Aune Eller and cast

It’s always a pleasure to attend theatre performances at Studio 58, the professional training program at Langara College. The current Studio 58 production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s legendary musical Oklahoma! is no exception. This is a great show from all perspectives and exemplifies the passion, professionalism, and sheer joy that students and staff bring to whatever they put on stage.    
Set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906, Oklahoma! is the first musical written by the team of composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II. The musical, based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play Green Grow the Lilacs, debuted on Broadway in New York in March 1943.

Ali and the men
[Arash Ghorbani and cast]

Oklahoma! was an immediate box-office smash and ran for over 2,000 performances, later enjoying award-winning revivals, national tours, foreign productions and an academy-award winning 1955 film adaptation. 

Both Rodgers and Hammerstein had individually enjoyed successful careers before they formed their collaborative partnership. In this show they produced something that was new at that time, a musical play in which every element was dedicated to moving the story forward. Oklahoma! won a special Pulitzer Prize in 1944.

Alexandra Wever as Laurey, Owen Bishop as Curly
[Alexandra Wever as Laurey; Owen Bishop as Curly] 

Oklahoma! tells the love story of cowboy Curly McLain (Owen Bishop) and farm girl Laurey Williams (Alexandra Wever). A secondary romantic triangle involves cowboy Will Parker (Sean Sonier), his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie Carnes (Adelleh Furseth), and peddler Ali Hakim (Arash Ghorbani). The backdrop to these romances are rivalries between cowboys and farmers and the changes taking place in the west at the turn of the 20th century. 

The highly experienced creative team of Director David Hudgins, Musical Director Christopher King, Choreographer Shelley Stewart Hunt, Set Designer Drew Facey, Costume Diva Marina Szijarto, and Lighting Designer Darren Boquist did a great job in producing a classic show. 

The motto of the media publicity calls on the audience to “see the Big Musical on the Small Stage!” Oklahoma! is a big stage production with a lots of singing and dancing as well as a couple of fight scenes. The small Studio 58 stage provides some obvious spacial challenges, however the choreography was something to see. The cast threw themselves and each other around the small stage in a well-orchestrated but carefree manner without seeming to worry about either gravity or missing a beat. This must have taken considerable work and careful planning to pull off so well.

The scenery was deceptively simple but effective with, for example, the vast prairie sky depicted by drop sheets. The use of minimal props allows for maximum use of space while facilitating the movement of cast members in and out and through scenes. 

Arash Ghorbani as Ali Hakim
[Arash Ghorbani]

The simple yet evocative costumes are much in line with the prairies of a century ago. The women in particular are all dressed in the same earth colours and check patterns, yet each costume manages to be unique. 

The accompanying background music is provided by a five-man live band that perfectly compliments the singing and dancing while somehow managing to sound like a much larger group.

Both of the main leads (Owen Bishop as Curly and Alexandra Wever as Laurey) are solid. Owen is a very imposing presence on stage; good chemistry is easily created between the two. All main support actors are additionally excellent — Olivia Hutt (Aunt Eller), Arash Ghorbani (Ali Hakim the peddler), Sean Sonier (Will Parker), Christine Reinfort (Gertie Cummings), Robert Garry Haacke (Andrew Carnes) — as are the supporting minor characters and dancers. 

Special mention must be made of Adelleh Furseth as Ado Annie Carnes and Kamyar Pazandeh as Jud Fry. Bubbly and engaging, Furseth provided much comic relief throughout as “the girl who can’t say no”. The audience really took to her. The role of Jud Fry is the negative counterpoint to Ado Annie and maybe the most complex character of all in the play.

Alexandra Wever
[Alexandra Wever]

The casting of Mr. Pazandeh was a perfect choice. He brilliantly combines a real sense of menace with the vulnerability of the social reject.  

An enthusiastic sell-out audience loudly applauded every song and dance sequence. None of audience broke out into song but I am sure there were plenty (such as myself) humming along with the cast to the familiar and much-loved musical numbers. 

Overall, Studio 58’s Oklahoma! is a wonderful and enjoyable production well worth seeing.  

Directed by David Hudgins, Oklahoma! continues at Langara’s Studio 58 through March 1.

Photos by David Cooper.

About Our Contributor Michael Pigeon

Michael Pigeon

Michael is a long-time Vancouver resident who's recently returned home after living abroad for over a decade. Michael enjoys reconnecting with Canadian culture through the Greater Vancouver theatre scene and being retired in a city that offers so many opportunities to live a healthy, engaged lifestyle.

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