“Oklahoma!,” Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musical, was brought to Music Mountain Theatre in Lambertville, where audiences were met with a musical and entertaining evening from director Michael Moeller.
Taking place in 1906 in the title setting, cowboy Curly McLain (Harrison Pharamond) wonders onto the farm of Laurey Williams (Kristen VonWachenfeldt) in hopes of taking her to the box social dance that evening.
Local women attending the dance will bring picnic baskets to be auctioned off to men throughout the town to raise money for a local schoolhouse. The men who win the auction for the picnic baskets also win a lunch date with the women who prepared it.
Pharamond opens the musical with “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’.” Pharamond does not project enough, like other musical numbers throughout the production, but makes up for it with his acting. Throughout the entire production, Pharamond has you believe in his character fully and truly embodies an early 20th-century cowboy.
When Curly arrives to the farm in hopes of courting Laurey, he is met by Laurey’s loveable Aunt Eller (Joan Hoffman). The two exchange a humorous banter until Laurey makes her entrance onstage.
VonWachenfeldt, who dazzles with her lovely singing voice throughout the entire production, plays the young and hopeful farm girl who turns down Curly’s proposition to the box social after she feels that he has waited too long to ask her.
Curly tells Laurey he has gotten the nicest carriage money can buy and the two break out into song with Aunt Eller (“The Surrey with the Fringe on Top”). But when Laurey keeps egging on Curly about the carriage, he claims he made the entire thing up. She exits the stage with the offer for the date to the box social still declined, not knowing Curly did, in fact, rent the carriage for the evening.
The farm hand Jud Fry (Karl Weigand), who is disturbingly obsessed with Laurey, asks her to the box social following those events. Laurey agrees to spite Curly, even though she is utterly terrified of Jud – which she admits to Aunt Eller later.
In the interim, cowboy Will Parker (Matthew Robertson) returns from his trip from Kansas City. While away, Will won $50 from a competition at a fair. This is the same amount of money his girlfriend’s father, Andrew Carnes (Roger Madding), claimed he needed to obtain to marry his daughter, Ado Annie (Jaime Gedders).
Little does Will know, Ado Annie has been seeing Ali Hakim (Rhett Commodaro), a Persian peddler, who seems to only be interested in one thing, but Ado Annie wants more. She confesses to Laurey she has feelings for both men. But after Andrew Carnes discovers his daughter with Ali Hakim, he forces him at gunpoint to agree to marry Ado Annie.
Back on Aunt Eller’s farm, Curly confirms Laurey is going to the box social with Jud. Trying to convince her to leave Jud in the wayside and go to the dance with him, Laurey continues to fear Jud and tells Curly she can’t break off the promised date.
Curly, who refuses to take no as an answer, goes to Jud in the smoke house, where he resides, to try and convince him himself to back off Laurey. Curly tries to convince Jud to kill himself so everyone will realize how much they care about him.
The conversation between the two of them eventually turns to Laurey and it becomes ugly. Curly leaves and Jud makes a promise to himself to make Laurey his bride. He breaks out into “Lonely Room,” and it was my personal favorite of the entire production.
Weigand’s portrayal of Jud was the best part of the musical. He not only flawlessly portrays a mentally challenged, terrifying and hulking farm hand, but Weigand has a tremendous singing voice, as well. He was truly the highlight of the production.
After becoming confused with who she should take to the dance, Laurey purchases smelling salts from the Persian peddler Ali Hakim, who claims they come from ancient Egypt and anyone who smells them will be able to decide what choice they should make when faced with a tough decision.
Laurey smells the salts before the dance and immediately falls asleep. In a dream sequence that begins with Laurey about to marry Curly, it quickly takes a dark turn when Jud appears and kills Curly. Jud drags Laurey off to a strip club and forces her to work with the rest of the dancers. When trying to escape, Jud will not let her go and forces himself upon her, pinning her down onto the floor.
Laurey wakes up and is now sure Curly is the right man for her. But as the curtain closes on the first act, Jud arrives to escort Laurey off to the box social.
Deven Byrnes, the choreographer of the production, makes the musical just mesmerizing. Every dance number was completely in sync and the entire dream sequence was a wonderful ballet performance where you just could not look away. Music Mountain Theatre’s “Oklahoma!” would not be authentic without Byrnes.
“Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!,” continues at Music Mountain Theatre, 1483 Route 179 Lambertsville, through Aug. 19. For tickets and information, go to www.musicmountaintheatre.org; 609-397-3337.