By Katherine Espinoza
Calling all cowboys and farm girls yearning to see turn of the century Oklahoma Territory! The John W. Engeman Theater is the place for you! The Northport playhouse kicked off its seven-week run of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first collaboration, “Oklahoma!,” this past weekend to a full house. The musical, based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” tells the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with farm girl Laurey Willliams.
The original Broadway production opened on March 31, 1943, and was nominated for seven Tony Awards, along with a Pulitzer Prize for Rodgers and Hammerstein the following year.
Directed by Igor Goldin (“1776,” “Memphis”) the Engeman’s production is warm, funny and full of high-energy performances. The show opens in a barn, with Laurey’s wise and witty Aunt Eller (Jane Blass) churning butter while doling out advice. It quickly becomes clear that Eller’s steady hand and calm mind is needed to keep the town afloat. We encounter our lead cowboy Curly, played by a commanding Bryant Martin, soon after the opening scene. Belting out an incredible “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,’” he tries to woo the beautiful Laurey (Kaitlyn Davidson) to the box social — what we today know as a local dance.
Despite Curly’s attempts at charming her, Laurey accepts an invitation from the hired hand Jud, played to perfection by Nathaniel Hackmann who returns to the Engeman stage fresh off of a powerful performance as the lead in “Jekyll & Hyde.”
A 15-minute “dream ballet” reflects Laurey’s struggle with her feelings about Curly and Jud. We see an actress who looks exactly like Davidson, and we see Davidson watching her, and eventually we understand what is unfolding before us …
Hackmann delivers once again, and makes you feel his loneliness and desire for Laurey with his rendition of “Lonely Room.” It’s hard not to feel for his character even as the rest of the town seems to shun him for being nothing more than the help.
One of Laurey’s friends, the very flirtatious Ado Annie (Brianne Kennedy) is causing heartache for her boyfriend Will Parker (Chris Brand) who has just returned from a rodeo in Kansas City where he has won the $50 needed to offer for her hand in marriage. Ado Annie has fallen for the town peddler Ali Hakim (Danny Gardner) who is a ladies man and doesn’t really want to marry her or any woman. Does she give the handsome Will her hand or does she run away with the peddler? Ali Hakim is very convincing as he tells her it’s “All er Nothin” and bares his heart.
The drama continues as the box social begins and the town gets ready for some dancing. Choreographed by Drew Humphrey (“Thoroughly Modern Millie”), the southern dance numbers are great fun, especially during “Kansas City,” where you get to see some fantastic cowboy moves.
As the show continues on, Curly makes the audience believe in the power of love and root for his relationship to succeed. But you can’t count out Jud, who is sure to leave his mark on the stage as his character brings trouble to the town — you’ll almost want him to bring trouble just for another chance to see Hackmann on the stage.
The set, designed by D.T. Willis, is very authentic looking and effectively transports you back in time to the life of the early pioneers. Lasso ropes hang from the wooden walls of the barn and the stage is covered in wood to give the setting a rustic feel. Wooden stools and chairs were also hung from the walls.
Matthew Solomon brings the fashion fun to life, designing the costumes for the show. At the box social, the women trotted across the stage in laced up boots with a heel, antique gowns with petticoats underneath and adorned with lace and bonnets. The cowboys are dressed with leather chaps over their denim, cowboy hats and down to the last detail the spurs on their cowboy boots. The wedding gown Laurey wears is especially beautiful, covered in delicate lace from head to toe, and topped off with a long veil and beautiful bouquet of flowers.
Musical director Jeff Theiss brings all the tunes of the original show to life again and has you tapping your feet as the cast superbly sings the beloved classic “Oklahoma!” The music and romance and comedy combined make for a fantastic show. Come on down and join the fun as you relive life on the prairie!
Cast includes: Jane Blass, Chris Brand, Sari Alexander, Charles Baran, Robert Budnick, Kaitlyn Davidson, Danny Gardner, Nathanial Hackmann, Zach Hawthorne, Tyler Huckstep, Brianne Kennedy, Bryant Martin, Kaitlyn Mayse, Kim McClay, Danny McHugh, Nick Miller, Katilin Nelson, Meghan Nicole Ross, Connor Schwantes, Kelly Sheehan and Michael J. Verre.
The John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport will present “Okalahoma The Musical” through June 25. Tickets range from $71 to $76 and valet parking is available. For more information, call 631-261-2900 or visit www.engemantheater.com.