Wednesday, May 14, 2008

20 Great Broadway Songs of the Past 10 Years: “Oklahoma?”

How can you top a song that rhymes Jew with zoo and Oral Roberts U? I mean, honestly—Oral Roberts U? It doesn’t get any better.

“Oklahoma?” from David Yazbek’s beautiful score for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels is a masterpiece of lyric, melody, and character development. Performed by Sara Gettelfinger on the OBCR (and in the cast I saw), “Oklahoma?” does exactly what a Broadway song needs to do. It’s a smashing showcase for the character Jolene Oakes, written perfectly to her personality and filled with clever rhymes and funny concepts, the idea that while she’s selling Jameson on the glories of living in Oklahoma, she’s betraying her own unpleasant personality and scaring everyone away from Oklahoma at the same time. She’s so obnoxious, in fact, we don’t feel an ounce of pity for her even though Jameson has used her cruelly.

By the way, did I also mention we also get Oklahoma paired with melanoma? It’s the perfectly unexpected word, and it ends the song on just the right hilarious note.

Yazbek’s score for the show as a whole is delightful, somehow managing to have surprising beauty in a score and story that also delights in crassness (a little too much for my taste, but that’s not the point). Following one of my favorite overtures (third behind Gypsy and Sweet Charity), we are given “Give Them What They Want,” which is a great example of the beauty of the score. It’s also worth noting that Yazbek strives here to find a balance between the traditional Broadway sound and the beat of his own rock heart. The dance arrangements for “Oklahoma?”—just one example in the score—is pretty heavy on guitar and effectively so.

Other gems on the CD include (but are certainly not limited to) Norbert Leo Butz’s “Great Big Stuff,” Sherie Rene Scott’s “Here I Am” (“These fries are French!”), “The More We Dance,” John Lithgow’s “Love Sneaks In,” plus the final three tracks in which the ending is unraveled.

But my favorite is “Oklahoma?”. It really doesn’t get any better.

the Broadway Mouth
May 14, 2008

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