Review: OKLAHOMA! at Center Stage Theatre

The production is scheduled to run through February 25, 2024.

By: Feb. 18, 2024
Review: OKLAHOMA! at Center Stage Theatre
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On Saturday, February 17th, at 2:00 P.M., I had the pleasure of seeing a wonderful show at an amazing theatre that I had never been to before.  Center Stage Theatre in Shelton, CT does a phenomenal performance of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic OKLAHOMA!  Director Liz Muller brings out the best in this stellar cast, with the help of choreographers Brandy Bailey and Michael “Beetle” Bailey. 

Center Stage Theatre has a very welcoming community atmosphere bringing entertainment trough live musical performances by cast members, even as the audience arrives.  The set up for this production is that the audience sits at various long tables set up perpendicular to the stage, up front, with another row of long tables parallel to the stage, behind those, and then seats behind that.  The long tables also serve as places on the paths of cast member entrances and exits, as well as immersive places for cast members to stand, sing, dance, or deliver lines.  It brings the audience right into the show without technically breaking the fourth wall.  This unique concept is highly enjoyable both by cast and audience members.

The stage itself starts out bare, but with the background imagery projected in a life sized manner on the full backstage wall, detailed breathtaking images creating a realistic feel of spatial depth, enhanced by moving images, such as birds, and authentic sounding sound effects.  Center Stage Theatre goes above and beyond to give the audience a truly high quality experience.  Liz Muller, Justin Zenchuk, Peter Muller, Scott Sheldon, C.E. Simon, Isabel Salazar, Iziah Barnes, Sam Cassidy, and Brendan Murphy combine their imaginative and technical skills to bring about these amazing visual and sound effects that enhance the quality of this production.  Multiple cast members also helped with the construction of this set that, as I mentioned, goes beyond just the main stage and continues with the tables into the audience.

While the cast is comprised of volunteers, they have professional level talent!  As someone who has seen many shows both in community theatre and on Broadway, I would have believed the theatre if they had claimed that this entire cast was all professional.  In fact, they were so good that it seems as if they threw some ringers in there.  They all had excellent stage presence, tight stage chemistry with each other, and were filled with positive energy that radiated throughout the audience.  It was clear that they were all having fun playing their roles and in their interactions with each other.  They were also particularly skilled at being present in the story, while on stage, even in moments when their particular characters were not the ones being showcased in delivering lines or singing solos.

The story, originally performed on Broadway, in 1943, is set in 1906, in territorial Oklahoma.  The central male protagonist is Curly, who is brilliantly performed by John Corraro whose singing, acting, and facial expressions bring this character to life.  Laurey is the central female protagonist, a role that Maggie Kruse excels in performing, in this role that showcases her talents in singing and acting.  Curly has romantic interest in Laurey, but that interest initially appears to be unrequited, at least if we take Laurey’s initial reaction to Curly’s advances at face value.   

Aunt Eller, who is excellently performed by Tammy D’Auria, is the central adult figure in the community.  She looks out for Laurey, who is with her on her farm.  She is  respectable and respected by the whole community.  She strives to make the community a better place.

Scott Sheldon steals the show in the role of Judd Fry, a farmhand who lives in a smokehouse on Aunt Eller’s farm.  Judd also has a romantic interest in Laurey, also unrequited.  Nevertheless, Laurey accepts Judd’s invite to be his date at a community event, but tells Aunt Eller that she felt pressured and uneasy about the situation.  When Curly find out that Judd is pursuing Laurey, Curly approaches Judd, at Judd’s smokehouse and tries to manipulate Judd into committing suicide, suggesting that Judd would be much more respected if he was dead.  Scott Sheldon’s portrayal of Judd adds a dark mystique to the character, one that totally works.  Scott Sheldon uses a grim speaking voice that reminded me of the WWE’s Undertaker.  When singing, however, Scott Sheldon uses his strong and smooth singing voice, an excellent juxtaposition with his speaking voice, one that adds to the perceived insanity of the character.  The title song is the most well-know song from this musical, but my favorite has always been “The Lonely Room,” which describes Judd’s dark and sad feelings.

An exciting and intriguing subplot revolves around a character named Ado Annie who is brought to life brilliantly by the highly talented actress Sandra Fernandes.  Ado Annie is the young woman in the community who just cain’t say “No,” to the advances of the male members of the community.  Nevertheless, one of the young men is sincerely in love with her and wants to marry her.  He is named Will Parker and is magnificently performed by talented actor Paul Keegan.  Will had managed to make an agreement with Ado Annie’s father, Andrew, that if Will had fifty dollars (worth much more back then, even though such would be irrelevant by modern cultural standards), he could marry Ado Annie.  Andrew, who is convincingly performed by Ram Gordon, is a man who is willing to honor his agreement with Will, but doesn’t seem to believe that he will ever have to.  Will makes it his quest to acquire that money, and eventually wins the money, yet foolishly spends it on gifts for Ado Annie.  As a cowman, he is even willing to sell his saddle and horse, just to get money to be with Ado Annie.  His determination is sincere, and as for whether his love for Ado Annie is requited, well, she just cain’t say, “No.” 

This personality trait of Ado Annie’s however, leads to another obstacle in the way of Will’s pursuit of her.  A traveling Persian gypsy named Ali Hakim, after being very flirtatious with Ado Annie, who was receptive, fell in trouble with Andrew who demanded, at gunpoint, that such behavior requires Ali to marry Ado Annie.  Marc Garafalo portrays Ali Hakim so realistically that I’m not even sure whether that was Marc Garafalo’s real voice, or just an accent for the show, but either way, it totally works for this character.  Ali Hakim has no interest in marrying Ado Annie, but feels trapped and seeks a way out of it.  Will confronts Ali Hakim and wants Ali to insist that he loves Ado Annie.  Ali does insist so, but clearly under duress, the fear of Andrew killing him.  Will is oblivious to the fact that Ali is trying to get out of having to marry Ado Annie.  He is naïve and oblivious to Ali’s sarcasm and feigned emotions.   

Gertie Cummings is an eccentric character with a laugh that people would rather avoid.  Katelyn Botsford Tucker makes the most out of this role.

Other cast members include Nick Gugliotti, Josh Hunter, Mike O’Mara, Billy Anderson, Katie Ciurleo, Melanie Byron, Lindsey Campbell, Chrishaun Goins, Julia Murphy, Lauren Sittard, Kylee Taylor, Lillian Trembley, and Nicole Zolad. 

Even during the intermission, various cast members perform live songs to keep the audience entertained.

The show contains numerous fight scenes that look realistic and show excellent teamwork and cooperation by the cast members.  My favorite group number is “The Farmer and The Cowman,” excellently choreographed and performed with some great singing, dancing, and fighting!

Who will Ado Annie end up with?  Will Will Parker get the fifty dollars he needs?  If so, how will he get that money?  Will Ali Hakim be able to leave the town unscathed, or will he be forced into marriage against his will?  Will Andrew need to use his gun on someone who is pursuing his daughter?  If so, who will he shoot?  Who will Laurey end up with?  Will that person choose to marry her?  Will Curly and Judd fight to the death, intentionally or otherwise?  If so, how will Laurey react to such a thing?  How will the community react to such a thing?  Come to the show to find out!        

I highly recommend OKLAHOMA! which is scheduled to run through February 25, 2024.  For times and tickets, please click the button below.