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Monday, 22 July 2013 22:24

Plains song

Written by Bob Wilcox
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A rousing rendition of the title song from "Oklahoma!" can go a long way toward redeeming even a mediocre production of the musical. Fortunately, the current production by Family Musical Theatre needs little redemption.

I've always regretted that that song does not ring down the final curtain on "Oklahoma!." Anything after it seems anticlimactic. But the book by Oscar Hammerstein II plays out the final plot twist in its source, Lynn Riggs' play "Green Grow the Lilacs." So Jud Fry must come back to interrupt the celebration after Laurey and Curly's wedding, get into a fight with Curly, fall on his own knife, die, and Curly be given a quick not guilty verdict so everyone can exit happily singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” – a lovely song, but with not nearly the high octane of “Oklahoma.”

Fortunately, Family Musical Theater's director Mike Hesser has the cast reprise “Oklahoma” during the curtain call. Hesser adds many effective touches throughout the production. The rustic set he and Gene Weber designed, with a sharp projection screen backing it filled with Oklahoma skies, provides ample playing space while establishing the right emotional as well as physical environment for the show, all complemented by John Jauss's light design. Kelli Rao and the cast provided the period costumes. Connie Mulch is the musical director, with Kevin Jones conducting an orchestra that struggled some during the overture but provided solid support for the singers.

Madeline Kaufman is still finding the possibilities in Laurey's character. But she made Laurey's stubbornness and her bickering with Curly as convincing as I have ever seen it. And Kaufman has a lush and lovely voice and knows how to use it. She can dance, too, and does her own dancing in the dream ballet.

Jim Kimker is the choreographer. Kimker has worked on many community theatre musicals. He can be a spectacular dancer himself, but he knows not to ask too much of his dancers, and he prepares them well. Given limited skills, the dream ballet could have benefitted from a little trimming, but it was a very good try. And the enthusiastic and thoroughly rehearsed cast made the dances all joyful.

Michael Baird is a likable and energetic Curly with a big, slightly harsh voice. Margaret Borgmeyer makes Ado Annie a comic delight, well partnered by her two men, lively Ryan Glosemeyer as Will Parker and James Browning with very sharp timing as the peddler Ali Hakim. Priscilla Case's authoritative Aunt Eller holds her own dancing with the youngsters. Kelli Rao succeeds in creating the world's most irritating laugh as Laurey's rival Gertie Cummings. Bill Nolan makes a powerful statement as Jud Fry, but its one-dimensional bitterness loses touch with reality. It's a tough role. Fry is clearly a villain, but Hammerstein, and Rodgers in the song “Lonely Room,” try to add a sympathetic, human dimension.

"Oklahoma!" is a great show, and Family Musical Theater does well by it.

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