Goodspeed Opera House
Goodspeed Opera House is currently presenting an altogether wonderful production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” This is a production in which nearly all the elements come together beautifully to provide a splendid show. From Rhett Guter’s terrific performance as Curly to Gizel Jimenez’s adorable Ado Annie and Terry Burrell’s fine Aunt Eller, everything in Goodspeed Opera House’s “Oklahoma!” shines. What’s also quite remarkable about the production is that director Jenn Thompson manages to embrace both the happiness and the drama in the show, which results in a deeply satisfying presentation of this classic musical. Even if you have seen “Oklahoma!” recently, this Goodspeed Opera House production of the show ranks as an absolute must.
One gets a sense right from the beginning that everything is going to be just fine in this “Oklahoma!” when the spotlight hits Rhett Guter, in the aisle of the theatre, singing a gleaming “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’”. From then on, this show is a series of highlights, which bring a freshness and verve to this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. Technically (and famously), the first image one sees in any production of “Oklahoma!” is Aunt Eller churning butter onstage. Terry Burrell, whose credits go back to the original Broadway production of “Dreamgirls” in 1981, plays Aunt Eller with a good deal of spunk and musical comedy authority and she is just great.
Also quite notable about Goodspeed’s “Oklahoma!” is how beautiful the production looks. Wilson Chin is responsible for the glorious set design, which is enhanced by Philip S. Rosenberg’s luminous lighting and Tracy Christensen’s ideal costumes. Even on the relatively small stage at Goodspeed Opera House, this production seems to capture the entire state of Oklahoma, with gorgeous stage pictures throughout the show. The orchestra, playing Richard Rodgers’ music, is also first rate, with expert work by Michael O’Flaherty as the musical director.
Still, as grand as the show looks and sounds, without a strong cast, this musical would never go over as well as it does here. As mentioned, Rhett Guter is ideal as Curly, and he is matched by the golden-throated Samantha Bruce as Laurey. Indeed, their rendition of “People Will Say We’re in Love” is heavenly, and the two performers make a great couple. And, speaking of couples, Jake Swain is a lot of fun as Will Parker, especially in his spirited performance of “Kansas City,” and his duet with Gizel Jimenez’s Ado Annie, “All Er Nothin’,” is similarly sublime. It must be said that, in a cast of equals, Jimenez gives just an extra bit of sparkle to her portrayal of Ado Annie, and she nearly walks away with the show with her lovable performance.
What’s also wonderful about director Jenn Thompson’s production is that she doesn’t back away from the dark elements in the musical. Namely, it is the character of Jud Fry who provides the drama in the show, and Matt Faucher is suitably frightening in the role, as well as being an excellent singer. Indeed, his performance of “Lonely Room” in the first act is splendid and this actor’s dark good looks are perfect for this character. Not to be forgotten, Matthew Curiano is a hilarious Ali Hakim, the peddler man, with all of his scenes bursting with wry humor.
About the only element of this production of “Oklahoma!” that doesn’t mesh completely is Katie Spelman choreography. In the pivotal dream ballet, which ends the first act, with Laurey trying to decide whom to go to the box social with, things can get a little confusing. Still any choreographer has to contend with Agnes de Mille’s original classic staging of this ballet (beautifully preserved in the film version of “Oklahoma!”), which is quite a hard act to follow. Nonetheless, Spelman does well with all the other musical staging and she brings an added lift to the joyful title number, and her choreography of “The Farmer and the Cowman” is marvelous.
That minor flaw being acknowledged, Goodspeed Opera House’s “Oklahoma!” is quite a remarkable production and should please fans of the this musical, as well as those who are new to the show. By the finale, there is so much happiness radiating from “Oklahoma!” that it is almost impossible not to smile. What’s more, the director includes a special added moment to the curtain call (not to be revealed here) that is a masterstroke and it caps off an already fantastic evening. Get your tickets immediately to experience this “Oklahoma!” at Goodspeed Opera House for yourself. You’re going to love it.
“Oklahoma!” continues performances at Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, CT through September 27, 2017. For tickets, please visit www.goodspeed.org or call the box office at 860-873-8668.
Photo: Rhett Guter and Samantha Bruce (Center) with Company
Photo by Diane Sobolewski