Theatre Mirror Reviews - "OKLAHOMA"

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note: entire contents copyright 2016 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

Welcome to the Oklahoma Territory and the closing show of Trinity Repertory Company's 52nd season, "Oklahoma" by Rodgers and Hammerstein. This was the duo's first collaboration and this musical is based on "Green Grow The Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. This high spirited musical is known for its seamless integration of book, score and dance. "Oklahoma" is about the spirited rivalry between the local farmers and the cowboys where two stubborn prairie kids, Curly, a cowboy and Laurey, a farm girl live. They refuse to show their feelings for each other but eventually fall in love. The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943 and ran for 2212 performances. It helped bring the Americans out of the harsh realities of World War II to escape to America's past. Directors Emmy Award winning Richard and Sharon Jenkins infuse this musical with high energy from start to finish while musical director Michael Rice keeps the 7 piece orchestra and cast in harmonic blend all night long and the choreography by Richard and Sharon is spectacular especially the dream ballet segment which enthralls you with its beauty, intensity and splendid execution. This classical musical is given a magnificent interpretation and this first rate cast is rewarded with a resounding standing ovation at their expertise.

Richard and Sharon block the show perfectly, utilizing the entire playing area and they have separate playing areas where the cast is part of the audience. Their show stopping choreography is outstanding especially in "Kansas City", "Many A New Day", The Dream Ballet, "The Farmer and the Cowman" and the breathtaking "Oklahoma." The Texas two step in "The Farmer and The Cowman" is brilliantly performed by the dancing chorus. The Jenkins take on this show makes it a grittier and more realistic than most presentations but it still captures the hearts of a very appreciative audience. The death scene is frightening with its intensity and execution. Eugene Lee designed the set while Toni Spafadora created all the costumes.The two leads in this show are dynamite together. They have fantastic voices, great chemistry and superior acting prowess. Charlie Thurston is terrific as Curly. He displays the cockiness of the character and has brilliant comic timing especially with Aunt Eller. Charlie's fabulous baritone voice fills the theatre from his first notes of "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" as well as in "Surrey With the Fringe on Top" when he woos Laurey. He is topnotch in his two duets "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Poor Jud". However it is his lead vocals in "Oklahoma" that will have you jumping out of your seat with its powerful presentation. Charlie's charismatic stage presence makes his Curley a memorable one. Rachael Warren whom I first review as Anybodys in "West Side Story" back in 2004 at Trinity, plays Laurey. She has a superb soprano voice and acting talent. Rachael makes Laurey, spunky with a backbone to stand up for herself especially in the confrontation with Jud. Later on after she admits her love, she becomes sweet and tender when she needs to be. Her voice soars off the charts in "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and "The Surrey" segments, the romantic love song "People Will Say We're in Love" duet with Curly when she finally falls for him. Her two solo numbers are gorgeously done, too where she leads the girls in a dance in "Many A New Day" as well as singing and dancing in "Out of My Dreams" ballet which stops the show with the mesmerizing performance of this cast. The chemistry between Charlie and Rachael keeps the audience entranced all night long.

The supporting cast is as outstanding as their leading players. Jude Sandy is marvelous as the dumb country bumpkin, Will Parker who has trouble keeping his flirty girlfriend in line. He displayed his strong acting chops in "To Kill a Mockingbird" and now displays his comic and musical talents to the audience. Jude dances up a storm in his "Kansas City" number with the boys and later on sings with Ado Annie in "All or Nothing" where he wants to go out on the town raising Annie's ire. Jude is a triple threat performer who delivers the goods in any role he portrays. The biggest scene stealer in this show is Rebecca Gibel, a petite gorgeous blonde, who is fantastic as the hot to trot, Ado Annie. She is the best Ado Annie I have ever seen. Rebecca is hilarious as she describes her philosophy to Laurey in "I Cain't Say No" where she explains she loves whomever she is with at the time. Becky stops the show with this comic romp of a song as she quails and quakes at the thought of a man kissing her and flashes the audience at one point, too. She and Jude also do a bang up job on their "All or Nothing" number. Becky is a riot when the constantly flirting peddler puts the moves on her and she thinks he wants to marry her. Their Persian goodbye kiss is fabulous as she stands there with her mouth agape. Brava! Another scene stealer in this show is Stephen Thorne as Ali Hakim, the womanizing peddler who likes to flirt with every pretty girl he meets. His Persian accent is flawless and his facial expressions and funny antics are hysterical, too. Stephen is hilarious with his song, "It's a Scandal" where the peddler thinks it a shame that the father's of the girls expect him to marry them and not just flirt with them. His womanizing ways finally catch up to him when he gets caught by the constantly laughing Gertie played wonderfully by Royer Bockus.

The feisty Aunt Eller is wonderfully played by Janice Duclos who displays her voice in "The Farmer and the Cowman" song which opens the second act. She displays the strength of a woman back in 1907 where a woman had to be strong to survive in the wilderness with her stirring speech to Laurey after the death of Jud. Eller also has a lot of fun during "The Farmer and the Cowman" when she aims the gun at the crowd to stop a fight, during the auction scene and in her flirting scenes with Curly to make him realize he is in love with her niece. The villain of the show is the smarmy, evil murdering stalker, Jud Fry. Joe Wilson Jr. is perfect in this role, scaring the audience every time he makes an entrance. Joe's awesome voice soars in his dramatic number "Lonely Room" which stops the show with the intensity of his delivery. Joe's demented Jud is astounding especially in the ballet scene which foreshadows his breakdown with Laurey when they argue in Act 2. Another one of the comic performers is Tom Gleadow as Andrew Carnes, Annie's father. He wins many laughs when he threatens Ali Hakim with his shotgun, when he argues with Will over his engagement to his daughter and when he sings of his distaste for cowboys in "The Farmer and the Cowman" number. I have fond memories of this show, having played Andrew Carnes back in 1998. The finale tableau is breathtaking. Kudos to the whole cast for bringing this classic musical to life with sensational dancing, singing and direction, making this one of the must see shows of this spring season. Run do not walk to the Trinity Repertory Company's box office to buy your tickets before "Oklahoma" leaves Providence for good in the "Surrey with the Fringe on the Top!" Tell them Tony sent you.

OKLAHOMA (5 May to 5 June)
Trinity Repertory Company, 201 Washington St, Providence, RI
1(401)351-4242 or

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