Matthew Brennan & Cami Glauser Bibelhauser in Oklahoma!. Photo: Derby Dinner
Music by Richard Rodgers, Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Green Grow The Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Directed by Lee Buckholz
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2018, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
I’ll be honest. I was not a huge fan of the musical Oklahoma! In my opinion, it’s one of those creaky old chestnuts that gets done to death by every theater company at some point or another, right up there with other overdone “classics” like The Music Man, My Fair Lady, or Oliver! I appreciate the historic value of these oldies, but I feel like newer and lesser known fare gets shoved aside.
Historically speaking, Oklahoma!, along with Showboat, is credited with helping to shape the modern book musical. Based on a mostly forgotten stage play, it’s one of the first to break away from the operetta format, merging spoken songs with musical and dance numbers to seamlessly tell a story. It’s been filmed twice (in 1955 with Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae, and again in 1999 with Hugh Jackman and Maureen Lipman) and revived on stage countless times over the years.
So I was not expecting to be so genuinely entertained as I was by the Derby Dinner Playhouse’s rousing, energetic, and fun new staging. There truly is a way to mine gold from these fading glories, and DDP has certainly found it.
Director Lee Buckholz has done an incredible job keeping the energy up and the pace rapid, with his cast moving from set piece to set piece in a production that seems to never stop moving. The classic songs you remember (“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”, “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top”, “Cain’t Say No”, “People Will Say We’re in Love”) stand beautifully beside the ones you don’t, and never a flat note from anyone in the enormous cast.
As Curly, the lovesick farm hand determined to take his girl to the box social (really, the plot isn’t much more complicated than that!), Ryan Skerchak is a solid choice. He’s at the same time a bit smaller and yet more rugged looking than what you usually see in the role, but it works and he’s in fine voice. Laurey, the beautiful object of his affections, is given a sensitive portrayal by the lovely Kaitlyn Sage. She gives the role just the right mix of tough country girl and fragile young lady. Really nice work from both leads.
Mandi Elkins Hutchins convincingly plays a character much older than herself, the irrepressible and legendary Aunt Eller, and is an absolute joy every moment she’s on stage (her reaction to a naughty photo is particularly priceless). And as the villainous Jud Fry, Bobby Conte will make you completely forget the sweet character he played in the recent Mamma Mia. It’s a controversial role (really, every bad thing he does was all set in motion because Laurey provoked him, trying to make Curly jealous), but Conte brings humanity to the role that makes you sympathetic to his plight even if you’re rooting against him.
The rest of the cast is also amazing in their roles of various sizes, and the technical aspects of the show were also spot-on. Choreographer Heather Paige Folsom does an amazing job of incorporating the original dances of Agnes de Mille into the proceedings, and director Buckholz’s set design truly evokes the old west. It’s all nicely brought to life through Andrew Duff’s lighting, David Nelson’s sound, and Sharon Murray Harrah’s costumes.
In closing, this production proves that even jaded audience members like me can be entertained by overly familiar material if it’s done well. And this production certainly is!
Featuring: Dick Baker, Joey Banigan, Cami Glauser Bibelhauser, Clayton Bliss, Matthew Brennan, Tim Charlton, Bobby Conte, Brittany Carricato Cox, Braedan Criss, Kayla Eilers, A.J. Hughes, Mandi Elkins Hutchins, Sara King, Elizabeth Loos, John Payonk, Jillian Prefach, Adam Raque, Kaitlyn Sage, Caroline Siegrist, Ryan Skerchak, Clay Smith, J.R. Stuart, Carmen Tate, Roman Tate, Elenna Usher, Cary Wiger, and Nate Willey.
April 11 – May 27, 2018
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.