Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Connecticut & the Berkshires

Oklahoma!
Goodspeed Opera House
Review by Fred Sokol | Season Schedule


Rhett Guter and Samantha Bruce
Photo by Diane Sobolewski
Goodspeed Musicals, in East Haddam, Connecticut, is presenting a resounding, reverberating Oklahoma! in a production which fully honors the show's legacy. It is not a stretch to imagine that Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, its legendary collaborative team, would fully approve. Uniformly strong performers benefit from director Jenn Thompson's vision. Further, this rendering boasts a dream ballet sequence just before intermission which is mesmerizing. Choreographer Katie Spelman assists as a group of dancers enthrall the audience. The creative team, demonstrating versatility, provides a genuine Oklahoma! with just a touch of spin.

It might surprise some to realize that Oklahoma!l is set in Indian territory several years after the turn of the twentieth century. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 1943, is based upon a play called Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs. The original dances were created by Agnes de Mille. The Goodspeed Opera House production is sweeping—one full of story, recognizable songs, and memorable choreography.

The script delineates love triangles. Curly (Rhett Guter, starring as he did in last summer's Bye Bye Birdie at the Goodspeed) opens the show as he strolls down an audience aisle singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'." Guter's hair is filled with waves rather than curls. He brings, most favorably, rock star charisma to his role. Curly is totally taken with Laurey Williams (Samantha Bruce). Living with her overseeing Aunt Eller (Terry Burrell) on a ranch, Laurey has to figure with whom she will go to the box social. The other candidate, in addition to Curly, is Jud Fry (Matt Faucher), who is darker and, perhaps, more coarse. Director Thompson does not, however, make Jud into a menace. He is a caretaker at the ranch and comes across as non-mainstream. If Curly is the romantic lead, Jud is a harder-driving force.

Two other men vie for the hand of Ado Annie Carnes (the enticing Gizel Jimenez). Costumer Tracy Christensen has outfitted the actress with a top designed to reveal. Her number, "I Cain't Say No," sums up her quandary—whether to couple with Will Parker (Alex Stewart taking the role at a recent matinee) or Ali Hakim (Matthew Curiano). Will flips around a mean lasso as a local cowboy. Ali is a peddler, from some foreign land, who has an eye for attractive women. Actor Curiano is more than amusing in the role.

Laurey isn't certain of her choice but decides to go with Jud to the social. She claims she hasn't feelings for Curly, but everyone knows that she will eventually stray from this assessment. Laurey gets some sort of magical potion from Ali Hakim. She sings "Out of My Dreams" and falls asleep. While so doing, she imagines a lengthy ballet segment—the highlight of this production, as it would be for many an Oklahoma!. Dream Laurey, a character, is played by actress Madison Turner (looking very much like Samantha Bruce), who is lyrically graceful and athletic. The actual Laurey watches all. The ballet is sweetly gymnastic and, as such, a visual treat.

Playing Laurey, the luminous leading lady, Samantha Bruce (during first moments on stage boyish looking) shows wide, winning vocal range especially on "People Will Say We're in Love." Rhett Guter isn't the typical fresh-faced cowboy type as might have been envisioned when the musical, decades ago, was shaped. Guter has a distinctively handsome look and his voice, while definitely on pitch, is somewhat unusual. The supporting cast surrounding the principals is also highly proficient. Director Thompson is equally adept with larger production numbers and other more intimate scenes. Wilson Chin's shifting sets add nifty atmosphere.

On a certain level, the primary and secondary romances carry Oklahoma!. The musical also includes heightened tension between Curly and Jud as it addresses, to a degree, desire and emotional consequence. When the production nears conclusion, the familiar title tune is given its full respect by the company. Running close to three hours, Oklahoma! is rich and invigorating.

Oklahoma! continues at the Godspeed Opera House in East Haddam, Connecticut, through September 27th, 2017. For tickets, call (860) 873-8668 or visit goodspeed.org.


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