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August 12, 2004
Behind the Stage Door

Dinna Miss Either One!


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 Photo of the play Oklahomatranscends 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 grandparents.

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 Photo of the play Brigadoonis 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.

[Annie Salamunovich (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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