Review: Oklahoma! (Civic Light Opera Company)

Civic Light Opera Company brings the classic musical Oklahoma! to the Toronto stage

Oklahoma! is an excellent choice for the Civic Light Opera Company. The North York-based company specializes in frothy musical comedies, and there are few shows frothier than Oklahoma! The 1943 Rogers and Hammerstein classic is a sweet coming of age story about Curly, a happy-go-lucky young rancher and Laurey, a beautiful farmer’s daughter.

Despite the tensions that exists between the farmers and the ranchers, Curly and Laurey fall in love, but struggle to be honest with each other about their feelings. Laurey is also pursued by gruff, sinister farm hand Jud Fry. The story unfolds against the backdrop of pastoral Oklahoma as it transitions from territory to state.

The show is beloved because the tunes are peppy and charming, the jokes are witty, and the story is timeless. Civic Light Opera Company’s production was high quality community theatre. While the show tunes are fun and accessible, many of them pose vocal challenges, especially for those who are not full-time singers. The cast handled the music quite adeptly and the performance was highly entertaining.

The limitations of the venue, Zion Church and Cultural Centre, is the most significant weakness of the production. There did not appear to be a way to create stark lighting contrasts between the stage and the house. As a result the stage was too dim and the house was too bright, decreasing the energy of the drama unfolding on stage. The stage is also quite small for a cast this size, causing the blocking to look somewhat cramped during the big group song and square dance numbers. I wondered if there was a way to stage those scenes using rotations of smaller groups, rather than trying to have the whole cast dance at once.

Nevertheless, my companion and I had a lot of fun at this show. We were quite impressed by Stephanie Birrell in the role of Laurey. Her delicate yet robust soprano has a vibrato so sweet I expected little birdies and woodland creatures to gather round. The range of this role is quite high and Ms. Birrell soared through the high notes with effortless freedom.

Heather Goodall gave a toe tapping rendition of showtune favourite “I’m Just a Girl Who Can’t Say No” and had excellent onstage chemistry with David Haines in the role of guileless farmer Will Parker.

Joe Cascone was greasy and menacing in the role of bad guy Judd. He gave a confident and foreboding performance of Jud’s solo “Lonely Room”, by far the darkest number in the show. He also demonstrated excellent comedic timing and his duet with Peter Ridgeway as Curly, “Poor Jud is Dead”, was very funny.

I also adored Stephanie Birrell and Peter Ridgeway’s performance of Laurey and Curly’s iconic duet “People Will Say we’re in Love”. It is one of those enchanting numbers that you will find yourself humming days after the production.

Patricia Byrne gave a hilarious and earthy performance as town matriarch Aunt Eller, who is in many ways the glue holding the show together.

The performers sing with a recorded backing track and therefore the accompaniment does not have the ability to slow down or speed up when the performers want to, or correct when entries aren’t quite right. This led to some distracting moments where the performer were not in sync with the music, although everyone did a great job of keeping the show going.

I enjoyed the colourful and elegant period costumes which added a lot of flare to the show. All in all a well crafted production that kept us engaged through all the wacky plot twists and slap stick humour. Oklahoma! provides a great opportunity to support local theatre and have fun!

Details:

  • Oklahoma! is playing until June 10, 2018 at Zion Church Cultural Centre (1650 Finch Avenue East).
  • Show times are 8:00 PM on June 2, 7, 8, 9; 7:00 PM on June 6, with aditional matinees at 2 PM on June 3, 9 & 10.
  • Ticket price is $28.
  • Tickets are available online, or by phone at 416-755-1717.

 

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