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April 13, 2010

OKLAHOMA - DAZZLING MUSICAL - LEE HARTGRAVE REVIEWS

 Pictured: Jeffrey Draper as Jud Fry 
R. Zachary Franczak as Çurly
Courtesy Photo


 

OKLAHOMA ROARS ONTO THE LESHER CENTER.

Let me say – that right from the get go -- this Oklahoma sweeps you up in the excitement, the dancing, the singing and the Choreography. Having seen many, many productions of this huge musical – this one now is my “new favorite Oklahoma of the year. Maybe The Decade!”

O.K. so you want to know why. Well, here are a few of the reasons: Extremely Entertaining – wickedly humorous – honest, down-home humor – terrific acting – terrific singing – and it ropes you in, and keeps you there.

The expressions on the faces of the cast are real and delectably amusing, and that’s what keep’s your interest. This musical has heart. But just having that is sometimes not enough. No, it needs talent. And I gotta say, this cast is brimming with it. From the moment that ‘Curly’ comes out on the stage and knocks you out with the Song ‘Oklahoma’ -- there was blistering magic in the air. Curly is not only handsome – he has such a sensational strong voice that you might even be able to open up your windows at home, and hear him sing. Best, however, is to be in the Theatre. This is not just any musical – it’s an Epic. You wouldn’t want to be hanging out your window throughout an epic. The seats are more comfortable at the Lesher Center Theater.

But, back to the musical. Forgive me for veering off into madness, but I do that occasionally. There are cornfields, a windmill comes into view and Aunt Eller is churning butter out near the front porch. Oklahoma is about Boy loves girl, Girl also loves boy, but plays hard to get. Then there is the triangle. A hired hand, Jud (Jeffrey Draper) also loves the girl. It’s the age-old story -- the girl uses the hired hand to make the one she really loves, Curly (Zachary Franczak) eager to marry her. By the way the hired hand (Jud) is the bad-guy in this show – and a really outstanding actor.

Laurey (Jessica Knudson) has a dream sequence that turns into a nightmarish kind of Ballet. Oh, the Ballet is gorgeous, but Laurey’s Dreams are not that happy. Don’t worry - this is Ballet light. Much of it is Modern and delightful. Trust me. Have I ever steered you wrong? And Laurey is a delight.

Aunt Eller (the Wonderful Kerrie Shawn) is fun, fun and fun – as she holds sway over the rambunctious bucks at a party. It may be 60 years since ‘Oklahoma’ took Broadway by storm – but it is still one of America’s best entertaining classics.

There is a lot of comic relief in the show. You can’t beat Ali Hakim – a Peddler (Joel Roster), who gets mixed up with the wrong woman - Ado Annie Carnes (Elise Youself) who falls in love too easily. She is just awesome. He’s charming and she’s a misguided Vixen.

 There are so many fine actors, dancers and singers on the Lesher Stage – and they all deserve standing ovations. Even the little kids are marvelous. Then there is Will Parker (Steve Rhyne). His presence reminds of that great dancer and entertainer Donald O’Connor. Now, that’s good company to keep. Bravo Will!

CONDUCTOR, CARL PISTER LEADS THE FIRST CLASS ORCHESTRA WITH MASTERFUL STROKES. THERE IS NO WAY THAT YOU WOULD WANT TO MISS THIS PRODUCTION. IT’S BROADWAY IN WALNUT CREEK.

AT THE LESHER PERFORMING ARTS CENTER IN WALNUT CREEK

RATING: FOUR GLASSES OF CHAMPAGNE!!!! (highest rating) – trademarked-

(Recipient of The Lee Hartgrave FAME AWARD for best Musical Revival)

(((Lee Hartgrave has contributed many articles to the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Datebook and produced a long-running Arts Segment on PBS KQED)))

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