‘Oklahoma!’ at Port Tobacco Players

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With brilliant direction by Richard Highby, Port Tobacco Players’ Oklahoma! takes place in the year 1905 in a small community of rangers and farmers in the Oklahoma territory. 1905 is moving rapidly, the United States is prospering- we have electricity, Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers, Teddy Roosevelt is in office and there is a feeling of optimism. Innovations are abounding, inventions are being created, and – romance is blossoming? That is, at least for Curly and Laurey, but will the sultry dangers of the broiling farmhand, Jud Fry pose a threat to their love? With music by composer Richard Rodgers and book by librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, it is quite apparent why Oklahoma! is a beloved American classic!

Tara Waters as Laurey and Matt Usina as Curly. Photo courtesy of Port Tobacco Players.
Tara Waters (Laurey) and Matt Usina (Curly). Photo courtesy of Port Tobacco Players.

As Curly, Matt Usina gave a strong performance. He set up a beautiful evening in his enchanting rendition of the opening number, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.” His also exuded much charm and energy.

Portraying his love interest, Laurey, was the sweet and spunky Tara Waters. Her light, airy vocals shined in “People Will Say We’re In Love” as she and Curly covertly flirt with one another. The third wheel in the fractured love triangle is the reclusive and disturbed farmhand, Jud Fry.

Patrick Pruitt gave a haunting performance as Jud. From the moment he arrives, Pruitt dominates the stage with his booming, bitter demeanor. His dynamic vocals were showcased in “Lonely Room.”

Katie Ludy and Matt Usina. Photo courtesy of Port Tobacco Players.
Katie Ludy  (Aunt Eller) and Matt Usina (Curly). Photo courtesy of Port Tobacco Players.

Sprucing up the musical with her sass and motherly nature, Katie Ludy gives a memorable performance as Aunt Eller. She commands attention in act two as she fires off a gun to mandate control and order at the community social.

What good is a musical without a little bit of comedy? Will Parker is portrayed by the talented Ben Simpson. His impeccable dance ability is displayed in “Kansas City,” where he leads the company in a cowboy soft-shoe. In addition to dance, Simpson’s comedic disposition stands out in “All Er Nothin’.” Opposite Simpson is the incredible Becki Turner. Her boy crazy, side-splitting performance of Ado Annie Carnes steals the show. I enjoyed her amusing and flawless vocals in “I Cain’t Say No.”

Cast of 'Oklahoma!'. Photo courtesy of Port Tobacco Players.
The cast of ‘Oklahoma!’. Photo courtesy of Port Tobacco Players.

Speaking of enthralling, Brooke Howell-Weisner had the gargantuan task of designing downright delightful dancing. Her boot-stompin’ choreography kept my oes tappin’ and my heels thumpin’, especially during “The Farmer and the Cowman” during act two. Set Designer John Reckeweg, with complimentary set decorations by Laurie Mudd, made it easy to forget that you were in La Plata, MD and transported you to the rural land of Oklahoma. The scenic yellow farmhouse, with endless rows of cornfields and glowing blue skies engulfed the backdrop.

A vital aspect of the show that should not be left in the backdrop is the intricate, clever, and vibrant costumes created by Pat Brennan and the Costume Crew. Standout costumes include Will Parker’s bright red shirt, white cowboy hat, bezel-jeweled belt, beige pants, and authentic cowboy boots. Another amazing costume was Aunt Eller’s in act two. She was garbed in a red top with cream lace, a cameo broche pin, an eccentric red hat with a side feather that would put any peacock to shame!

Another element that deserves kudos are the properties by Terri Fortney Beinert. They included Ali Hakim’s wooden wagon wheel peddler’s cart, which was filled with an assortment of rare commodities and treasures. The lighting design by Leslie L. Wanko displayed an array of emotion and suspense during the “Dream Sequence.” The lively sounds of nature, like birds chirping, were designed by Dave Bayles. Under the musical direction of Will V. Derr and Jim Watson, the orchestra was able to maintain a unified sound that complimented the show in a hootin’-tootin’ magical fashion.

Mosey on over and see what all this here ruckus is ’bout PTP’s toe-tappin’ Oklahoma!

PTP-Oklahoma banner

Running Time: two hours and 45 minutes, with one intermission.

Oklahoma! plays through April 12, 2015 with performances on Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 3 pm. All shows take place at the Port Tobacco Players located in La Plata, MD – 508 Charles Street, in La Plata, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 932-6819, or purchase them online.

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