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No 16-piece orchestra necessary

Oklahoma! at New Village Arts

Julio Catano displays some creative choreography with a smaller-than-usual ensemble
  • Julio Catano displays some creative choreography with a smaller-than-usual ensemble
  • image from newvillagearts.org

Today we as a nation face the threat of international and domestic terrorism in ways we have never experienced before. It is against this backdrop — similar to the one faced on Broadway in 1943 when Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! first premiered — that New Village Arts in Carlsbad launches their energetic production of this timeless classic.

Oklahoma!

Director Teddy Eck has assembled a talented cast and instilled in them a sense of rugged country folk who have their individual struggles and concerns but stick together when the going gets rough. The production reflects that rural spirit in a natural, homespun way rarely seen with this particular piece. Rather than providing a showcase for the gorgeous music, the focus is on the conflict within the characters and their relationships to their neighbors.

With regards to the music, Tony Houck works wonders on the piano with able assistance from Nobuko Kemmotsu on percussion and Morgan Carberry on violin — no small feat when one considers that most professional productions of this show feature at least a 16-piece orchestra.

Julio Catano displays some creative choreography, again dealing with a smaller-than-usual ensemble, but doing justice to songs such as “Kansas City” (a real showstopper), “Many a New Day,” and “It’s a Scandal! It’s An Outrage!” Unfortunately, the dream ballet sequence suffers from the size of the stage and not having ballet-trained dancers. Departing from tradition, Catano chose not to have a Dream Laurey dance the ballet, using the actress who plays Laurey throughout the show.

As Aunt Eller, seasoned performer Susan E.V. Boland gives a comfy-cozy portrayal that speaks to the heart. Blessed with a fabulous operatic voice, as Curly, Jack French has a style that does not match the tone of the show. He also looks too young and sweet, not a rugged man of the plains.

As Laurey, Charlene Koepf is well cast as the young country girl unsure of her place in society but wishing for a man of her own. Very natural in her actions, she sings well, except on the very high notes.

Christopher Lesson as Jud Fry gives a polished performance yet remains real. Playing an unsympathetic character who comes to a tragic end can be a challenge. Lesson does it with great aplomb.

Jonathan Sangster proves both hysterical and fun to watch as Ali Hakim, the peddler, while Alexandra Slade performs well as Ado Annie, though with a decidedly 21st-century feel. As Will Parker, Zachary Scot Wolfe has just the right robust attitude for his character and sings with a sure understanding of musical comedy style.

As Hammerstein’s lyrics state, “We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand,” and “Territory folks should stick together.” These sentiments still tend to fill Americans with a sense of patriotism, and it is comforting to acknowledge them in these troubled times.

Playing through September 25

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Comments

One of the truly great American musicals. But having been raised in Oklahoma, I'm a little bit subjective! The one thing I've noticed about various productions (including the 1955 movie version), is that they rarely get the Oklahoma accent right. It's not deep South, and it's not Texan in tone. James Garner (born and raised in OK) could easily have played the part of Curly. Ex-Okie Blake Shelton would make a great Curly, too.

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