Theatre Mirror Reviews - "Oklahoma!"

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"What Happened in Boston, Willie"

entire contents copyright 2010 by Tony Annicone


Reviewed by Tony Annicone

The Community Players first production of their 90th season is Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma". Based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs, the show is set in 1912 and 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 true feelings for each other and 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/choreographer Tim Reid infuses this show with high energy from start to finish, his choreography is spectacular especially the dream ballet segment which enthralls you with its beauty, intensity and splendid execution while musical director Ron Procopio keeps the orchestra and cast in perfect harmonic blend all night long. This classic musical is given a first rate production and the multitalented cast is rewarded with a standing ovation at the curtain call.

Tim keeps the show moving along smoothly from start to finish, choosing the best people to fill these roles. His choreography is fantastic and encompasses many styles of dancing which are seen in "Kansas City", "Many a New Day", "It's a Scandal", "The Farmer and the Cowman" and "Oklahoma". The dream ballet segment shows how a dream can turn into a nightmare. Both the male and female dancers in this show are topnotch. Ron not only conducts his seven piece orchestra but plays the lead keyboards, too. His teaching the cast of the harmonies in these numbers is breathtaking. The marvelous set is by Victor Turenne and Brian Mulvey with gorgeous costumes by Pam Jackson and fabulous mood lighting by Dan Fisher.

The two leads in this show have fabulous voices and acting talent. Matt Webster is fantastic 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 incredible 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". Matt's powerful stage presence makes his Curly a memorable character in this show. Beautiful blond, Gabrielle Whitney is splendid as Laurey. She is a lovely young woman with a superb soprano voice. Gabbie's Laurey is spunky and has a backbone to stand up for herself especially in the confrontation scene with Jud scene, yet she is also sweet and tender when she needs to be. Her voice soars off the charts in "People Will Say We're in Love" duet with Curly 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. Both she and Matt dance their roles in the dream ballet. The chemistry between Matt and Gabrielle is wonderful, keeping the audience entranced all night long.

The supporting cast is very talented and is led by Tim Crepeau as Will Parker, the dumb country bumpkin who has trouble keeping his girlfriend in line. Tim is a triple threat performer as he leads the male dancers in "Kansas City". His acting is terrific as is his dancing in the Dream ballet and in "All of Nothin", his duet with Ado Annie. He does a splendid job in this role, garnering many laughs along the way. Erika Pastel is dynamite as the hot to trot Ado Annie. She has run the gamut of playing Anita in "West Side Story" and Sally in "You're A Good Man Charlie Brown" and her comic timing and expertise shines through in each of these roles. Her solo "Cain't Say No" is hilarious as she sings how she loves the man she is with to Laurey. Erika wins many laughs in her scenes with the peddler as well as in "All or Nothin" with Tim. She chases the girls Will is flirting with offstage and also tells him she will stay out later than he will after they marry. Her comic antics are priceless. One of the funniest characters in this show is John Gomes 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. John flips his hat hilariously quite a few times. His flirting ways catch up to him when he is forced to marry the constantly laughing, Gertie played wonderfully by Christine Lariviere.

The feisty Aunt Eller is excellently played by Lee Rush who shows off her singing voice in "The Farmer and the Cowman" and shows the strength that was needed back in 1907 when a pioneer woman had to be strong to survive in the wilderness. R & H always wrote a strong mother figure in their shows and Eller is the voice of reason in this one. Lee's character gets to have fun during the auction scene, "The Farmer and the Cowman" song where she yells at everyone to stop fighting and in the 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 the bad because it is all part of life. Lee shines in every role I have seen her in and this show is no exception.The villain of this piece is a murdering varmint who is one of R&H's dastardly characters, Jud Fry played by Bill Whitehead. He captures the cad like behavior of this stalker. Bill scares the audience with his volatile temper. He stops the show with his powerful voice in "Lonely Room" which is reminiscent of "The Soliloquy" from "Carousel". Stephen Diaz 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 Cowman" song. Kudos to the entire cast for bringing this classic show to life.So be sure to catch this topnotch show before the surrey leaves town.

"Oklahoma!" (5 - 21 November)
@ Jenks Junior High School, Division Street, PAWTUCKET RI

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