Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron
Also see David's review of Hamilton
Prior to opening night, warning emails were sent, informing patrons of a simultaneous Lynyrd Skynyrd performance at Blossom Music Center (of whom Porthouse shares the grounds), so most everyone arrived extra early with picnic baskets in hand in order to enjoy the full outdoor theater experience. Luckily, the undulating terrain kept the distant rock music under the radar.
Oklahoma! is the big and brassy tale of life in this rural territory just prior to its admission into the Union in 1907. Curly (Matthew Gittins) and Laurey (Rebecca Rand) are deeply in lovethey're just too busy fussing and fighting with each other to realize it. Curly is a bronco-busting cowboy who works on a nearby ranch. Laurey is your typical farm girl who lives with her Aunt Eller (Lenne Snively).
The community is holding a box social, whereas the young single ladies of the area pack a picnic lunch with their specialties and the single men bid for the pleasure of their company, with the money going to build a new schoolhouse. Aunt Eller's hired hand Jud Fry (Sam Johnson) has a dark and mysterious pastand has his eyes set on Laurey, who in order to spite Curly, has agreed to be driven to the social by Jud. And Curly has gone to the trouble of hiring a fancy two-horse surrey (with the fringe on top).
While this is going on, Curly's cowboy friend Will Parker (Christopher Tuck) has returned from Kansas City with wild tales and a $50 rodeo prize that is enough for him to engage his sweetheart Ado Annie (Samantha Russell), who has a wandering eye, especially when a travelling Persian peddler Ali Hakim (Joey Fontana) arrives in the territory.
In order to get back at Laurey, Curly agrees to accompany Gertie Cummings (Kelli-Ann Paterwic), who comes with a piercing horse laugh that she displays with abandon. Emotions run high at the social as a bidding war ensues over Laurey's and Ado's lunches.
The chemistry and balance of this cast is truly exceptional. Lenne Snively is perfect as the tough yet caring Aunt Eller. Matthew Gittins does a fine turn as Curly with his strong tenor voice, and Rebecca Rand is all sweetness as Laurey and has a tremendous vocal range. Sam Johnson is well cast as the nefarious Jud, bringing the right measure of darkness to the role. Samantha Russell is hilarious as Ado Annie, the "girl who can't say no" as she is wooed by two men of opposite dispositions. Christopher Tuck brings amazing energy to the role of Will Parker and steals the show with his dancing and singing skills.
As Gertie, Kelli-Ann Paterwic gets a laugh each time we hear her piercing laugh. Christopher Seiler nails the part of Andrew Carnes, who travels in the wake of his daughter Ado Annie's various romances, and serves as the territorial judge. Joey Fontana is a scene stealer as the overly romantic Persian peddler who is constantly trying to stay out of range of the law and angry fathers' shotguns.
The various ensemble players work extremely well together in the various familiar song and dance sequences choreographed by John R. Crawford-Spinelli with Joey Fontana as dance captain.
Note must be made of the 12-piece orchestra under the conducting of Jennifer Korecki, who master the intricate rhythms of this complex yet well-known score. Nolan O'Dell has done an amazing job of set design with a wide open, simple yet functional approach. Brittney Harrell brings an air of gingham and leather authenticity to the costuming. Props to Cynthia R. Stillings for the bright lighting design and Tyler Forbes for crisp sound design. The show moves quickly under the direction of Terri J. Kent.
This is truly what outdoor summer theater is all abouta gathering of friends and family for a theater experience that will take you away from your daily troubles. This young energetic cast with a sprinkling of seasoned pros does a wonderful job of transporting us back in time to simpler days, with an excellent orchestra and superb stage set, lighting and sound. It is wholesome entertainment everyone will love. Bring a packed picnic dinner and arrive well before the show begins to enjoy time together on the spacious grounds surrounding the theater.
Oklahoma!, through August 12, 2018, at Porthouse Theatre on the grounds of Blossom Music Center, 1145 West Steels Corner Road, Cuyahoga Falls OH. Tickets may be purchased online at www.porthousetheatre.com or by calling 330-672-3884.