Tuesday, May 6, 2008
Non-Chicago Theatre: Cedarville
Cedarville High School Drama Club
Last weekend I had the distinct pleasure to return to my home town for the High School’s production of Oklahoma. Bigger and more ambitious than any production I had been involved with at Cedarville High School, I was delighted to see the high level of production value. It truly was a cut above the productions you would expect for a High School. Huge credit must be paid to director Lisa Dunn for choosing to do the Rogers and Hammerstein classic in the first place and all the work that went into the production.
Doing Oklahoma with a group of young people is a wise idea. The pioneering spirit and hope for the future has more meaning when the lover roles are portrayed by actors between 18 and 24. When the actors start pushing 30, they seem washed up and bitter. Even having Aunt Eller being around the ages of the other characters (maybe only 10 years older) makes sense. These are people who's lives are about to begin mirroring the promise of this new land, new way of life and Oklahoma's looming statehood.
The drops, costumes, and sets were truly impressive. The simple corn stalk flats gave a good background that framed the action quite nicely. All this was highlighted by the soft amber lighting of Phil Quinn giving the whole world a warm and dream like glow. The entire effect was that of a truly inviting town on the old prairie.
The ensemble of 18 laughed, giggled, and danced their way through the small Oklahoma town and into our hearts. Their energy and fun bled into the audience. The must be commended on their commitment to their performances and to their roles; never once was I distracted by girls having to step into cowboy boots to make up for the lack of boys on the stage. It was truly a group effort to carry the show. Also, their choral work, lead by music director Alan Jacobus, was tight and beautifully balanced – a true feat for a small cast and young voices.
The production was anchored by the trio of senior girls in Erin Smith (Aunt Eller), Emily Pieri (Laurey) and Carissa Sudol (Ado Annie). Smith’s performance was full of spunk and charm. Her portrayal of the matron that the younger boys could have loads of fun around was perfect to a T. Pieri’s lovely soprano voice carried the part exceptionally well and her acting skills were obviously above the demands of a Roger’s and Hammerstein ingénue. Sudol, however, stole the show as Ado Annies will often do; effervescent and cute as a button; her performance was delightful from top to bottom. Also delightful was Megan Hill’s performance as Gertie Cummings crafting the character’s annoying laugh that you love to hate.
The men did not disappoint either. Returning to the High School’s stage was CHS alum Phil Quinn who added an air of gravity and maturity as Ado Annie’s over-protective father. Eric Kozma’s portrayal of the slippery peddler, Ali Hakim, deftly found all the highs and lows of the two dimensional character while keeping the audience in stitches. Tanner Howland’s stage debut as the villain Jud Fry in a performance was delightfully chilling. Howland’s transformation from nervous in his first few scenes into complete confidence and beyond by the end of the first act was truly thrilling to watch; I sincerely hope that he continues to perform on Cedarville’s stage.
To say I am not biased in my final two commendations would be unfair. But it was an utter joy to see my brothers performing on stage.
Isaiah Murray’s portrayal of the impetuous Will Parker was truly a break through performance. Murray used every inch of his lean 6’3” frame to convey the character's triumphs and defeats. His intelligent delivery of the character’s befuddled lines left the audience in stitches and his confidence dominated the stage while still relinquishing focus when others needed it; a skill that often takes actors years to develop. Isaiah’s bright, young tenor voice flawlessly navigated the difficult upper ranges of the score. His attention to detail and specificity made for a fantastic performance capped off in one exuberant “Oklahoma hello.”
Luke Murray unassumingly anchored the show from the first notes of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” (which brought proud tears to my eyes) to the last refrain of “Oklahoma” in the role of Curley. He played the cocky cow-hand to perfection pushing all of Laurie’s buttons and capturing us all with his charm. Completely aware of his physicality at all times, Luke knew exactly how to land every punch line without mugging to the audience; showing a performance maturity far beyond his age. His lyric baritone sung out of the side of his mouth like a true cowboy combined with flawless and athletic dancing (and fighting) tied everyone’s performance together in this excellent production.
At the low-low price of $10 ticket and a 8 ½ hour drive, this Oklahoma left this older brother and CHS alum beaming with pride.