For those familiar with the outstanding reputation of Class Act Productions, there was much anticipation as curtain time approached at the beautiful theater of the Montgomery College Woodlands campus. Backstage were dozens of talented youngsters from junior and senior high schools from all over the county. They were well prepared to once again display the exceptional quality the Class Act organization brings to its musical theater presentations. It was time for the group’s winter offering of Rodger’s and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” Conductor and Musical Director, Jennifer Franz, had assembled her polished orchestra in the pit; and as they struck up the “Overture,” the delightful, merry mood of this landmark American musical was instantly established. It would have been worth the trip on this cold, rainy night in Texas, just to hear these fine musicians work their magic. But there was much more to come.
Some months ago I acquired a DVD laptop for use in my work. After years of collecting too many videotapes, I promised myself I would not repeat the process with DVD’s. But the film version of “Oklahoma” was one of about ten or twelve exceptions I allowed myself. The show was a turning point in the evolution of musical theater, and Class Act’s Director/Producer, Keith Brumfield and Assistant Director/Choreographer, Kathryn Goodfellow have cherished that tradition in this wonderful production.
The curtain rises on the charming farmhouse, and cornfield beyond, created by Scenic Artist, Barbara Stoker and Set Designers, Roger Goodfellow and Ed Gerhard. Handsome Noel Bouley enters singing “Oh What a Beautiful Morning,” and quickly answers the central question: Can a young high school football player sing the demanding role of Curly? Boy, I’ll say he can! With smooth, confident vocal power that reminded this viewer of the young Gordon MacRae, Mr. Bouley would prove repeatedly that he had earned his position in the Texas All-State Choir. Lovely Robin Gillmore (also with All-State credentials) offers more vocal talent with her portrayal of Curly’s love interest, Laurey. They offer up a shimmering “Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” and Bouley’s sensitive vocal imagery at its conclusion is beautifully echoed in the glowing sunset of Lighting Designer, Blake Minor.
The friction between Curly and Laurey is nicely offset by the feisty and humorous performance of Charlotte Hardin as Aunt Eller. She joins in song when the fun continues as Will Parker (Joe Mikolaj) arrives from Kansas City and sings the hilarious song of the same name. Mikolaj shines with an infectious joy that quickly spreads to the large cast during Mrs.Goodfellow’s fine “Kansas City” choreography. The skillful dancing was based on the original work of the renowned choreographer, Agnes DeMille.
More witty lyrics are beautifully handled with the fine voice and comic energy of Megan Kane as Ado Annie. Her riotous rendition of “I Can’t Say No!” reminds us it is possible to have songs that are fun, a bit racy, but never vulgar. Music industry, please take note! Wesley Fruge’s loud plaid suit is a howl as he humorously portrays the peddler, Ali Hakim, and tries his best to avoid marriage to Ado Annie.
The next treat is the arrival of the picnic-ready full cast on stage. The costume variety is Broadway worthy and a tribute to Designer, Norma Porter. Moreover, the choral ensemble is first class, and a highlight of the show throughout. Gillmore provides a strong, sweet “Many A New Day,” that makes good use of the fine choral and dance ensemble talents of the large cast. Even forgettable tunes like “It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage” and “Lonely Room,” get enthusiastic treatment from the young performers. In his role as Jud Fry, talented Andrew McKinney sings the latter, and is in fine voice when he pairs with Bouley for the dark humor of “Poor Jud Is Daid.” Of course our leads do a delicious duet of “People Will Say We’re In Love.” The act concludes with a sweetly melodic “Out of My Dreams” that melts into the elaborate “Dream Ballet.” Both are well done in this complex staging, featuring Whitney Gillmore dancing Dream Laurey and Grant Hoffmeister as Dream Curly. Hoffmeister doubles as comedian in his role as Ado Annie’s protective father, Andrew Carnes. He adds lots of laughs to Act II’s foot stomping “The Farmer and the Cowman.”
Ado Annie and Will do a cute duet of “All ’Er Nothin’.” It flows into some cast choreography that could be sharpened. There are also moments in the show when performers rush the dialogue making it difficult to hear. But these small sins are quickly forgiven when Curly bursts into song with “Oklahoma!” and we are once again amazed by Bouley’s rich voice and the pure gold sound of the gifted full ensemble. Class Act and the many unsung heroes who make it possible have once again enriched both their own young stars and our community at large.
(The Courier 3.11.01)
(The Villager 3.14.01)