Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: St. Louis

Stages St. Louis
Review by Richard T. Green

Also see Richard's review of Evita

Blake Price, Sarah Ellis, and Zoe Vonder Haar
Photo by Peter Wochniak
The ground trembles unexpectedly in this newest production of Oklahoma!, the unbeatable musical by Rodgers and Hammerstein. But it's the constantly changing artistic "center of gravity" that throws us, in almost always delightful new ways. For modern reasons, this Oklahoma Territory quakes like there's already high-pressure fracking going on, deep below the surface.

Yes, the majestic book musical from 1943 still rises up like the pyramids in all its simple glory, at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in suburban Kirkwood, Missouri. But many familiar elements of both show and showman take or lose gravitas because of the great work both on-stage and off. Director Michael Hamilton has a wealth of talent in his cast, and choreographer Dana Lewis suddenly seems up to her neck in Nijinskys. But don't forget, it's been 75 steady years of singin' and dancin' for Oklahoma!, and, clearly, after all that time, we've ended up in a world of triple-threat performers. Since 1943, these iconic hayseeds have developed into quite a fearsome lot.

Sarah Ellis, as Laurey, provides one of the biggest "earthquake moments," by serving as "Dancing Laurey" too, in the seminal nightmare ballet, alongside the lighter-than-air Nicolas de la Vega as "Dancing Curly." Having her perform in the ballet herself lends emotional weight to both her character and the show. Another bonus-laden performance comes from Lucy Moon, a comedy mastermind as Ado Annie—though her beautiful voice wipes laughter from our minds whenever she lets slip any random platinum note. It tires the soul to imagine their mothers, shuttling them from acting class to dance class to singing class every week, ten or fifteen years ago.

Stages St. Louis spends a fortune every season on outstanding costumes, including Ado Annie's 1906-ish poofy, clown-like fuchsia and white plaid dress (and matching hat and parasol, of course). Thanks to miracle-working costumer Brad Musgrove and his team, it's deliciously bizarre.

The only costuming question marks involve our prolonged visual ordeal with plain-Jane coveralls for Ms. Ellis, and the initial costume choice for handsome, rubber-faced Blake Price as Curly: a Belle Watling-inspired red-on-red shirt and scarf combination, which is quickly dispensed with. The actor himself is maybe 37% callow, in the modern style of all 21st century leading men. Still, we know he must be straight, because he clearly doesn't know how to dress.

But because he's got a dash of sensitivity to him, this Curly gives brooding David Sajewich (as the infamous farm-hand Jud Fry) a kind of "permission" to climb down and be more human and multi-dimensional, too, as his adversary, in the vast re-jiggering of the show's many interconnected parts. (Mr. Sajewich has a haircut here that seems inspired by Sweeney Todd.) Director Hamilton opens the door to a cavalcade of change, and most of these alterations become worthwhile trade-offs. Just as the two lead actresses are more artfully expressionistic, Mr. Price and Mr. Sajewich seem more thoughtfully impressionistic.

Then there are the extroverts like Con O'Shea-Creal as cowman Will Parker, and Matthew Curiano as Ali Hakim, the itinerate salesman. Even though he's flat-out funny, Mr. O'Shea-Creal hypnotizes us during a debonair "ragtime" solo in the middle of "Everything's Up to Date in Kansas City." And Mr. Curiano, as the peddler, drew a tremendous ovation at curtain call, for his comedic contributions. Still, it's a very old-school interpretation of the role—one that vaguely calls to mind the descriptions of 19th century Shylocks we've read of. Perhaps predictably, it goes over really big in staunchly Republican Kirkwood. Add that to the list of the already-scripted emotional landmines dotting this mythical Sooner Country. But, in fairness, also add in about twice as many laughs.

The synthesizer overture is super-cheesy. But overall, it's a great show, with fine work by local favorites including Zoe Vonder Haar and John Flack.

Oklahoma!, through October 7, 2018, for Stages St. Louis at the Robert G. Reim Theatre, 111 South Geyer Rd., Kirkwood MO. For more information visit

The Cast (in order of appearance):
Aunt Eller: Zoe Vonder Haar*
Curly: Blake Price*
Laurey: Sarah Ellis*
Ike Skidmore: Christopher DeProphetis*
Slim: Nicolas de la Vega*
Will Parker: Con O'Shea-Creal*
Jud Fry: David Sajewich*
Ado Annie Carnes: Lucy Moon*
Ali Hakim: Matthew Curiano*
Gertie Cummings: Leah Berry*
Andrew Carnes: John Flack*
Cord Elam: Steve Isom*

Dream Ballet:
Dancing Curly: Nicolas de la Vega*
Jud's Postcards: Claire Logan, Karilyn Ashley Surratt*
Rachel Thalman

Laurey's Friends:
Leah Berry*, Liz Friedmann, Dena DiGiacinto*, Mariah Studebaker

Christopher DeProphetis*, Patrick Graver*, Drew Humphrey*, Hamilton Moore

The Ensemble:
Liz Friedmann, Patrick Graver*, Drew Humphrey*, Claire Logan, Nicolas de la Vega*, Hamilton Moore, Dena DiGiacinto*, Mariah Studebaker, Karilyn Ashley Surratt*, Rachel Thalman, Dana Winkle*

Artistic Crew:
Director: Michael Hamilton
Choreographer: Dana Lewis
Music Director: Lisa Campbell Albert
Scenic Designer: James Wolk
Costume Designer: Brad Musgrove
Lighting Designer: Sean M. Savoie
Production Stage Manager: Shawn Pryby*
Orchestral Designer: Stuart M. Elmore
New York Casting: Scott Wojcik and Gayle Seay
Dance Captain: Karilyn Ashley Surratt*
Fight Choreographer: Erik Kuhn
Fight Captain: Christopher DeProphetis*

* Denotes member, Actors Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the United States