When the stars align, magic happens, and they have aligned for Serenbe Playhouse’s production of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical Oklahoma!. A darker, more racy (but still tame) production, the show never seems forced and feels fresh. Even if you are not a fan of the musical, you will find the high-quality production to be a wonderful, enjoyable evening at Serenbe, and you may find yourself starting to like it afterwards.
Nestled up against a century-old barn, the seating area overlooks pastures and farm animals. Behind it are the beautiful gardens at The Inn at Serenbe and to the side a gravel road. It’s hard to imagine a more idyllic setting for the musical. The rustic barn creates an instant atmosphere that can’t be duplicated on a traditional theatrical stage.
The musical opens with Curly (Edward McCreary) riding onto the “stage” on a horse singing “Oh What A Beautiful Mornin,” giving the show a cinematic feel. That atmosphere, along with the captivating and beautiful choreography by Bubba Carr and director Brian Clowdus’ skillful, creative staging, takes hold of the audience and never lets it go.
Giving the show an extra octane boost, the principal cast members deliver by creating vivid, memorable characters. McCreary, as the dashing hero Curly, has a smile and demeanor that instantly draws the audience into the story. Vocally, he is at his best singing “Pore Jud Is Daid,” where he displays a jealous anger that teeters on the edge of hostility. As his love interest Laurey Williams, a delightful Kelly Chapin Schmidt charms the audience with her taunting of curly and the emotion-filled ballet where she is torn between her fear of Jud (Bryant Smith) and her love for Curly.
As the lonesome farmhand Jud, Smith creates a dark, almost psychotic character, and the imposing figure provides a worthy villain. In addition, Lala Cochran fills the role of Aunt Eller perfectly with her feisty attitude and humor. Providing comic relief, Jessica Miesel plays Ado Annie and Tony Larkin plays the peddler Ali Hakim. However, it is Austin Tijerina who stands out the most. His witty Will Parker amuses the audience, and his impressive dancing showcases his immense talent.
Overall, the show, which includes a live orchestra, sounded great. However, on the night I attended, a few technical problems with the actors’ microphones going out intermittently caused the show to lose some of its polished feel but not enough to detract from the overall experience.
Under the steady direction of Clowdus, Serenbe Playhouse has a strong track record of producing top-notch productions in ideal surroundings. Much like last summer’s Hair, Oklahoma! looks to be a hit that will pack in the crowds.
A bold, energetic staging of a classic, Oklahoma! plays through August 17, 2014 at Serenbe Playhouse. For tickets and more information, please visit the theater’s website. The show’s runtime is a little over two and a half hours with an intermission and seating is provided.
– Kenny Norton