I've got three quibbles with this otherwise vigorous production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. One, many cast members do a terrible job with their accents--some sort of generic Southern hick-speak. Two, Donald Byrd's choreography is full of weird, spasmodic groin thrusts; inexplicably awful moments like this stood out among much lovely dance work, fluently performed by members of Byrd's Spectrum Dance Theater. Three, much is made in this production of the presence of African-American actors in the cast, particularly Kyle Scatliffe as the heavy, Jud. It's left ambiguous, though, whether we're therefore supposed to read Jud as a black character. If so, it raises serious plausibility issues--obviously it would have been unthinkable for a black Jud to be allowed to squire a white Laurey to a box social in Oklahoma in 1907. And if not, so what? Color-blind casting's been routine in opera for decades, and no one makes a virtue of it. Funny to think the musical-comedy world has some catching up to do as regards progressive attitudes. That said, Scatliffe is fantastic--a mite overheated, maybe, but what a stage presence--and the strongest vocally among some excellent singers. And the chorus' sonic grandeur in the title anthem, since the show's 1943 premiere one of the genre's most thrilling, is a genuine goosebump/tear-up moment. (Runs through March 4; see website for schedule.) GAVIN BORCHERT [See Gavin's full review.] N.B.: The 5th is holding one final public discussion about the production's portrayal of Jud, which has proven provocative, at 7 p.m. Mon., March 5.

Feb. 3-March 4, 2012

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