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Teen critic Julliard on ‘Oklahoma!’: Wild, wild South Charlotte

By Michael Julliard

Eleven Charlotte-area high school students are competing in the new theater criticism category of the Blumey Awards, the Blumenthal Performing Arts’ annual musical theater awards program (read more about that here.) Each student writes three reviews; the following is one entry:

Since Shakespeare began to create plays, forbidden love is a recurring theme in theater.

This love struggle has found its path all the way from ancient Verona to modern New York. But when two brilliant men came together for the first time as partners, the quest for true love in theater drastically changed. Based on Lynn Riggs’ “Green Grow the Lilacs,” composer Richard Rogers, lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II, and choreographer Agnes de Mille originated the first musical that combined song and dance with acting to tell the simple story of life out west.

Just after the turn of the century, headstrong cowboy Curly McClain and independent farm girl Laurey Williams flirt and tease their way through life as a big box social approaches their lazy town. Yet in addition to the winsome girl’s teasing, Curly comes into contact with the age-old conflict of cowboy versus farmhand. As the story develops, new characters are introduced including a vivacious farm girl named Ado Annie, a free-spirited cowboy named Will Parker, and a charming Persian salesman named Ali Hakim. These three never fail to brighten up the story with fun songs and lines, adding to the homey classic that is “Oklahoma!”

The main problem theater production teams confront with classics such as this is finding ways to properly “wow” the audience without overdoing the piece. Attending my final student critique assignment, I witnessed Ardrey Kell High School turning this issue into their greatest strength.

For example, although they lacked a pit for their fantastic student orchestra, they dressed them up in costume and plopped them right on stage, cleverly revamping the use of their space while reinventing the visual design of the production.

Also, a decorative but simple set design really brought me into the world of the characters. Each set piece was unique and interesting.

I was also impressed with the professional presentation of the production. Specifically, the school put together a beautiful playbill rivaling that of an equity playbill. And aside from the general food and drink sold at intermission, visual treats were on display, from the corn field used in the show to the surrey used in the final scene. The beautiful space highlighted all of these well-organized aspects of the production to form a very strong first impression.

I have to question the cast’s readiness for running the show. Several times during the night I noticed lines dropped, dances that needed fixing, and recurring ad lib. It didn’t affect the show too much, but as someone who has gone through similar issues in the past, I recognized these issues and sympathized with the actors onstage.

Another evident pet peeve of mine I noticed was the lack of effort the actors put into the accents of the characters they portrayed. Rogers and Hammerstein put a lot of effort into writing in the western vernacular, scripting words such as “yeow” and “purdy,” words the cast did speak on stage. But I noticed actors avoiding the accent. Personally, it distracted me from the experience of the western world and reminded me that I was still in a Charlotte high dchool theatrt and not in Oklahoma.

Truth be told, while the works of Rogers and Hammerstein are not particularly a favorite of mine, I was genuinely entertained with the show. You did fine Oklahoma. Oklahoma, OK!

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The Charlotte Observer welcomes your comments on news of the day. The more voices engaged in conversation, the better for us all, but do keep it civil. Please refrain from profanity, obscenity, spam, name-calling or attacking others for their views.

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