NORTHEAST FLORIDA CONSERVATORY REVIEW
DICK KEREKES & LEISLA SANSOM [email protected]
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s landmark musical, “OKLAHOMA!” is on stage at NE Florida Conservatory, 11363 San Jose Boulevard, Building 200 in Jacksonville. The production opened on March 11, 2016, followed by three additional performances during the opening weekend. Future scheduled performances include March 18 at 8:00 pm, March 19 at 2:00 and 8:00 pm, and March 20 at 2:00 pm. For information and reservations, call 904-374-8639 or visit nfconservatory.org
“Oklahoma” has been on stage in Jacksonville many times since its debut in 1943 but there have been no productions in recent years that we are aware of. This musical was voted the most significant musical of the century by the American Theatre Critics Association. The musical was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize (1944) and a special Tony Award honoring fifty years of production (1993), while a 1955 film adaptation received two Oscars.
To refresh your memory, the setting is the territory of Oklahoma at the turn of the century against a background of rivalry between cattlemen and farmers. The story is that of farm girl Laurey, the clean-cut cowboy Curly, and the brooding farmhand Jud.
As we sat watching this show at the first Sunday matinee, we looked around and noticed many in the audience singing or humming along with almost every song. Now, how many musicals invite audience participation?
Someone wrote somewhere that the soul of a musical resides in its songs and score. And “Oklahoma” has many memorable songs, with “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “The Surrey With The Fringe On The Top,” “Kansas City,” “I Can’t Say No,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” and “The Farmer and the Cowman,” which, along with “Oklahoma,” are all now cherished Americana.
Director Richard Dickson has assembled a super cast of theatre veterans, along with several newcomers. The handsome Billy O ‘Brien as Curly matches up perfectly with the winsome and beautiful Laurey (Clare Hambleton, whom you may remember from her previous appearance as Nancy in “Oliver” at the Conservatory).
Bailey Myers was Ado Annie in this performance; the role is double cast with Kayla Kurmaskie, who may be playing the flirtatious Ado in the performance you see. Alternately, when not on the stage as Ado, both play Gertie, a young woman who is annoyingly loud and looking for a mate. We discovered Ms. Kurmaskie obviously has comedic lineage to go along with her other talents, as she does the best horse laugh we have ever heard and by golly, she impressed the audience as well.Jennifer O’Brien is a delightful and firm head of the household as Aunt Eller. We remember Jennifer from her recent outstanding portrayal of Bloody Mary in “South Pacific” on this same stage.
The role of Will Parker calls for many talents, including singing and dancing with comic flair. Will Cook does it all, and does all very well.Josh Katzman has been in all the Conservatory musicals in various singing roles. Here, he takes on the role of the sinister Jud, Curly’s rival for Laurey’s affection. Josh sang well and was very convincing. If we had any complaint, it would not be with his performance but with his clothing, which was just too clean for a guy who slops hogs. Come on Jud; get a little dirt under those fingernails and a little grease on those pants.
One of the reasons for the success of “Oklahoma” besides the music is the well-drawn characters. Ali Hakim, the peddler is a favorite. He is in effect a vaudeville performer, a stand-up comic, who receives the most laughs, and almost steals the show. Mark Snitzer in his third fantastic dream role in a row delights us as he mugs the audience and hugs the ladies. Snitzer’s last two roles at the conservatory were as Tevye in “Fiddler” and Fagin in “Oliver.”
Following up parts as Big Jule in “Guys and Dolls” and as the Professor in “South Pacific,” Jack Myers has aged his personal beard with white shoe polish to sing and play Ado Annie’s daddy Andrew Carnes.Roxanna Lewis choreographs her fourth show at NFC with “Oklahoma,” and she is a wizard at working with a small stage. We especially liked the special treatment she has given to “Out of My Dreams,” the dance sequence at the end of the first act. We have mostly seen this with only two dancers, but Ms. Lewis not only used two very professional dancers who are townspeople in the show (Samantha Eigenmann and Ben Byrd) but mixed in farmers and cowmen and ladies for a very dramatic effect.
Others in the cast were: Colin Harden as Fred, Evan Bowen as Ike Skidmore, April Dalzell as Ellen, Jodie Jernigan as Kate, Madeline Gamel as Sylvie, Audrey Everett as Armina, Louise Everett as Aggie, Rick Chapman as Cord Elam, Justin Reynolds as Jess, and Patty Everett as Aunt Patty.
In addition to being Director, Richard Dickson handled the musical director’s job, leading the fourteen piece orchestra while on piano. He has fashioned “Oklahoma” into a fast-paced show yet captured the spirit of this brilliant combination of music and theatre.
PRODUCTION STAFF: Artistic/Musical Director, Richard Dickson; Choreographer, Roxanne Lewis; Stage Manager, Justin Reynolds; Set Design, Evan Bowen; Lighting, Tad Wiggins and Luke Myers; Costumes Juanelle Marshall; Properties, Carolyn and Richard Stritter.
If you have never seen “Oklahoma” it is a romantic western with a happy ending. Don’t miss this marvelous production.