Oklahoma! | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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This intimate, vigorous revival of the iconic 1943 musical sweeps away all vestiges of Broadway spectacle or dinner-theater cuteness, revealing the gritty subtext of the romantic, comical, sometimes violent tale of cowboys courting farm girls in territorial Oklahoma. The cast, led by director Damon Kiely and musical director Malcolm Ruhl, compensate for their occasional vocal limitations by creatively mining the emotional depths of Oscar Hammerstein's libretto, finding unexpected nuances even in traditionally stereotyped supporting roles. An onstage band (guitar, banjo, fiddle, bass, piano, and harmonium) takes Richard Rodgers's great score back to its folk and country-and-western roots. Wilfredo Rivera's choreography offers an imaginative alternative to the original Agnes de Mille dances--he transforms the famous dream ballet into a nightmare vaudeville show. And Jacqueline and Richard Penrod's set features a covered wagon, reminding the audience of the characters' pioneer heritage. The result is a refreshing rethinking of an American classic. a Through 3/18: Thu-Fri 8 PM, Sat 4 and 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, American Theater Company, 1909 W. Byron, 773-929-1031, $30-$35.

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