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A charming Oklahoma!

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Despite the iconic status of OKLAHOMA! in musical theater, it's been 15 years since the Triangle has seen a full production.

It's understandable. There was a time when it seemed every high school in America was required to produce Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's most famous creation. That glut of productions, combined with the sizeable cast and substantial resources required, has made regional producers leery of the work.

Temple Theatre steps into that breach with a truly charming production, which boasts strong work from previously underutilized actors. Sunny Smith's glistening take on the character of Laurey is nearly worth the price of admission alone; Elliot Lane's read as her beau, Curly, is a strong, straight shot down the middle. Michael Jones' remarkable voice supplies Jud Fry, Laurey's obsessed farmhand, with unexpected pathos and beauty, while veteran Lynda Clark anchors the proceedings as indomitable Aunt Eller.

One significant caveat: This Oklahoma! is the second show of the season to sidestep its "full production" status by using a pre-recorded soundtrack instead of a live orchestra, following Xanadu at North Raleigh Arts and Creative Theatre.

I only noticed the synthesized digital instruments in Stuart Ellmore's soundtrack at a few points, and they didn't detract from Smith and Lane's luminous vocal work. But the lack of a live band reduced the energy in the dance sections of "Kansas City" and "Out of My Dreams."

Director Dan Murphy keeps the pacing brisk. The skimpy choreography in the "Dream Ballet" seemed overlong, but congratulations are due to anyone who can keep 45 actors two-stepping and square dancing on Temple's intimate stage without a single collision. There's a lot to like in this rare prairie excursion.

INDY's contributing editor for theater and dance.

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