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Oklahoma!

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Based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, Green Grow the Lilacs, the musical Oklahoma! was the first collaboration of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The original Broadway production opened March, 1943; it ran for over 2,240 performances, finally closing in May, 1948. Demand for tickets to Oklahoma! was unprecedented, as the show’s popularity seem to grow exponentially.  In fact, Oklahoma! held the Broadway record for longevity until My Fair Lady hit the boards of the Great White Way thirteen years later. Since then, several Oklahoma! revivals have taken place to much acclaim, both on Broadway and in London’s West End.

Now, Oklahoma! has come to Long Beach’s Carpenter Performing Arts Center in a marvelous Musical Theatre West production (through March 3), and under Davis Gaines’ detailed direction and Lee Martino’s exquisite choreography, the show comes into vivid realization. With over a dozen song and dance routines in two acts (musical direction by Dennis Castellano), the nearly three-hour production, filled with 32 performers, pays a living homage to the innovative integration of score and action that has made Oklahoma! a standard in musical theater.

The plot unfolds in Oklahoma territory, circa 1906. It’s a rough hewed life, where cowboys are long in lust and short on romance. Curly McLain (Bryant Martin in a pristine performance with crystalline vocal abilities) is a cowpoke vying for the affections of Laurey Williams (Madison Claire Parks in beautiful countenance and voice). There’s a hoedown this night, where an auction for basket lunches will be held; the picnic baskets are made ready by neighboring girls, as a fundraiser for the prairie schoolhouse – and when a fellow wins a particular lunch basket, he will dine with the young lady who prepared it.

The troubled farmhand, Jud Fry (an impressively stoic Christopher Newell) has a dark infatuation with Laurey and has ask her to the evening’s shindig; Laurey, in an effort to make Curly jealous has accepted Jud’s ominous offer. But Oklahoma! has more than this one love/hate ménage on display.

There’s also Will Parker (a nimble-kneed Luke Hawkins) who’s just won $50 at a Kansas City fair. This good fortune entitles Will to first nuptial rights to Ado Annie (a mischievous Teya Patt), at least so-says Ado Annie’s fiery father, Andrew Carnes (the formidable Stephen Grant Reynolds). Mistakenly, however, Will has the spent the cash on gifts for Ado Annie – a deal-breaker, according to The Daddy of Ado Annie. It’s hardly an issue for Ado Annie, though, given that she also has eyes for the Persian peddler, Ali Hakim (a very funny Amin El Gamal).

The cast has a multicultural hue that, while improbable among the population of the Oklahoma Territory at the turn of the century, is easily accepted in this Oklahoma! For example, Aunt Eller Murphy is fully embodied by the consummate Saundra McClain. Though she’s of a different ethnicity than Curly and the other farm dwellers, it is due to the genuine nature of McClain’s performance and the bonhomie so evident in her characterization that there is no strain for us to believe in the circumstances we are witnessing.

Of course, the notable Oklahoma! songbook is nicely showcased by a live and vibrant orchestra. Such standards as "People Will Say We’re in Love," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," and, of course, the title song itself, "Oklahoma!" are renewed and made ever current by this capable troupe of triple-threat thespians and well-heeled musicians.

This technical crew also excels in bringing this production into being. Scenic designer Anthony Ward takes us back to a farmhouse in Indian Territory, easily transporting us through time and space with his evocative stage architecture. Jessica Olson’s costumes are well-suited to the time and tasks at issue here, while Jean-Yves Tessier’s lighting and Julie Ferrin’s sound design are indispensible to the high-quality of this production – as is Ken Merckx’s realistic fight choreography.

Also, a special shout-out goes to the Dream Ballet sequence at the end of Act One. It is a mesmerizing sequence in this enjoyable staging of an American classic. While Oklahoma may be okay, this Oklahoma! is sublime.

Oklahoma! – a Musical Theatre West production – continues at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center, located at 6200 East Atherton Street,  Long Beach. Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. Matinees are Sundays at 2 p.m. A special matinee time has been added on Saturday at 2 p.m. on March 2. Additionally, there is a Sunday performance on March 3 at 7 p.m. For reservations, call (562)856-1999 x4. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.musical.org.

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.