LOCAL FAVORITES NIKITA BURSHTEYN AND JENNIFER MITCHELL BRING THE CORN FIELDS TO THE OAKLAND HILLS WITH THIS
47 MEMBER ALL STAR CAST
“Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’' booms across the summer Oakland hills as Curly, played by the impeccable Nikita Burshteyn, opens the classic 75 year old musical OKLAHOMA! There is no doubt how stunning the day is with Burshteyn singing “I've got a beautiful feelin”. Woodminster Summer Musicals presents its 52nd season with the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic now on stage through July 15th. The outdoor venue opens its summer season with this elegant production of the Pulitzer Prize Award-winning musical.
This was Richard Rodgers’ and Oscar Hammerstein’s first project and it began one of the greatest writing partnership in American Musical Theater. The clever director, Joel Schlader, says “Oklahoma! is an absolute must-see for musical theater lovers. In many ways, it set the direction for American Musical Theater that has been followed and expanded by people like Andrew Lloyd Webber and Lin-Manuel Miranda, whose shows we’re doing later this summer. It’s hard to overestimate how important this show was, which is why just this year, The New York Times called Oklahoma ‘the Hamilton of World War II.’ We’re excited to celebrate its 75th birthday with a big blow-out production, with nearly 50 in the cast plus a live professional orchestra.”
You couldn’t ask for a better celebration at Woodminster Summer Musicals than this marvellous production of OKLAHOMA! It features the best of our Bay Area musical theatre talent – bringing this Rodgers and Hammerstein classic to life with infectious energy. Yes, this iconic story does include one of Broadway’s worse villains, Jud Fry, - not the perfect role for this #Metoo era. As it turns out, the musical’s creators Rodgers and Hammerstein had similar concerns back in 1943 when they wrote it. “They would not have talked about it in the terms we do today, but they knew they were grappling with a hero who had many unsympathetic elements,” says Todd Purdum, author of “Something Wonderful,” a telling biography of the legendary songwriting team. The meticulous Dwight Mahabir, an actor of color, plays Jud - and the exceptional Peyton James shares the role.
The producers of this summers production worked out shared casting of Curly with two accomplished actors, Nikita Burshteyn and Gary Stanford Jr. to keep the 52 year old company diverse. Burshteyn performs opening weekend July 6 - 8, and Stanford closes the run July 12 - 15th. Both actors bring a full force charming Curly to the Oakland Hills.
Opening night Burshteyn as Curly opens the show with the iconic “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin” and “The Surrey With the Fringe On Top” - he shows off his full force pitch perfect tenor voice alongside the thrilling Jennifer Mitchell as Laurey. They both sweep us into the sunshine of an Oklahoma Ranch. Their vocal strength and allure are matched by their feisty courtship that swells into a glorious duet. They both fill the outdoor venue with their full throttle performances fueled by music director Mark Dietrich’s 22 member power house orchestra.
OKLAHOMA! tells the love story between Laurey played by the infectious Jennifer Mitchell, a stubborn young woman who lives on a farm with her Aunt Eller. It's set around the turn of the 20th century, just before Indian Territory and Oklahoma Territory combined to become the 46th state. Laurey’s and Curly's romance plays out against a backdrop of class prejudice and rivalry between the cowboys and the local farmers. Most of my readers and theatre fans have seen this musical a few times so I won’t focus much on the story.
The strong company belts out “Kansas City” with the triple-threat Oscar Tsukayama as Will Parker. Tsukayama’s terrific voice and comic chops are exuberant along with his high-stepping acrobatics and dancing energizes almost every scene he’s in. Oscar and company sizzle with Harriet Mason’s choreography in this huge dance number that also features the fancy footwork of Blake Hennessy-York and Todd Schlader. Assistant choreographer Sarah Pon made sure Tsukayama tapped his souls off like a true rancher.
Will later courts his sweetheart Ado Annie, played by the gifted Gina Velez. She brings a new charm to “I Cain't Say No” as her character tries to decide between her winsome cowboy and Ali Hakim, a peddler man played by the delightful Rio Martinez.- But it still sends a chill to the #MeToo era folks in the opening night crowd. Velez has a pitch perfect voice and is ideal for the love triangle between Tsukayama and Rio Martinez. Rio steals the stage as the persian lover and his voice is solid in his solo “It a Scandal.”
The delightful Marie Shell raises the bar as Aunt Eller. you'll be charmed by Shell who can cut a rug at the hoedown just as easily as she can keep the peace between the cowboys and farmers. Shell’s matriarch looks and sounds is from the heart of the Dust Bowl. She fills the stage with style during the huge company number “The Farmer and the Cowman” as the large company is in a full force production that pits farmers and cowboys.
Meanwhile, the comic subplot continues with the likable Martinez. The foreign peddler Hakim provides the needed humor with a diverse suitcase full of womens underwear and other accessories. The splendid Amanda Farbstein plays giggle happy Gertie Cummings who also flirts with Curly.
The capable Jim Rupp plays Andrew, Ado Annie’s dad who does not trust cowboys. The polished Mario Mazzetti and Mark McMillan play two farmers Fred and Slim. It is a splendid sign of how good the casting is with Woodminster veterans like Martin Rojas Dietrich as the confused Sheriff Elam, the standout Sean McGrory, Christine Burke, Todd Schlader, Max DeSantis, Joshua Lau, and local favorite Rod Voltaire Edora who fill out like pro’s, the other various roles.
The on stage lovers captivated the opening crowd with the show stopper “People Will Say We're In Love”. Burshteyn and Mitchell make the perfect on stage couple who fill the summer night with superb performances. Peyton James and Dwight Mahabir share the disturbing role as Jud as Curly sings “Pore Jud Is Daid” the song darkens the action. As Jud sings “Lonely Room” James brooding baritone seems to echo with menace and the lure of the grave.
Joel Schlader directs the enthusiastic cast with skill and attention to character, creating a fitting tribute to mark the 75th year. Christopher Fitzer’s set design includes a water tower and a clever quilt backdrop adds its own flair to the wide-open spaces of the Midwest. Recreating the former Indian Territory with pastel colors tones of blue yellow corn stalks and green pleated hills, of vivid colors. Quaint ranch fencing captures the bygone era with a cornfield that holds myriad of mysteries. Juds sheed is covered with Michelle Hernandez props that include the classic horse gear and plenty of rope.
Costume designer Judy Boraas brings the busy apron pattern dresses to the women and the men dressed in their cowboy best vests, boots and chaps. Staff lighting designer Jon Gourdine created some warm lights to brighten the Oklahoma blue skies for a more pop look for the dust bowl era and a nice string of lights for the second act opening number. Fitzer’s set is based on the blended quilt backdrop, pop up fences and Eller’s yellow bright farm house has that homey feel, with the wood benches and bales of hay for Curly to climb.
Sound designer Ty Wiechaart opens the evening with barking dogs and the outdoor farm sounds, then later gunshots, Ty’s mix with the 22 member orchestra is keen. Stage managers Mark Seward and Judy Boraas have to move close to 50 actors on and off stage - and at times it was slow between scene changes. The set up of Jud’s barn took a while and some audience members thought it was intermission and headed to the concession stands. On that topic Woodmister has a complete menu of tasty evening treats that you can eat at your seat and opening night always includes a free glass of wine.
Props master Hernandez also included an authentic water pump, butter churn, Ellers rocking chair, plenty of suitcases for Hakim’s bag of tricks, and a full size carriage. The principal actors are supported by an enthusiastic ensemble, and their talents are showcased well by Mason’s and Pon’s choreography including the Agnes de Mille original dance sequence “Out of my Dream” featuring the elegant Sarah Pon, Demetri Freeman, and Hennessy-York. The ensemble is a sheer delight to watch as they light up the stage with spirited ballet dancing, in “Laurey Make Up her Mind”’ punctuated by choreographed fight scenes and dancing cowboys.
The marvelous cast also includes; Danielle Altizio, Audrey Armacost, Megan Bartlett, Kimberley Cohan, Kenji Costantini, Seth Elkins, Natalie Fong, Linnea Fox, Cai Freeman, Haleyann Hart, Anna Joham, David Kautz, Rune Lauridsen, Brendan Looney, Ginnie Menezes, Jonathan Miller, Zach Moorhead, Ella Nelson, Chad Benjamin Potter, Tim Sanders, Crismeldy Segura, Abe Soane, Shelby Stewart, Alyssa Villareal, and Charlene Villareal.
The second act brings some of the memorable hits from this flawless score, including Tsukayama and Velez classic number “All ‘er Nothin” that shows off their dynamite voices as Will shows Ado a “Oklahoma hello” and his strong dance skills. The story continues with the powerhouse iconic song “Oklahoma!” performed by the entire company that lifts you right out of your seat. The reprise of “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” is stunning with the entire cast including a full size carriage for Curly and Laurey is heart warming and “is big as all outdoors”.
Woodminster Summer Musicals and cast delivers a production of “Oklahoma!” that captivates the audience with an unforgettable score and infectious energy that gets toes tapping and cheers at shows end. This 2.5 hour musical was central to the Broadway musical form we know and love today. It is an entertaining throwback to the origin of musicals and the start of a partnership between one of musical theater’s most beloved writing teams. Next up at WSM is Tim Rice’s JOSEPH AND THE AMAZING TECHNICOLOR® DREAMCOAT that opens August 3rd. IN THE HEIGHTS opens August 31st and closes the summer. But in the meantime Gary Stanford Jr. takes over the roll of Curley Friday July 12th and the grand old musical celebration must close next weekend.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s
Music by Richard Rodgers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs
Original dances by Agnes de Mille
Directed by Joel Schlader
Music direction by Mark Dietrich
Choreographed by Harriet Mason
and Sarah Pon
Must Close July 15th
Woodminster Amphitheater, 3300 Joaquin Miller Road, Oakland Ca
Two and half hours one intermission
Tickets: $26 to $59 with each child free with a paying adult
Information: www.woodminster.com or 510-531-9597
Photos Courtesy of Kathy Kahn / Stephan Woo and Bob Morris
CAST Amanda Farbstein Gertie, Nikita Bernstein, Gary Stanford Jr., Jennifer Mitchell, Marie Shell, Rio Martinez, Jim Rupp, Peyton James Jud II, Marie Shell, Gina Velez Danielle Altizio, Audrey Armacost, Megan Bartlett, Christine Burke, Kimberley Cohan, Kenji Costantini, Max DeSantis, Martin Rojas Dietrich, Rod Voltaire Edora, Seth Elkins, Natalie Fong, Linnea Fox, Cai Freeman, Demetri Freeman, Haleyann Hart, Blake Hennessy-York, Anna Joham,David Kautz, Joshua Lau, Rune Lauridsen, Brendan Looney. Mario Mazzetti, Sean McGrory, Mark McMillan, Ginnie Menezes, Jonathan Miller, Zach Moorhead, Ella Nelson, Sarah Pon, Chad Benjamin Potter, Tim Sanders, Todd Schlader, Crismeldy Segura, Abe Soane, Shelby Stewart, Alyssa Villareal, Oscar Tsukayama, Gina Velez, Dwight Mahabir, Peyton James and Charlene Villareal
HISTORY OF THE 75 YEAR OLD MUSICAL
KIDS COME FREE to Woodminster Summer Musicals!
• 16 and younger
• Available only at the Woodminster box office the night of the performance, no advance reservations
• 1 free ticket per full price adult or 1 free ticket for 2 group rate or "Oaklander opening night" tickets
• Not available on final dress rehearsals or combined with any other discount or promo
Since 1989, Woodminster Summer Musicals has offered free tickets to children and teens 16 and younger who are accompanying paying adults to any performance. These tickets are not reserved in advance; you should present your adult ticket (and your child!) at the box office after 5:30 p.m. on the night of the performance and you will receive a free child's ticket as close to your adult ticket as possible. Or to guarantee that your tickets will be together, purchase your adult ticket on the night of the performance.
MILLENNIAL DISCOUNT Are you 30 or younger? Just show up at the box office before any performance, present your ID to verify your age, and you may purchase tickets in any section for half price.
Director Joel Schlader and Mom WST Managing Director Harriet Mason Schlader