by Dick Kerekes
My first visit to Nease High School in St. Johns County, was to see their annual musical production, which this year was Oklahoma and held on November 19 & 20.
Considered by almost every critic as one of the best American musicals of all time, I am pleased that the Nease students were introduced to this l943 ground breaking and still very popular musical.
Since this is an after the fact review, I won’t linger on the plot other than to say it is the story of a cowboy and a country girl who fall in love but she is tormented by another welcome suitor. There are humorous subplots and great songs like ‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,’ ‘The Surrey With the Fringe on the Top,’ ‘ I Can’t Say No’ and ‘People Will Say We’re in Love.’
Thanks to the Alhambra Dinner Theatre set designer and Tod Booth, Nease was able to use two of the set pieces used in the Alhambra/Jacksonville Symphony Oklahoma production from a couple of months ago. In addition they had that big big OKLAHOMA letters across the back curtain.
The cowboys, I would guess, came up with the jeans and western wear, while the ladies l900 country style dresses were either made, or provided by again, the Alhambra and Orange Park Community Theatre and Mrs. Jean Rolke.
The show opened with Aunt Eller on her front porch. Diana Freeberg was excellent in this role of one of the “older” people in the play; she sang well and was very convincing. The other “senior,” Arthur Carnes, was played by Jason Silver, with a touch of gray at his temples.
Rhyan Clemenez as Ado Annie (the girl who can’t say no), Tyler Grambo as the peddler Ali Hakim and Malcolm Carney as Will Parker, provided much of the humor with their three way romance.
In the leading roles of Curley (John Cagle) and Laurey (Alissa McCormick), were charming, looked good, and sang well. They could sell a song and did. One of the most interesting roles is Jud, an oily, pornography loving loner who has eyes for Laurey. Austin Sting was good in the role. The scene in his smoke-house room with Curley has to be one of the most unusual in theatre. Curley is looking over Jud’s girly pictures while he is trying (with a song) to get Jud to commit suicide.
Director Laura Adkison kept a scene that is often left out of some productions or at least short changed. I am referring to the end of act I, dream ballet. Chelsea Ciambrone’s choreographed this impressive scene, with Kathryn Willey as the featured dancer. I would have liked to see the lights dimmed a bit for more of a more of a “dream” effect.
The music was taped, which is the thing these days to cut costs. It was good practice for these young actors because if they go on in this business they will be running into a lot of prerecorded musical, even in New York and on Broadway.
Director Adkison had a large cast, and it appears that a number of the students were on stage for the first time. There were many excellent voices, and some that were developing and will continue to develop with additional experience, but that is what school is for isn’t it. All in all it was a very good show, that a large audience certainly appreciated. Randal Adkison was the technical director, and the lights and sound (the taped music) worked to perfection.
Rounding out the cast in featured roles were: Ben Jaeger (Ike), Jeff Manley (Elam) and as Alison Zador (Gertie).
The dancing cowgirls and cowboys included Taylor Barry, Jordan Bernas, Kaitlyn Buck, Jennifer Catania, Lexie Cegelski, Brittany Chun, Hayley Daugherty, Chesla Has, Katherine Hargrave, Justin Hartley, Sara Allen Johnson, Gabrielle Madridejos, Hunter Purvis, Kaitlyn Rafay, Erin Ray, Samantha Richard, Carolyn Rolke, Tracy Sabo, Anna Styron, Skyler Tice, Morgan Wendland and Cecilia Adkison.
I enjoyed my sentimental journey with “Oklahoma” a show I never get tired of seeing. It was a fun evening of theatre that was affordable for the entire family.

About Dick Kerekes & Leisla Sansom

The Dual Critics of EU Jacksonville have been reviewing plays together for the past nine years. Dick Kerekes has been a critic since 1980, starting with The First Coast Entertainer and continuing as the paper morphed into EU Jacksonville. Leisla Sansom wrote reviews from time to time in the early 80s, but was otherwise occupied in the business world. As a writing team, they have attended almost thirty Humana Festivals of New America Plays at Actors Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky, and many of the annual conferences sponsored by the American Theatre Critics Association, which are held in cities throughout the country. They have reviewed plays in Cincinnati, Chicago, Miami, Sarasota, Minneapolis, Orlando, New York, Philadelphia, Sarasota, San Francisco, Shepherdstown, and The Eugene O’Neill Center in Waterford, Massachusetts. They currently review about one hundred plays annually in the North Florida area theaters, which include community, college, university, and professional productions.