As it brightens the Bowie Playhouse stage, 2nd Star's energetic production of "Oklahoma!" proves that as it nears age 70, this first Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein collaboration has lost little luster.
At its 1943 opening, "Oklahoma!" was the first Broadway show to integrate songs into the narrative, changing the musical form forever. In 2nd Star's production, a cast of 37 and a crew of at least 25 deliver this American classic with gusto.
Bowie Playhouse boasts an orchestra pit (a rarity in area theaters), and for this musical, it has a lively orchestra in it, conducted by music director Joe Biddle, now in his fifth musical with 2nd Star and with more than 20 in his 17-year career. When these musicians strike up the overture filled with treasured tunes, we can anticipate an evening rich in nostalgia.
It's easy to understand why the title song was adapted as Oklahoma's official state song, and the toe-tapping, near-capacity audience was happy to become honorary residents of the state at a recent performance.
2nd Star president Jane Wingard serves as the show's director and, as is her custom, also serves as set designer and set painter, excelling at it all. Wingard has assembled a talented, well-rehearsed cast that is the largest in memory and includes debuting future stars along with talented youths who brighten several numbers.
A hallmark of Wingard's productions are her meticulously designed and beautifully painted sets, here depicting a turn-of-the-century farmhouse, Jud Fry's gloomy smokehouse residence, and a bright, welcoming landscape and homey barn for picnics and celebrations.
Originally staged with groundbreaking dances choreographed by Agnes de Mille, this "Oklahoma!" has its own exciting dance numbers filled with cowboys vigorously leaping and tumbling, along with country maids in their finest adding graceful enchantment. Enriching every dance segment with exuberant style, choreographer Vicki Smith also created her own delightful version of de Mille's famed "Out of My Dreams" ballet. This ballet is superbly executed by Broadneck High School sophomore Vivian Wingard, a 13-year Stageworkz dance student who appears in her 26th 2nd Star production dancing as "Dream Laurey." The granddaughter of the director, she also serves as the production's dance captain.
Sparkling in secondary roles are 2nd Star players like Rebecca Feibel, who portrays Aunt Eller, a farm woman of simple wisdom and strong presence who guides niece Laurey and firmly orders farmhands and cowmen to complete chores. Feibel belts out several songs, shining most notably in "The Farmer and the Cowman."
Usually seen in leading roles, seasoned actor Gary Seddon displays his distinctive comic flair in the role of Persian peddler Ali Hakim, who knows how to close a sale with every customer. His flattery is welcomed beyond his intent by Ado Annie and even further by giggling Gertie Cummings — played to annoying perfection by Katrina Ellen Sillaman — who becomes Hakim's bride.
Only recently participating in community theater, baritone Ben Harris would be a fine addition to any cast and makes a memorable 2nd Star debut as cowboy Curly. Doing full justice to the show's opening song, "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," Harris' Curly later reveals how smitten he is with Laurey in their "People Will Say we're in Love" duet.
Curly has another outstanding duet with hired hand Jud Fry — memorably played by Michael Galizia — who is also smitten with Laurey. Galizia displays a bass-baritone voice of operatic quality while revealing his comic talent in the "Poor Jud" duet and later lends compelling drama to his haunting "Lonely Room" solo.
Sweet farm girl Laurey is well played by Emily Mudd, who has brightened Colonial Players productions and makes her 2nd Star debut here, looking at home among this stellar cast. Mudd delivers lovely singing and dancing and convincing acting as Laurey, who playfully tries to disguise her attraction to Curly and is suitably wary of Jud.
Recently married couple Nathan and Nicole Bowen bring delight to their every scene as romantic couple Will Parker and Ado Annie. Parker, a naive country bumpkin, is unwavering in his devotion to flirty Ado Annie, the girl who "cain't say no" and sometimes fails to remember Will's devotion when distracted by Hakim.
An Annapolis song-and-dance man admired in several performances at Summer Garden and Colonial Players, Nathan Bowen marks his fourth 2nd Star show with "Oklahoma" and sets his established mark even higher.
Having received rave reviews for her performance as Reno Sweeney in Summer Garden's "Anything Goes," Nicole Bowen appears in her first 2nd Star production and instantly establishes her credentials as a musical performer and a skilled comedian.
This not-to-be-missed, full-scale production of "Oklahoma!" continues weekends through Dec. 8 at Bowie Playhouse in White Marsh Park, where it is drawing near-capacity audiences, making it advisable to order tickets early.
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Call the box office at 410-757-5700 to order or purchase online at 2ndstarproductions.com.