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Oklahoma!

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So there I am in the "Storage Bags/Bathroom Tissue" aisle of the South Side Giant Eagle when who do I run in to but Shirley Jones! While you really shouldn't be surprised by anything you see at the South Side Giant Eagle, an Academy Award-winner definitely makes you pause. There was so much I wanted to say: "You make me cry in The Music Man!" "Your stepson is the second man I ever had a crush on!" or even, "Shirl -- you look fantastic!" (And she really did.) But it took all my strength not to say, "Why the hell is Shirley Jones shopping for her own garbage bags at the Giant Eagle?"

As it turns out, she's in town to play Aunt Eller in the CLO production of Oklahoma! And even though I know that you know what this show's about (since, like everybody, you were in it in high school), here's a brief synopsis. Oklahoma! is the musical that revolutionized the American Musical with its first-ever integration of story, song and dance. It's set against the backdrop of farmers and ranchers fighting to see who owns the land stolen from the Native Americans.

But, really, the point of Oklahoma! is the unstoppable parade of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein songs. While I'm not the world's biggest R&H fan (the work Rodgers did with Larry Hart is far more interesting), I have to acknowledge that nobody wrote the kind of songs R&H wrote better than R&H: "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "I Cain't Say No!," "People Will Say We're in Love" and, of course, that damn title tune, which has been playing on a loop in my head since I saw the show.

I'm happy to report that if you have to see a production of Oklahoma!, you're in luck, because this CLO version is about as solid as they come, with very fine performances by Matt Bogart and Jessica Grové as Curley and Laurey. Leo Ash Evens and Jennifer Cody are a bit broad, but still charming. Meanwhile, Shirley knows precisely where Aunt Eller's laughs are, and when it comes to comedic timing, nobody can touch Jason Graae as Ali Hakim.

So, Shirl, here's hoping we meet again at the Giant Eagle ... and I wouldn't mind if you brought David Cassidy along; after all, Ado Annie isn't the only one who cain't say no.

Oklahoma! continues through Sun., July 1. Benedum Center, 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-456-6666

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