When composer Richard Rodgers told his lyricist, Lorenz Hart, that the two had been approached by New York's Theater Guild to adapt Lynn Riggs' "Green Grow the Lilacs" as a "cowboy opera," the urbane Hart demurred.
Oscar Hammerstein II, who'd previously written the folky lyrics to "Show Boat," had no problem with the subject matter, nor did choreographer Agnes de Mille, who'd been fired from both of her earlier Broadway projects. Both joined on, with Hammerstein adapting Riggs' script as the new musical's book. The result was "Oklahoma!" an historic melding of elements of drama, popular music and dance.
So much a part of the national consciousness since its 1943 debut, it's hard to think of "Oklahoma!" as pioneering. And, indeed, the current production by the Camarillo Community Theater is (to grab a later Hammerstein lyric) as corny as Kansas in August.
Which is not to disparage either the show or the Camarillo group's fine, though low-budget, presentation of it.
Directors Kelly Johnston and Penny Puente make the most of the group's usual venue, a high school auditorium on the Camarillo Airport grounds.
Michael Voll stars as Curly, with Meredith Johnston as the perky, feisty Laurey. There are five members of the talented Johnston family connected with the show--all save Meredith behind the scenes. And there are four members of the Moffat family in the chorus.
Co-director and musical director Penny Puente is featured as sensible Aunt Eller, with Andrew H. Brasted, Bob Christiansen and Susan J. Wiltfang as the comic trio of cowboy Will Parker, Persian peddler Ali Hakim, and Ado Annie Carnes, the girl who "cain't say no."
All are fine singers and more than adequate to the required acting, with Johnston sparkling, Voll robust, and Wiltfang especially noteworthy for packing so much gusto into this, reportedly her first community theater appearance. Gabriel Vega is very menacing, though almost sympathetic, as bullying ranch-hand Jud Fry. The music is prerecorded.
Allowing for the show's marginal budget, Ken Probe's sets and the cast-supplied costumes are at least adequate, though Ali Hakim's anachronistic polyester suit makes him look less like a turn-of-the-century door-to-door salesman than Oklahoma's first used-Yugo dealer.
Kelly Johnston's choreography manages to work just fine-it is lively on numbers such as "The Farmer and The Cowman" and "Kansas City, and subtle in the "Out of My Dreams" ballet.
* WHERE AND WHEN
"Oklahoma!," which opened June 21, continues through Aug. 3 at the Camarillo Airport Theater, 330 Skyway Drive (just west of Las Posas Road, off Pleasant Valley) on the Camarillo Airport grounds. Shows are at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. on Sundays. General admission tickets are $10 for adults and $8 for students, seniors and active military, with group discounts. For information and reservations, call 388-5716.