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Theatre Review (LA): Oklahoma by Rodgers and Hammerstein at the Met Theatre

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The Music Theatre of Los Angeles has had a very good track record doing difficult musicals in a 99 seat theatre, sometimes with as many as 12 instruments, enabling the audience to experience a rich sound (no one piano bands here.) Under the leadership of Bonnie McMahon, the company has also provided opportunities for young performers to get a chance to play in the “big musicals” when their chances for casting in an Equity show (Actors Equity is the Professional union of Stage Actors) are not assured.

The results of such shows can be uneven, but because the cast goes for it whole-heartedly, the overall experience is satisfying. They had great success with Chicago, The Last Five Years, and West Side Story (one of the performers, Janet Krupin, went on to be named Los Angeles Next Great Stage Star). They also tackled a monster of a musical Ragtime with some success. Their last show Cabaret was quite successful. Unfortunately their current offering of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma doesn’t live up to what they are capable of, manly due to technical glitches.

My feeling is that they may have assumed Oklahoma would be a “piece of cake” compared to what came before. Many theatre companies make the same mistake thinking that classics of the stage — I am not talking Shakespeare but Arsenic and Old Lace – would be an easy ride.

Actually Oklahoma succeeds on several levels despite some technical problems. The performers are all fine, though they could use some vocal guidance — you can’t fake these songs. Travis Dixon who plays Curley has a nice voice, but he is an even better dancer. The Laurie of Jean Altadel is very well acted, but she has a small voice or is unwilling to project it. Jay Rincon as Jude Fry was riveting for his  wonderful presence, but he isn’t as good a singer. There were age problems with Aunt Eller — too young — and with Ado Annie, the same problem as Eller's casting. Ali Hakim lacked focus while Ryan Oboza did nicely with Will Parker.

It was the technical aspects that were most problematic. Oklahoma is to take place on grassy plains, but instead we get a rocky set with no vista, looking more like a ser for an outpost on Star trek. There is a cave (on the plains?) that is awkward for the performers and made no sense. The lighting was atrocious, all over the place but too dark. The orchestra and the arrangements sounded distant and hollow, like Musak. The direction wasn’t evident, hobled by obvious blunders like letting Ali Hakim enter Aunt Eller’s house without permission. The choreography by Tania Possick was fairly good but could use a rehearsal. I trust the company will learn from their mistakes. They have succeeded before and will again. Oklahoma plays at the Met Theatre until July 18th.

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