Rite of passage never comes in Berkshire Theatre Group's 'Oklahoma!'
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Theatre Group's human-sized production of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II's epic musical "Oklahoma!" begins on a note of pastoral tranquility and hope.
With birds chirping and the faint trill of violins in the orchestra pit, Curly (Jarid Faubel) makes his way onto the Colonial Theatre stage from the audience and with all the boyish Li'l Abner ingenuousness he can muster eases into "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'." As he sweetly asserts "everythin's goin' my way," it becomes clear that this is not only one late-teen-early-20s cowboy's expression of certainty that no matter what happens, everything's going to work out just fine, this also is the voice of a young territory on the edge of statehood; a nation poised for a rite of passage.
That passage never comes. That the Curly that Faubel gives us 21 2 hours later is no no wiser, no smarter and the arc of his dramatic journey is flat is emblematic of a production that, on the whole, falls short of its opportunities..
The most telling of those missed opportunities is a first-act scene in which Curly tries to assert his manly territorial prerogatives by paying a visit to Jud Fry (played by Austin Dyrant with a chilling, roiling, brooding temperament), to size up and serve an implied warning to his perceived competition for Laurey (played by the remarkable Diane Phelan with a compelling blend of maturity and vulnerability, intelligence and naivete that lift her far above any man on stage), niece and ward of Jud's boss, Aunt Eller (a feisty, engaging Kristine Zbornik). It's a scene fraught with threat, male posturing and assertion; two roosters asserting authority over the hen house. But this Curly's playful childishness is a poor substitute for wiliness. This Curly poses no threat at all, implied or otherwise.
The problems are not Faubel's alone. Chasten Harmon's insistent, overblown Ado Annie wears out her welcome early. As Will Parker, Matt Gibson does little with his material, especially his songs, which he delivers with straightforward, flat phrasing and even rhythm.
Christopher Gurr is far more successful as Ali Hakim in a nicely rendered portrayal; funny in a human sort of way, which is what director Eric Hill, much to his credit, seems to be after. This is an intimate production, far more concerned with intimacy than with Broadway expansiveness. Hill's approach brings out the strengths in Hammerstein's book, making this "Oklahoma!" far more a play with music and dance than a big Broadway extravaganza. But while less strives to be more on the Colonial stage; in the end, it is nowhere near enough.
OKLAHOMA! Music by Richard Rodgers. Book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the play "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. Directed by Eric Hill; choreographer, Gerry McIntyre; music director, Steven Freeman; scenic designer, Brett J. Banakis costume designer, David Murin; lighting designer, Michael Chybowski; sound designer, Brendan F. Doyle. Through July 20. Eves.: Mon., Tue., Thu.-Sat. 8. Mats.: Sat. 2; July 14 at 2. Berkshire Theatre Group, Colonial Theatre, 111 South St., Pittsfield. Tickets: $65-$25. (413) 997-4444; BerkshireTheatreGroup.org. 2 hours 34 minutes
Curly Jarid Faubel
Laurey Diane Phelan
Jud Fry Austin Durant
Will Parker Matt Gibson
Ali Hakim Christopher Gurr
Ado Annie Carnes Chasten Harmon
Aunt Eller Kristine Zbornik
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