REVIEW: Mill Town Players’ OKLAHOMA! is a Hootenanny Not to be Missed

Drake King as Will and Carly Frates as Ado in "Oklahoma!" Photo by Escobar Photography
Drake King as Will and Carly Frates as Ado in “Oklahoma!” Photo by Escobar Photography

BY JEFF LEVENE
CONTRIBUTOR

What is there really left to say about Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Western classic “Oklahoma!”? Almost single handedly shaping the future of the modern musical, “Oklahoma!” took the Busby Berkeley glitz and glamor so familiar to both the Broadway stage and silver screen, and moved it to a location where square dancing and cowboys took the place of kick lines and chorus girls, showing musicals could take place wherever there were people with a song in their heart and a jump in their step.

Mill Town Players production of Oklahoma!, directed by Lauren Imhoff, provides a solid reminder why we love the 1943 classic so much, capturing the action, excitement, and occasional peril of prairie living. Imhoff capitalizes on much of the show’s classic comedic timing, and also puts the audience right in the middle of the hootenanny with her knee slapping hoedown choreography. Audiences are sure to be chuckling and clapping along with many of the shows immortalized numbers.

Imhoff’s cast also provides plenty of laughs, sighs, and gasps, and their collective vocal efforts on numbers like “Oklahoma” left me with the drive to get my own covered wagon and head out into the territory, let alone plenty of goosebumps.

As leading cowboy Curly, Nate Stafford’s voice rises gently like the morning sun on the farm meadow in “Oh What a Beautiful Morning”, and his collected surefire demeanor offers a unique look at an oft overly cocksure character. He also brings a hilarious dead pan cruelty in his duet with Jud Fry (Craig Smith) in “Pore Jud is Daid”.

Lauren Veselak offers a nice blend of strength and timidity as the other lead, Laurey, cooly rejecting Curly’s advances only to flutter with hope moments later after romantic promises catch her attention. Veselak’s vocals are also a show stopper, and soar in “People Will Say We’re in Love”.

Drake King’s Will Parker is simply a blast to watch, and his energy is contagious. Whenever on stage King stole the scene, whether he was showing his fellow cow folks how they dance in the big city (“Kansas City”), simple mindedly trying to tally his wages, or fighting for his beloved girl.

And speaking of, Carly Frates brings a genuine sweetness, an absent minded stare and an easily corrupted nature to her portrayal of Ado Annie. Frates shines in “I Can’t Say No!”, inducing many belly laughs as she swoons across the stage, and after which, will leave you believing that Annie would fall for a lamp post if it sweet talked her.

Jud Fry’s complicated character is well flushed out by Craig Smith, who captures Jud’s menacing brutishness, but also his sympathetically pathetic background. In “Lonely Room” Smith’s bass captures this combination perfectly, pushing Jud’s horrifying spite and anger, but peppering in a truly intimate and crushed hope.

Drew Kenyon provides many laughs as the manipulative traveling peddler Ali Hakim, while Shannon Faulkner also offers plenty of humor and gumption as Aunt Eller. Ken Kraft’s Andrew Carnes is a comically protective father to Annie. Katie Halstensgard’s Gertie offers an intentionally obnoxious laugh that is sure to leave audience members both chuckling and cringing.

Mill Town Player’s provide plenty of energy and excitement in their production of Oklahoma! which makes this one hootenanny you won’t want to miss. For tickets call Mill Town Players at 864-947-8000 or visit them on the web at http://www.milltownplayers.org/.

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