Driftwood Players do just fine with ‘Oklahoma!’

  • Dale Burrows<br>For the Enterprise
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 12:02pm

Think “Oklahoma!” and a number of musical staples come to mind: “Oh What Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top,” “People Will Say We’re In Love” and, of course, that outbreak of exuberance that sums up the optimism of the Sooner state on the eve of its statehood, the title song itself, “Oklahoma!”

However, Oscar Hammerstein’s book and lyrics do have their dark side, which, in performance, is usually glossed over in favor of the overall optimism. This “Oklahoma” by the Driftwood Players doesn’t.

Much to the credit of director, Paul Fouhy, hope is balanced against despair, change against the status quo, light and bright against dark and dim, enmity against friendship and love against hate. The result is a reconciliation of opposites in song, dance, drama and comedy that overcomes the pull of the past with belief in the future. This “Oklahoma!,” more so than most I’ve seen, justifies the optimism this Rogers and Hammerstein classic is remembered for.

The year is 1907. Oklahoma is about to become a state. Hopes for bigger, better, brighter times run high. But there is also cause for apprehension. Ranchers battle farmers for land. Cowboys and city slickers butt heads. Commercialism clashes with barter. No one really knows what’s in store.

Adam Othman wins you over as the sweet talking, happy go lucky, bronco bustin’, calf roping cowboy, Curly. Othman’s got the requisite roving eye and rambling ways that take from the distinctly American myth of the cowboy. But he’s also got a pretty fair singing voice and the kind of straight talking sincerity that would make him a catch for most women in today’s dating game.

And who better than Larisa Peters as Laurey could tame the wild and woolly ramblin’ man, Curly? To the dawn-to-dusk working, strong willed niece of homesteading farmer-widow, Aunt Eller (Lee Ann Hittenberger), Peters adds dimension and personality, enough to rope in any guy who’s got an eye for quality, good intentions and something worthy going for him. Also, her soprano can hit the high notes.

Bringing up the dark side, a Judd Fry meaner, more twisted and self tortured than the one Michael McFadden gets in your face with would be difficult indeed to find. I’ve seen many try; but McFadden terrifies with his suspicious, distrusting eyes that don’t miss a trick and his sneaking, spying and prying ways. Yet, the loneliness and unbearable isolation that Judd Fry lives with on the inside, McFadden gets outside and on stage so that you can’t help but better understand and feel for that pitiable breed of early-nineteenth century man whose fate it was to pass into extinction. McFadden’s a show triumph.

Rebecca Darnall highlights as the comical farmer’s daughter, Ado Annie Carnes, who is first to say and sing “I Can’t Say No.” Flattery gets cowboys everywhere with her.

Royce Napolitino as the traveling salesman and immigrant from Persia, Ali Hakim, takes awhile to grow on you. But when he does, the dopey guy who spends his time involving and disengaging from the women he meets while on the road peddling his wares, that guy develops into a fully formed clown replete with pathos. Good job, Napolitino.

Choreography by Lee Ann Hittenberger is better in concept than execution. Costume designs by Jeanie Lyons are reminiscent of the time period. Lighting design by Syrinda Sharpe is imaginative. Scenic design by Gay “Hawk” Hawkins and Kent and Dibra Kildow abstracts the feel and look of a farmhouse, smokehouse, grove, ranch and Oklahoma’s wide, open prairie lands before urbanization.

This is a meaningful “Oklahoma!” intelligently integrating the spirit of the times and rousing in its optimism. A solid example of community theater in tune with Rodgers and Hammerstein.

Reactions? Comments? E-mail Dale Burrows at grayghost7@comcast.net.

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