Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Oklahoma!"

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entire contents copyright 1998 by Don Gillis

"Oklahoma"

Words by Oscar Hammmerstein II
Music by Richard Rodgers
Directed and Produced by Chuck Petitbon
Musical Director: G. Frank Meekins
Choreography: Wayne A. Hawkins, Chuck PetitBon

Lighting: Greg PetitBon
Costumes: Doris Salisbury, Sue Staniunas
Stage Manager: Douglas Cameron

CAST

Curly McLain............... Matt Gibson
Laurey Williams.......... Kelly Cardin
Aunt Eller.................. Sue Staniunas
Jud Fry....................Laurence Cagle
Ado Annie Carnes......Mary Kesson
Will Parker.........Wayne A. Hawkins
Ali Hakim...................Nishan Lawton
Gertie Cummings....Michaela Murphy
Andrew Carnes..........Tony Annicone
Slim...............................Justin Jutras
Cord Elam....................Jim Whitaker
Ike Skidmore..................Al Esposito
Fred........................Howard F. Shultz
Kate.....................................Jen Joly
Vivian...............Shannon L. Vescera
Ellen..................Kimberly Mathers
Virginia....................Patty Abrames
Mike...................Doug Cameron


There are many reasons why Oklahoma! is a recognized landmark in the history of the American musical theatre. In the initial collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, it not only expertly fused the major elements in the production -- story, songs and dances --it also utilized dream ballets to reveal hidden desires and fears of the principals. In addition, the musical, based on Lynn Riggs' play, Green Grow The Lilacs, was the first with a book that honestly depicted the kind of rugged pioneers who had once tilled the land and tended the cattle. Set in Indian Territory soon after the turn of the century, Oklahoma! spins a simple tale mostly concerned with whether the decent Curly or the menacing Jud gets to take Laurey to the box social. Though she chooses Judd in the fit of pique, Laurey really loves Curly and they soon make plans to marry. At the wedding they join in celebrating Oklahoma's impending statehood, then ---after Jud is accidentally killed in a fight with Curly ---the couple ride off in their surrey with the fringe on top. Oklahoma enjoyed a Broadway run of 2,212 performances opening at The St. James Theatre in New York on March 31, 1943. Fifty-five years later, it remains a musical masterpiece!

Fifty-five years ago! Many of us were not even born yet. And I suspect that many in this cast of 18 were not alive when "Oklahoma" entered the musical world. I know I was only a baby in diapers. SO..... consider this. Curly played by Matt Gibson, and Laurey played by Kelly Cardin are in their teens....but what a joy to watch, young fresh, talented singers, who can act, and actors who can sing. Matt opens the show with the rousing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin", and what a beautiful voice this young man has! As soon as he sang the first couple of notes, I knew I was in for an entertaining evening. Not only can he sing, he can act with expressions that are mostly attained when your a bit older. Matt remains in his character of Curly during the whole performance. I think that is one of the things that impressed me the most about him. What a talented young guy! And he is only in high school! Kelly also has a beautiful voice, and acts her part with the essential elements of the young girl who is secretly in "love" with Curly, but of course cannot show her feelings.

Aunt Eller, played by veteran actress, Sue Staniunas, had all the right expressions and made her character believable all through out the show. Its a part that most women in the theatre would love to sink their teeth into, and Sue does justice to the role. She never left her character, and I got a kick out of her scenes when she had to break up the fight at the party social. Actually, she was instrumental in keeping the pacing of the show too. She sang with poise and grace, and I really liked her performance a lot!

In comes another cowboy, Will Parker played by Wayne A. Hawkins. Will wants to marry Ado Annie played by Mary Kesson. Wayne's dance number "Kansas City", with the rest of the cowboys was noteworthy. Mary Kesson is truly much different as Ado Annie than I expected. She enters with a curly red wig that I had some difficulty getting used to. But, she played the part and made it her own, which I liked a lot....no stereotype acting for Mary....and it works! Her scenes with Will were highlights of the show. The chemistry between them certainly made this reviewer chuckle..more than once!

Jud Fry played by Laurence Cagle demonstrated to me how difficult it is to be the "bad guy". This is a role that is NOT easy to play, and I watched Laurence very carefully, he had all the right expressions, and I wanted to see if he played the role so that the audience would ponder about his "secluded life" and eventually feel for this guy. He got to me, and that's just what this kind of role is about, I think. His scenes with Curly in the smokehouse" were top rate, and when he sings "Lonely Room"... its an emotional rollercoaster!.....whew!

Ali Hakim, an itinerant peddler, played by Nishan Lawton displayed his wares, including charms of various sorts and finally enticesLaurey with his "Elixir of Egypt", a nostrum guaranteed to help the user solve any problem whatever. Nishan has many scenes, especially with Ado Annie, and is a very funny in his scenes with Will Parker, and Ado Annie, as they ponder about Ado Annie is going to decide to marry (even though she has been promised to Will Parker). You have to see these scenes...they are very well acted, and directed. Nishan also sings "Its a Scandal! Its a Outrage! with the male chorus. It was a rib tickling number.

Andrew Carnes, played by Tony Annicone was a true delight , in this very hilarious role of keeping his daughter(Ado Annie) on the right road to the altar!.. His "shotgun" scene was especially funny, and this veteran actor/director did an excellent job. I especially liked the" cowman and his friends" number.

The "dream scene ballet" was very nicely done much to this reviewer's delight. The small playing area was used to the fullest, basic, and down to the point, where the audience did not get bored with 14 minutes of unnecessary dances and moves to get the point across.

The remainder of the cast added the necessary touches to this musical. The musical direction, by G. Frank Meekins was, as always ,top notch. We are going to miss Mr. Meekins, as he is leaving for Florida for new adventures. The ensemble cast worked so well in this production, and I believe that Frank was instrumental in making this happen.

What a refreshing night out! Don't miss this dinner theatre production! Reservations required. Kudos, Chuck and crew!

"OKLAHOMA" (till 21 June)
Mill River Theatre Company
499 High Street, CENTRAL FALLS, RHODE ISLAND
(401) 724-5658

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