Rockaway Theatre Company Performs 'Oklahoma!'
The fireworks in the sky over Fort Tilden during the Independence Day weekend were not as bright as the wonderful performances which lit up the stage of the Post Theater as the Rockaway Theatre Company kicked off its summer season with Rodgers and Hammerstein's classic musical, 'Oklahoma!' Judging by the thunderous audience applause after all three opening weekend performances, it looks like the RTC has another hit on their hands.
The production boasts two complete and equally excellent casts. When asked why he decided to double cast, Director John Gilleece explained, "There was such an overwhelming outpouring of talent at auditions that it was practically impossible to make casting choices. In some cases it was so difficult to choose the merits of one candidate over another, that we decided to give both a chance to perform. While we are always proud and pleased to feature some of our veteran performers who have worked with us for many seasons, we always seek to encourage new talent to join our company. Each cast contains a lovely blend of skilled performers. Each cast features such outstanding performances that audiences are in for a treat no matter which performance they attend."
The show opened on Thursday night featuring the beautiful and talented local actress, Catherine Leib, in the role of Laurey. Catherine, who was previously seen as Nellie Forbush in 2007's South Pacific, sings, dances and acts her way into the hearts of audience members as well as the heart of Curly, her tall, handsome, leading man played by RTC newcomer Patrick S. Meyers, whose beautiful baritone voice opens the show with a wonderful rendition of the classic "Oh What a Beautiful Morning" and continues to enrapture the audience until the song's reprise at the close of the show. While Meyers is a constant factor in both casts, on Friday night his leading lady was played by another RTC newcomer, silver throated Chistina Rivera, whose exquisite soprano voice is equally rapturous. Rockaway locals Jodee Timpone and Eileen Farrell share the role of Laurey's guardian, the crusty, no-nonsense matriarch Aunt Eller, while Laurey's best friend, the uncontrollably promiscuous Ado Annie, is played with equal charm and vivacity by two lovely young ladies: Najat Arkadan and Nicole Mangano. The hilarious role of the fast-talking Persian peddler Ali Hakim is also divided between a newcomer and a veteran of the RTC, Dan Cardona and David Risley, respectively. Both actors have the audience laughing hysterically, especially in the scenes when their character is joined by Ado Annie's cattle-roping boyfriend, Will Parker, played by young Matt Smilardi, whose wonderful singing, dancing and acting distinguish him in this role. Cliff Hesse and Tom Kane, two other veteran actors well known on the RTC stage, alternate the roles of Cord Elam, Sheriff of the Oklahoma Territory, and Andrew Carnes, Ado Annie's pa. Chazmond Peacock is a standout as Jud Fry, delivering another outstanding performance with his stunning rendition of the eerie and rarely performed tune, "Lonely Room."
"Oklahoma!" boasts a company of 54 extremely talented men, women and children, (impossible to mention individually but certainly deserving of individual mention). Accompaniment is provided by a ninepiece orchestra of brilliant musicians under the baton of Walter Birkhold, who will open the RMAC Sunset Concert series this year with his Big Band. Another important feature of "Oklahoma!" is its intricate and innovative dances created by a very skillful young dancer/ choreographer, Gabrielle Mangano. Combat choreography and staging is provided by the multi-talented Frank Caiati. The RTC production team headed by Tech Supervisor Tony Homsey has constructed amazing sets and props. Art Director Jim Cantirino has created a depiction of Oklahoma, as wild and expansive as the territory itself.
This was the first show on which Rodgers and Hammerstein collaborated as a team. If you have never seen it, you have missed an important piece of musical theater history. Even if you're familiar with the show, it would be a mistake to miss this incredible RTC production. At press time there are seven performances remaining of which four are already sold out. Call 718-374-6400 and make your reservations immediately. Tickets for remaining shows are already evaporating as quickly as the "bright golden haze on the meadow."