Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Musical Theatre West’s Oklahoma! Review


Musical Theatre West assembled a terrific season for their 60th anniversary and they have included one of my top five favorite musicals – Oklahoma! I think every single person in the western hemisphere has seen this musical, either the Academy Award-winning 1955 big screen version (with the smoking hot Shirley Jones and that dreamy Gordon MacRae), or in person. Heck, many of you probably were in the musical in high school…

In case you grew up under an uncultured rock, here are a few key details. This was Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first hit book musical, and it is now 70 years old. It is set in pre-statehood Oklahoma in 1907, and is an age-old love story of men fighting for the love of lovely young prairie gals, and conflict abounds. Besides the title track, there are quite a few great songs, including “Kansas City,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and “I Cain’t Say No.” And there is also a Rodgers and Hammerstein dream ballet, which they revisited in subsequent shows, such as Carousel.

Musical Theatre West staffed this show with a live orchestra and a big cast that are led by Davis Gaines as director (his debut in the role), Lee Martino as choreographer and Dennis Castellano as musical director. Apparently this is a symbiotic relationship as the acting, dancing and music were perfectly integrated throughout. Anthony Ward went with a more modern stage design, with sparse sets, and it worked out well, and Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Jessica Olson’s costumes were also very good. The sound was not consistent – the singers were occasionally drowned out by the pit orchestra (which was also mic’d), so I am blaming the sound guys for this one.

Despite the dicey sound, the cast really pulled this show off. The main love triangle of Curley (Bryant Martin), Laurey (Madison Claire Parks) and Jud (Christopher Newell) was perfect. Actually, it is not really a love triangle, as everybody hates Jud, but all three of these actors had a great chemistry with each other and were very believable. Martin and Parks voices were well-matched, which is vital as their duets are integral to the show. And Newell’s take on Jud Fry was appropriately scary and creepy.

Contrasting with this serious relationship is the comedic love triangle of Ado Annie (Teya Patt), Will Parker (Luke Hawkins) and Ali Hakim (Amin El Gamal). Patt’s version of Annie is perhaps the best I’ve seen and her confidence on the stage translates well to the character. Hawkins worked dancing magic but still kept his cowboy persona, and Gamal had perfect comedic timing.

The dancing was universally good, climaxing with the dream ballet sequence. This is never my favorite part of the show as I feel it kills the flow, but it was very well done. Lee Martino’s showed inventiveness with her choreography, and it was very well laid-out, and at times even unabashedly sexy. The ensemble was stocked with capable dancers, and Katya Preiser and Steve Ewing were breathtaking as Dream Laurey and Dream Curly.

For a change, the Carpenter Center was the weak link of this production. The parking guys had their heads in their butts, the temperature of the theatre was freezing, and I have never seen longer restroom lines -- I think all 1000 people at the show must have had to go pee at the intermission. I am willing to forgive this because this is usually a great place to see a show, and the rest of the performance was so great.

Rising above the problems with the venue and the sound, Musical Theatre West really knocked this one out of the park, and it turned out to be a great three hour show! Not only was this the best show I have seen MTW perform, it is the best live version of Oklahoma! I have ever attended. If you are only familiar with the movie version, you are in for a treat if you see this show as there is a lot of stuff they left out of the film.

Oklahoma! closes this Sunday, so you only have a few more opportunities to catch the show, and there are still a few seats available, so check www.musical.org for details. The Carpenter Performing Arts Center is located at 6200 East Atherton Street in Long Beach, on the campus of Cal State Long Beach, and parking is $5.


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