No high resolution image exists...
Take an iconic piece of american musical theater by arguably the best musical theater writing team of all times and add Music Circus talent and production values and you have a splendid evening of entertainment.
"Oklahoma" was the first collaboration between composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. Rodgers had previously worked with Lorenz Hart creating "Pal Joey." Hammerstein had been teamed with Jerome Kern, with "Show Boat" as their best-known production. The new collaboration worked well for both. Hammerstein preferred to write lyrics before they were set to music. Rodgers preferred to have completed lyrics before creating the music. There previous collaborators did not allow for this.
"Oklahoma" was a major game changer in musical theater. It is know as the first truly modern musical. For the first time, the music and dance moved the story forward. Previously, music and dance existed simply to entertain. For the first time, Rogers and Hammerstein and the director insisted that the singers and dancers could also act. This precluded well-known Broadway stars. Oklahoma was instantly a critical and popular success. It won a Pulitzer Prize. Opening on Broadway in 1943, it ran for 2,212 performances -- a record that was not eclipsed until 1956 with "My Fair Lady." Rogers and Hammerstein went on to create "Carousel," "South Pacific," "The King and I," "Flower Drum Song" and "The Sound of Music" and many other hits.
This is the astounding 13th Music Circus production of "Oklahoma" since 1954. Does it hold up? Exceedingly well. It starts with a very talented and experienced cast.
Jeremiah James reprises the role of Curly. He played Curly in the Cameron Mackintosh and Trevor Nunn revival of "Oklahoma" on Broadway. James has appeared in leading roles in several other Broadway productions, stage, film and television. He is also a recording artist. His debut album, "Tupelo," comes out Aug. 10. He has a good voice and the “aw shucks” charm that works well for the role of Curly.
Brandi Burkhardt is a good match in her role as Laurey, Curly’s love interest. She also portrayed Laurey in the touring production of "Oklahoma." She has appeared in several other stage and film productions. She appears in the role of Emma on the cast recording of "Jekyll & Hyde: Resurrection." Burkhardt has numerous television credits, including "Passions," "The Glades," "Boston Legal," "Numb3rs" and "Law and Order: SVU." She is great as the often-flighty Laurey, a character who does not know what she really wants. Burkhardt has a beautiful voice that she uses effectively both in her solos and duets.
The character Jud Fry the hired hand competing with Curly for Laurey’s affection completes one of the two love triangles in "Oklahoma." Kevin Earley is a great choice to play Fry. His Jud Fry is not so physically repulsive and slovenly as, say, Rod Steiger in the film version of "Oklahoma." This allows the audience to see what might have allowed Laurey to have any interest in Jud in the first place. On the other hand, Earley is quite good at showing the evil inside Jud. He also has the best male voice in the production. His one solo, "Lonely Room," is a knockout.
The other love triangle consists of Ado Annie, a farmer’s daughter; Will Parker, a prize-winning cowboy; and Ali Hakim, an exotic traveling peddler. These three know what they want and just need to figure out how to get it. In this production, this love triangle is given as much attention as the Laurey-Curly-Jud one.
Heather Jane Rolff returns to the Music Circus to play Ado Annie. She is a great comedic actor. Rolff makes good use of the material she has in the role. Her interpretation of Ado Annie’s songs is both funny and powerful.
Michael D. Jablonski is a good singer and a very good dancer. He embodies the charming, sweet and handsome (if a little dim) cowboy Will Parker. Parker’s determination to marry Ado Annie is not questioned.
Ali Hakim is quite the schemer. He wants Ado Annie’s “companionship” without paying the cost. Looking down the barrel of Ado Annie’s father’s gun, he has to make some fast moves to get her engaged to Will and escape that fate. Amir Talai is well known from his television and commercial work. His Ali Hakim had the audience very charmed.
The other costars are Kay Walbye as Aunt Eller and Ron Wisniski as Pop Carnes, Ado Annie’s father. Walbye’s Aunt Eller is perfect. This is the first Music Circus production for this very experienced stage and television actor. She is a great matchup with Wisniski. Wisniski is a Music Circus veteran as well as an experience stage actor. His performance of Pop Carnes equals that of the great James Whitmore in the movie version of "Oklahoma."
Production director Marcia Milgrom Dodge was nominated for a best director Tony and a Drama Desk and won a Helen Hays this year. Dodge has a strong background as a choreographer as well as a director. This is very useful in "Oklahoma," where dance is such an important element. This is a fairly long show with lots of things happening. Dodge keeps the action moving so there are not any points where the action drags. The ending seemed a little rushed. It was like, "Let's take care of the rest of the plot points and get to the finale."
The end of Act I is a “Dream Ballet.” Laurey falls asleep and dreams. In this dream we learn of Laurey’s greatest hopes and greatest fears. This dance has taken different forms and interpretations in “Oklahoma” productions over the years. The original dances were by Agnes de Mille. Martha Graham’s modern dance interpretation in the movie version of “Oklahoma” is the most unusual and most famous.
Here Marcia Milgrom Dodge uses classical ballet. Bob Richard who has choreographed over 25 productions in 12 years with the Music Circus complements Dodges work very well. The overall choreography of the show is great but really shines in the “Dream Ballet.”
Amanda Peet a principal with Sacramento Ballet is cast as Dream Laurey. She is joined by Patrick Pulkrabek as Dream Curly and John B. Williford as Dream Jud. These very strong, experienced dancers along with members of the ensemble are spectacular in the “Dream Ballet.” A special mention for Kim Arnett as the Lead Postcard Girl who has some astounding moves. The “Dream Ballet” could stand alone as a ballet number.
Michael Schweikardt Music Circus Scenic Design veteran (50 productions) has created another sparse but effective set design. His design of the smoke house that is Jud Fry’s housing is particularly interesting. “The Farmer and the Cowman” number highlight how set design and dance can work together with great results.
Musical Director Michael Rice and the orchestra are well up to the task of performing the wonderful Richard Rodgers score.
The Music Circus showed with Monty Python's Spamalot opening this 50th season that they can create a fantastic production with the most contemporary of Broadway Musicals. With this production of "Oklahoma" the Music Circus has shown that they can take a 67 year old american masterpiece and create a show that is fresh, exciting and thoroughly entertaining.
1. Brandi Burkhardt as Laurey and Jeremiah James as Curly, 2. Jeremiah James as Curly, Brandi Burkhardt as Laurey and Kay Walbye as Aunt Eller 3. Kevin Earley (left) as Jud Fry and Jeremiah James as Curly, 4. Kay Walbye as Aunt Eller and Jeremiah James as Curly, 5. Michael Jablonski as Will Parker and Heather Jane Rolff as Ado Annie, 6. Amir Talai as Ali Hakim and Heather Jane Rolff as Ado Annie 7. Brandi Burkhardt as Laurey and Jeremiah James as Curly
All Photos by Charr Crail Courtsey California Musical Theatre