OKLAHOMA! doin’ fine at The Firehouse Theatre

Farmers and cowmen and their gals make merry in "Oklahoma!"

Farmers and cowmen and their gals make merry in “Oklahoma!”

It must be the way fans of The Rocky Horror Show feel about attending its performance. They can hardly wait for the music to start to sing along. With Rodgers and Hammerstein’s breakout 1943 musical Oklahoma! I’ve been singing along with every song since grade school. I lost count of how many versions of the musical I have seen, from pro to college level. Lyric Stage’s fully-orchestrated, professional production from 2012 stands out as a superlative realization, honoring the distinguished art of the work in style and scope while keeping it fresh and bubbling along for contemporary audiences.

I wondered how much I’d enjoy the current production of Oklahoma!, running through August 2, at The Firehouse Theatre in Farmers Branch. It’s an intimate venue with the stage smack right at the front of the house and little depth: sit in the front row, you might become part of the action? With no full orchestration remotely affordable and no pit space for even a small musical ensemble to chug it along, will it seem like Karaoke R & H? Delighted to report, this production of Oklahoma! creates a believable reality through song, dance and story, providing a lovely evening’s entertainment that does its esteemed creators proud. It doesn’t need the big house or orchestra.

Curly (Tyler Jeffrey Adams) serenades Laurey (Alexandra Cassens)

Curly (Tyler Jeffrey Adams) serenades Laurey (Alexandra Cassens)

On a smaller stage like the Firehouse Theatre, the ensemble numbers that involve dancing as well as singing might suffer. Or seem overcrowded? It’s the opposite case here. They make the show fly with homespun camaraderie. From “Kansas City” to “Out of My Dreams” to “The Farmer and the Cowman” to the rousing finale of “Oklahoma”, the ensemble numbers brim over with exuberance and well-choreographed hubbub (Amy Cave), even spilling off the stage in a natural way, down aisles and around the edges of the seating area. No way the audience can avoid being swept up by the openhearted, innocent sweetness of this show’s characters and tale. It’s a plus, too, that both Curly (Tyler Jeffrey Adams) and Laurey (Alexandra Cassens) are proficient dancers. When the Dream Ballet occurs at the end of Act One, the leads do their own dancing instead of retiring offstage while a “Dancing Curly and Laurey” perform. It adds suspense and veracity to the performance, making the intimacy of the venue work to keen advantage. Director Michael Holloman cast these key roles well, as they look and play nicely together, with tender, appealing acting and voices blending attractively in duet.

Ali Hakim (Hunter Lewis) meets his match in Ado Annie (Rebecca Paige)

Ali Hakim (Hunter Lewis) meets his match in Ado Annie (Rebecca Paige)

The word must be getting out about shows at The Firehouse Theatre with local actors. The balance of the cast holds up very well, with secondary leads bringing just as much to the show as those embodying the two romantic icons. Cathy Pritchett makes a spunky, endearing Aunt Eller, with a lovely singing voice. Recording artist/ musician David Bates displays a genuine twang and cocky swagger in Will Parker and finds the perfect match for energy and vocal styling in dynamo Rebecca Paige as flirty Ado Annie. The toughest role in the show, the villain/ psychopath Jud Fry, gets a memorable portrayal by Robert San Juan, looming over the entire show like a black cloud ready to shoot down lightning bolts. He conveys the reality of a pathetically obsessed man whose only answer to disappointment is rage. His solo “Lonely Room” shows a depth and range often not seen in more conventional staging. Director Holloman cast an actor with a rich, resonant singing voice who could take nuanced direction and find depth in this haunting character. Respected regional actor/singer Hunter Lewis gives a charming, sympathetic performance with a wry hint of longed-for debauchery, as the show’s comic relief, the traveling peddler and wise-cracking philosopher Ali Hakim, who keeps getting engaged against his “better” intentions. Even his accent adds to the character’s slightly sleazy charm.

Curly (Tyler Jeffrey Adams) helping Jud (Robert San Juan) picture the glory of hanging himself

Curly (Tyler Jeffrey Adams) helping Jud (Robert San Juan) picture the glory of hanging himself

With Music Director Donna McWilliams and accompanist Bonnie Graem tinkling the ivories offstage with verve and mastery, I never missed the fully orchestrated version, not for a single, satisfying minute.

Four more performances of Oklahoma! Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30pm; Saturday and Sunday matinees at 2:30pm

Firehouse Theatre, 2535 Valley View Lane, Farmers Branch TX

TICKETS: 972-620-3747 http://www.thefirehousetheatre.com

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