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Civic Theatre's 'Oklahoma!' Engaging

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Civic Theatre’s ’Oklahoma!’ Engaging


News Drama Critic

A nearly always effective production is given by the Ann Arbor Civic Theatre to Rodgers and Hammerstein’s romantic fantasy, “Oklahoma!,” which is preoccupied with men-chasing women and women-chasing men, in the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater.

From the moment Martha Krehbiel pumps the butter churn in time to the music to the rootin’-tootin' yips of the final number, the musical is engaging because of the staging and choreography by director James Posante, the musical comedy characters that the cast is able to establish and make appealing and the open spaces set by Alice B. Crawford.

Not inconsiderable, either, are the turn-of-the-century Oklahoma 'territorial costumes by Denise A. Dreher, the lighting designs by Seth Orbach and under Dill Murrell’s direction, the orchestra that only occasionally Overcomes the singers.

It comes together, stays together and appears almost untarnished after 33 years largely because the cast works at it as if it were freshly minted.

There is a scene in which the women's chorus appears clumsy, probably because it is crowded in front of the curtain to perform its song, but almost all lapses are obliterated by the prolonged but beautifully conceived and executed dream ballet featuring Tedee Theofil, Mikell Pinkney and Todd Jamieson, with Ray Nieto and Stan Selden.

As the woman-hungry Will Parker, Nieto does an outstanding job of acting and turns the tribute to Kansas City into a catchy tap dance.

Bryant Frank is as ideally suited to the role of Curley, woman-starved young cowboy, as Gail Williams is to the role of Laurey, cowboy-starved young woman. Frank maintains a suitable young cowpoke from the first hazy, romantic, song-drenched moments to the tragedy in the end and the implausible ending which seems to say there are circumstances under which trials for murder are superfluous.

Bill Vander Yacht’s version of Jud the loner who spends a lot of his time on stage yearning for women and whose misbegotten life is headed for deepest tragedy is one which contributes with feeling toward making the production worthy.

Connie Marie Cicone is fetchingly pert as the giggly, ambivalent Ado Annie Carnes, who is caught between Will and the Persian peddler played so effectively by Ed Glazier.

The cast is a very large one with its choruses and corps of dancers, and Posante’s choreography manages to move them around the stage in effective manners. Sometimes, they appear to be nothing more than waving wheat in the wind and at other times they are alive, dancing, singing bouncing around in shifting formations.

There are a number of secondary roles which help in carrying the musical forward. Without acceptable actors in these roles, the leads probably would not be effective in their parts.

Included in the secondary roles in this production are Bob Vincent as Ike Skidmore, the ranch owner; Stanley Selden as Fred; Robert G. Pace as Slim; Mina A. Sonda as Gertie; Liz Jelink as Ellen; Dayton Benjamin as Andrew; John Roth as Elam; Dick Phillips as Jess; and Andy Silverman as Junior.

Additional performances are at 8 p.m. today through Saturday, plus 2 p.m. Saturday and 7 p.m. next Sunday.

A Review