Jon Ostlund (l) looks on Vanessa Begley and Zachary Hasbany (SSU Theatre Arts)


Sonoma State’s theatre and music arts students delight in bringing some history to life in their new production of “Oklahoma.”

I’m not thinking so much of the story of cowboys and farmers but rather the story of the American musical. To earlier generations the names “Rodgers & Hammerstein” dominated musical theater on stage and on the big screen. And “Oklahoma” was the pair’s first collaboration in a string of musicals that include “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “The Sound of Music.”

The Sonoma State students and a capable orchestra under musical director/conductor Lynne Morrow bring back the catchy tunes and breathe some youthful exuberance into the story of  a cowboy and a farm girl in 1907 Oklahoma Territory. The pair are meant for each other but they can’t bring themselves to admit it because … well, it would end the story rather too quickly. (It helps just to suspend belief here, as well as when the farm girl agrees to go to the box social dance with the scary, brooding farm hand.)

Zachary Hasbany as cowboy Curly and Vanessa Begley as farm girl Laurey both impress with their singing. Hasbany gets the extra fun of locking horns with the ill-tempered farm hand, Jud (Jon Ostlund). In the dirge “Poor Jud is Daid,” Curley mischievously tells Jud how hanging himself would win over the folks who’d gaze upon his laid-out body: “He’s lookin’ oh so purty and so nice; He looks like he’s asleep, it’s a shame that he won’t keep, but it’s summer and we’re runnin’ out o’ ice.”

The role with the most laughs belongs to peddler Ali Hakim, and Christoper Gonzalez plays it with madcap energy as a man who wants to kiss the girls but not wed them. In the end he gets hitched, explaining, “I wanted to marry her when I saw the moonlight shining on the barrel of her father’s shotgun.”

Another standout is Ostlund as Jud, a young man with a bellyful of anger and a sense of mistreatment. His dark stares and sinewy frame cast a real chill over the story.

The other cast members and the dancers of the extended “Dream Ballet” do a fine job rounding out the tale. And when they say: “Yeeow! Ayipioeeay!” you know you’re seeing a real slice of Americana.

The show, with stage direction by Adrian Elfenbaum and choreography by Nancy Lyons, continues at the university’s Evert B. Person Theatre at 6:30 p.m. Thursday Feb. 16, and 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Feb. 17-18. The musical ends with a 2 p.m. matinee on Sunday Feb. 19. Admission is $16, with $9 for students and seniors.

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