BWW Review: OKLAHOMA! Charms with a Classic
This past weekend, the Bethel College Department of Theatre opened their production of Richard Rodgers & Oscar Hammerstein II's, Oklahoma! Under the direction of Deb Swerman, Oklahoma! can go down in Bethel history as another outstanding and extremely successful large-scale musical production.
Like most past shows I have seen at Bethel, the second you walk into the theatre a magnificent set awaits you. Designed by Johan Godwaldt, the set spares no detail in bringing you into the world of the musical. Whether it is the old timey chandeliers, ropes and wood galore, or the finer details of the jugs and crates, it all adds together to create the perfect mood and setting. There is another welcomed sight, or I should say sound, that adds to the pre-show excitement: an orchestra, sitting atop the set, as if in the loft of a barn, with everyone in costume, playing music. It's always exciting to see a fantastic set and hear the grandeur and intimacy of a live orchestra before a show starts; it screams quality and gives you hope that what you are about to see is going to be great! What follows is a show that absolutely reflected excellence.
Besides the set and orchestra, there were other production aspects that were equally impressive. Designed by Erin Bryant, the costumes were characteristic of the time in their old-fashioned style, but were also vibrant and added charm to each character. The lighting design, by Derrick Null, added perfect dramatic flares when needed in addition to picturesque mood lighting.
While there were many fantastic performances from major and minor characters alike, there is no denying the powerhouse duo that was Johnny Bennett and Kayla Rundquist, who played the protagonists. Their chemistry was palpable. Both Bennett and Rundquist have stunning voices, with Rundquist's voice being especially beautiful. Rundquist perfectly embodied a genuine southwestern belle; she exuded kindness that was edged with sassiness, she was uppity but humble and she was slow but melodic in her speech. Everything Rundquist did was in the right degree. Johnny Bennett played Curly, the slick-talking cowboy in love with Rundquist's character, Laurey. Bennett is really what made the show the success that it is. Bennett was devilishly charming, charismatic, and endearing; all the things you would hope for in an old-fashioned leading man. Besides that, Bennett played Curly as funny and light-hearted while simultaneously roping in the more serious and debonair side of his character into that exact carefreeness. Bennett was a blast to watch and every time he stepped into a scene you knew you were in for a treat.
The only criticisms to be found were from some occasional failings in the mics and some sloppy dancing in the group scenes that caused a dip in energy and second-hand awkwardness. Also, the show had so many cute tidbits and jokes that the audience loved, but the actors were too quick to get back to the scene to continue the show and didn't wait for the laughter to die down, causing some parts of the show to be lost.
All in all, the Bethel College Department of Theatre has hit it out of the park with yet another amazing musical. If you are looking for a night of fun and to watch an incredible theatre production, look no further than Oklahoma! You won't be disappointed. It runs for one more weekend, this Friday, March 31st, through Sunday, April 2nd. To find out more, visit: https://www.facebook.com/betheltheatre/