Newport County's Swanhurst Chorus,under the direction of Jonathan F. Babbitt, presents its 16th Annual Tribute to Broadway with Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma". The show is based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs", by Lynn Riggs. It takes place in 1907 and is about 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. The first collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, the show originally opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for 2,212 performances. Director Jonathan Babbitt infuses this show with high energy from start to finish and also is the musical director, plays the piano, taught the cast the beautiful well known music but also cooks the fabulous dinner, too. This energetic show is rewarded with a thunderous ovation at curtain call. This show is presented in a dinner style theater setting with intimate staging with the audience sitting on the Oklahoma prairie. The meal choices consist of roast pork in brown gravy or Chicken Vanderbilt, a boneless breast of chicken finished with spinach and sun-dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese and tomato basil cream sauce with as much salad and rolls you can eat as well as fresh green string beans, mashed potatoes and coffee with a dessert buffet.
The stage is a black box set with a prairie background where the numerous scene changes can be accomplished quickly with the cast moving set pieces on and off. Jon keeps the show flowing beautifully from start to finish and also does amazing work, obtaining the harmonic blend from his cast members especially in "Many a New Day", "Out of My Dreams" and "Oklahoma".. His lovely wife Lisa choreographs "Many a New Day", "The Farmer and the Cowman" and "Oklahoma".The two leads in the show have wonderful voices and acting talents. Jason Shealy is fantastic as Curly, the cocky cowboy who is madly in love with this beautiful farm girl.(Jason studied voice at the University of South Carolina) He handles the comic and dramatic moments with ease. His terrific baritone voice sells his songs including "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin" as well as "The Surrey with the Fringe on Top", the lead in "Oklahoma" , his two duets "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Poor Jud is Dead". Pretty blonde Lisa not only choreographs the show but plays Laurey. She has a lovely soprano voice and she makes Laurey spunky, a girl who has a backbone to stand up for herself especially in the confrontation with Jud scene, yet she is also sweet and tender when she needs to be, too. Her voice soars in "People Will Say We're in Love'' duet with Curly, and in her two solos "Many A New Day" and "Out of My Dreams".
The supporting cast is very talented and is led by Brandon Clark as Will Parker, the dumb country bumpkin who has trouble keeping his girlfriend in line. He is a fabulous actor and singer who shows off his singing talent in "Kansas City" and in "All or Nothin", his duet with Ado Annie. Erin Toppa is wonderful as the hot to trot Ado Annie and she stops the show with her hilarious song "I Can't Say No" where she explains how she loves every man she is with. Her comic antics keep you entertained all night long. Jeremy Hansen plays the womanizing peddler, Ali Hakim who likes to flirt with every pretty girl he sees.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. His flirting ways catch up to him when Ali is forced to marry the constantly laughing Gertie played wonderfully by Ruth Hall.(I reviewed Lisa, Brandon, Erin and Jeremy last year in "The Pajama Game''.) The feisty Aunt Eller is wonderfully played by Suzanne Bessin who shows off her singing voice in "The Farmer and the Cowman". She shows the strength that was needed back in 1907 when a woman had to be strong to survive in the wilderness. Her character gets to have fun in the song where she points her gun at the fighters, in the auction scene and in her flirting scenes with Curly to make him realize he is in love with Laurey. The villain of the show is the smarmy, evil, murdering stalker, Jud Fry. Andrew Gustafson is so realistic in this role that he scares the audience with his volatile character. His "Lonely Room" song done in speaking style conveys Jud's misguided anger. Ado Annie's father, Andrew is well played by Norm Lofsky who gets many laughs while threatening Ali Hakim with his shotgun, argues with Will over his engagement to his daughter and sings of his dislike for the cowboys in "The Farmer and the Cowman". (This show brings back pleasant memories of when I played Andrew Carnes in "Oklahoma" for Mill River Dinner Theatre in 1998.) Kudos to the whole cast for bringing this classic show to life in Newport. A raffle is held at every performance to keep the Swanhurst chorus in business during these tough economic times.