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August 12, 2004
Miss Either One!
by ELLIN BELTZ
Two top-notch musicals opened
this weekend: Oklahoma at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre
and Brigadoon, produced by Humboldt Light Opera at HSU's Van
Duzer Theatre in Arcata. If you love musical theater, don't hesitate
to buy tickets to both of them. We are blessed to have much good
theater here in Humboldt; this pair of offerings transcends good, it's great.
Even though both musicals have
been performed thousands of times around the world, each seemed
new in these productions. I was surprised that this generation
finds relevance and injects freshness in the classics of their
Oklahoma was the first musical from the legendary team
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein and tells the story of
the rivalry between frontier cattlemen, farmers and merchants
through romantic entanglements and rousing song.
[L-R: Gavin Donnellan
(Jud), Kalindi Rogers (Laurie) & Branden Williams (Curly)
in Ferndale Repertory Theatre's Oklahoma.]
Brigadoon was the first big hit for another famous duo:
Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe. The story is based on a
German fairy tale; an enchanted village appears once every one
hundred years. If anyone who lives there leaves, the enchantment
will be broken and the village will never appear again.
Two overachievers from New York
City, Tommy Albright (Dance Farrell) and Jeff Douglas (Joseph
Bourne) get lost in Scotland and wander into Brigadoon
on the second day of its enchantment, where they meet Fiona MacLaren
(Sarah Mullen), her sister Jean (Katri Morss Pitts), Jean's bridegroom
(Jonathan Duncan), an angry young man (Ryan Dominguez) who wanted
to marry Jean, a rather wayward lass Meg Brockie (Annie Salamunovich)
and the rest of the townsfolk. The Humboldt Light Opera Company
for Brigadoon includes more than 60 cast, a full orchestra
conducted by Justin Sousa, choreography by Sheryl Jackson and
a staff of nearly two dozen. The set was originally designed
for the 1980 HSU production of the play by Gerald Beck and rebuilt
by HLOC members for this production. It features a bridge, like
the real 13th-century Bridge of Doon in Scotland after which
the play is named and a series of flying set pieces and forest
borders which alone, and with the rather anemic stage fog, conjure
up heather encrusted imaginary moors and glens.
Tommy falls in love with Fiona,
Jeff stays in love with himself although Meg tries to change
that, the angry young man almost breaks the enchantment, the
chorus sings, the dancers whirl, the tartans and sporrans add
to the highland flavor. Charlie and Jean get married; the townsmen
dance over swords. Watch in the background as tiny Ryan Robie
steals the scene, observing the older men and dancing on his
own tiny dirks.
The only things which really
distract from the overall loveliness of the Brigadoon and the
romantic story is all the modern color of the women's costumes,
the one dancer who is a half second late throughout including
her curtain call, and the squeaky theater seats, which transmit
instantly to the cast when the audience is bored. But there is
so much to love in this production that those three things become
almost unimportant compared with the force of performance and
professional level of the stagecraft.
Most musical theater doesn't
have what might be considered great plots, but Oklahoma
develops two love stories, each an allegory for part of the frontier
struggle to survive.
(Meg) in Humboldt Light Opera's Brigadoon.]
The broader of the two features
Ado Annie (Laureen Tipple), who tries to choose between Ali Hakim,
a wealthy but philandering merchant (Andy Rix) and financial
dimwit Will (Leo Roehrich). The other romantic triangle forms
between spoiled and selfish Laurey (Kalindi Rogers), the moody
loner handyman Jud (Gavin Donnellan) and an archetypical cowboy
Curly (Branden Williams). The two dozen members of the ensemble
include Rep veterans Catherine Boers, Kelsey Wortman and the
ever lovely and talented Willi Welton as Laurey's Aunt Eller,
as well as several newcomers to the Humboldt stage.
Justin Ross conducts the band
which puts out an amazing amount of sound for so few people,
sometimes drowning out the unamplified voices of the cast. It's
not enough to worry about because you probably know the words
to these old classics anyway. Sound effects by Gabriel Groom
were perfect; the chirping of cicadas in particular takes the
audience to the hot, flat landscape of Oklahoma almost better
than the one tree, hay bales and no shade anywhere could have
done. None of the other technical efforts detracted from the
performance except the set changers, who couldn't quite decide
where two benches and a fence went, nor to which mark the large
moveable set piece should be placed either time it was rearranged.
Instead they wandered about like confused modern silhouettes
in an otherwise 18th-century landscape.
In contrast to the serious constraints
placed on productions by an aging movie house like the Hart (Ferndale
Rep), the technical facilities at the Van Duzer Theatre are enough
to make a theater junkie cry. They include a full set of flies,
scenes that slide in and out with no sign of the moving crew,
lights that work and four wireless mikes. The only limitations
at HSU are no signage anywhere to indicate where the theater
or the entrance is; no handicapped information and no handicapped
parking for the building and the squeakiest seats in any Humboldt
County theater. Surely even in budget years, a few signs and
some WD-40 could be employed to great effect.
Both shows run long, but if
you like musical theater, neither will be long enough. I felt
like I could watch these talented young people for hours; the
depth and feeling in each performance must be experienced personally.
Enjoy the western texture at the Rep, the boots, hats, saddles
and hay are real, not stagecraft. Then suspend disbelief, yield
to the power of love and visit make-believe Scotland where everyone
speaks in quaint Scots-like accents and understands American
English perfectly. And the best part, even at the wedding, not
a haggis in the house!
Oklahoma continues weekend nights until a matinee on Sept.
4 at the Ferndale Repertory Theatre, 447 Main St., Ferndale.
Call 786-LIVE for tickets.
Brigadoon plays weekends through Aug. 21 at HSU's Van Duzer
Theatre, with a matinee on Aug. 15. Call 822-1313 from 10 a.m.
to 2 p.m. for tickets.
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