Megan Root, Peter Hoffman, Blaze (the horse), Lori Schulman, Dale Thompson and Katie Day. Photo: Gary Bolen
By Philip Pearce
If you haven’t already done so, beg, borrow or steal a ticket to the delightful, endearing new Oklahoma! which ends a too-brief two weeks’ run this coming Sunday on the Morgan Stock stage at MPC.
Having seen and liked last year’s fine production of the show at Cabrillo College, I wondered if this one could possibly measure up. I needn’t have worried. If Cabrillo caught more of the dark underside of the story, MPC reminds us of its warm heart and down-to-earth comedy.
It’s beautiful to look at, gorgeously sung, crisply staged and directed. Most of the seats were filled for opening night and reportedly all sold out on Saturday, so you’ll be lucky if you make it.
For simple magic, it would be hard to beat that opening moment with farm buildings and a lone windmill etched against the Oklahoma prairie and sky and a woman in gingham pushing a churn as she catches the first notes of an approaching male voice.
As the hopeful cowpoke telling us it’s “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” Dale Thompson gets Curly’s blend of youthful swagger and vulnerability just right. He not only sings well, but meets the role’s main acting challenge, Curly’s dark encounter with farmhand rival Jud Fry in Fry’s grimy bunkhouse. Where Cabrillo offered this sequence as nearly psychotically evil, Thompson and Morgan Vetter, as a lumbering, leering Jud, play it for carefully pointed dark comedy.
As the girl both of them want to take to the box social and thence to the altar, Lori Schulman has a soprano voice as gorgeous as any you’re likely to hear anywhere on the Monterey Peninsula. Her Laurey is a tiny, beautiful and feisty farm girl anybody would find it hard not to fall for.
I’ve seen her guardian and mentor Aunt Eller played wry and rangy by Charlotte Greenwood in the MacCrea-Jones movie, and as a kind of crackly Beverly Hillbillies by Maureen Lipman in the London National production. Here in Monterey, the sprightly, loveable Katy Day is as warm and wise as anybody’s favorite auntie. Even in the rousing second act opener, when she emphasizes that “The farmer and the cowman should be friends” from the butt end of a pistol, Day does it with a tongue-in-cheek severity that makes it pretty obvious Eller ain’t really about to pull that nasty trigger.
Much of the down-home comedy comes from eager and boastful Will Parker (Peter Hoffman), always a step and a half behind in pursuit of his flighty but good-hearted sweetie Ado Annie (Megan Root). They are a wonderful match, she with just the right piercing soprano to admit that she’s just “a gal who cain’t say no” and the comic éclat to keep proving it, and he as a supple and funny singer/dancer, who doesn’t like hearing rumors that she’s been cutting up some capers while he was off in Kansas City, Mo. Chief cause of Annie’s confusion of loyalties is a weird and wonderful Persian interloper named Ali Hakim, who snakes around, pedaling cosmetics, home appliances and slippery romantic promises to Oklahoma Territory females. It’s a great comic role and Chris Deacon does it full justice.
Director Gary Bolen follows the original production in substituting identically dressed Curly and Laurey dancers Nicole West and David Buckley for Schulman and Thompson in the dream ballet sequence. But he departs from that tradition in that the heavyset Vetter himself ably takes on the menacing dance steps of the nightmare Jud who carries Laurey off as his dream captive at the end of Act 1.
Desma Johnson and her seven musicians, Susan Cable and those wonderful dancers, Carey Crockett’s fine set designs, Gloria Hughes’ attractive costumes… Everyone from Gary Bolen on down to the last ensemble and crew member should take a bow, preferably while belting that sublime title song right up to the back row. Sorry it’s not going to be around for a longer stay. This weekend and then it’s history.