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BWW Review: You're Doing Fine OKLAHOMA! Riverside Center presents exciting production of Rodgers and Hammerstein classic

Matt Polson (Curly) serenades Jackie
Raye (Laurey) in Riverside's

Like an old friend coming back from a long journey, OKLAHOMA! is a welcome sight. This classic, perhaps the original piece of "musical theatre" (grown up from the venerable musical comedies that preceded it), may seem a bit trite at times and does not have the bite of some of its antecedents. But it is wholesome, tuneful, and contains a heart as big as the big open plains.

Riverside Center's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's first collaboration offers a fresh but straightforward rendering of the show which allows the pioneer spirit and rousing musical numbers to shine. The impressionistic, open, and functional wooden sets designed by Frank Foster give this production the look of the wide open Indian Territory - the name for the geographic area that would become Oklahoma (without exclamation point) in November, 1907.

Based on a nearly forgotten, folksy play called GREEN GROW THE LILACS, OKLAHOMA! should be as familiar to most audiences as SOUTH PACIFIC and THE SOUND OF MUSIC, so there is no need to go into great detail about the romantic tale of a handsome, cocky cowboy and his budding romance with a lovely and independent farm girl. The secondary and comical romance between another plucky cowboy and the enthusiastically flirty girl he tries to pin down is also part of our musical DNA. The blending of character songs, charming duets, and production numbers leaning heavily on ballet-style folks dancing is another hallmark of the show which was rather revolutionary in 1943.

Director Patrick A'Hearn and choreographer Penny Ayn Maas trust the material provided

OKLAHOMA! at Riverside Center

by Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein and the musical is allowed to soar with a fresh-faced, and engaging cast of triple threat performers. Matt Polson cuts a dashing and virile figure as Curly the cowboy who opens the show with the memorable and homespun "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," sung to the crusty and hilarious Aunt Eller played to perfection by Kathy Halenda. Polson - a Paul Rudd look-alike - has the charm and swagger of cowboy who also turns into a mushy pile of manhood whenever the fetching farm-girl Laurey is around. Playing Laurey with spunk and femininity to spare is Jackie Raye, who has the voice to match Rodgers and Hammerstein's memorable melodies and words. Together, Polson and Raye have palpable chemistry throughout the show and their harmonies and blending on "People Will Say We're in Love" would make the songwriters proud.

Matching Curly and Laurey, but showing the comical side of an on-again/off-again romance, Calvin Malone and Kylie Blair Arnold are two peas in a pod as the energetic Will and newly popular Ado Annie. The volatility of Will and Annie's relationship leaps off of the stage. Malone's powerful vocals coupled with Arnold's big belt of a voice - plus a heaping dose of comic timing - help to make their scenes some of the highlights of the show.

As Will's rival for Ado Annie's affections, Alan Hoffman makes for a comical and charismatic peddler man, Ali Hakim. In stark contrast, Laurey's stalker and farmhand, Jud Fry, is brought to life with a dark streak by the powerful baritone Wyn Jake Delano. Delano allows the audience to see the lovesick boy hiding beneath the gruff exterior, until the stakes are raised and Jud makes a fatal decision to claim Laurey as his lady.

All of these fine performers are supported by a high-stepping, fleet-footed ensemble who bring the ranchers, farmers and all their gals to the stage with skillful singing and dancing.

Choreographer Penny Ayn Maas adds her own stamp on the iconic dances that help elevate OKLAHOMA! from a mere musical comedy and into the landmark musical theatre piece it is. Director A'Hearn has once again trusted the material and his performers to let the production speak for itself. Praise is also due to A'Hearn's decision within the last year to stick to live music, and music director David Rohde and his ensemble bring verve and clarity to Rodgers's score.

After a long run, you only have this week to catch OKLAHOMA! at Riverside Center. To quote from one of the songs, it would be a scandal and an outrage to miss it.

OKLAHOMA! continues through September 18, 2016 at Riverside Center, 95 Riverside Pkwy, Fredericksburg, VA 22406

Riverside Center's website for OKLAHOMA! tickets


Photo Credit: Riverside Center

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