Music By Richard Rodgers
Book & Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Performed by Doug Adler, Mairi Babb, Michelle Black, Brenley Charkow, Michael Falcucci, Carly Fielding, Scott Freethy, Carla Giuliani, Gail Hakala, Scott Lancastle, Melissa Leifer, Cara Leslie, Vic Roberts, Sammy Rosen, Keith Savage, David W. Smith, Reid Spencer, Mike Tracz, Mark Uhre, Andrea Wingelaar.
Directed by Alex Mustakas
Choreographed by David Connolly
Musical direction by John Karr
Drayton Entertainment
Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend
June 2 – June 17, 2006
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Plenty of energy when the Farmer and the Cowman take the stage

Huron Country Playhouse has kicked off its 35th season with an old favourite musical, Oklahoma!. If the high energy put forth by this cast is any indication, this 35th summer will be a good one.

The story of Oklahoma! is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. Riggs, a cattleman’s son, was born in Oklahoma in 1899. He tells the tales of the early pioneers in Oklahoma when it was still a territory. These settlers believed their lives would improve when Oklahoma was declared a state. The play relates the conflict between the cowboys and the farmers: the cowboys wanted their cattle to be able to roam free, while the farmers wanted to put up fences and work the land. The musical version includes the love story of Curly and Laurey. In addition, it touches on what might be considered a modern problem – stalking, as Jud Fry makes unwanted advances towards Laurey.

The young, lively cast has given new life to this old musical. Mairi Babb is excellent in the role of Laurey with her beautiful soprano voice, especially poignant in her rendition of “People will say we’re in love”. Londoner Mark Uhre’s rich tenor voice is perfect for “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”, as he portrays Curley. Doug Adler is outstanding as Will Parker, leading the cast in the song and dance number “Kansas City”.

A favourite at Huron Country Playhouse, Keith Savage brings the house down as the Persian Pedlar Ali Hakim. Savage enjoys himself, injecting new comedy into the role. Gail Hakala puts fun into the role of Aunt Eller, too. Also providing laughs is Cara Leslie as Ado Annie.

And although these individuals in the cast stand out, it is really a team production, with all 20 cast members invigorating the old script. Their strong vocals fill the house sounding more like a chorus of 40. Similarly, their energy in the dance numbers such as “The Farmer and the Cowman” more than cover the stage with leaps, flips and spins.

Oklahoma! was the first musical collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. In the pre-Broadway trials, the show was originally called “Away We Go”, but audiences loved the now-familiar song “Oklahoma!”, so the production’s title was changed to capitalize on that show-stopping tune. It opened on Broadway in March 1943. Rodgers & Hammerstein went on to create huge hits such as Carousel, South Pacific, The King & I, and finally The Sound of Music.

Amazingly, the story and songs of Oklahoma! still ring true today. Director Alex Mustakas has harnessed the cast’s energy, hooked it up to a surrey with the fringe on top, and is taking the audience on a ride of pure fun.

Oklahoma! continues with eight shows a week until June 17 at Huron Country Playhouse, Grand Bend. Tickets are available at the Huron Country Playhouse box office at (519) 238-6000 or Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463.


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