Home > Carol Davis, Theatre > Moonlight’s “Oklahoma!” is OKLA… OK!

Moonlight’s “Oklahoma!” is OKLA… OK!


Michaelia Leigh and Brent Schindele in "Oklahoma!"photo by Ken Jacques

By Carol Davis

Carol Davis

VISTA, California– What’s not to like about Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!? ‘Nuten Honey’, especially if you’ve been to Vista to catch Moonlight’s production of it. It’s upbeat, funny where it needs to be funny, rousing where it needs to be rousing and overall just plain damn solid entertainment. Moreover the venue at the Vista location (under the stars) is state of the art, easily accessible, quiet with just the right amount of natural air conditioning the night I attended so no extra layers of clothing need apply.

Oklahoma’s “ scorecard, when it first opened on March 31st, 1943 at the St. James Theatre was: raves=3, favorable=2, mixed=1 and no pans. “When Oklahoma! opened out of town scouts sent back to New York the succinct message: “No Girls, No Gags, No Chance.” After the New York opening, the line was revised to read: “No Girls, No Gags, No Tickets.”  (Theatrehistory.com)  It ran for 2,248 performances breaking all of the then existing records for length of run and box office receipts.

Understandably so.

With music by Richard Rodgers and book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II (the first of their collaborations) the story unfolds in what was then Indian Territories before Oklahoma became a state, pitting the farmers against the cowboys (“Farmer and the Cowmen”) as the basis for the big picture, “(“Kansas City”, “Farmer and the Cowman” “Oh, What a “Beautiful Mornin’” and of course “Oklahoma!”).

Love stories and comedy (some tongue in cheek) abound in the triangular relationships between cowboy Curly McClain (Brent Schindele), Laurie Williams, it’s her farmhouse where the we meet up with everyone,  (Michaelia Leigh) and Jud Fry (Joey de Benedetto), the farm’s hired hand and Ado Annie Carnes (Betts Malone), Will Parker (Carlos Martin) and Ali Hakim (Jason Maddy) the Persian traveling salesman.

Under the careful eye of producing artistic director (for the past 30 years) Kathy Brombacher, this Oklahoma! (Based on the Lynne Riggs play Green Grow the Lilacs) sails or should I say dances (Roger Castellano choreographs) and sings its way through one musical number after another with some dramatic emphasis centering around the little ‘off kilter’, mysterious Jud Fry (“Poor Jud is Daid”), the silly romantic comings and goings of Ali Akim and Ado Annie (“I Caint Say No”), the on again off again romance of Curly and Laurie and the cowboy/farmer riff. 

With a cast of over thirty, this Oklahoma! indeed, is one for the books, (a few sound problems in the beginning were fixed right away) as the excellent acting, dancing and singing are above average and the show, almost three hours long, seemed to zip right along even with the beautiful dream scenes included and the seamless orchestrations under the baton of Elan McMahan.

Ranking high on the Richter scale of outstanding performances Joey De Benedetto’s deep bass voice and his extra tall presence wasn’t as much frightening (as other’s I’ve seen) as was sympathetic.  Looking young and vulnerable, he is almost awkward as he peruses Laurie. Carlos Martin’s Will Parker shines through in every direction with his strong dancing and understated acting.

Jason Maddy (who showed us his versatility and comedic side recently in North Coast Repertory’s Voice Of The Prairie) dressed in plaids with a bowler hat (Carlotta Malone and Roslyn Lehman) trips all over himself trying not to get shot by Annie’s father, Andrew (Ralph Johnson doing his usual diligence) in case Ali does something to dishonor his daughters reputation.

Both leads Brent Schindele and Michaelia Leigh are in fine voice and convincing as the star crossed lovers who have to jump hurdles to finally have each other. Leigh and  the other females in the cast show exceptional voices. She is just right as the sometimes spiteful, sometimes frightened Laurie. Schindele is smooth (“The Surry With The Fringe on Top”, “People Will Say We’re In Love”) and charming as Curly. He stands at the helm leading the entire company into some pretty powerful production numbers.

Bets Malone, a Moonlight favorite doesn’t disappoint as Ado Annie. Her comedic timing is perfect and she has that distinct sounding voice you can recognize anywhere. Sandra Ellis-Troy is perfectly content as Aunt Eller Murphy, (She looks like she’s having a blast).

Overall this is one Oklahoma! you won’t want to miss.  

See you at the theatre.

Dates: July 14th-July 31st

Organization: Moonlight Amphitheatre

Phone: 760-724-2110

Production Type: Musical play

Where: 1200 Vale Terrace Drive, Vista, and Ca. 92084

Ticket Prices: $22.00-$45.00

Web: moonlightstage.com

Venue: Moonlight Amphitheatre, Brengle Terrace Park

Theatre critic Davis is based in San Diego

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