Review submitted by Yena Seo of Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
A single fiddles melody can be heard in the distance as the lights come up on a quaint little town, and one can almost smell the churned butter and hear the rustling of corn stalks on the plain. In a charming production of Oklahoma!, St. Andrews Episcopal School provided all the warmth and delight of a Midwestern summer, heralded by infectious energy, charismatic dancing and soaring vocals.
Oklahoma! was the first musical written by the famous duo of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and was based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs. The original production premiered on Broadway in 1943 and quickly became a smash success, capturing the hearts of people of all ages. The beloved story, set in Oklahoma territory in the early 20th century, revolves around a budding romance between farm girl Laurey Williams and a cowboy named Curly, and is widely acclaimed to be the single most influential American musical, with numerous subsequent revivals and films.
Billy Weber was utterly magnetic as Curly, anchoring the show with his consistent vocals and exquisite chemistry with other actors. Weber brought high esprit to his performance, mesmerizing the audience with his charming Midwestern drawl and million-dollar smile, notably in his rendition of ”The Surrey With The Fringe on Top.” Also impressive were Webers violin skills as he played the tune to ”Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin” at the very beginning of the show. Webers chemistry with leading lady Amelia Heesen was endearing, particularly in the second act, as they exemplified the perfect couple who refuses to admit theyre in love. Heesens performance as the stubborn but sincere Laurey was engaging, and the pairs vocals and chemistry were delightful in numbers such as ”People Will Say Were in Love.”
Several supporting actors had memorable performances, carrying the production with an effervescent energy and admirable accents. Jordan Reilly showcased a strong stage presence and was thoroughly pleasant as the sensible, rational Aunt Eller, and her excellent comedic timing throughout the production garnered many laughs from the audience. Another actor who provided uproarious humor was Michael McMillen, who infused his portrayal of Ali Hakim with gusto as the conning Persian peddler attempting to avoid marriage. Cameron Mitchell as the sweet-faced Will Parker anchored several ensemble numbers with his singing and dancing abilities, and his entertaining relationship with Tiffanie Snyder as the flirtatious Ado Annie was enjoyable to watch. Despite a few weak moments in enunciation, projection and pitch, the ensemble gave zealous performances and brought color and liveliness to the small, close-knit town, especially in larger numbers.
A clear strength of the production was the orchestra, whose members were dressed in plaid shirts, red bandannas and cowboy hats to further ground the production in its Oklahoma setting. Though sometimes overpowering, the orchestra truly tackled Rodgers and Hammersteins score with fervor and enthusiasm. While large set pieces such as Aunt Ellers swiveling house proved to be somewhat daunting for the stage crew to move around, scene changes often went silently and smoothly.
When it first made its Broadway debut during the midst of World War II, Oklahoma! created an escape from the era by presenting a warm story about the exuberant spirit of a pioneer community in the American heartland. For a few hours, the cast and crew of St. Andrews Episcopal School successfully created a compelling, engaging production of the classic musical, and left audience members feeling as if everything had truly gone their way.
The performance reviewed was from Saturday, 02/22/2014.
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