Sterling Playmakers Oklahoma!By McCall Doyle • Jul 27th, 2008 • Category: Reviews
Potomac Falls High School, Sterling, VA
$12/$15 Reserved Seats
Through August 10th
The world needs more musicals. We live in a society focused on food, fads, war, and growing up too fast. Musicals, at least Rodgers & Hammerstein-style classics, give us a chance to kick back, unwind, and find the joy of being a kid again.
Sterling Playmakers have put forth a true community effort with their new production of Oklahoma! It’s apparent that they have a huge group of supporters (the auditorium was packed with enthusiastic patrons), and that a lot of planning and effort went into the show, from the ushers in cowboy gear to western-decorated bathrooms and old-fashioned games for kids during intermission.
Oklahoma has a massive cast, and it’s often difficult to find not only the necessary number of performers, but the necessary talent as well. SPM finds itself in the same boat, relying on many high school students and inexperienced actors to fill all the roles, resulting in a somewhat uneven production.
However, the most important role belongs to Curly, the simple cowboy in love with the heroine. This show must have been chosen specifically to showcase the talents of TJ Miles, who was made to play Curly. Miles had all the charm and handsome looks of a tall Michael Landon, and the vocal talent to match, immediately evident as he started off the evening with a beautiful rendition of “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning”.
Aunt Eller, played by Susan Kronenberg, was a touch over the top. Instead of being a formidable and feisty older figure, she gave us Mrs. Lovett from Sweeney Todd. On the other hand, she certainly added much needed energy each time she was onstage.
It was clear that the production had been in the works for several months. I think that the actors may have needed a night off before the opening, as energy was surprisingly low during Act I. And in an act that ran one hour and 45 minutes before intermission, a great deal of energy is needed. Usually opening night is at an all time adrenaline high, but that wasn’t in evidence during much of last night’s performance.
Rachel Gray was our heroine, Laurey. In spite of her lovely lyric soprano, attractive looks, and good acting skills, her character wasn’t terribly likable. Whether it was the direction given or her own interpretation of the character, most people would be hard-pressed to understand why the endearing Curly would give up all he owns just for a chance to be with her. It’s true that she’s written as stubborn and occasionally ornery, but it needed to be tempered with an enchanting personality.
The secondary leading couple of Ado Annie (Andrea Hepfinger) and Will Parker (Javi Harnly), were quite successful. Hepfinger gave an engaging performance, but took no risks. She gave nothing less and nothing more than what is expected of Ado Annie. She was sweetly ditzy and amiably promiscuous, with a clear singing voice, and an expressive face. Ironically, she was a standout as a dancer in the large ensemble numbers…better than any other dancer on the stage. Harnly wasn’t the best singer up there, but he was fully committed to his role. One believed in his good natured lack of common sense, and more importantly, in his utter devotion to the fickle Annie. They had some adorable scenes together that were among the best of the evening.
Stephen Smith was a stunningly good Jud Fry. He possessed a robust bass-baritone voice, and a childlike innocence reminiscent of Lennie in Of Mice & Men. He was menacing and pitiable all at once, and completely in character every time he set foot on the stage. The best number of the night was “Poor Jud is Daid”, an incredibly well done duet between Curly & Jud. Jud’s big song, “The Lonely Room,” seemed a bit rushed, which was unfortunate because it was being marvelously sung.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: just because it’s a musical, and a community theater production, doesn’t mean all ensemble members must take part in a big dance number. The multiple group numbers dragged on forever and seemed repetitive. Most of the performers looked uncomfortable, and very few had the dance skills required to execute the creative choreography by Dawn Price, Corinne Fox, and Scott Ruegg. I’d much rather see the steps being cleanly done by a few select dancers while the bulk of the crowd grapevines or box steps in the back.
I have to say the famed Dream Ballet was disappointing. It lacked the punch and flavor needed for relevancy. The ballerina chosen to represent Laurey (Maddie Presley-Wolff) didn’t look more than 13 years old, and in her “romantic” interactions with Curly & Jud (who were in their 30s), it seemed inappropriate.
The energy that was lacking in Act I picked up in Act II until the title song was finally performed by the entire cast. I saw the exhaustion and somewhat bored expressions on many of their faces, and just as I was making note of it, I glanced up at the clock and saw that it was 11pm. I chuckled to myself, realizing that after three hours, I wouldn’t have been able to muster the gumption to give the song its due, either!
Tim Silk and Ted Frederick had memorable cameos as Marshal Cord Elam and Andrew Carnes, respectively.
The set (Terry Nelson DiMurro) was nicely done, from the delightfully painted cornfield backdrop, to a windmill and revolving farmhouse. The costumes (Beth Robertson) were an absolute delight, a cheerful burst of color every time the ensemble took the stage. The lighting design (Terry Nelson DiMurro again!) was very well executed, and during the dream ballet, the sunset colors were gorgeous. The orchestra, conducted by Muriel Nanninga, had some problems, particularly in the horn and violin sections, but for the most part gave a rousing effort. The chorus numbers were very well sung, and choral director Wyndy Frederick deserves her own A for effort there. I was very happy to see no trace of body microphones on the principals. True, there were multiple microphones in use, hanging overhead, taped to the floor, and in front of the stage, but they were needed to carry the singers over the orchestra in the particular auditorium space being used. Too many groups rely on body mics which are completely unnecessary.
The overall direction by Kathleen Bleutge was superior. She created some very nice tableaus and kept the pace crisp. However, she should have cut down on the lengthy ensemble numbers and maybe even a few of the tunes…it just didn’t need to be as long as it was. Some careful editing would have made this a tighter, more enjoyable show.
After three hours and twenty minutes (yes, you read that right!), the actors received a standing ovation for their labors. They deserved it.
If you’re a true fan of the show, it’s a worthwhile evening. But if you’re new to musicals, you might want to pass this one up…after 65 years, this musical’s a little too lengthy and a bit too dusty to keep you coming back for more.
The show runs two more weekends, through August 10th, Friday and Saturday at 8, and Sunday matinees on the 3rd and 10th at 2:00, at the Potomac Falls High School in Sterling, Virginia.
- Curly: TJ Miles
- Laurey: Rachel Gray
- Aunt Eller: Susan Kronenberg
- Will: Javi Harnley
- Ado Annie: Andrea Hepfinger
- Jud Fry: Steve Smith
- Ike Skidmore: Jim Hepfinger
- Ali Hakim: Michael Bleutge
- Gertie: Angela Hepola
- Andrew Carnes: Ted Fredrick
- Cord Elam: Tim Silk
- Joe: Scott Ruegg
- Fred: John Hur
- Jess: Chris Sanderson
- Mike: James Bates
- Slim: Bennett Layman
- Tom: Eric Nagley
- Sam: Harry Neidig
- Laurey’s Friends
- Sylvie: Kelsey Briel
- Vivian: Meg Boyle
- Aggie: Ashley Tenshaw
- Armina: Madison Layman
- Emily: Stephanie Cohen
- Helen: Shannon Flynn
- Kate: Katie Ferrante
- Lillian: Sarah Ferrante
- Muriel: Carly Machlan
- Rose: Carolyn Tousley
- Sarah: Brianne Flynn
- Ellen: Michelle Viljoen
- Anna: Cristin Williamson
- Carrie: Lisa Alford
- Farmers: Luis Mora, Craig McKee, John Manion, Chris Gray
- Ranchers: Bryan Layman, Scott Tousley, Michael Todd
- Specialty Dancers: Madeleine Presley Wolff, Catherine Trevithick, Laura Kelanic
- Wives: Joni Carluzzo, Anita Ault, Elaine Layman , Jessica Mohr, Barbara Fink, Deborah Manion, Helen Flynn, Sammie Davenport, Anneliese Lohmeyer, Beth Robertson, Francine Orr, Jill Hughes
- Daughters/Sons: Stephanie Mora, Katie Buckman, Hannah Ferrante, Dorothy Chesley, Katy Layman, Renata Wilson, Amy Freeman, Jordan Lohmeyer, Lindsey Silk, Jacob Hughes, Justin Hughes, Eric Hepfinger, Mike Hepfinger, Tyler Lohmeyer
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