Santa Cruz Good Times

Tuesday
Mar 31st
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

More Than OK

ae okyNearly flawless, Cabrillo Stage’s ‘Oklahoma!’ is musical theater at its finest

Oklahoma!” first opened on Broadway in March of 1943. From its first raised curtain, it was a bona fide hit and managed to run for more than 2,000 performances. Few were surprised—and even fewer minded—that it went on to be revived numerous times thereafter, enjoying national tours and foreign productions. The 1955 film version helped fuel its success, too—it created a real star out of then up-and-coming Shirley Jones. But somewhere as the show evolved, the musical love story set against the easy-breezy plains in 1906—the first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II (“Carousel,” “The King and I,” “The Sound of Music”)—managed to illuminate what it meant to be an American and, perhaps, what it is that makes us human.

Those two things are rarely found—or questioned—in the vast majority of the modern-day entertainment spectrum. That is what makes Cabrillo Stage’s choice of bringing “Oklahoma!” to life this year—70 years after it first opened—all the more inviting. Better still, the production is dedicated to the lives affected by the tornadoes that ravaged parts the state of Oklahoma in spring of this year. Even better, one of its stars, Matt Taylor, hails from Oklahoma.

A winning trifecta? You bet.

Under the direction of Kikau Alvaro, with music direction by Alice Hughes, Rodgers’ music and Hammerstein’s book and lyrics are in wonderful hands here. And the company’s take on the story—boy likes girl, girl plays hard to get, boy and girl get lassoed into some drama—has remarkable nuances that stay with you long after you leave the theater.

For starters, Matt Taylor loses himself in the role of cowboy Curly. Strapping, masculine and confident, Taylor’s infectious charm and easy-on-the-eye looks may be enough to lure audiences in, but his pitch-perfect acting technique and deep, deft, powerful vocals, alongside what seems to be a natural ability to handle both serious and comedic scenes, bring a refreshing zest to the stage. He lends a sense of passion and purpose to the role, allowing Curly to morph into a fully evolved being, and not simply just a creative cloak that an actor wears on stage for several hours.

ae oky2Emily Marsilia (left) and Matt Taylor shine in “Oklahoma!”One word: Presence. He’s got it—in spades.

You sense it upon his first entry on stage. In front of the farmhouse of his soon-to-be star-crossed love, Laurey, Taylor’s keen ability to ride the emotions of “Oh What A Beautiful Morning” is musical theater at its finest. That dynamism is present in other numbers—“The Surrey With The Fringe On Top,” “Pore Jud Is Daid,” and, most especially, in “People Will Say We’re in Love,” performed with haunting affection with Emily Marsilia.

About that creature … Marsilia goes beyond what the original script calls for, which is to infuse Laurey with generous splashes of winsome farm girl and unfettered gal. Dramatically, she’s right on the mark, but vocally, she’s a true star—oh, the notes she hits, holds and ties up in a bow for us. But there’s a believability to the vulnerable pluck she delivers here, too, and it’s a testament to both Marsilia as an actress and Alvaro as director. While Taylor’s Curly grabs you from the get-go, Marsilia’s Laurey manages to effectively heed by the script—and Alvaro’s direction it seems—and allow the character to simmer a bit, slowly giving the audience time to build an allegiance to her and her plight—my, oh my, how will she ever fend off the advances of that ominous farm hand Jud (Kevin Johnson)? In the hands of lesser skilled—or over zealous actors and directors—it would have missed the mark entirely.

This is most evident in the first act’s dramatic end piece, Laurey’s surreal dream sequence, which involves the entire company. Here Marsilia proves herself to be a bona fide triple threat, cascading with grace through a tough-to-tackle yet wonderfully executed ballet sequence. (Alvaro also serves as choreographer.)

But no two roles can hold up an entire production—not really. The magic of “Oklahoma!” lies in its resilient casting. And Alvaro and co. have done a remarkable job rallying together a robust crew, Alice Hughes as Laurey’s Aunt Eller, among them. As one of many creative tentpoles in place here, Hughes evokes both a sense of heart and spunk and we’re all the better for it.

And then there’s Jordan Sidfield and Vanessa Vazquez. Wild cards they, their Will Parker and Ado Annie are a hoot. Sure, their characters’ romantic entanglement are intended to braise the musical’s belly with comedy, but you’d be hard-pressed to find two other actors whose comedic timing, vocals, dancing and sheer stage presence manage to elevate an already memorable production to even greater heights. Sidfield is spirited—nice rope, boy!—and Vazquez is just born for this role. (And yes, to say she nails flirtatious Annie’s charmer “I Can’t Say No!” is an understatement.)

Scene stealer, in all the best ways, is Andrew Ceglio as peddler Ali Hakim, although this should not surprise local audiences. Anybody who has witnessed Ceglio in previous Cabrillo Stage productions—“Anything Goes,” “Cabaret,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “Jesus Christ Superstar”—already knows what this creative beast is capable of. As Hakim, he’s a breath of fresh air.

And so, too, is the entire production.

Very few flaws plagued the opening night performance. Some minor technical matters concerning microphones, something that weighed down the earlier performances of Cabrillo’s “La Cage Aux Folles,” did little to mar the overall effect here. And while, at times, a few scene transitions—and a few scenes for that matter—could have benefited from having more briskness, no doubt these few quirks have already been refined.

Not many people may actually know that “Oklahoma!” is based on the play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs. The author, playright and poet hailed from Oklahoma and is said to have written the original play in a café in Paris, finishing it up in the south of France some months afterward. Once the play was adapted into a musical and won hearts in 1943, Riggs was inducted into the Oklahoma Hall of Fame.

The production has traveled many a creative prairie since that time. In 1944, Rodgers and Hammerstein won a Pulitzer Prize for their artfully crafted imaginative musical. In 1956, the film version nabbed several Oscars, including Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture (in 1955). It’s been revived on Broadway four times and, to this day, remains a classic.

This is what makes Cabrillo Stage’s version all the more impressive. From its staging to its production value, it appears that the creative team investigated and gave real thought to how to bring a robust, choreographically intense and musically mesmerizing show to life—and also do it justice. (And what a showstopper they make out of the “Oklahoma!” number.) In the fine hands of director Alvaro and the artistic wand of producing artistic director Jon Nordgren—his musical team transcends—“Oklahoma!” is one of the best shows to emerge out of the creative portals of Cabrillo Stage in some time. 


“Oklahoma” plays through Aug. 18 at Cabrillo Stage. For tickets, or to learn more about all the shows running this summer at Cabrillo Stage, visit cabrillostage.com. Photos: Jana Marcus

Comments (1)Add Comment
...
written by Marlyn Marsilia, July 31, 2013
I have seen the show every night since preview and I must say this production of "Oklahoma" is mesmerizing, flawless and definitely Broadway standards from beginning to end.
Congratulations to the directors and full cast for bringing Broadway to Santa Cruz.
If you haven't seen this rendition of "Oklahoma" get your tickets, it can only get better, you don't want to miss this.

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015

In 40 years of publishing, Good Times has seen a lot of “bests.”

 

Spring Triangle: Three Spring Festivals—Aries, Taurus, Gemini

The Spring signs Aries, Taurus and Gemini constitute a triangle of force that sets the template for the nine signs that follow and the template for the entire year (Spring 2015 - Spring 2016) ahead. Aries initiates new ideas, Taurus stabilizes the new thinking of Aries and Gemini takes the initiating stabilized ideas of Aries/Taurus and disperses them to all of humanity. It is in this way that humanity learns new things, with the help of Mercury, the messenger. As Spring unfolds, three elements emerge: the Fire of Aries (initiating new ideas), the Earth of Taurus (anchoring the ideas of God through Mercury) and the Air of communicating Gemini. These three signs/elements are the Three Spring Festivals. They are the “triangle of force” forming the template (patterns) of energy for the upcoming new year. After these three we then have the soothing, calming, warming, nurturing and tending waters of the mother (Cancer). Cancer initiates our next season under the hot suns of summer. Planets, stars and signs create the Temple of Light directing humanity towards all things new. March 29 is Palm Sunday, when the Christ, World Teacher, was led into Jerusalem (City of Peace) on a donkey (humility). Palms waving above His head, signified recognition of the Christ’s divinity. Palm Sunday is the Sunday before the Easter (Resurrection Festival). Palm Sunday begins Holy Week, the week of capture, imprisonment, passion, sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of the christ. All events in the Christ’s life represent events (initiations) that humanity experiences through many lifetimes. We turn our attention to these holy events this week. Their concepts portray and reveal to us greater spiritual understanding. Then, Aries, the “light of life itself” shines through us.

 

The New Tech Nexus

Community leaders in science and technology unite to form web-based networking program

 

Best of Santa Cruz 2015 Editor's Picks

BEST NIGHT CAP WARSAW MULE AT SHADOWBROOK
Sign up for Good Times weekly newsletter
Get the latest news, events

RSS Feed Burner

 Subscribe in a reader

Latest Comments

 

Spring Spirits

Sean Venus’ gin straight up, remembering Rosa’s and a tasting of Hungarian wines

 

What’s your favorite most recent outdoor discovery in Santa Cruz?

A hike that’s across from Waddell Beach. I didn’t realize you could go across the highway and do a super simple loop, and it’s beautiful. You can see the coastline. Liz Porter, Santa Cruz, Community Outreach

 

Martin Ranch Winery

Muscat 2012

 

Front Street Kitchen

Pop-up spot attracts paleo crowd with locally sourced low-carb meals