Theater Review by Howard Steven Frydman
Theater: The Goodspeed
Music by: Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by: Oscar Hammerstein II
Director: Jenn Thompson
OKLAHOMA-RVELOUS! That says it all!!
I have just seen “Oklahoma”, the latest musical entry currently being produced at Connecticut’s premiere musical theater, The Goodspeed Opera House, and it’s not just OK- it’s truly marvelous! What A Production! In fact it has left me with a case of the kvells- which is a good thing. I don’t get them that often, but in this case I can definitely attribute this Kvelling ( kvell-bursting with pride and joy) to one person- Director Jenn Thompson! Yep she’s the one!- a little more about her in a bit! But let me emphatically utter, ( btw Oklahoma is the 46th- The Sooner State ya know), that these friendly farmers and bowlegged cowboys, that currently inhabit The Goodspeed’s stage, is a “Summer of ‘17” must see event! Yeehaw!!!!!
What a well produced production, “Oklahoma”, – beginning with the “O” and all the way to the “A” – let me tell you- from the set design- love that windmill, choreography, costumes, memorable music – “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, plus this production joyfully inhabits what I call such a “easy matter of fact, free flowing acting style” presented on stage- it feels like you are watching “real life” Oklahoma Territory in 19 ought 6! Yes siree- our actors literally become their characters- and even though I am seeing this production several weeks into its run- it just seemed so fresh- like it was the first time it was being mounted- and that is how it should be – right? Thank you Miss Jenn, actors, staff and the Goodspeed! But I’m not done yet- read on friends of Cowfolks and Farmers!!
“Oklahoma”, the very first musical teamed by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, was based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs” which opened on Broadway in March 1943 and originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille. Set in the OK Territory, a time of homesteaders, farmers, cowboys and beautiful mornings, we are quickly introduced to Cowboy “Curly” (Rhett Guter) who has made his way to the farm of “Aunt Eller” (Terry Burrell) to ask her reluctant niece “Laurey” (Samantha Bruce) to a box social. Along the way we meet up with another cowpoke, “Will Parker”, (Jake Swain) who has won 50 bucks at the rodeo, that he so desperately needs to wed his beloved- the Flibbertigibbet- can’t make up her mind – Miss Ado Annie ( the delightful Gizel Jimenez) who is equally in love with the Persian Peddler Ali Hakim (Matthew Curiano). In the meanwhile, Aunt Eller’s hired hand, the dirty and despicable lowdown Judd Fry, (Matt Faucher) – you should see what he has pinned up on the walls of the smokehouse – fer shame! – also has a hankering himself for the farmer’s daughter – Miss Laurey! Hmmm?? There be Trouble I say in the Territory – that rhymes with T and that stands fer- ahem sorry Professor Hill- but there be troubles, you just listen to what I say- ya here!!
In my mind’s eye, there are several criteria for a perfect musical, – firstly the music- are you kidding me this is Oscar and Hammerstein for Pete’s sake, favorite songs over flow from, “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”, the hilarious “I Can’t Say No”, “The Farmer and the Cowman”, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’” and the self titled “Oklahoma” – you literally can’t possibly leave the theater without having one of these tunes stuck in your head – and that my friends is a good thing! Adding so much to this A-OK production- the Choreography by Katie Spelman is absolutely amazing, and major kudos go out to both Tracey Christensen for costume design and Wilson Chin for the fab job on the scenic design-I’m still sneezing from my bout of hay fever.
As already stated, I am in awe of this easy, matter of fact production, the person responsible for this is “Oklahoma’s” talented Director – Jenn Thompson- bravo! I have taken note of the JT effect before – most recently in last year’s Goodspeed production of “Bye Bye Birdie”, which you may also recall stared Rhett Guter as “the” Conrad Birdie. Well Jenn ya did it again- let me tell you – this is one heck of a most excellent production! A delightful highlight – so many folks remarked that they so enjoyed how the actors came and went from the aisles of the theater, and that the audience themselves were part of the cast as well. JT can we meet for coffee sometime- I’d love to learn how you wrestle these actors into performing so naturally.
The actors- here it comes folks- Rhett Guter as “Curly” – simply stellar and what a nice guy “to boot”! Had a brief opportunity to talk to him before the performance- I thank you Rhett for sharing a few minutes with me. By the way, Mr. Guter has tremendous stage presence, a great singing voice, and I so enjoyed your “easy style of acting”. We also want to single out Samantha Bruce as a spirited and plucky “Laurey”, Terry Burrell as “Aunt Eller”, Jake Swain as “Will Parker”, Matthew Curiano as “Ali Hakim”, C. Mingo Long as “Andrew Carnes”and the deliciously menacing Matt Faucher (a Hartt School Grad) as “Judd Fry”. The coveted “Howard Noticed You” award goes to Gizel Jimenez as the “boy crazed” “Ado Annie”- Miss Jimenez you were absolutely adorable in this role – I could not help stop watching those expressive eyes of yours, so enjoyed your singing and on-stage comedic antics- yep- YOU stole the Show! The ensemble includes Kelly Berman, Morgan Cowling, Lauren Csete, Mark Deler, Tamrin Goldberg, Tripp Hampton, Olivia Nicole Hoffman, Kate Arrington Johnson, Howard Kaye, Morgan McCann, Andrew Ryan Purcell, Alex Ringler, Marco Antonio Santiago, Alex Stewart, and Madison Turner. Lastly, I so enjoyed this production of “OKLAHOMA” and I simply state – “So will you”! Enjoy.
“Oklahoma” will run July 14th through September 23rd, 2017. Curtain times are Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursday at 7:30 p.m. (with select performances at 2:00 p.m.), Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. (with select performances at 6:30 p.m.).
Tickets are available through the Box Office (860.873.8668), open seven days a week, or on-line at goodspeed.org.
Howard Steven Frydman is General Manager and Executive Director of BATV – Channels 5, 95 & 96 and a member of the CCC. Please feel free to contact Mr. Frydman with your thoughts and ideas at Howardbatv@aol.com