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"Bucks County's ballet, choreographed by Ann Nieman, isn't flawless but it isn't campy, either. It's serious and capable and involves a dozen dancers besides principals Shea Curry and Jason Raize."
--Allentown Morning Call review of Oklahoma!


 





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<< Allentown Morning Call review of The King and I at the Bucks County Playhouse

The Morning Call (Allentown, PA)
Oh, What A Beautiful 'Oklahoma!'
at Bucks Playhouse

by John Flautz
June 11, 1994



 


To paraphrase Aunt Eller's hoedown philosophizing in the box social scene, I don't say Bucks County Playhouse's "Oklahoma!" is no better than any other "Oklahoma!" but I'll be danged ef if ain't pretty good.

Since I belong to the generation that didn't have to have D-Day explained to them last week, I respond to "Oklahoma!" very much the way the patrons of the bar in the old joke responded to shouted numbers. I've known all the words to "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "Surrey With a Fringe on Top," "I Cain't Say No," "Pore Judd Is Daid" and especially "People Will Say We're in Love" for 50 years.

So what I hear at a performance of "Oklahoma!" isn't necessarily what's coming from the stage in real world time. The singers, especially Jennifer Welch's Laurey and Jonathan Stewart's Curly, sounded particularly good -- strong and clear and comfortable with each other. But it might just be remembrance of "Oklahomas!" past.

If I have a criticism it's that director Guil Fisher has his cast's Winsome Regulator ratcheted up a few notches too high. The story is pure, cornfed love and virtue, where the sounds of the earth are like music and the wavin' wheat can shore smell sweet. When the players keep their faces painfully stretched into expressions that proclaim, "You're going to like this!" -- what Damyon Runyon called a "castor oil smile" -- it causes suspicion that someone thinks cornfed love and virtue aren't entertaining enough.

Welch is pretty and Stewart is tall and lanky. Sharon Price's Ado Annie and Phil Simmons' Will Parker are competent cartoon caricatures of the pliant farmer's daughter and the hell-fer-leather cowpoke. D.C. Mann's Ali Hakim, the amorous peddler, stands out by underplaying. He's a gentle con man bemused by universal irrationality.

Fisher himself is excellent as the villainous farmhand, Jud Fry, and very much against the odds since Jud is considerably younger than Fisher. Fisher plays him not as the usual sullen rebel but genuinely crazy, quirky, a loner on the edge of changing into a different species. And Fisher's voice is unmatched.

Madelon Gignac as Laurey's feisty Aunt Eller and Sean Burger as Ado Annie's shotgun-toting father give solid supporting performances.

The best production touches are the inclusion of Ali Hakim's rarely performed song, "It's a Scandal! It's an Outrage!," and the dream ballet that ends the first act, all too often lamely. Bucks County's ballet, choreographed by Ann Nieman, isn't flawless but it isn't campy, either. It's serious and capable and involves a dozen dancers besides principals Shea Curry and Jason Raize.

Mark Barnhart's sets are simple but inventive, lath skeletons for "buildings" and a painted cross-stitch effect for clouds, trees and grass. James B. Weiss is music director. Dawn M. Hamblin and Charlotte Price designed the costumes. Eric Barnes did orchestrations.

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"Oklahoma!" continues through June 26 at Bucks County Playhouse, New Hope. Information: 862-20041. 

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