Studio 58 does Oklahoma! right
Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Directed by David Hudgins. A Studio 58 production on February 12. Continues until March 1
Oklahoma! is a massive beast of a musical, but director David Hudgins does an admirable job of fitting it into the intimate confines of Studio 58, and his young cast digs right into material that’s been around longer than their grandparents.
Oklahoma!, the first collaboration between musical-theatre legends Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, tells the story of Curly, a cowboy, and farm girl Laurey, who is testing Curly’s devotion by going on a date with the hired hand, Jud Fry, a gloomy loner. In a parallel subplot, Will Parker has come back from Kansas to claim the hand of Ado Annie, who has inadvertently promised herself to a Persian peddler, Ali Hakim. These triangles come to a head on the day of the box social, a community dance.
The play was written in 1943, and its many classic songs have aged better than some of its “all-American” values. What to make, for instance, of Ado Annie, the girl who “cain’t say no”? Hudgins manages to sidestep some of these problems by adept casting. Adelleh Furseth, who plays Ado Annie as a wide-eyed, robotically smiling bimbo, is so physically inventive that she steals every scene she’s in. And while I’ve seen the Persian peddler Ali Hakim played as a racist caricature in other productions, Arash Ghorbani here makes him a deliciously eccentric individual.
The leads are also strong. Alexandra Wever is a terrific singer, and a vulnerable but sassy Laurey. Baby-faced Owen Bishop makes Curly a hero you want to root for, though his delivery of songs like “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ ” is more earnest than exuberant. Sean Sonier’s Will has a winning confidence, while Kamyar Pazandeh is a suitably menacing Jud, and Olivia Hutt gives Aunt Eller a salt-of-the-earth authority and charm. The supporting performers capably sing and dance their hearts out to Shelley Stewart Hunt’s choreography of the show’s many big numbers, supported by a tight band led by musical director Christopher King.
Drew Facey’s set and Marina Szijarto’s costumes deftly exploit a neutral colour palette, and wooden wagon wheels and planks morph into features of the landscape in continually inventive ways.
It’s not easy to put a big show in a small space. Hats off to this team for getting it right.
Feb 15, 2015 at 2:11am
I enjoyed this performance tremendously. While the entire ensemble was notable, characters of Ali Hakim and Ado Annie stood up for me.
Arash Ghrbani indeed reinvented Ali Hakim with his remarkable artistic touch and improvisation. I saw him in as Martini last year and I think he is a rising star of Vancouver.
Unfortunately I could not meet him at the end.