OKLAHOMA! at Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre is OK!

by Jean Brenner

Michael Zweig is Curly McLain and Joan Zalot is Laurey Williams in Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre's production of OKLAHOMA! at the Neshaminy High School through April 21. Tickets and information at www.nvmt.org.

Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre performed OKLAHOMA! this past weekend at the Neshaminy Valley High School, Langhorne. Next weekend, the cast will sing and dance the musical for three more performances.

A well-written script with wonderful music, OKLAHOMA! meets what appears to be the criteria for Neshaminy Valley’s show choices: family friendly, large cast, lots of singing and dancing, interesting costumes, happy, and fun. None of the shows they have done has a small cast; none is “edgy.” They are safe crowd pleasers.

The show, which opened on Broadway nearly 70 years ago, continues as one of the most frequently produced, with some of the most popular music of Rodgers and Hammerstein.

While presenting interesting theatre, NVMT wants to sell lots of tickets to pay for the production costs and to provide funding for their scholarship program. Over the years, they have awarded more than $123,000 to young people planning to major in a theatre or music related field in college.  The group has produced one show a year since 1957, only occasionally repeating some of them. (OKLAHOMA! was done twice before, in 1960 and in 1985.)

Fortunately, good singers, actors and dancers have been cast in the leading roles by director/choreographer, Stephen Casey, who has directed for NVMT for eight years and knows how to move his large cast around the stage interestingly.

Casey formerly was artistic director for Bucks County Playhouse, having once appeared in the Broadway, national, European and bus and truck companies of 42nd STREET.  He also performed with various other professional companies.

Soprano Joan Zalot sings and dances beautifully the leading role of Laurey Williams opposite Curley McLain played, sung and danced very well by Michael Zweig.   Both these actors are older than the intended ages of the characters, but it is better they have necessary talents rather than be the right ages.  Their solos and dance sequences are too important to leave to the untrained. It would be icing on top of their performance cake if a little more chemistry was evident between them.

Zalot also assisted in choreography and Zweig is listed as music director. There is no orchestra. The music is recorded.

Amanda Geronikos plays well the female comic lead of Ado Annie.  She is cute, coy, appropriately confused, and she delights the audience with her squeals and singing. One of the most well-known songs is, “I Cain’t Say ‘No’!”

Opposite Ado Annie are two men: Will Parker, played by Kyle Rodgers and Paul Waldowski as Ali Hakim, the Persian peddler. Will wins Annie’s hand in the end, but both men are fun to watch.  Will is quite a good dancer.  Meg Waldowski plays well the role of Gertie Cummings, the young woman with a silly laugh designed to drive people insane.

Portraying Jud Fry, the very unlikable, disagreeable antagonist, is Michael Powell. While he does a good job with the role, he appears to lack confidence. He should not feel that way; he is talented.  More passion and anger during the smokehouse solo would be helpful.

A mainstay of NVMT productions is Rita Enders who appears in nearly all of their shows, this time doing a believable job as Aunt Eller.  Enders also acted as assistant to the director.

The sets are quite outstanding, quite professional in appearance.  The opening set shows the back porch of Aunt Eller’s house, the barn, the fencing, the sky. A later scene shows Judd Fry’s smokehouse.  The sets show much thought and attention to detail.

Up center of the stage is a tall windmill which I thought looked really terrific on an Oklahoma farm back before it became a state.  The windmill was turning at a pretty good clip, and set a nice mood at first.  However, as the opening scene progressed and the windmill continued whipping around, I found myself being distracted by its hypnotic spinning.  It is round, of course, has lines encircling the center, and resembles a target.  I don’t remember seeing a moving windmill in other productions of OKLAHOMA!.

Anytime there is something moving on a stage, ones eyes are pulled to the moving object (target?), and away from the scene. Be it an actor upstaging another with a white handkerchief or some other continuous movement, it becomes a focal point.

My suggestion would be to design the windmill to slow down gradually and finally stop.  The audience would not even realize it had happened.  (It is hot there, after all, and there is no other indication or discussion of wind.)

If it could start up when the action gets intense, perhaps, it might be interesting, but having it spinning for the entire show is definitely distracting.  Otherwise, the set was great.

Costumes were fine and appropriate.  Lighting was, for the most part, suitable, and the sound system helped immensely in hearing voices.  Sometimes – -not often — the canned music overwhelmed the singers’ voices.  Someone needs to be monitoring that system closely to make sure voices and music are mixed and neither is overpowering.

Even if you have seen OKLAHOMA! before, it is worth your time and ticket price to see this NVMT production next weekend.

by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Stephen Casey
Neshaminy Valley Music Theatre
Performing at Neshaminy Valley H. S.
2001 Old Lincoln Highway, Langhorne 19047
April 13-21, 2012
www.NVMT.org or “tickets@nvmt.org”

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Peg Moore April 16, 2012 - 3:48 pm

My Husband and I have seen 3 of the NVMT performances of “Oklahoma” and have enjoyed everyone.The admiration we have for these hardworking,talented people is hard to articulate.Suffice it to say we love the entire NVMT troupe and what they stand for as a community theater and scholarship grant organization. We will continue joyfully to patronize this wonderful group of talented people.

Mark April 20, 2012 - 6:39 am

Once again, a review by Jean Brenner that gives a compliment with one hand and takes it away with the other.

Were we at the same performance on Saturday night? I was there and thought that all of the leads were wonderful. Their singing, dancing, and acting were top notch. These performers achieve a level of performance well above that of the average community theater. To comment that performers were too old, or lacking confidence is ridiculous and unnecessary. I commend the actors portraying Curly and Laurey for not only their singing and acting talents, but also the ability to also dance the roles of Dream Curly and Dream Laurey in the ballet. Stephen Casey’s choreography was not easy and needed a secure level of technique to execute it well. And I, nor the rest of the audience, felt that Curly and Laurey could use some more chemistry between them. Instead they were charming, flirty, and sincere with their emotions.

Also, was it truly needed to take three paragraphs to describe your disdain, or annoyance, with the windmill? My eyes never focused on it once I heard the beautiful opening notes of “Oh What A Beautiful Morning”. From that point on, I was mesmerized by what I heard and saw before me with acting, lights, sets, and costumes.

With all due respect to Ms. Brenner, I implore anyone who reads this review to go see this production of Oklahoma. It truly was one of the best performances of this show I’ve seen over the past few years and also one of NVMT’s best as well.

Congrats to the entire cast and crew! Here’s to a wonderful closing weekend for all of you.


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