Oklahoma! is at the Ruth N. Halls theatre in a terrific production. Saturday’s audience did give the cast a standing ovation, but what I noticed most about the crowd was their grin and smile filled faces. It was that kind of satisfaction that struck me.
The evening began as Mark Banik strolled down the steps of the theatre singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” He was a real charmer both vocally and dramatically as the cowboy Curly alternately courting and fighting with Kerry Ipema as Laurey. These two have an almost brother sister quality in their spats. Ipema was a delightful Laurey, both in her feisty and tender moments with fine operetta style singing and lead dancing.
Superintending the show is Kristyn Kate Heger as Aunt Eller. It’s common for productions to play her as a sort of feisty antique in a rocker. But in this show, she’s still a vital older woman, perhaps in her forties. If there’s a unique stamp on the IU production of “Oklahoma!” it’s that way the women are portrayed. They’re a bit feistier and more independent, more energetic in the dances. In the brawl between the cowboys and the farmers, the girls are right in their trading punches and kicks.
All the sunshine of “Oklahoma!” shines brighter because of the dark side of the show. Henry McDaniel was deeply menacing in his measured portrayal of the twisted Jud Fry. He was a genuinely frightening figure and especially in the scary dream ballet a figure who seemed to come from hell itself.
“Oklahoma!” offers some great character roles. Mandy Striph had a lovely time with the energetic Ado Annie, the girl who “…Caint Say No.” Marc Winski was a pint sized Will Parker, a champion in roping and jealousy. Mathew Martin was very funny as the comic Persian peddler Ali Hakim, the man who finally agrees to marriage only as the moon glints on the barrel of a father’s shotgun. Gina Ricci was Gertie Cummings, the local lady with a laugh that in a medium sized city could double for an air raid siren.
The Indiana University Department of Theatre and Drama production is directed and choreographed by George Pinney. Terry LaBolt conducted the seventeen piece orchestra. Robbie Stanton’s costumes nicely showed off the large cast and helped keep all the characters neatly differentiated. The creative and richly detailed stage design was by Jared Rutherford.
Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” in the Ruth N. Halls Theatre continues with seven-thirty evening performances through Saturday and in addition there’s a two o’clock matinee on Saturday.
Listen to WFIU’s George Walkers interview with Curly and Laurey.