by Shirley Lorraine
Old standard still thrills
Actor’s Repertory Theatre of Simi blasts it out of the park with their revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s lively musical, Oklahoma! The long-running, high-stepping production retains the same charm and appeal it originally brought to the stage in 1943. Still one of the most popular musicals ever, Oklahoma! has the audience singing along, tapping their feet, and cheering for the heroes.
Based on the book Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs, the story is set in 1906 in what was then Oklahoma Territory. The action centers on a small western town and the colorful characters who call it home. The main story portrays the courtship of young Curly and Laurey as they dance around their mutual attraction. Secondarily, a romance between smitten Will Parker and flirty Ado Annie takes a rocky path. Underlying the frivolity is a dark side provided by rough-hewn ranch-hand Jud, who pines for Laurie.
Directed by the multi-talented Will Shupe, the production features a range of actors who two-step their way through with style and energy. Choreography by Becky Castells is tight and impressive, given the number of people on stage and the high energy and intricacy of the reels. The cowboys and the farmers of all ages kick up their heels while the cadre of young girls flounce and preen flirtatiously.
A large live orchestra directed by Matt Park provides all the right notes as the familiar music fills the theater.
The voices of leads Joe Hebel and Sara Owinyo give Curly and Laurey solid tones that do more than justice to Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ and Many a New Day, among other favorites, in fine fashion. Owinyo has a clear and beautiful voice reminiscent of the original Laurey, Shirley Jones. Hebel is strong and clear as well, although at times vocally overpowering in volume. The combination of strong voices, microphones and a full orchestra could be dialed down a few notches and still be more than adequate, in my opinion.
Ado Annie is playfully portrayed by Alissa Horner, who is matched with Conner Stevens as Will Parker. They complement each other well as they sing out All Er’ Nothin’ and I Cain’t Say No.
Traveling peddler Ali Hakim is larger than life in the person of Ceron Jones and David White channels his dark side as the brooding Jud Fry. The role of feisty Aunt Eller as personified by Kathleen Silverman is a hoot and a force of nature.
Director Shupe has opted to retain all the original script, including a few songs and dance sequences that are frequently cut. Kudos for giving the audience the full experience. Dancers Michael Dumas and Ashley Maimes executed a lovely dream dance sequence that added depth to the story.
Also delivering notable performances are Ted Elrick as Ado’s father, Mr. Carnes, and Ciara D’Anella as Gertie Cummings. A large ensemble fills in all the spaces left with gusto.
For a superior touch of nostalgia coupled with outstanding performances, Oklahoma! is one to catch before it’s gone.
Oklahoma! runs through September 2 at the Simi Valley Cultural Arts Center, 3050 Los Angeles Ave. Simi Valley. Friday and Saturday performances are at 8:00 p.m., Sunday matinees begin at 2:15 p.m. Tickets are $25 Adults, $22 Students/Seniors 60 & Above, and $18 Children 12 & Under. (805)583-7900, www.simi-arts.org.