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:
“Territory folks should stick together; territory folks should all be pals” is not a refrain that would typically become ingrained in my head since I have always possessed a deep abhorrence for country music. However, it is one that I happily sang my whole drive home from Charlotte Christian School’s March 17 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!”
As I walked past the entrance to the school, which was cleverly decorated with picnic accessories and Oklahoma sports jerseys, I was confused. I looked around and all I saw on the directory was an arrow directing me to the gymnasium. No theater.
In a matter of seconds, I found myself in the same place I had witnessed a basketball game in eighth grade – only this time, I saw no basket or student section or water cooler. What I saw was a sprawling, dignified stage. While relatively simple, the set pieces nonetheless demonstrated a keen attention to detail. As I glanced at the uniquely textured walls and appropriately worn wagons, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of awe. The fact that I was not in a theater did not matter at all because for the next two and a half hours, I was in turn-of-the-century Oklahoma.
With quickly timed and well-executed scene changes and rich, authentic costumes, it was easy to become enthralled with the evolving love story between young farm-dwellers Curly McClain (junior Graham Baker) and Laurey Williams (sophomore Caroline Kasay, the perfect triple-threat singer, actor, and dancer). By the time the first major dance number, “Kansas City,” played, I knew I was in for a treat. The actors moved flawlessly and effortlessly through every rhythm and beat of the music, ensuring that each audience member would relish the memory of Richard Rogers’ beats and orchestral genius to the tune of more than twenty pairs of perfectly synchronized footsteps on stage.
What set Charlotte Christian’s “Oklahoma!” apart to me, though, was neither the set nor the dancing—it was the enthusiasm and energy of the cast as a whole. Comedic relief from the hilarious peddler Ali Hakim (freshman Brad Kesling) and the bubbly, ditsy Gertie Cummings (sophomore Emma Vandevelde) succeeded in thrilling the audience.
The ensemble, usually disregarded and almost never given due credit, actually stole the show on more than one occasion. As in every live performance, there were several minor mistakes, such as the dropping of a hat or the fumbling of a lasso, but such issues never fazed the cast members. They constantly seemed calm and comfortable on stage, which contributed to the show’s superb flow.
When the closing number culminated with Oklahoma’s distinct “Yeeow!,” it was clear to me why almost every seat in the gymnasium was filled. With an orchestra that produced vibrant music, ensemble members that doubled as gymnasts with back-flips across the stage and a soulful verisimilitude typically reserved for Broadway, Charlotte Christian School’s “Oklahoma!” was a smashing success. Surprisingly enough to me, I don’t mind the twang of the show’s songs in my head one bit.