Rodgers and Hammerstein are essentially the Lennon/McCartney of musical theater. Their songwriting partnership is responsible for a seemingly endless supply of classic musicals, and perhaps none bigger than Oklahoma! Even 70 years after its debut, the play continues to be incredibly popular with audiences worldwide. Most recently, the legendary show has been brought to stage by Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts (PCPA) at the Solvang Festival Theater, and the production is a wild success that masterfully showcases why so many fell in love with this show in the first place.
It is rare to see a group of actors cast so perfectly into each role, but from top to bottom, every player here seems to understand their character in a way that is an absolute delight for the audience. George Walker portrays the mischievous but lovable cowboy Curly with just the right amount of charisma, commanding everyone’s attention the minute he walks onstage. Jackie Vanderbeck is equally excellent as farm girl Laurey, and she conveys her in a way that perfectly mixes the character’s fierce independence and loving tenderness. Walker and Vanderbeck have a natural and easy chemistry, and their ability to convey love — even while they are bickering — makes Curly and Laurey an easy couple to root for.
But the entire cast truly shines onstage — there is an infectious energy that seems to be present in every single performer, whether they are one of the leads or a member of the ensemble. Karin Hendricks is hilarious as boy-crazy Ado Annie, and her interactions with sweet but dim cowboy Will Parker (Jake Delaney) make for some of the biggest laughs of the entire production. That said, the real MVP of this Oklahoma! might be multitalented director Michael Jenkinson, whose portrayal of Ali Hakim, the womanizing peddler, is simply hysterical from start to finish. Truly, though, the entire cast should be praised, as they each fill their role in a way that makes the entire production stronger.
What makes Oklahoma! such a revered musical are the songs, and there are only a handful of musicals that can claim to have as many classic tunes in one show. The cast handles these legendary numbers with ease, as both the singing and dancing are a delightful mix of skill and enthusiasm. A few highlights from this show were “People Will Say We’re In Love,” “All Er Nothin’,” and, of course, “Oklahoma.”
The enduring legacy of this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic puts great pressure on anyone trying to put the musical onstage. There is the inevitable fear of leaving the audience feeling disappointed or underwhelmed. This pressure proved to be no sweat for PCPA, as their production wonderfully captures the magic of this veritable theatrical institution. The pure joyfulness evident in every aspect of their production makes for a night of laughter that audiences will not soon forget.