Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Oklahoma"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"


entire contents copyright 2008 by Tony Annicone

"Oklahoma!"

Reviewed by Tony Annicone

URI's second show of their season is Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma". Based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs, the show is the spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys where two stubborn prairie kids, Curly, a cowboy and Laurey, a farm girl live. They refuse to show their true feelings for each other but eventually fall in love after overcoming many obstacles along the way. This show marked the first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein's successful career together. The show originally opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for 2212 performances which was one of the longest runs of a musical for its day. Director Paula McGlasson infuses this show with energetic performances from all her cast members while musical director Lila Kane keeps her orchestra and cast blending together all night long and the choreography by Angelica Vessella is wonderful especially the long dream ballet segment which closes the first act. This classic musical is given a rousing production by the mostly student cast and these performers receive a thunderous ovation at the close of the show where they do an energetic dance to the "The Farmer and the Cowman''. Set, costumes, sound and lighting all add to the excellence of the show, too.

Paula cuts the time down on this usually three hour show by incorporating speedy scene changes by hard working stage manager Rachel Nadeau and her crew. Set pieces fly in and out with the cast and crew moving them as the scene starts. She picks the best people for all the roles in the show, while Lila's musicians soar with their topnotch orchestrations (she not only conducts the show but plays the lead keyboard, too) and her teaching the score to her young cast is as well. The dream ballet segment of the show stands out. Angelica simplifies the original choreography of Agnes DeMille with the real Curly, Laurey and Jud doing their own dancing without using doubles. In this scene Laurey dreams of finally marrying Curly but Jud interferes with it by stabbing Curly to death, making the dream into a nightmare. Her choreography is wonderful throughout the show encompassing many different styles of dancing including ballet, two step, waltzing among many others. The male dancers handle "Kansas City" (with Aunt Eller) and "It's a Scandal" while the girls handle "Many a New Day" and "Out of My Dreams" with the whole cast doing a square dance and a two step to "The Farmer and the Cowman". The gorgeous costumes are by David Howard while the sets containing two backdrops, one with daytime blue sky and clouds, the other with full moon at night are by Patrick Lynch. The lighting design for this show is by David Roy while Michael Hyde who is a topnotch lighting designer, handles the sound for this show impeccably.

Nile Hawver with his usually straight brown hair permed to be the curly haired cowboy, Curly fits the bill as tall, dark and handsome. He also has to portray a cockiness so Laurey is rubbed the wrong way and doesn't immediately succumb to his charms. Having reviewed Nile in "The Fantasticks" at the Granite Theatre a couple of years ago, I knew he had the strong baritone voice to fill the role of Curly. His acting is strong as well when he shows how smitten he is by this farm girl. Nile solos include the rousing "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin' ", the enticing "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" where he tells Laurey about the rig he hired to take her to the box social and the powerful "Oklahoma" which is a highlight of the second act. His voice also soars in his duets "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Pore Jud". Lara Maynard, a petite, pretty blond fits the bill as Laurey, the prairie farm girl with a fantastic soprano voice. She and Nile handle the comic and dramatic moments wonderfully. One of her best dramatic moments comes when she confronts Jud at the box social. Lara shows how a young girl of the early 1900's can have a backbone to stand up for herself. Her pretty voice is heard in the duets with Nile and in "Many a New Day" where she sings about waiting for the right man to come along and in "Out of My Dreams" where she figures she will dream about what to do about her problems. (Only the dream turns into a nightmare.) The chemistry between these two young performers is wonderful, keeping the audience entranced all night long.

The supporting cast is also very talented, too. Naysh Fox plays Will Parker, the dumb country bumpkin who has trouble keeping his girlfriend in line. This young man no stranger to theatre, having played several roles at Prout High School and at Center-Stage Theater at the Courthouse, makes this role his own with his likeable personality and demeanor as well as his strong dancing ability which shines forth as he leads the male dancers in "Kansas City". He also dances in the dream ballet and shows off his strong singing voice in the duet "All Er Nothin'" while he pursues Ado Annie to try to make her behave. (Which is a lost cause) The flirty, hot to trot Ado Annie is wonderfully played by Stephanie Morgan. The character continually mangles the name of the peddler, Ali Hakim, everytime she says his name, leading to many laughs. Her solo "Can't Say No!" is very funny as she tells Laurey how can she keep from kissing anyone who wants to kiss her and she shows her backbone when she tells Will she is going to stay later than him after they are wed in "All Er Nothin'". One of the biggest scene stealers in this show is Cory Crew as Ali Hakim, the womanizing peddler who likes to flirt with every pretty girl he meets. Cory is a human dynamo in this role, he wears a very loud plaid suit and is a hoot when he sings "It's a Scandal" while he complains about having to marry a girl because of her father's shotgun. His flirting ways catch up to him when he is forced to marry the constantly laughing Gertie played wonderfully by Katie Travers who I reviewed a couple of years ago in "Honk" in Foxboro. (I reviewed Cory last year in "Stuff Happens" at URI but this show lets him show off his strong singing voice) The feisty Aunt Eller is excellently played by Maria Day Hyde. (who I saw play Laurey in "Oklahoma" at Prout High School which I assistant directed in 1980) Here she makes the transition to character role with ease. She gets to show off her singing voice and dancing skills in "The Farmer and the Cowman" as well as playing the banjo for a brief dancing segment of the song. Maria shows the strength a pioneer woman needed to survive in 1907 but she gets to have fun in the auction scene, when she points the gun at everyone during the farmer song to stop a fight and in her flirting scenes with Curly to make him realize he is in love with Laurey. She shows off her dramatic chops when she consoles Laurey after Jud is killed by telling her that one has to take the good with bad because it is all part of life.(R &H always wrote a strong mother figure into their shows and Eller is the one to be the mature voice of reason in this show.) The villain of this piece, is a murdering varmint who is one of R&H's dastardly characters, Jud Fry. He is played by strong actor, Ben Gracia who recently played Nathaniel in "Small Tragedy". He is topnotch in this role as he frightens the audience with this off balanced character. Ben sells his soliloquy number "Lonely Room" and sings harmony with Nile in "Pore Jud". Benjamin Rose plays Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie's shotgun toting father. He gets many laughs while threatening Ali with this shotgun, argues with Will over his engagement to his daughter and sings of his dislike for the cowboys during the farmer song. ( I have reviewed Ben in a dramatic role of Don Quixote in "Man of La Mancha" when he was in high school and in a comic one in "Stuff Happens" last year at URI.) Recent graduate Kyle Blanchette returns to URI to play the marshal, Cord Elam and to dance up a storm in the chorus. Kudos to the whole cast who does a great job while bringing this classic show to life. So for an energetic version of "Oklahoma" be sure to catch it at URI before time runs out.

"Oklahoma!" (13 - 24 November)
UNIVERSITY OF RHODE ISLAND THEATRE
Upper College Road, KINGSTON RI
1 (401)874-5843

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