Today, Tanushi and I had the honor to attend the Arena Stage's inaugural centerpiece: Oklahoma, and oh we were in for a pleasant experience. I had waited almost 3 long years for this Southwest masterpiece to be opened, and the wait though painful for an inpatient guy like me, was definitely worth every minute of it.
Oklahoma was everything I expected and everything I didn't expect. For starters the main actors were not the traditionally white farmers who you expected to see in the rugged southwest during the turn of the century, but African American and Hispanic.
What was amazing was that Curly's love is played by Eleasha Gamble, an African American woman who was raised in DC and studied at Catholic University. What is even more amazing is that Eleasha was called up to take the leading role just days prior to the play's debut in DC (due to a family emergency with the former actress).
There was no time to absorb what she was getting herself into. She just had to jump in and soak up as much as she could. The spirit and drive of Eleasha playing her role dynamically shows just how gutsy and endearing she can be.
You first see Laurey singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," and after Curly flirts with her, you fall in love with Laurey right away.
Although Eleasha performed her show with mini scripts tucked neatly in her apron, they were not distracting and reminded me of the gargantuan task that she faced. Plus, she rarely referred to them. It was amazing how Eleasha soaked up her script and the whole surrounding so smoothly. That gal has a lot of guts.
Kudos to Eleasha, Nicholas Rodriguez, and the rest of the stars for making this performance so riveting. Kudos to Molly Smith for adding in diversity for reverting a potential crisis and for making this production so powerful and life changing.