Plenty of heart and plenty of hope.
That’s what Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” has been offering audiences since 1943, when it first opened on Broadway.
The original show inaugurated a golden age of American musicals, and a new production is kicking off the 2019 season at North Shore Music Theatre in Beverly, where it will run through Sunday, June 16.
“It’s a good reminder that we can fall in love,” said Charles Repole, the show’s director. “Even in 2019, we can fall in love at first sight.”
Several couples enjoy that experience in “Oklahoma!” but the show is focused primarily on Curly McLaine, a cowboy, and Laurey Williams, who lives with her aunt on a farm.
Their romance is complicated when Laurey tries to make Curly jealous by promising to attend a party with Jud Fry, a hired hand.
But Jud can be threatening, and Laurey is afraid to break off their date once she realizes that isn’t what she really wants.
These missteps are a result of her inexperience, a limitation that she shares with Curly and many of the other young characters in “Oklahoma!” exposing an innocence that Repole sees as the heart of the show.
“No matter were we are, with everything going on in this world, there’s an innocence inside all of us,” he said.
That view contrasts with a much darker version of this play that is currently selling out on Broadway, which Repole described as “a completely different version,” in which elements of sex and violence have been intensified.
But in Repole’s view, while Jud is “dark and conflicted and lonely,” his potential for violence is like that of the character Lennie — who can’t keep his paws to himself — in John Steinbeck’s novel “Of Mice and Men.”
And Repole sees Ado Annie Carnes — who sings the song “I Cain’t Say No” while entertaining her romantic options — as curious rather than lascivious.
“This is not a trollop,” he said. “This is just a girl who thinks kissing and petting are fun.”
One of the few voices of experience in the play belongs to Aunt Eller, who understands what the younger characters are going through and isn’t afraid to give them blunt advice.
She is played by Susan Cella, a Revere native who moved to New York in the mid-1970s and has been working as an actress ever since.
“I find it interesting that the whole town calls me Aunt Eller, not just Laurey,” Cella said. “I’m Aunt Eller to everybody. I’m sort of the matriarch of the community.”
Near the end of the play, she helps conduct an auction of lunch baskets that raises money for building a school, while also introducing potential mates to each other.
Cella has never been in “Oklahoma!” in spite of all her experience in the theater, and she is enjoying its portrayal of frontier life, which contrasts with the world we live in today.
“What I’m finding out about is the simplicity,” she said. “It was a simpler time.”
The play is set in 1906, just before statehood was granted to Oklahoma, where the pressing issues of the day included a dispute between cowboys and farmers over fenced-in land.
“It’s joyous to be in a world that is simple folks, doing simple things, and to have that kind of innocence,” she said. “So I hope audiences are willing to go back in time with that.”
Cella has heard that the new production of “Oklahoma!” on Broadway is “mind-blowing,” but she hasn’t seen it yet. From what she has heard, she also has reservations.
“I’m not saying it’s not valid, what they did,” Cella said. “I’m just saying it’s not my cup of tea.”
“Oklahoma!” was the first play that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein wrote together, and their work is distinguished by its storytelling, Repole said.
“I’m a huge fan of Rodgers and Hammerstein and what they created in the musical world,” he said. “Just the history in terms of putting dance in the show that had a storyline, putting a character like Jud in that is so complicated.”
The music in “Oklahoma!” is “intoxicating on almost every level,” while also creating characters through subtle means, Repole said.
The song “People Will Say We’re in Love,” for example, is a “negative love song” in which Curly and Laurey profess not to care for each other, while acknowledging that the opposite is true.
It can be surprising for younger actors, who didn’t grow up on Rodgers and Hammerstein, to discover that “someone can actually play like that,” Repole said.
Cella, whose career began in musicals but eventually included an equal portion of dramas, said there is little in musical theater today that has the depth of Rodgers and Hammerstein.
“With musicals today, it’s six or seven lines — dance number; six or seven lines — big production number,” she said.
Cella thinks the cast for this production has the skill it takes to bring the “rich, beautiful scenes” in “Oklahoma!” to life.
“It’s a very human story, and if we tell the story well, the music is only going to be an asset,” she said.
If you go
When: June 6, 11, 12 and 13 at 7:30 p.m.; June 7, 8, 14 and 15 at 8 p.m.; and June 8, 9, 12, 15 and 16 at 2 p.m.
Where: North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Road, Beverly
How much: $61 to $86
More information: 978-232-7200 or www.nsmt.org