Theatre Mirror Reviews -"Oklahoma!"

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note: entire contents copyright 2012 by Tony Annicone


A Review by Tony Annicone

The first show of Dean College's fall season is Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma" which is based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. The show is set in 1907 in Western Indian Territory just after the turn of the 20th Century and is about the spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys. This high-spirited musical known for its seamless integration of book, score and dance, follows the on-again-off-again romance between two headstrong lovers Curly and Laurey, a handsome cowboy and a willful farm girl. They refuse to show their true feelings for each other and eventually fall in love. "Oklahoma" is the first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein. The original Broadway show opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for 2,212 performances. Director James Beauregard infuses this show with energetic performances from his cast members while musical director Steven Bergman keeps the excellent seven piece orchestra and cast in wonderful harmonic blend all night long. Julie White's choreography is excellent especially "Kansas City", "Many a New Day'', "It's a Scandal, The Dream Ballet, "The Farmer and the Cowman" and "Oklahoma''. This classic musical is given a topnotch rendition at Dean College and wins them a thunderous standing ovation at the curtain call.

Jim keeps the show moving along smoothly from start to finish, creating picture postcard moments with his cast. He brings out the comic and dramatic moments splendidly. The terrific costumes are by Daniel Kozar and marvelous set by Michael Duarte. The two leads in this show have wonderful voices and acting talent. Chet Davino is topnotch as the cocky cowboy who is madly in love with this beautiful farm girl, handling the comic and dramatic moments as Curly with ease. His strong baritone voice sells his songs including "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" as well as "The Surrey with the Fringe on the Top", the lead vocal of "Oklahoma'' and his two duets, "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Poor Jud". Chet has a strong stage presence as Curly. Beautiful brunette,Kimberly Fife is wonderful as Laurey. She is a lovely gal with a strong soprano voice. Kimberly's Laurey is spunky and has a backbone to stand up for herself especially in the confrontation scene with Jud. She is also sweet and tender when she needs to be. Kimberly's voice soars off the charts in "People Will Say We're in Love" duet with Chet and in her solos "Many A New Day" and "Out of My Dreams". She and the girls do a rousing dance to the first number. Andrew Wyman and Brianna Gorham play Dream Curly and Laurey and their dancing is excellent. Both male and female dancers in this show are topnotch.The dream ballet segment shows how a dream can turn into a nightmare. The chemistry between Chet and Kimberly is wonderful, keeping the audience enthralled all night long.

The supporting cast is topnotch and is led by Alexander Boyle as Will Parker, the dumb country bumpkin who has trouble keeping his girlfriend in line. He leads the dancers in "Kansas City" where he shows off his strong singing voice and dancing ability as well as in "All or Nothin", his duet with Ado Annie. He does a marvelous job, garnering many laughs along the way. Kaleigh Bradley is very funny as the hot to trot,Ado Annie. Her comic timing shines in this role and her solo "Cain't Say No" is hilarious as she sings to Laurey, how she loves the man she is with. Kaleigh also wins many laughs in her scenes with the peddler as well as in "All or Nothin" with Alexander. One of the funniest characters in this show is Brian Perriera as Ali Hakim, the womanizing peddler who likes to flirt with every pretty girl he meets. He is a hoot when he sings "It's a Scandal" where he complains about having to marry a girl because of her father's shotgun. Brian has many funny lines and makes them all hit pay dirt. His flirting ways finally catch up to him when he is forced to marry the constantly laughing Gertie played wonderfully by Anna MacKenzie.

The feisty Aunt Eller is splendidly played by Ruthie Fontanella who shows off her strong singing voice during the show. She shines in "The Farmer and the Cowman" song with both her singing and dancing skills. Ruthie wins many laughs in this role and displays the strength needed back then by a pioneer woman who had to be strong to survive in the wilderness. Rodgers and Hammerstein always wrote a strong mother figure in their shows and Eller is the voice of reason when she comforts Laurey after Jud's death by explaining you have to take the good with the bad because it is all part of life. She shows off her comic side in the flirting scenes with Curly to make him realize he is really in love with Laurey, in the auction scene and during her song when she shoots a gun to make everyone stop fighting. The villain of this piece is Jud Fry, a murdering varmint who is one of R&H's dastardly characters. Jud is marvelously played by Robert White. He captures the crazed intensity of this stalker and scares the audience with his volatile temper. Robert's powerful tenor voice soars in "Poor Jud" but it is in "Lonely Room'' that he stops the show with his powerhouse rendition. This song is reminiscent of "The Soliloquy" from "Carousel". Bernando Brandt garners many laughs as the gruff Andrew Carnes when he threatens Ali Hakim with his rifle, when he argues with Will over his engagement to his daughter and when he sings of his dislike for the cowboy's in "The Farmer and the Cowman" song. This show brings back many happy memories for me having played Andrew Carnes back in 1998 and assistant directed it in 1980. Kudos to everyone for bringing this classic show to life. So be sure to catch "Oklahoma" before the Surrey with the Fringe on top leaves town.

"Oklahoma!" (14 - 18 November)
@ Main Stage, Campus Center, 109 West Central Street, FRANKLIN MA

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