BWW Reviews: OKLAHOMA! Kicks off Torrance Theatre Company's 15th Anniversary Season in Great Style
Torrance Theatre Company celebrates its 15th anniversary by saddling up at the James Armstrong Theatre and presenting OKLAHOMA! with music and lyrics by one of Broadway's most influential duos, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Based on Lynn Riggs' stage play, Green Grow the Lilacs, OKLAHOMA! marked the duo's first collaboration and set the standard for modern musical theatre. Although not the first musical to tell a story of emotional depth and psychological complexity, OKLAHOMA! introduced a number of new storytelling elements and techniques including the use of song and dance to convey plot and character rather than act as a diversion from the story, and the firm integration of every song into the plot-line. And most important, they introduced a new element to musical theatre: social commentary.
In the Torrance Theatre Company's production, the roles of Curly and Laurey, most notably played on film by Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones, are played spectacularly by real-life married couple Eric Ferguson and Christine Tucker Ferguson. And long-time TTC couple Perry and Cindy Shields make their way back to the stage as the Persian peddler Ali Hakim and Laurey's feisty Aunt Eller.
The musical takes you on a journey to the Western Indian Territory at the turn of the century before Oklahoma was a state. The plot centers around Laurey, a headstrong farm girl with two suitors: Curly, a cowboy, and Jud (ruggedly handsome Jeffrey Black), the hired farm hand. As they fight for Laurey's heart, the cowboys and farmhands take sides, much like the rival gangs in West Side Story, with each fearful the other will intrude on their territory.
The second love triangle in the show centers around Laurey's friend Ado Annie Carnes, the girl who "caint't say no" to any man who sweet talks her. Sara Hone is a delight to watch, flirting her way around both Ali Hakim (Perry Shields) and local cowboy Will Parker (Ryan Chlanda, who tap dances up quite a storm). The two love triangles are typical of modern soap operas with the audience knowing who is the better man while taking us along for the ride until each woman comes to her senses and makes the right choice.
With choreography by Agnes de Mille, OKLAHOMA! was one of the first musicals to feature a dream ballet sequence that would captivate audiences for decades. In the Torrance Theatre Company's show program, director/choreographer K.C. Gussler lists his Dream Ballet sequence choreography was inspired by both Agnes de Mille and Susan Stroman. Texas native Virginia Seigler is co-choreographer of the show, bringing her knowledge of ballet to the sequence. The long and intricately-staged number represents Laurey's cornfield dream in which she attempts to figure out which man she should marry. Sequences range from Laurey's friends gathering around her and urging her to make up her mind to spectacular ballet sequences featuring a lovely duet by Christine Tucker Ferguson and Eric Ferguson, and the ensemble's lead dancers who move in unison with great precision. Another sequence involves Jud visiting a local saloon where the women are willing and available, lit to the hilt in red by Steve Giltner, who works wonders in every scene creating the evocative time of day and/or mood.
Bradley Allen Lock's costumes along with sets provided by The Music and Theatre Company set the tone of prairie life to a tea. From the Persian peddler's wagon to the surrey with the fringe on top and Aunt Eller's butter churning machine, each time-appropriate prop designed by Taylor Cajka hits the mark. Rick Heckman, musical director for numerous TTC shows, returns to the helm for this Midwestern love story, with the score played by a live 19-piece orchestra.
Gussler uses both his actors and stage crew to move the large scenery pieces and set the props for each scene, often having his actors dance the set change into place, effectively making the set changes part of the show. The choreographed curtain call allowed each of the ensembles to be recognized for their outstanding work in the production.
Additional cast members, all of whom brought their joy of performing to the stage, include KC Archer, Abby Bolin, Jeffrey Bonser, Makenzie Browning, Karin Bryeans, Adam Carpenter, Felipe Echerri, John Fugartt, Suzanne Fugatt, Logan Gould, Michael Grenie, Alyssa Heckman, Amanda Hinchee, Phoebe Horibe, Tom Horvath, Denai Lovrien, Sarah Maher, David McGee, Lisa Meert, Jeanette Mills, Niko Montebilano, Price T. Morgan, Lauren Oseas, Francesca Palermo, Craig Proctor, Patrick Quinn, Erica Schaeffer, Sawami Shinohara, Devon Suraco, Elissa "Joan" Wells
This production closed on August 23, 2014. The Torrance Theater Company continues its 15th Anniversary Season with Run For Your Wife, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Mrs. Parliament's Night Out, The Curious Savage, and Picasso at the Lapin Agile. More information at www.torrancetheatrecompany.com
Photography by Alex Madrid
Eric Ferguson, Cindy Shields, Christine Tucker Ferguson.
Eric Ferguson, Christine Tucker Ferguson
Sara Hone and Perry Shields
Eric Ferguson, Christine Tucker Ferguson
The Surrey With the Fringe on Top
Ryan Chlanda tells the other cowboys about modern "Kansas City"
Christine Tucker Ferguson, Jeffrey Black