Saturday, July 15, 2017

Oh, what a beautiful mornin'

I've been tormenting the hubby all week by singing, "We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand...." Poor lad, he was completely innocent to the wonder that is Oklahoma!, the revolutionary 1943 musical by Messrs. Rodgers and Hammerstein. He now knows why I love the show so much, for we saw The Glimmerglass Festival's new production on Friday night. The Glimmerglass production, by Director Molly Smith, Conductor James Lowe, Designer Eugene Lee, and Choreographer Parker Esse (using Agnes DeMille's original dances) was charming and witty and sweet and touching and a hundred other ways to say terrific.
Curley (Jarrett Ott) and Laurey (Vanessa Becerra)
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

The cast was very strong across the board.  Guest artists Jarrett Ott and Vanessa Becerra gave us a very sweet but strong Curly and Laurey.  I was charmed by their chemistry together and the way each could easily hold the stage themselves. It is easy to forget how very young these characters would have been, but in Mr. Ott and Ms. Becerra we saw the youthful passion and uncertainty that make Curly and Laurey so likeable, as well as the maturity required for the lives they've led. The two were both wonderful singers--not a trace of the familiar "opera singer slumming in musicals" delivery we sometimes get--and were a pleasure to hear. While each song was lovingly delivered, I was especially touched by "People will say we're in love" and "Oh, what a beautiful mornin'."

Guest artist Judith Skinner as Aunt Eller was tough and funny and warm and endearing, and I was impressed at the way this trained singer--her bio lists both musical theater and opera credits--projected in her low voice without being harsh. Glimmerglass 2017 Artist in Residence William Burden brought Andrew Carnes to life in a way that was comic but not caricature.

Aunt Eller (Judith Skinner), Will (Michael Roach), and the boys
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
All the rest of the cast was comprised of Glimmerglass Young Artists.  Emma Roos as Ado Annie and Michael Roach as Will Parker were all charm (a word I will probably overuse in this article) and energy, and together on stage they were delightfully funny. Both artists' bios list impressive musical theater credits, and we expect a bright future for them. (We do wish we could have heard Mr. Roach a little better when singing with full orchestra.) Michael Hewitt's Jud Fry was tormented and vindictive, but also human. He gave the role the dark vocal color and vulnerable interpretation it needed. Peddler Ali Hakim was given comic appeal by Dylan Morrongiello.

Curly (Jarrett Ott) and Jud (Michael Hewitt)
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival
Oklahoma! was the first collaboration for Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was a remarkable accomplishment for its time in the use of songs and dance in telling the story rather than embellishing it. Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times that the show's opening number, "Oh, what a beautiful mornin'", changed the history of musical theater: “After a verse like that, sung to a buoyant melody, the banalities of the old musical stage became intolerable."* Underneath apparently simple melodies lie recurring musical themes and details that are descriptive of the text and the wide-open spaces so loved by the people of Oklahoma Territory. It should surprise no one who really knows the show and its place in history to learn that it received a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

I could write for days about Oklahoma! and the glorious production at The Glimmerglass Festival. Instead, I will just tell you to go see it and prepare to be amazed.

Oklahoma! at The Glimmerglass Festival, 2017
Photo: Karli Cadel/The Glimmerglass Festival

*It is not uncommon for ladies (and jaded opera bloggers) to swoon when someone as handsome and charismatic as Jarrett Ott delivers the song.

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