Before Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein collaborated to create a Broadway musical based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” (by Lynn Riggs), most productions of musical ilk were loosely constructed stories in which the plot was interrupted with variety acts, silly jokesters, and elaborate dance numbers. As a never-done-before musical drama, in which songs advanced the story-arc, Oklahoma! was a huge hit, opening in 1943 and running for an unprecedented 2,212 performances. It changed the musical theatre world forever.
Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre’s entertaining production of the landmark musical is an uplifting, colorful, rip-roaring extravaganza! Adroitly directed by Liz Stark, with musical direction by Kristy Templet, choreography by Doug King and costume design by Jill Kelly – the superb cast, many of whom are making their B&B debuts, never misses a turn. Eric Morris and Grace Anne Field, who star as Curly and Laurey, are blessed with dazzling voices, strong and technically perfect, and are impressive actors as well. They find all the nuances of the couple’s sweetly playful and romantic actions and bring them to life in some charming portrayals. Each of their scenes together seems to unveil another layer of their relationship and personalities. And each song they sing, especially the lovely “People Will Say We’re in Love”, gives us another opportunity to appreciate their magnificent vocal talents.
The talent level does not stop at the top of the cast list – eye-catching performances abound. The laugh-wielding love triangle of Will Parker – energetically portrayed by Daniel S. Hines, Ado Annie – presented with spirited flirtation by Timmy Hays, and peddler Ali Hakim – done with comic perfection by Brian Sutow, sets the pace. Licia Watson (staying on at B&B after an animated appearance in “Church Basement Ladies”) enlivens the spunky Aunt Eller, B&B regular Jeff Stockberger is a feisty curmudgeon as Ado Annie’s “paw” – Pa Carnes, and Jonah D. Winston is impressively immense and foreboding as the villainous Jud Fry. Mary-Elizabeth Milton is a hilarious Gertie Cummings, and Doug King as Cord Elam, leads the way in the many dance numbers, both as creator and performer. Peter Scharbrough (Slim), Leah Dewalt (Sarah Skidmore), Jordan Moody (Shorty) and Devan Mathias (Anna Mae) deftly fill out the impressive chorus/dance corps with talent and dexterity.
All told, this production, in my humble opinion, ranks at the top of the many I have seen on the Beef and Boards stage – part of this feeling is my affection for the show itself. I have always loved Oklahoma! – it’s memorable songs, the uplifting story; and I have fond memories of being in a production of it many years ago (Pa Carnes, 1980, Murry’s Dinner Playhouse in Little Rock, Arkansas). I cannot remember a more rousing musical theatre experience than singing the title song at the end of the show – it is just that lofty a memory. But most of this high ranking comes from the remarkable experience of seeing such a talented cast perform this outstanding theatre piece.
As always, part of the enjoyment of a B&B show is the fine buffet offered by Chef Odell Ward. My favorite this time was the Honey Pecan Fried Chicken – Mmmm-mmm!! And the entire B&B staff always makes our visit a carefree experience. They certainly are wonderfully attentive people!
Don’t miss this amazing cast in this delightful show. Oklahoma! continues it’s run through October 5th. You can find out more about the schedule and make reservations by calling the box office at 317-872-9664, or you can go online at http://www.beefandboards.com .
* pictures by Julie Curry provided by Beef and Boards Dinner Theatre