It’s OK to be a classic


Jessica Lavin says the character of Laurey in <i>Oklahoma!</i> is a “dream role” for her.

Jessica Lavin says the character of Laurey in Oklahoma! is a “dream role” for her.

With all the performing arts available to us now in Reno, it’s easy to become jaded and snub the classics in pursuit of the avant-garde. But sometimes, the classics can remind you why you love theater. Such is the case with the Broadway revival of Oklahoma!, on stage at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts this weekend.

According to Jessica Lavin, who plays the lead role of Laurey, this version retains those beloved classic elements while offering just enough twist to gain new fans.

Since its world premiere on Broadway in 1943, more than 600 productions of Oklahoma! have been licensed every year in the United States and Canada alone. Many awards have been showered upon Oklahoma! including a Pulitzer, two Oscars, a Tony, an International Emmy and Best Musical of the Century by the New York Drama League.

Jessica Lavin, 26, fell in love with the film as a child in New Jersey while watching it repeatedly with her grandmother. She even landed the role of “dream” Laurey in her high school’s production of the show (in older productions, the singing and dancing Laureys were played by two different performers). A classically trained dancer, singer and actress, Lavin is thrilled that this revival merges the two Laureys, allowing her to employ all three of her talents. “It’s really a dream role for me,” she says.

Oklahoma!, directed here by Fred Hansen and choreographed by Ginger Thatcher, tells the story of the rivalry between cattlemen and farmers at the turn of the century in the Oklahoma territory. Farm girl Laurey has captured the hearts of two men: Curly (Spencer Plachy), the sweet, good-natured cowboy, and Jud (Andrew Lebon), the dark, brooding farmhand.

The original Oklahoma! tended to be played a bit too sweetly. But this version was adapted from the Royal National Theater production, which, under the direction of Trevor Nunn and the choreography of Susan Stroman, used a more down-to-earth approach.

“Laurey comes out in overalls as opposed to a pretty white dress,” says Lavin. “She actually looks like she’s been working on a farm … It’s not fluffy; it’s more real.”

In fact, some critics have said this version contains dark, sexually suggestive images, especially where Jud is concerned. Lavin says that while Jud’s character is still a bit dirty and perverted, Andrew Lebon manages to play him in a way that makes him more human and three-dimensional; he’s almost pitiable.

Stroman’s choreography, which is much more contemporary and challenging than the original, lends these characters more depth. “People are doing flips,” says Lavin. “Curly actually lifts me over his head and swoops me around. So it’s really exciting to watch.”

But some things remain delightfully the same. David Hersey’s original lighting design has been maintained here, and the realistic backdrops featuring changing skies filled with clouds, sunrises and stars continue to wow audiences.

But Lavin’s favorite part is getting to revisit her youth in every performance—as Laurey, a teenager falling in love for the first time, and as Jessica, a little girl from New Jersey. “Now I get to sing these beautiful, classic songs that people know by heart. That’s a lot of fun.”