And the award goes to…”Oklahoma!”

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If I could give a Tony Award to the best stage production of the year in Poplar Bluff, it would go to “Oklahoma!”, the Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical that opens tomorrow night at Three Rivers’ Tinnin Center.

Really, I could not imagine a better production at even a Broadway level.

I went to watch Tuesday night’s dress rehearsal.

I love attending dress rehearsals because it gives a person a little glimpse behind the curtain of theatre magic.

Almost without fail, a dress rehearsal is considerably shy of perfection. Actors are still missing lines, the stage set is usually still not quite complete, and sometimes everyone is still not even in full costume. It’s enough to give a director ulcers, as Three Rivers’ Tim Thompson can tell you.

But that was not the case Tuesday night. It was perfection.

And that is not an easy feat for a beloved musical production that features a very large cast and a live orchestra.
The orchestra sounded great, the voices were fantastic, and the comedic scenes were played with perfect comedic timing.

I love a good musical. To me, they are like comfort food for the soul. There is nothing quite like humming along with tunes you’ve known since you were a child, which is the case with “Oklahoma!” I could hum along with every note, from “The Surry with the Fringe On Top” to the robust finale tune, “Oklahoma…where the wind comes sweeping down the plain.” I could feel those Oklahoma winds whipping.

Thompson admits this production was a unique challenge. It is the largest musical in which he has ever been involved. It features Three Rivers music department, and theatre department, as well as cast members coming from both the college and the community. It had cast members ranging in age from children to older adults. It was that casting that gave the show such an authentic feel.

I was particularly surprised at the quality of the singing and dancing. It featured many members of Three Rivers’ Swingsations. You could not tell that the production had faced the challenges of bad weather, health issues, and trying to schedule rehearsals in a way that all cast members could be present.

This beloved musical tells of an old fashioned love story set in the Western Indian Territory at the turn of the century.

The cast features Kathy Richardson and Alex Mitchell. Richardson, especially has a beautiful singing voice. No one could have carried those tunes better. I was also particularly impressed with the comedic timing of the characters of Ado Annie and the Persian Peddler, Ali Hakim. Comedic timing is not an easy thing to master. Aunt Eller also had perfectly timed lines, and Jud Fry was played with just the right amount of menace to his character.

I highly recommend the show, and I think it is an excellent show in which to introduce the world of the stage to children. It is not only an example of great theatre, but there is some American history depicted in the story, which children have not necessarily learned in school. Most children likely do not even know what a “surry” is. Most are unaware of the huge gulf there was between rural Americans, and city dwellers. Yet there was a time in American history, not so very long ago, that Americans literally were living in two different worlds, one with conveniences like running water and electricity, and one that was still living in the previous century. And the basic story line of conflict between elements of society, like cowboys and farmers, is one with which we can still relate today, as are the stories about romantic confusion.

The cast includes Kathy Richardson, Alex Mitchell, Mara McClintock, Ryan Humphrey, Kevin Harbison, Mia Gayle, Michael Starnes, Mike Malone, Tierra Higgins-McDonald, Abigail Reed, Micaela Griffin, Tres Hampton, Jeff Kropp, Cheyenne Wood, Cory Jenson, Joseph Nobert, Meg Simmons, Alexis Jarvis, and Michaela Tomlinson.
The Chorus includes Ashley Floyd, Sarah Joiner, Jerica Tate, Gaelle Freer, Jane Worley, Ramona Baker, Jessica Beal, Madison Devault, Meagan Greer, Brett Russell, Brandon Sindle, Megan Slayden, Audrey Smith, Kolby Sowell, and Roxanne Ward.

Children’s Chorus Members are Emma Reeves, Lauren Robertson, Sara Baker, Abby Murphy, Ben Casey, Grace Sepulvado, and Olivia Goodrich.

Members of the Oklahoma Orchestra are Audrey Eldreth, Erin Lauters, Shelby Oliver, Gabe Waters, Tony Nowell, Pamela Howard Becker, Donald Falk, Ruth Garner, Jeremy Frasier, James Eldreth, A.J. Berger, Jim Hale, Brooks Propst, Casey Julian, Gary Davis, William White, Allison Statler, Ahmad Robinson, Cole Bearden, and Gabe Waters.
Director for this production of Oklahoma! Is Tim Thompson, Cindy White is music director /conductor, and Sherri Mitchell is costumer/vocal coach. Members of the production crew are Robert Abney, scenic design; Brittney Beers, lighting; and Jon Abney, sound.

Tickets are just $10. They can be purchased in advance at the Poplar Bluff Chamber of Commerce and the Three Rivers Financial Services Office. Tickets also will be sold at the door. Run…do not walk…to get your tickets. It is the best $10 investment you will make all year.

Show times are April 16-18, 7 p.m., and April 19, 2 p.m. All tickets are $10.
I left the play wishing I could take a little ride in a “Surry With the Fringe on Top”. For a few minutes, I was right there in that surry.

Thank you Tim Thompson and cast for that wonderful ride.

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