The Guys & Gals of 'Oklahoma!' at Paper Mill
Yippee-Yai! Yippee-Yai! On Sunday, September 21, Paper Mill Playhouse -- one of the nation's most respected and beloved regional theatres -- celebrated its Platinum 70th Anniversary by kick-starting its season with the American classic, Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! directed by favorite James Brennan with choreography by Peggy Hickey.
Filled with hootin'-n-hollerin', Oklahoma! (1943) tells of the timeless love-story between a lithe and witty farm girl and a handsome cowboy, amidst a high-spirited rivalry between local farmers and cowmen. The soaring score includes wonderful standards "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "Surrey with the Fringe On Top" and "People Will Say We're In Love."
The doe-eyed Brynn O'Malley (Laurey) last graced the Paper Mill stage in Meet Me in St. Louis (2007). She recently appeared in the Sunday in the Park with George Broadway revival; other Bway credits include Hairspray and Beauty and the Beast...
Eugene Lovendusky: You were beautiful tonight. Paper Mill saw you not long ago in Meet Me in St. Louis, where you were carried-off in a trolley... And tonight, you’re carried off in a surrey! You’re building quite a reputation of grand exits!
Brynn O'Malley: Apparently! The first job I had a Paper Mill was Baby, and we had a bed that was possessed, which would actually move around the stage. It was in the early days of wi-fi, and people were worried. It started to move on its own. I’m getting used to large mechanical objects moving me!
Eugene: How’s it feel to be back at Paper Mill?
Brynn: It’s a home away from home. It’s such a special theatre to work at. I’m glad it’s still here. My first real, nice-paying professional gig after moving to New York was Baby at Paper Mill. It was very humbling to be playing a lead during Meet Me in St. Louis. I thought: “Wow! I was here before as an understudy in the ensemble!” I was working with Carolee Carmello, LaChanze, Chad Kimball, Michael Rupert and Norm Lewis. It was amazing. To be back here playing this part – it’s unexpected and lovely.
Eugene: What’s your history with Laurey?
Brynn: I played Laurey my senior-year in high school... It’s interesting to come back to it. I had a few moments during this run where I thought back to the last time I played this role: I was planning on attending college for musical theatre… What was I going to do with my life? Would I be able to make it? Now, for me to have work where I’ve worked, and come back to one of the best regional theatres in the country… you learn a lot doing this role again. It’s definitely different being in your 20s playing a teenager like Laurey. You have a different understanding of what it is that she wants…
Eugene: You sing some gorgeous songs... and your duets with Adam!
Brynn: He’s great. Rehearsals are really scatter-brained and fast, but the day we got to the Proposal Scene, James Brennan (Director) gave us some nice time to feel our way through it. I remember finishing that day and thinking: "It is such a relief to be working with a leading man you can trust." It’s such a gift to have someone to listen to you, and whatever you give, you’re going to get back.
Eugene: Talk about those dancers! You’re "sleeping" through it on-stage, but have you had the chance to watch the Dream Ballet?
Brynn: I did! I love the Dream Ballet – I watched it during rehearsal and sobbed uncontrollably all the way through. Those dancers are amazing. Just amazing. I wanted to memorize what was happening, so when I’m lying there, I imagine it all going on in my mind. Otherwise I’ll fall asleep [laughs] I’m serious. If it’s a Saturday matinee and I’m really tired and I start thinking about my groceries, I’ll be out!
Eugene: You got through a great Opening Night!
Adam Monley: Oh, it felt very good, but also good to have it over-with! I can’t wait to do the run and get comfortable with it.
Eugene: Now, you’ve been here before…
Adam: Absolutely – in 2003 with Romeo and Bernadette. Did you see it?
Eugene: I don’t think I was born yet… [laughs] What’s it like to be back at Paper Mill?
Adam: You’re killing me! It’s been so long, I don’t remember! [laughs] Who remembers five years ago? No no it’s great. Everyone has been terrific putting this show together.
Eugene: Have you stretched your legs with Curly before?
Adam: Yes, I did it last summer for the New Theatre in Kansas City.
Eugene: Everything’s “up to date” there!
Adam: Is there any other place? And that’s where I met my girlfriend, Kaitlyn. She was a saloon girl!
Eugene: And what about your on-stage love, Laurey?
Adam: Oh, Brynn. She’s incredible, I can’t say enough about her. Such a giving actor and I feel she trusts me one-hundred percent. It’s a relief to walk out on-stage with her.
Eugene: When Oklahoma! debuted, the GIs in the audience reportedly cried because it reminded them what they were fighting for. We’re in a much different America now, but what does this musical say to you today?
Adam: The story holds-true no matter what the era. It’s about how to start a life out of confusion and chaos. That will always be relevant. It’s great music and it’s a lot of fun.
After a 14-year hiatus, Jonathan Brody (Bway: Titanic, Spamalot) returns to Paper Mill: This time as the wise-cracking peddler, Ali Hakim...
Eugene: Hilarious performance this evening! What’s your history with Paper Mill?
Jonathan Brody: I had seen a few shows over the years and was always so impressed by the huge scale of their shows – gorgeous sets and costumes. I finally got cast… in Forever Plaid, this tiny itty-bitty show on the giant stage. But this time around, I got the full Paper Mill experience.
Eugene: Ali Hakim is such a character amongst these straight-laced Westerners. Where did your Ali come from?
Jonathan: He’s pretty engrained in me. I know in the recent revival, he’s supposed to be really Persian. But in my opinion, he’s just pretending… I think it makes a more exotic and interesting salesman. I figure he’s a Russian Jew; probably not so safe being a Russian Jew out in the West. So it’s probably easier to be something that people know nothing about.
Eugene: And what about this moustache?
Jonathan: [laughs] I also like exotic facial hair! I think he’s a little bit of a dandy. A lot of the cowboys are a little rough, but Ali seems a bit more manicured and tailored. Plus, it just looks funny.
Eugene: How about that cast?
Jonathan: Totally unbiased, I do not think there is a weak link in the entire ensemble. I am so impressed with the caliber of dancers in this show. Every one of the principles is so spot-on and easy to work with. Adam and Brynn do such a gorgeous job, so believable and real. Now I’m up there being the biggest schtickmeister in the world. Will and Ado Annie are certainly up there with me. But I feel like we’re really all part of the same world – which is hard to do when you’re playing broad-comedy next to sweet-romantics. Somehow James Brennan, in all his brilliance, blended us all together. It shows the strength of the show that still holds-up 60 years later!
With $50 in his pocket and a grin on his face, Brian Sears (Will Parker) is ecstatic to lasso himself back to Millburn...
Eugene: Congratulations on your return to Paper Mill – how’s it feel?
Brian Sears: Great! I love it out here – it’s just a nice break to get away from the city. Millburn, New Jersey is such a beautiful community. Paper Mill is such a great place to do old-fashioned shows – to go back to the roots. I’m originally from Kansas, so it’s nice to be away from the hustle and bustle of city-life.
Eugene: A Kansas boy! Did you know rope-trips beforehand?
Brian: I have to say being from Kansas, you have to know a little bit of that honky-tonk stuff. I knew how to spin a rope, but I’d never learned how to put my foot in it or jump in or rope anybody. I worked with a crazy character, Chris (who’s working on 9 to 5 right now), who taught me how to do rope-tricks. We met about twice a week during rehearsals…
Eugene: How were rehearsals?
Brian: It’s crazy! It’s such a quick process – you get two weeks basically to put everything up. By the end of those two weeks, you’ve probably run it about four times. It’s constant, which is great, because you take it home, sleep through it at night, bring it back the next day. It’s almost like summer-stock.
Eugene: Tell me about your Annie…
Brian: Oh-ho! Aww I adore Megan! I’d never worked with her before, never met her before. People kept telling me: “You’re gonna love Megan” and when we met, it was literally like my long-lost twin, like we were separated at birth. On-stage, we just constantly are trying to make each other laugh. We work really well. I’m having a ball.
Eugene: Wonderful work tonight! You’re Paper Mill debut!
Megan Sikora: Yes! And my Oklahoma debut! It’s so wonderful; a safe and loving environment to try stuff. James Brennan, our director, is amazing. I actually did 42nd Street with him 10 years ago at Sacramento Music Circus. I was so excited to revisit him – he’s so positive and he “let me go” explore the character.
Eugene: You certainly let go tonight! The audience loved you. You’ve definitely earned your chops as a hoofer, after Curtains and Applause. How was the dancing tonight?
Megan: I’d actually injured myself during Curtains so I needed to lay-back on the dancing in this show. I do a little bit, but it was nice to put the emphasis more on the singing and acting in this production.
Eugene: You’ve never done Oklahoma! before – so how did you find your Ado Annie?
Megan: I had a glimpse of Annie when I did Ellie in Showboat at Carnegie Hall. I was auditioning for this at the same time, so a flavor of that came into my Annie at my audition, and they really enjoyed it – so I went from there. She’s just madly in love with love and she can’t help herself. She’s not the brightest – but she’s not stupid either. She is so blinded by love, by whomever will give it to her, she can’t help it.
Eugene: Your cast is incredible, but I have a very serious question for you. Two-words: Dancing cowboys.
Megan: Our dancing cowboys are hot hot hotter! They are a yummy yummy yummy group of cowboys!
Oklahoma!, directed by James Brennan with choreography by Peggy Hickey, plays the Paper Mill Playhouse now through October 19, 2008. Oklahoma! performance schedule: Wednesdays at 7:30pm, Thursdays at 2pm & 7:30pm, Fridays at 8pm, Saturdays at 2pm & 8pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 7:30pm.
Tickets ($25-$92, student rush $20) are on sale now via phone 973-376-4343, online at www.papermill.org or in-person at the Paper Mill Playhouse box-office located on Brookside Drive in Millburn, NJ.
Photos (top-bottom) by Gerry Goodstein, 2008: Brynn O'Malley as Laurey; Brynn O'Malley and Adam Monley as Laurey & Curly; Jonathan Brody as Ali Hakim; Brian Sears as Will Parker; Megan Sikora as Ado Annie