Is there anything better than having your expectations demolished by a rousing, amazing performance? I have to tell you, I wasn’t sure I was going to enjoy “Oklahoma.” Sure, CCM always puts on impeccable and technically perfect shows. But this is such an old fashioned musical and I knew that the running time was going to be longer than newer musicals (which cater to people like me with shorter attention spans.)
But, oh how I loved this show.
There was not a bad performance in the bunch. Everyone was picture perfect in their singing and the dancing was quite possibly some of the best I’ve ever seen on a stage. The leads were anchored by the veteran professional Pamela Myers as “Aunt Eller”, who looked like she was having fun up there with these young promising performers. John Riddle as “Curly” and Julia Johanos as “Laurey” sang like you’d expect this show to be sung and were as good as any professional actor I’ve seen anywhere.
The entire cast was delightful., There were times when I found Nick Laughlin’s cartoonish “Ali Hackem” leaving me wondering if he were going for a mix between 80′s comedian Yakov Smirnoff and Borat, but the audience laughed at every joke and mannerism so he hit the right groove with his interpretation. Eric Huffman’s “Will Parker” and Michelle Rombola’s “Ado Annie” were wonderful comic relief, especially when contrasted by the haunting characterization of “Jud” by the mega-talented Chris Blem. Blem is destined for stardom, with his deep voice and impressive acting chops. He played this role with such depth and he was a standout for me even among such a stellar group of young performers.
The ensemble was full of great dancers and both Pierce Cassedy and Matt Hill, who had bit parts, are such wonderful character actors. Cassedy stole the show in “Evita” last year for me and he has a knack for knowing how far to take his performance right up to the level where if he didn’t pull back he would begin to distract from the others on stage. This is a tremendous skill and I enjoy watching him. Hill, a sophomore, has the same potential. I would also be remiss not to mention the beautiful “Dream Ballet” sequence in which Hannah Freeman, Josh T. Smith, and Max Clayton shone brightly.
I have tickets at the Aronoff Center this season for both “West Side Story” and “Les Miserables,” two other classic musicals that I wasn’t sure I would enjoy. However, if they can match the quality of “Oklahoma,” I will be excited.