More than OK
Chico State’s Oklahoma! ends semester on a grand note
Everything was firing on all cylinders at Laxson Auditorium Friday night as Chico State’s theater and music departments offered a first-class version of the wholesome, old-timey Oklahoma!—the classic 1943 Broadway musical.
The epic romantic comedy, set on a piece of 1906 farmland in the territory that was about to become Oklahoma, the 46th state, propelled the theater careers of legendary writing team Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II.
With its large cast and its musical, costume, choreography and technical demands, Oklahoma! lends itself well to the big stage and a project that the university’s large theater and music departments could sink their teeth into, and the 100-plus folks responsible for its production were more than up to the task. One could sense the teamwork across all aspects of the show, which brought plenty of joy to the crowd.
Like an oiled machine, the whole Mike Mazur-directed production came at the audience as one cohesive amalgamation rather than the sum of many independent parts. And the timeless, storied show tunes were delivered with all of the pomp and grandeur one could hope for, including resounding versions of the title song as well as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top” and “People Will Say We’re in Love.”
The preparation and professionalism were especially evident during the dream ballet, a full 15-minute cowboy-tinged ballet sequence, which effectively portrayed, in symphony and choreography, Laurey’s nightmare about the people in her life. Her essence was splendidly captured by Chelsea Haskell, who filled in as Laurey (otherwise played by Hannah Covington-Bernard throughout the rest of the production) during the artful dance segment.
The strings, brass, and woodwinds of the 15-member orchestra, conducted by North State Symphony’s Kyle Wiley Pickett, were central to the production, offering perfectly timed sound effects, background accompaniment, and melodies.
All other things aside, the human storylines of romance and cowboys versus farmhands are still what make Oklahoma! so memorable, and all players were fully immersed in their characters and more than proficient in song, spoken word, and non-verbal dramatics. The Chico State cast and crew effectively took the audience back to a much simpler time in America, but a time that contained the same human desires and jealousies that we experience today.
Mikey Purdue was tremendous as Curly, the rich-voiced tall, handsome and chivalrous hired hand, whose virtue exceeded his social standing. Covington-Bernard was perfectly prissy as the Prince Charming-seeking Laurey, who seemed determined to deny the cowhand suitor whom she really loved. And Hannah Moore was a splendid Aunt Eller, the matriarchal voice of reason who took no guff from even the toughest cowboys.
Cameron Pate wonderfully overacted as Will, a square-jawed, tough-as-nails and a bit dull-witted cowboy, who single-mindedly sought a handsome sum of $50 that would grant permission from Ado Annie’s father for her hand in marriage; while McKenna Perry excelled as the comedic and flirty Ado Annie, an intellectually vacant beauty who would “feel shaky from horn to hoof” when men “talked purty” to her. And Blair Palmerlee was excellent as Ali, the stylishly dressed traveling salesman/shyster whose penchant for romance got him more involved with Ado Annie than he wished.
Also notable was Benjamin Day, who marvelously filled the role of the villainous Jud, who couldn’t accept that his beloved Laurey would choose Curly over him. Joe Zimmerman was fine as Judge Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie’s gun-totin’ father, but he looked to be no older than 25, a small flaw that make-up could’ve solved.
Often, drama companies have to overcome logistical limitations, such as the size of the stage, small troupe size and/or shoestring budgets. This production had at its disposal, and made commendable use of, a grand stage, more than 100 participants, and the university theater and music department resources.
The costumes have now been placed back in storage, the music stands stacked, the stage has been swept clean, and Chico State deserves a tip of the hat for capping the semester with this stirring adaptation of Oklahoma!