North Shore Music Theatre’s ‘Oklahoma’ Is A Rollicking Kick Off to its 64th Season

 

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The cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s OKLAHOMA! at North Shore Music Theatre thru June 16, 2019. Photos © Paul Lyden

By Shelley A. Sackett

Just when the cold, wet slog of spring 2019 was about to wear down all hope that summer would ever arrive, NSMT comes to the rescue with a first-rate production of the 1943 classic, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s ‘Oklahoma!’ Perfect for theatre-in-the-round staging, this Broadway masterpiece has everything: a snappy, foot-stomping score, impressive choreography and a captivating story that is more complex and bleak than many may remember.

Under the direction of Mark Hartman, the orchestra is spot on. The opening overture is an immediate reminder of all the hits that came out of this show (‘Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin,” ‘The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,’ ‘I Cain’t Say No,’ ‘People Will Say We’re in Love,’ and, of course,‘Oklahoma!’) and last Wednesday night, the near capacity audience lip synched to almost every song. But when cowboy Curly McLaine (played with a perfect mixture of cockiness and aw-shucks-ma’am by the talented Blake Price) entered the stage astride an actual horse, the crowd predictably went wild with appreciation.

Born into a prosperous German Jewish family in Queens, New York City, composer Rodgers was the son of Mamie and Dr. William Rodgers, a prominent physician who had changed the family name from Rogazinsky. Librettist/lyricist Hammerstein II was also born in New York City.  His father was from a Jewish family, and his mother was the daughter of Scottish and English parents.

“Oklahoma” was their first collaboration and the first of a new genre, the musical play, which they created by melding Rodgers’ sophisticated style of musical comedy with Hammerstein’s innovations in operetta.

The narrative is simple on its face. Set in the Oklahoma territory in the 1900s, the musical lays out the story of two sets of lovers. Curley and the feisty, independent farmer Laurey Williams (played by the gifted Madison Claire Parks, whose dazzling singing is a delicious treat) are as in love as they are stubborn about not admitting their feelings to each other. They are early settlers building new lives on the wild frontier, and their pioneering spirits unsurprisingly clash.

Laurey’s Aunt Eller (played with zest by the buoyant Susan Cella) has some of the script’s best lines as she tries to knock some sense into Laurey and Curley, using every trick she knows short of actually knocking their heads together. The chemistry between the actors feels real, and their voices blend beautifully during their one duet, “People Will Say We’re in Love.”

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Madison Claire Parks (Laurey) and Blake Price (Curly).

 

Ado Annie Carnes (the Olive Oyl-like and spectacularly hilarious Melissa Carlile-Price), one of Laurey’s friends, and her boyfriend, cowboy Will Parker (Sean Bell, a terrific tap dancer) are the other couple. Or, at least they were. While Will was away on a trip to Kansas City, Ado Annie has fallen for the peddler Ali Hakim (the fine Cooper Grodin), who is a ladies’ man with zero intention of marrying her. Carlile-Price is a side-splitting enchantress, stealing every scene she is in.

But all is not innocence and trivial entertainment. Meatier topics like patriotism, impending statehood, and a spirited rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys provide a backdrop of danger and excitement. Add to the mix Jud Fry, the creepy farm hand that harbors nefarious designs on Laurey (darkly played by Alex Levin, whose baritone is operatic), and the plot truly thickens.

Mara Newbery Greer’s choreography elevates the show to greater artistic heights. In particular, the tap dancing in “Kansas City” and the dream sequence, “Ballet” (Bella Calafiura is a standout as Dream Laurey), are superb.

If there is any criticism of the production, it is that there is too much of it. At 3 hours, it is uncomfortably long, especially Act I (105 minutes).

Nonetheless, if you’re looking for an evening of thoroughly entertaining, (mostly) light summer fare, “Oklahoma!” fits the bill.

 

‘Oklahoma!’ is presented by North Shore Music Theatre, 62 Dunham Rd., Beverly, through June 16. Visit nsmt.org/ or call 978-232-7200.

 

 

 

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Sherman-Goldman wedding : A theme of beauty

By Shelley A. Sackett

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Arlene “Leni” Sherman and Harvey Goldman at their wedding.

 

Arlene “Leni” Sherman wasn’t looking to start a relationship when she accepted a friend’s invitation to join him for dinner with his male dining club. He was curious to hear her “woman’s perspective” about the group. The Malden widow thought it would be a fun night out and nothing more.

Her friend called her back, asking if it would be OK with her if one more person joined the group. He told her she might know him since he too was from Malden. His name was Harvey Goldman.

“I said, ‘Of course I know him. My mother went to his bar mitzvah and his wedding,’ ” Sherman said.

Goldman remembered her too. He called and asked if she wanted to catch up before the dinner. “I had no inclination that we would date. I thought we were just getting together to schmooze and figure out what was going on in our lives,” Sherman said. Instead, the two really hit it off and that night turned into the beginning of the rest of their lives.

That was over 10 years ago. With three grown children and seven grandchildren between them, the couple decided it was time to make their relationship legal “for the sake of the grandchildren.” But at their ages, neither wanted a traditional – or typical – wedding.

The couple love musicals and are regulars at North Shore Musical Theatre in Beverly. “It’s one of the things we really do have in common,” Sherman said. Out of the blue, she put two and two together: What better way to celebrate the blending of their multigenerational families than at the theater?

When she ran the idea by Goldman, he was totally on board.

They checked NSMT’s schedule and realized the last matinee performance of the love story, “Beauty and the Beast,” was Sunday July 31. They confirmed with their rabbi, Rabbi Robert S. Goldstein of Temple Emanuel in Andover, that he was available to officiate. Suddenly, they not only had a wedding venue, they also had a ready-made theme. “It was bashert,” Goldman said.

When they went to the theater, general manager Karen Nascembeni and the NSMT staff helped turn their dream into a reality. They bought a section of the 1,800-seat theater so their more than 100 guests could sit together. “After all the whole thing of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ is ‘Be our guest! Be our guest!’” Sherman joked.

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Nascembeni helped the couple with all the logistics, including hiring Essex caterer Timothy Hopkins. The traditional Jewish wedding ceremony took place at noon in a large rehearsal space with a chuppa of yellow roses adorned with a single red rose, representative of the Beast’s enchanted red rose under glass.

For the bride and groom, however, while the theme was fun, the most important part of the day was family. “All our children and grandchildren were in the ceremony,” Sherman said.

Officiating a wedding at a musical theater was a first for Rabbi Goldstein. Although most of the weddings he has conducted over the course of his career have been in synagogues, he believes that wherever a wedding takes place, the affection that the bride and groom have for each other, and the warmth and sincere love the guests have for the couple, transforms wherever the ceremony takes place into a holy and sacred space. “Harvey and Leni are blessed. There was unbridled happiness in the room,” he said.

After an hors d’oeuvres reception, all the guests strolled across the garden area into the theater for Act One. At intermission, they returned for more noshes. After Act Two, they enjoyed an ice cream sundae bar and other desserts and drinks.

Sherman, a retired Brandeis University administrator, took the “Beauty and the Beast” theme seriously, coordinating decorations and décor. Like Belle, she and her bridesmaids wore yellow. And, like the Beast, Goldman wore blue. Each guest received a red rose as they entered the theater.

Although delighted by his themed wedding, Goldman admits it was all a little more than they originally anticipated. “The whole idea of this was for us not to be the center of attention,” he said with a laugh.

Striking a more serious note, Goldman, who owns Goldman Funeral Chapel in Malden with his son, Jay waxed philosophical: “One thing I’ve learned in this line of business is that we only have one shot. We never know what tomorrow’s going to bring. You don’t want to live your life saying, ‘Why didn’t I?’”

The Girls Are Dreamin’ in Beverly

Eric LaJuan Summers steals the show as James “Thunder” Early in NSMT’s production of “Dreamgirls.”
PhotoPaul
Lyden

Attending the season opener at the North Shore Music Theatre brings back memories of stepping off the bus on the first day of summer camp. Like the joy of reconnecting with old friends and places, the NSMT’s round stage with its magic trapdoor center pit, its live orchestra and its signature disco-esque spinning light signal that, finally, summer is here.

And with its exuberant production of “Dreamgirls”,the winner of six Tony and two Grammy Awards, NSMT throws quite the summer party. There’s even dancin’ in the streets.

Inspired by the career of Diana Ross and The Supremes, the musical follows the onstage and backstage drama of the 1960s up-and-coming female trio, “The Dreams.” From their career-launching talent contest at New York City’s famed Apollo Theatre to their farewell concert over a decade later, there are the usual love triangles, artistic squabbles and managerial double-crossings.

There are also a soulful score, slick choreography and the performances of Bryonha Marie Parham as Effie and Eric LaJuan Summers as James “Thunder” Early that make “Dreamgirls” anything but the usual summer musical fare.

Parham and Summers are hands down the standouts in the strong 22-member cast. In Effie, Parham has a vehicle to unleash her powerful voice, and what a set of pipes she has. Her “And I’m Telling You I’m Not Going” deservedly brought down the house. Summers likewise packs a wallop as the showboat Early, playing him with a blend of James Brown athleticism, Stevie Wonder crooning and Little Richard flamboyance. Not since J. Cameron Barnett tore up the stage last summer as Sebastian the crab in “The Little Mermaid” has the NSMT hosted such an electrifying performer.

Like most NSMT productions, “Dreamgirls” is a little long at two-and-a-half hours (which includes a 20-minute intermission), but in this age of shrinking values and increasing costs, that seems a pretty silly thing to complain about.

“Dreamgirls” plays through June 14. For tickets and more information, visit nsmt.org or call 978-232-7200.