Broadway Under the Stars, East Contra Costa's fledgling regional theater troupe, launched its third season last weekend with an energetic and joyful "Oklahoma!" befitting the great American pioneer spirit that the play celebrates.
Directed by the talented Steve Kinsella and produced by Jack Gaughan, the classic musical came to life on Heritage High School's pristine stage with engaging actors, high-stepping dancing and gorgeous singing against a simple but effective farmhouse and ranch set.
The story is based on Lynn Riggs's warmhearted tale of the Indian Territory at the turn of the century, "Green Grow the Lilacs." Noted for its clever integration of song and storyline, Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" premiered in 1943 and later was transformed as a Technicolor spectacle on the silver screen.
Set in 1906, the year before Oklahoma became a state, the three-hour musical centers on the opposing interests of the farmers and the cowboys. Spunky young Laurey (Jillian Butler) lives with her aunt on a farm and pretends to only take a passing interest in Curly (Brandon Pasion), the handsome young cowboy caller who dreams about owning a fine surrey with a fringe on top to take her out in style. Add to the love triangle is the farm's hired hand, Jud, a rough-and-tumble fellow who is determined to make Laurey his woman.
It only takes a few lines of Pasion sweetly singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" in the opening scene to realize the
The energetic young actor meets his match, though, with Butler, a Boston Conservatory of Music, Dance and Theatre student home for the summer, who nails Laurey's character and delights the audience with her fabulous voice. Later, in the turbulent dream sequence, she seems to float effortlessly across the stage proving her ballet prowess as well.
Keeping the winsome girl in line is the feisty Aunt Eller played with aplomb by the talented Teresa Grosserode. She later will save Curly from death when the surly Jud (James Bradley), in a jealous fit, tries to quietly kill his rival with a knife hidden in an innocent-looking contraption. Bradley does a good job portraying the disturbed, creepy Jud who lives out his lonely life in a smokehouse room filled with pictures of women he will never know.
Other standouts in the large cast include Wayne Steffens as Ali Hakim, a hilarious Persian huckster, who peddles more than just wares to the local ladies, and in the end becomes trapped by one lovely lass with a hysterical cackle (Lisa Luttinger).
Also hilarious is the vivacious Robin Furseth as Ado Annie, a fickle, flirty girl who can't choose between the peddler and cowboy Will Parker (Bill Flannery), and sings about her romantic troubles in the delightful "I Can't Say No."
Flannery, likewise, is engaging as Will, making it abundantly clear what his rules for marriage are in the song 'It's All Er Nothin.'' He's also a delight with "the boys" in "Kansas City" and "The Farmer and the Cowman."
A bevy of other talented female and male actors round out the class, adding to the fun with their high-kicking dance numbers and spirited singing.
Conductor Nate Schofield also deserves praise for directing the gifted live orchestra in this lush production as does Chris Fallows who designed the lighting and sound.
A colorful tapestry of Americana, this "Oklahoma!" with its talented large ensemble, attractive costumes and fabulous music deserves its exclamation point and many more.
Reach Judith Prieve at 925-779-7178.
When: 7:30 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through July 1
Where: Heritage High School, 101 American Ave., Brentwood
Cost: $24 adults, $22 seniors, $15 youths 13-18, $7 children
Info: www.thebrentwoodtheater.org; 925-513-3863