Such was the case this weekend when my sister-in-law, Debbie, came along with me to see Yardley Players’ production of OKLAHOMA, presented at Mercer County Community College’s Kelsey Theatre. We had both put in a full day’s work, hers being much harder than mine. The plan was to meet for dinner at the Brooksomething Deli for a quick bit and on to the show. It was closed and the pizza place had only two soggy looking cold slices, so we ended up at the local Chinese buffet. Off to a rocky start, but the rest of the evening made up for it many times over.
Since I have worked on OKLAHOMA several times, and have seen it performed dozens of times, I appreciate its historical contributions, (heck, its blending of song, characters, plot and dance created a model for Broadway shows for decades!), but I am a bit weary of it and though I do like quite a few of the songs, I cannot say it is one of my top picks in musical theatre. So, this is the mindset with which I entered Kelsey Theatre.
But from the moment the 19 piece orchestra, under the direction of David Bohn sounded the notes of the terrific overture, I was convinced. So, now if Curly came out and impressed me with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ I would be a happy camper! That is exactly what happened and I should not have been surprised, as Yardley Players Theater Company, under the direction of Marge Swider, has consistently been able to bring to the stage some amazingly talented vocalists. A young man by the name of Michael Niederer has been cast as Curly. Not only does he possess great vocals, he has boyish good looks and a charming stage presence. Most importantly, he doesn’t just sing a song he acts it. By the end of the first number I had a smile on my face. One of the best Curlys I have ever seen. Even when accidently (or was it?) breaking the stove, his performance flowed very nicely. Now If his ego doesn’t too big with all the praise he will garner for this performance and the ones to follow, I predict this young man will have guite a future in Theaterland. Stayed tuned for updates.
The songs are such an integral part of the show and director Marge Swider has created a seamless flow from song back to action to song again throughout the entire show. She shows great instincts in having her actors play it just faintly over the top, lending a contemporary feel to an old classic and allowing the audience to really hear some of the great comedic lines. The six main leads all show great skills in doing just that. More about each of them later. I am still stuck on the music…several days later and my brain is still pumping out “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”!
Joanna Latini plays Laurey Williams. Her voice is simply beautiful. She has good dance and acting skills. I’m seeing another bright future here.
If the primary leads weren’t so strong the show would have been stolen by some of the secondary leads. Ado Annie (Kate McCabe) is absolutely adorable in this role. She enchants the audience with her performance of “I Cain’t Say No”. One of her love interests is Will Parker played by Dell Howard with the biggest smile I have ever seen and some of the best dancing skills too! Her other love interest is Ali Hakim(Mark Swift) who the audience, as well as I, just loved. He’s uses this terrific comedic walk that floats him on and off and all around the stage. Combine that with his great delivery and facial expressions and we have a winner folks!
Aunt Eller (Kathleen Kutalek) although tiny in stature, commands the stage well. Joe Zedeny creates a great brooding Jud and Tara Wagner’s Gertie , well her laugh is immensely annoying just as it should be.
The staging and choreography throughout the show is innovative and extremely well done. I like the use of the walkway in the opening number and the adorable staging and choreography in “Many a New Day” is outstanding. Laura Muray is the choreographer and she does a splendid job. She also is ‘Dream Laurey’ and it is a dream to watch her dance. She is like a little music box ballerina and a great match in looks for Laurey. Her ‘Dream Curly’ is Kyle Sheehan also a wonderful dancer. I loved the transition from reality to dream and back again. I understand that she , as well as Marge Swider and Amy Zalot, the assistant to the director put a lot of time and effort into this show. Well, it has paid off…a job well done, Ladies.
The ensemble is large and they all really perform well together as well as separately. Some of my favorites were Walter Smyth, who plays Cord Elam (one of the area’s best character actors) and Matt South whose enthusiastic love of theater is infectious and Jack Petzko who just seems to be having a wonderful time and after all isn’t that what it is all about?
by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Marge Swider
July 15 – 24, 2011
Yardley Players Theatre Company
at Kelsey Theatre
Mercer County Community College
1200 Old Trenton Road
West Windson, NJ 08550
come on folks…someone must have something to add or comment on. My thanks to Patricia for her editing.