Tuesday, March 24, 2015

review - OKLAHOMA! - Grand Canyon University

For more information on this show, that runs through March 29th, click here.

"Focusing on the rivalry between a ranch hand and a cowboy for the hand of a farm girl in early 1900s, Oklahoma!, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's first musical collaboration together, paints a fairly simple romantic story. However, it is also set across the sweeping landscape of settlers and the various social events that take place in their simple lives. Those events include a barn raising and a social dance that provide plenty of big and elaborate stage moments to counter the more intimate and dramatic romantic ones surrounding the love triangle between cowboy Curly, farm hand Jud, and farm girl Laurey. Grand Canyon University just opened their nifty production of this classic musical with an exceptional cast, surefooted direction, and impressive creative elements that turn these simple events into a sweeping story of survival on the prairie.  As Laurey and Curly, who are both too stubborn to admit that they really love each other, Allison Gibbs and Alexander Dubois are both engaging actors who hold your attention with terrific energy. Gibbs' portrayal of Laurey as a feisty tomboy is a nice change from other productions of the show I've seen, and actually fits in perfectly with the farmworker mentality that the character has. She and Dubois both have rich, clear, and strong voices that deliver beautiful renditions of some of Rodgers and Hammerstein's most classic songs. Fernando Ruiz' sullen portrayal of Jud Fry makes him less creepy and dangerous than I've seen in other productions, but it works and actually makes you care for him, which is a huge compliment to Ruiz' acting abilities.  Set designer William H. Symington has crafted a colorful set that spreads across the Ethington Theatre stage. With the front façade of a pale farmhouse on one side, the side of a bright red barn on the other, the frame of another barn in the middle, and a cloud-filled blue sky in the background, we're right in the middle of the Oklahoma plains. The only thing missing? The rows of corn that Hammerstein's lyrics mention. Claude Pensis' lighting design evokes some stunning sunny days and dark stormy night skies that transform Symington's cloudy sky backdrop with pops of color.  Director Michael Kary skillfully manages his large cast and the comical and dramatic demands of the show. He uses the various entrances, including the steps in the seating area, for dramatic effect and gets expressive performances from each of his actors. Choreographer Susannah Keita has managed to instill a non-professional dance sense to the cast, as if the moves they are doing are just natural movement for them. So her choreography is perfectly in line with the story, though her act one ending "dream ballet" shows the professional dance abilities of the cast. Musical director Mark Fearey achieves some stunning choral sounding harmonies with the cast, especially in the wall of sound effect they create in the chorus of the title song.  Oklahoma! is a classic musical and, while the story is a fairly simple one, it has vivid characters and many excellent songs. The age of the GCU cast allows the youthful, exuberant emotions of the characters to come through strongly and realistically. With fine leads, clear direction, and vivid creative aspects, the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein show is receiving a winning production." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

Photo: Darryl Webb / Grand Canyon University

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