highly skilled, delivering the likes and stuffs of post-gen-X, apathetic, 20-something pseudospeak with relentless precision.

Even the great music of the original has been gutted. Instead of "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," Wilkinson opens the show with Tenacious D's "Rocket Sauce," and Jud's lament, "Lonely Woman" has been replaced with Lucinda Williams' "Jackson." A scene in a Tulsa dance club called Underworld substitutes for pioneer fiddling and square dancing, and the famous de Mille dream ballet now occurs in a strip club, where Alex's bachelor party finds itself surrounded by whirls of pole grinds and lap dances.

But the revival hits its stride when it heads out of the seedy nightclubs and into the countryside where the original got its roots. In a scene that provides relief from the intensity of the wedding plans, Wilkinson brings his characters out on to the Oklahoman prairie, where they search for buffalo--not to hunt, but to observe (this is 2001, and buffalo just got removed from the endangered species list). Here, the sky filled the world, broken only by rolling, grass-covered plains. As the buffalo roamed, and the deer and the antelope played, I was reminded of the beautiful lyric from the musical's ballad, "Out of My Dreams.": "Then out of my dreams I'll go / And into a dream with you." I was glad I had made this seemingly random journey to a seemingly random place. I was following the dream of somebody else, and for the first time understood the importance of looking for adventures in unlikely places.

The spirits of the great musicals past washed over me, sent by a dimpled cloud. Crickets bounded across the path, as a red-tailed hawk soared majestically across the blue horizon.

Then I got a goddamn tick on the back of my leg, but that's another review.