Tuesday, June 20, 2006
The Davis Musical Theater Company has closed out its first full season at the new Hoblit Performing Arts Center with a sparkling, energetic production of the classic “Oklahoma!” produced by Jan and Steve Isaacson, Directed and staged by Michael Manley, with musical direction by Steve Isaacson and Choreography by Dian Hoel.
“Oklahoma!,” the first musical collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, who later brought the world the likes of “Carousel,” “South Pacific,” “The King and I” and “Sound of Music,” changed the face of musical theater history when it debuted in 1943, for telling an emotional story through music, lyrics and dance as had never been before. Based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, “Oklahoma!” brought something akin to folk art to professional theater and won the Pulitzer prize for drama in 1944.
One dare not look too closely at the “plot” of this musical, for there is little there. At a time where we have come to follow heavy themes like “Les Miserables” or “Evita” or “Titanic,”, the story of a boy and a girl, their friends and a lunch box social is not exactly likely to provoke much psychological introspection.
The story is set in the Oklahoma territory, in 1907, the days just before statehood, and touches ever so lightly on the ongoing feud between farmers and cattlemen, though that definitely takes a back seat to the story of Curly, a cattleman, in love with Laurey, who lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller and the hired man, Jud Fry, the dark character who has his eye on Laurey, while Laurey has her eye on Curly.
Brennen Cull heads a strong cast in the role of Curly while Claire Lawrence is Laurey. Cull and Lawrence are just wonderful together. Both are blessed with strong, clear voices. The sparks fly when they argue, making the chemistry when they are emotionally together believable.
Mary Young is the perfect Aunt Eller, and you just haven’t lived until you’ve seen Young as a gun-totin’ senior citizen.
Jaime Tvrdik gives Jud Fry a sympathetic persona that we don’t often see (Steve Isaacson, doing the role decades ago, had that same touch). Fry is desperately in love with Laurey, but doesn’t know how to treat a woman and frightens her more than anything else.
Lauren Miller is an adorable hormone-charged Ado Annie, who falls in love with any guy who sweet talks her. Miller’s Annie is at the same time coy, flirtatious, and sometimes the stereotypical blonde airhead and she carries it off beautifully.
Hoping to save $50 so he can marry Annie is Will Parker (Brad Bong). Will and Annie are intellectually matched, and Bong gives a strong performance, imbued with a simple innocence, which works because he is as cute as he is talented.
Robert Bugg is Ali Hakim, the peddler whose eye is also set for Annie, though not in quite the same way as the lovestruck Will. Eddie Albert played this role in the 1955 movie and Bugg’s performance is every bit as good.
Dian Hoel and Ryan Adame are “Dream Laurey” and “Dream Curly” in the Act 2 ballet.
The DMTC Orchestra is under the direction of Kate Jansen and is one of the better orchestras I’ve heard since DMTC moved into its new theater.
Costumes are by Jeanne Henderson, who has created a beautiful rainbow of colors for both the women and for the men. Henderson works so hard at making her costumes authentic, that it is a bit of a puzzlement to know why she puts Laurey in bib overalls in the opening scene. Though Claire Lawrence is cute as a button in them, the effect is jarring, seems contrary to the period, and contrasts negatively with all the frills and lace of her friends, or the utilitarian work skirt of Aunt Eller.
Jennifer Bonomo did the scenic design, including a beautiful rolling hill scene at the back. It is unfortunate that more care was not taken to make sure that the pieces of the wood lined up, as the gaps where the pieces did not meet properly were distracting.
Dannette Vasser, however, has done a beautiful job of lighting, especially the lovely sunrise which opens the show.
The Davis Musical Theater Company has settled into its new home and things are all coming together. This is the first show that didn’t feel “almost, but not quite ready” on opening night. There wasn’t even a crowd in the lobby waiting for the doors to open, 5 minutes before the publicized start of the performance.
With things finally coming together so nicely, it bodes well for an exciting 2006-2007 season.