A familiar favorite returns to the Manatee Players stage with added gusto.
By Kay Kipling
Anyone who’s sat through approximately 99 productions of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! can tell you, it’s not easy to bring freshness to such a well-worn classic. That said, the Manatee Players’ current production, under the direction of Rick Kerby, manages to pull it off.
That’s true from the familiar opening notes of Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’ as we see Aunt Eller (Darlene Coleman) churning butter against a prairie backdrop and a simple framework set that keeps the focus on the characters, and it continues through the rousing closing number. Craig Weiskerger may not be as bracingly masculine or deep-voiced as we’re used to seeing cowboy Curly, but that comes across as a good thing; it’s easier to engage with his boyishness and vulnerability. Heather Kopp brings a nice air of down-to-earthness to blend with Laurey’s flirtatiousness and her dreams for the future, saving her character from what could become a bad case of stereotypical ingénue.
Kerby is also blessed with some other strong performers in the cast, most notably Russell Howe as Will Parker and Caitlin Longstreet as Ado Annie; their scenes together are delightful, especially when connected with peddler and potential love rival Ali Hakim (Mike Nolan, who scores with his comic delivery even without the expected “Persian” accent). And David Walker also turns in convincing work as the unloved villain of the piece, Jud Fry.
Both Emily Croome’s musical direction and Kerby’s choreography are spirited, and Wyllym Pryce’s costumes present a pleasing palette of colors and down-home styles for the cowboys, farmers and womenfolk of the place and period. Overall, this Oklahoma! sticks to the basics that make the story timeless, while adding an infusion of youthful energy and enthusiasm in an ensemble cast.
Oklahoma! continues through Sept. 16; call 748-5875 for tickets or go to manateeplayers.com.