Source: Grosse Pointe News Online

‘Oklahoma’ beyond OK

by Brad Lindberg

September 20, 2012

OKLAHOMA, on a beautiful morning — Farmers wouldn’t squawk if their corn crop were as high as the level of talent in the Grosse Pointe Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma.”

The show runs through Sept. 30, at Grosse Pointe War Memorial’s Fries Auditorium.

Director Don Bischoff expects audiences to enjoy “Oklahoma” and its 42-member cast as much as last season’s “The Music Man.”

“Music Man sold out every show,” said Bischoff, of Macomb Township.

“Oklahoma” is by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II.

“You can’t go wrong with that,” Bischoff said. “Beautiful music.”

Showbiz types call musicals tuners. “Oklahoma” has more than a dozen songs, including reprises.

At Fries, a cock-a-doodle-do curtain call and overture by a 10-piece orchestra precede stage lights brightening a beautiful morning on a turn-of-the-last-century farm.

Leading man Curly, a laconic and lovesick cowboy played by Steve Xander Carson of Grosse Pointe Woods, ambles on stage from the back of the house. He pines to the corn field, figuring ev’rything’s goin’ his way.

It does. The audience knows that. “Oklahoma,” in various stage versions and screen adaptations, is classic Americana.

The joy of the show is the journey, not the destination.

Old horse,

new color

GPT spices the tale with twists, of sorts.

It melds elements of the original 1943 production, revival editions and a 15-year-old British version staring Hugh Jackman into a nearly three-hour song-and-dance toe tapper, including intermission.

The character of Jud, a corn belt Caliban, is foil and antagonist to Curly’s heartfelt pursuit of their mutual love interest, Laurey.

In the GPT version, Jud hints at his less bestial side.

Yet, in this story of farm girls roping cowboys, of civilization overtaking nature, Indian territory yielding to statehood and of law governing emotion, Jud’s human shadings succumb to his animal core.

Jud is played by Brian Groth of St. Clair Shores. Groth shows convincing juxtaposition of Jud’s resentment and poignancy. He acts at one time evil and, at moments, maybe deserving of compassion. With Jud’s death, however, rats lose an equal.

Laurey, aka Erin Ginger of Grosse Pointe Woods, wings the zephyr of manifest destiny on blonde curls and unwavering soprano.

Ginger graduated in 2002 from Grosse Pointe North High School. She used her degree in music education from the University of Michigan to get a job teaching music in Detroit.

She’d like audiences leaving “Oklahoma” to have the title song in mind.

“The song sticks in your head,” she said.

She and Carson make a nice couple.

Carson’s a 2007 graduate of University Liggett School. He earned an acting degree from Wayne State University and is certified in rapier, dagger, broad sword and unarmed stage fighting.

“When Oklahoma was first produced during World War II, it was very uplifting, something the audience needed to see to raise spirits,” Carson said.

The GPT production is “subtle gritty,” he said, citing “the suggestion that Jud burned down a house.”

When Jud attacks Curly with a knife, Curly fights back. Jud falls on the knife, dead.

A jury-rigged court, in which no one minds bending the law, finds Curly innocent by reason of self defense.

“It is arguable, in my mind, how the community writes off what Curly did as fine,” Carson said.

Dialogue, song and action intertwine in common time, tap, Texas two-step, cancan, a ballet dream sequence and a couple of all-cast showstoppers.

“The primary job of a director is solving problems — solving scene changes and how to keep the show flowing,” Bischoff said.

Family affair

Eddie Tujaka, a lieutenant with City of Grosse Pointe public safety in his second year with GPT, plays Andrew Carnes, the protective father of Ado Annie. She’s the girl who “cain’t” say no.

Tujaka, with straw hat, fake false tooth, corncob pipe — and double-barrel shotgun to ensure Annie’s suitors do the right thing — has some of the best lines. He calls his daughter’s favorite cowboy a “feeble-minded shike-poke.” The reference is obscure.

Tujaka’s character presides in Curly’s court case as prosecutor, defense counsel and judge.

“I take care of the investigation,” Tujaka said.

He also kicks off Act II with “The Farmer and the Cowman.”

The whole cast takes stage. There’s enough children in the company to need a child wrangler.

“Children tend to be a little talkative during rehearsal, so we keep them away from scenes they’re not in, or it would be chaos,” Bischoff said.

Carolyn Darby handles the job.

“Whenever the children aren’t on stage, they have to be with me,” said Darby, a Detroit resident and substitute school teacher in the Pointes. “If you put food out, they eat everything in sight. We have to keep their food separate.”

“There’s lots of family dynamics in here,” said Tracy Bischoff, set designer, scenic artist and the director’s wife. “There’s nine different combinations of families in the show.”

Bridget Backer, 8, of Grosse Pointe Farms; and Paige Clark, 7, of Royal Oak, play twins.

They didn’t know each other prior to casting. Now, they’re inseparable on and off stage.

“We like doing the same things,” Clark said.

This is Clark’s first role.

“It’s really fun,” she said.