Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends! One man likes to push a plow, the other likes to chase a cow — but that’s no reason why they can’t be friends! You’ll see all that plus a boot-stompin’ hoedown, a weddin’, some fightin’, and a lot of crazy kissin’ all at the 2nd Star Productions production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Directed by Jane B. Wingard with Musical Direction by Joe Biddle, this here shootin’ match is a good holler back to the times of the territory. And like all Rodgers and Hammerstein shows, it’s a classic love story. Wonderfully upbeat music to be had with some surefire choreography that will get your feet thumpin’ in the audience sure as the day is long!
Drop on down to the Oklahoma territory right after the turn of the 20th Century! Set Designer Jane B. Wingard makes it real easy to do with her weathered old farm house and bright golden hazy meadows rolling along in the backdrop. The scenic detail that Wingard incorporates into rural landscape is an exquisite rendering of a harder time gone by. She takes particular care to make old Jud Fry’s smokehouse look nastier and more gnarly than one could ever imagine, enhancing the creepiness of his character tenfold.
There is a whole wagon load of lively dancing that weaves its way throughout the show. Choreographer Vicki Smith gets those cowboys kickin’ up their boots with a passionately polished flare that’ll make you whoop and holler just like you were at a rodeo. Smith shows off some fine footwork with Will Parker, particularly during “Kansas City” and again with him in “The Farmer and the Cowman.” Smith’s stylistic influences in these two numbers include a range of line dances and high-steps, even some ragtime as she gets the boys going with an athletic vigor to their movements. All the jumps and tumbles that are intertwined into these intense routines make for a scream of a good show.
Pit Conductor Joe Biddle leads a live orchestra to heighten the experience of the show. Herein, I’m afraid, falls my one complaint. The orchestra is often overpowering; blowing away even the powerful principles. There were also times early on when the various harmonies in the reed and wind sections were blaring over the main melody creating a very bizarre sound that made the song sound out of sorts with itself. But as the Musical Director Biddle does gather a powerful and solid sound from the ensemble, especially during the title number which has everyone bursting with gusto as they sing about their soon to be state.
With any Rodgers and Hammerstein show you expect a world of crazy character profiles, and this show is no exception. Nabbing the attention of the audience during every moment he’s on stage, the great traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Gary Seddon) peddles his charm to all the ladies that will listen. His corny over accentuated accent fits the stereotype of the times; the Persian Peddler out to romance the females for a chance to get lucky. Seddon is a lively animated performer, particularly during his only musical number “It’s A Scandal! It’s A Outrage!’
Then there’s Aunt Eller (Rebecca Feibel). The roughest old salt out in the territory, Feibel holds her won against the dainty sopranos and the rugged tenors. She certainly stirs things up during “The Farmer and the Cowman” and gets a big belt or two in for good measure. And her boisterous ways of know-how reflect to perfection when she comes hollerin’ down to the smokehouse. Her lungs were made for shoutin’ that’s the truth as far as the day is long.
Lil miss Laurey (Emily Mudd) has a sweet disposition and an even sweeter voice. The almost operatic soprano hits high vibratos holds all throughout the show and is positively lovesick over Curly. Her frigid hard-to-get flirtations with the bowlegged cowboy are adorably childish and her duet with him “People Will Say We’re In Love” is simply smitten.
Curly (Ben Harris) is a blissful rich baritone that rings out from the very first sung note of the show. You can hear the echo of Harris off stage as he opens the signature number “Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’.” Perfected in his bowlegged walk and his cowboy strut, Harris really epitomizes the turn of the century cowboy. His lofty chemistry that floats divinely with Laurey during “People Will Say We’re In Love” is mesmerizing. Every song he sings is a gem, but none so comical as the duet with Jud Fry, “Pore Jud is Daid” – a somber serious funeral march that grows exponentially more hysterical with every note sung.
Jud Fry (Michael J. Galizia) is the human equivalent of a filthy porcupine. Rough, prickly, nasty, and downright mean, Galizia captures the sheer essence of the bitter farmhand from his ferocious stage presence to his gravely southern drawl. But the shocker comes from Galizia’s gorgeous base vocals. Rivaling a sound you’d expect to hear at the New York MET, Galizia belts a haunting and sinister ballad entitled “Lonely Room” that sends shivers up your spine. A true diamond in the rough buried under the mask of villainy in this role.
The absolute show stealers are the sideline romantic on-again-off again Will Parker (Nathan Bowen) and Ado Annie (Nicole Bowen). With his country bumpkin stupidity wrapped up in courtin’ class charm and her flirtatious nature the pair are a riot that will keep you laughin’ and lovin’ the show. Nathan Bowen is an extraordinary dancer, showin’ off moves that would make any boot-scootin’ cowboy proud. When he sings “Kansas City” he has a powerful voice, which is echoed later in his duet with Annie, “All Er Nothin’.”
Nicole Bowen is a triple threat; perfect vocals, knockout smile and she dances real purdy with Will during the big opening of Act II. Bowen has a fun and flirty nature about her and her songs are a hoot. “I Cain’t Say No!” is both powerful and so very entertaining. She wears all her flirtations right there on the outside of her petticoats and is an absolute delight to watch perform.So leave your plow in the field, hop on your horse and ride on down to the Bowie Playhouse before the sun sinks down on the brilliant production of Oklahoma!
Running Time: Two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Oklahoma! plays through December 8, 2012 at the Bowie Playhouse located in White Marsh Park – 16500 White Marsh Park Drive, in Bowie, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (410) 757-5700, or purchase them online.