By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
Although Peter Allen did not get a Hollywood ending, his remarkable true-life
story of how he skyrocketed to fame through sheer talent, drive and his
ebullient personality deserves a splashy musical as good as Stages St. Louis production.

“The Boy from Oz” is the kind of glitzy material that the
company has excelled at for 33 seasons, their intimate stage a canvas for
crowd-pleasing flashy numbers and lavish costumes, with added poignancy that
tugs at our heartstrings. Allen died of AIDS-related throat cancer in 1992; he
was 48.

You may not recognize the name, but you have heard Allen’s
songs, and this show reminds us of his catchy pop hits and power ballads, which
he often wrote for other artists (Olivia Newton-John, Melissa Manchester, Rita
Coolidge).

The Stages production is the Midwest premiere of this rarely
produced musical, although Hugh Jackman won a Tony in 2004 for Leading Actor in
a Musical in the first Australian production ever mounted on Broadway.

Born in a small bush town, Aussie Allen became one of the greatest showmen of the 1970s and ‘80s, and in the title role, David Elder makes him unforgettable. With his charming smile and boundless energy, Elder glides into the role with ease – singing and dancing with oodles of pizzazz, from tender love songs to the era’s disco beats.

Elder’s bravura performance is a stunning display of sass, class and Energizer Bunny motion. Winning over the crowd from his first appearance as the adult Peter, he dynamically captures the life force that Allen was, daring to say: ‘I am who I am, and you can’t ignore or stop me.’ It’s one of the most muscular and joyous lead performances of the year.

As Allen’s fame grew, he was a regular on the talk show
circuit, brightening up those couches, often wearing his trademark Hawaiian
shirts. I recall how genuine he seemed as an entertainer, although extremely
flamboyant – he clearly loved the glamour of showbiz, opened at Carnegie Hall,
danced with the Rockettes at Radio City Music Hall and sang on the Academy
Awards.

This musical, with a snappy book by Martin Sherman and Nick
Enright, emphasizes his life as tailor-made rags-to-riches name-in-lights legend.
The cheeky wit is endearing as Elder narrates Allen’s first-person story.

To chronicle his life, original producers Ben Gannon and Robert
Fox used Allen’s own music and lyrics: “Best That You Can Do” (1981 Oscar
winning song known as “Arthur’s Theme” co-written with Burt Bacharach, Carole
Bayer Sager and Christopher Cross), “I’d Rather Leave While I’m in Love,”
“Everything Old is New Again,” “Love Don’t Need a Reason,” “I Honestly Love
You” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” among them.

Corinne Melancon and David Elder. Photo by Peter Wochniak“Not the Boy Next Door” turns out to be a fun number between
mother and son. Reliable veteran Corinne Melancon, who seemingly can play any
kind of role, from the pious Mother Superior in “Sister Act” to strong-willed
single mother Donna Sheridan in “Mamma Mia!” during her frequent summers at
Stages, provides affection and pride as Peter’s mother Marion Woolnough, strong
in voice and characterization.

And it’s not just Elder who is sensational, but two debuts are noteworthy. While his Allen interpretation is a slow build – I mean, he doesn’t start at 11, Michele Ragusa is an astonishing Judy Garland, feisty right out of the gate, quickly becoming a patron favorite and stealing the show with her well-timed quips, mannerisms and powerful vocals. Garland’s husband, Mark Herron, discovered Allen in of all places, Hong Kong.

Ragusa soars in “All I Wanted Was the Dream” and “Don’t
Wish Too Hard,” and the moving “Quiet Please, There’s a Lady on Stage” with
Elder.

Garland’s daughter and his future wife, Liza Minnelli, is played with panache by Caitlyn Caughell. She assumed the role after Sarah Ellis (St. Louis Theater Circle nominee as Laurie in “Oklahoma!”) was injured and needed surgery.

She portrays the right mix of bravado and vulnerability as Liza embarks on her own celebrated career, shows her mettle in “Come Save Me” and “She Loves to Hear the Music” with the ensemble. The couple, who divorced after seven years of marriage, remained friends for life, and Elder and Caughell convey that bond.

Michele Ragusa as Judy GarlandZach Trimmer portrays Peter’s longtime love, Texas model
Greg Connell, who died of an AIDS-related illness in 1984. He’s not a warm and
fuzzy character, so their relationship appears to have some holes in the
retelling. The pair share two affecting duets, “If You Were Wondering” and “Love
Don’t Need a Reason.”

Two boys, Ben Iken and Simon Desilets, alternate playing an
eager young Peter, who just wants to entertain, singing and dancing for small
change. Versatile mainstage mainstay Erik Keiser excels as Peter’s first
singing partner, Chris Bell, in their “brother act,” first appearing on
Australian Bandstand as The Allen Brothers. They would have a successful
touring cabaret act and appear on TV.

As is customary at Stages, Steve Isom plays several roles,
from Peter’s abusive alcoholic dad Dick Woolnough to his brusque manager Dee
Anthony.

The ensemble is as energetic and enthusiastic as Elder is,
and their showstopping grand finale, the 1976 salsa-flavored disco hit, “I Go
to Rio,” is a rousing number in which dancers make quite an entrance in Brad
Musgrove’s elaborate sequined costumes. Musgrove, who never met a sequin he
didn’t like, outdoes the Follies here in spectacular shiny silver-and-white outfits.
The costumes received their own applause, as did Dana Lewis’ robust choreography.

James Wolk’s scenic design is straightforward, allowing the
music numbers to be the focus, and there is a lovely nighttime New York skyline
through an apartment picture window. Sean M. Savoie’s brightly colored lighting
design complements Wolk’s set beautifully.

Director Michael Hamilton emphasizes the vivacious side of Peter while not forgetting the sorrow. He crisply stages the Judy-Peter-Mark-Chris number “Only an Older Woman” with as much oomph as he does with the exuberant ensemble numbers “Sure Thing Baby” at the Copacabana and “When I Get My Name in Lights.” Stuart Elmore’s orchestrations work well, while music director Lisa Campbell Albert varies the tempo to suit each singer.

“Caught between the moon and New York City” will always
define Allen for me. It’s just one of those phrases that you’ll always remember
with a smile, especially if you have fallen in love with the city like he did. And
he’s impossible to forget after seeing his story, “The Boy from Oz.”

David Elder and Ben Iken as old and young Peter AllenStages St. Louis presents “The Boy from Oz” May
31-June 30 at the Robert G. Reim Theatre in the Kirkwood Community Center, 111
S. Geyer Road, St. Louis, 63122. For more information or to purchase tickets,
visit www.StagesStLouis.org or
call 314-821-2407.

STAGES St. Louis is thrilled to announce casting for its 33rd Season: THE BOY FROM OZ, GREASE, MAN OF LA MANCHA, and its Emerson Family Theatre Series production of Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS.

“The tagline at STAGES is ‘Experience The Story’ and our 2019 Season stays true to these words offering something special for everyone,” expresses Associate Producer Andrew Kuhlman.

THE BOY FROM OZ May 31 – June 30 Music and Lyrics by Peter Allen Book by Martin Sherman and Nick Enright Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton Choreography by Dana Lewis Musical Direction by Lisa Campbell Albert Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie.

The Midwest Premiere of THE BOY FROM OZ follows the dazzling and hilarious Australian singer-songwriter, Peter Allen, from his humble beginnings performing in backcountry pubs to his international stardom beside such Hollywood icons as Judy Garland and her daughter Liza Minnelli. Featuring such beloved Peter Allen hits as “Don’t Cry Out Loud”, “I Honestly Love You”, and the show-stopping “I Go To Rio”; THE BOY FROM OZ is a showbiz celebration of life, love, and being fabulous.

David Elder is Peter Allen, Sarah Ellis is Liza Minelli, Michele Ragusa is Judy Garland and Corinne Melancon is Marian Woolnough

DAVID ELDER (Peter Allen) David is thrilled to return for his 6th show at STAGES! Broadway credits include CURTAINS (Bobby Pepper), 42ND STREET Revival (Billy Lawlor, Outer Critics Circle, and Astaire Award Nominations), KISS ME, KATE (Bill Calhoun/Lucentio), TITANIC: The Musical (Frederick Fleet, the Lookout), ONCE UPON A MATTRESS starring Sarah Jessica Parker (Sir Harry u/s), DAMN YANKEES starring Jerry Lewis (Bomber on Broadway, Joe Hardy on the National Tour), Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Salt, Beast u/s), and GUYS AND DOLLS starring Nathan Lane (Guy, Crapshoot specialty). Film and TV credits include ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, CRADLE WILL ROCK, JEFFREY, and “Guiding Light”.

MICHELE RAGUSA (Judy Garland) Michele is thrilled to be making her STAGES debut! Broadway credits include YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (Elizabeth), URINETOWN (Pennywise), RAGTIME (Evelyn), TITANIC, A CLASS ACT, and CYRANO. Off-Broadway credits include ADRIFT IN MACAO (Primary Stages/ Lortel and Drama League nominations/Barrymore Award), TITANIC: 20th Anniversary Concert (Lincoln Center), and CRAVING FOR TRAVEL (Playwrights Horizon). Regional credits include BULLETS OVER BROADWAY (Helen), MAME (Mame), HELLO, DOLLY! (Dolly Levi), LEND ME A TENOR (Maria), ANNIE (Hannigan), BOEING, BOEING (Gabriella), THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE (Mrs. Meers), FUNNY THING … FORUM (Domina), THE KING AND I (Anna), SPAMALOT (Lady/Lake), SWEENEY TODD (Beggar Woman), SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Lena), INTO THE WOODS (Witch), KISS ME, KATE (Kate), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Chaperone), COMPANY, MARY POPPINS (Winifred Banks), GUYS AND DOLLS (Adelaide), and THE FULL MONTY (Vickie).

SARAH ELLIS (Liza Minnelli) Sarah is thrilled to be reuniting with her STAGES family! Recent credits include the Broadway 1st National Tour of A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE AND MURDER.  Favorite regional credits include Laurey in OKLAHOMA! (STAGES), Dyanne in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET (Riverside and Geva Theatres), and Molly in GHOST: The Musical at Fingerlakes MT Festival, where she will be returning later this summer to play Nellie in SOUTH PACIFIC. Other regional credits include Ogunquit, Pittsburgh CLO, North Shore Music Theatre, KC Starlight, Westchester Broadway Theatre, Florida Studio, and WV Public.  NYC credits include THE ROAD TO RUIN, DEAR JANE, and STARDUST ROAD: The Hoagy Carmichael Musical.  Sarah is a frequent Guest Artist with the Dubuque Symphony Orchestra and holds a BFA from Penn State (WE ARE!).

CORINNE MELANÇON (Marion Woolnough) Corinne happily returns to STAGES after appearing in last season’s I DO! I DO! and MAMMA MIA!  Broadway credits include 11 years in MAMMA MIA! (where she appeared as Donna, Tanya, and Rosie), KISS ME, KATE, JEKYLL & HYDE, BIG, A CHRISTMAS CAROL, MY FAIR LADY, and ME & MY GIRL.  Other NY appearances include Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall.  Corinne has appeared in the International Touring company of GRAND HOTEL and on film as Lady Beaconsfield/Guinevere in JEKYLL & HYDE.  Additional STAGES credits include Violet in 9 TO 5, the title role in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (St. Louis Theatre Circle nomination), Mother Superior in SISTER ACT, Charlotte in A LITTLE NIGHT MUSIC, Nickie in SWEET CHARITY, Tracy in HIGH SOCIETY, Rose in BYE BYE BIRDIE, and Lucille in NO, NO, NANETTE.  Favorite regional credits include Vera in MAME, Judith in HAY FEVER, Velma in CHICAGO, and Mona in DAMES AT SEA.

GREASE July 19 – August 18 Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey Additional Songs by Barry Alan Gibb, John Farrar, Louis St. Louis, Scott Simon Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton Choreography by Tony Gonzalez Musical Direction by Lisa Campbell Albert Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie.

Welcome to Rydell High where Danny Zuko and his gang of Burger Palace Boys and Pink Ladies rule the school! Bursting with explosive energy and 1950’s nostalgia, GREASE blends an irresistible mix of adolescent angst and All-American teen spirit to create a high octane pop-culture phenomenon you won’t want to miss!

SUMMERISA BELL STEVENS (Sandy Dumbrowski) Summerisa is thrilled to be returning to STAGES St. Louis, where she was recently seen as Sophie Sheridan in MAMMA MIA! and as Doralee Rhodes in 9 TO 5 (2018 Broadway World Award for Best Actress). Favorite regional credits include Swing/Tara u/s and Alison Prager u/s in HALF TIME (Paper Mill), Velma and “Somewhere” Soloist in WEST SIDE STORY (Paper Mill & Riverside Theatre), DeLee in SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ (Merry-Go-Round & Riverside Theatre), and Amber in HAIRSPRAY (Tuacahn). Summerisa holds a BFA in Musical Theatre and a Minor in Ballroom Dance.

SAM HARVEY (Danny Zuko) Sam is a born and raised Nebraska Cornhusker and proud AMDA NY graduate. He is also very excited to be taking on the iconic role of Danny Zuko this summer at STAGES after just coming off the 10th Anniversary Tour of ROCK OF AGES (Stacee Jaxx). NYC and Off-Broadway credits include BAYSIDE! The Musical! (Zack Morris) and THE LOVE NOTE (Peter). International credits include BROADWAY CHRISTMAS WONDERLAND (Lead Vocalist) and ROCK OF AGES (Drew). Sam performed regionally in GREASE (Kenickie) and THE SOUND OF MUSIC (Rolf). Love to his family and beautiful wife.

MORGAN COWLING (Betty Rizzo) Morgan is extremely grateful and excited to be making her STAGES St. Louis debut as a Pink Lady! She toured the country as Meg Giry in the original cast of THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (25th Anniversary Tour). Off-Broadway and NYC credits include Sherri Walters in MARRY HARRY (The York Theatre), Lecy in ONCE WE LIVED HERE (Urban Stages), and BULL DURHAM (Workshop). Regional credits include OKLAHOMA! (Goodspeed Musicals), HELLO, DOLLY! (Ford’s Theatre), THE MADNESS OF MAY (Thalian Hall), and Disney’s WISHES (Disney Cruise Line, OC). A Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts alum, Morgan’s Australian credits include GUYS AND DOLLS, SEUSSICAL, and THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

JESSE CORBIN (Kenickie) Jesse has worked extensively regionally and in New York City with favorite credits including Tony Manero in SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, Danny in GREASE, Enjolras in LES MIZ, and Joseph in JOSEPH … DREAMCOAT. Other career highlights include appearing in the North American premiere of Tim Rice’s FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, debuting the spectacular THE FIRST NOEL at The Apollo Theatre in Harlem, and starring in the Off-Broadway, two person production of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE. Jesse recently debuted his solo show in NYC at Haswell Green’s and just released a collection of original songs! MAN OF LA MANCHA September 6 – October 6 Written by Dale Wasserman Music by Mitch Leigh Lyrics by Joe Darion Direction and Musical Staging by Michael Hamilton Choreography by Dana Lewis Musical Direction by Lisa Campbell Albert Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie

A romantic and inspiring musical adventure, MAN OF LA MANCHA tells the epic story of seventeenth-century author Miguel de Cervantes and his immortal literary creation Don Quixote. This poignant tale of ultimate heartbreak and unimaginable triumph features a lushly melodic score that includes the rapturous “Dulcinea”, the rousing title song, and the classic Broadway anthem which dares us all to dream “The Impossible Dream”.

JAMES PATTERSON (Cervantes/Don Quixote) James is excited to make his debut with STAGES. Most recent credits include Georges in LA CAGE AUX FOLLES at the Pioneer Theatre Company and Lumiere in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST at Theatre Under The Stars. James has appeared in the Broadway and National Touring productions of GIGI (Dufresne), MARY POPPINS (Park Keeper), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE, Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Beast, Gaston, and Lumiere understudy), CATS (Munkustrap), and STATE FAIR. Other credits include Dr. Livesey in TREASURE ISLAND and Lumiere in Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST (Fulton Theatre & MSMT), LE COMTE ORY (Metropolitan Opera), MAME (Kennedy Center), Barnaby Slade in SAIL AWAY(Carnegie Hall), Joshua Chamberlain in CHAMBERLAIN (MSMT), and Reverend Shaw Moore in FOOTLOOSE (Fulton Theatre). Website: jamespattersontheactor.com. James is a graduate of Tufts University and NEC.

PATRICK JOHN MORAN (Sancho Panza) Originally from NJ, Patrick took a quick $4 bus ride over the George Washington Bridge and now calls NYC home! National Tour credits include Francis Flute/ Master of the Justice in SOMETHING ROTTEN! and Asher/Baker in JOSEPH … DREAMCOAT. Regional credits include William Morris Barfee in THE 25TH ANNUAL … SPELLING BEE (Chicago Company/Drury Lane), Jacey Squires in THE MUSIC MAN (Cape Playhouse), Sancho Panza in MAN OF LA MANCHA (Flat Rock Playhouse), Hubie Cram in DO RE MI (Musicals Tonight!), Harry in MY FAIR LADY (Riverside Theatre), and Norman Bulansky in THE BOYS NEXT DOOR (Identity Theater Company).

AMANDA ROBLES (Aldonza) Amanda is a graduate of the University of the Arts and holds a BFA in Musical Theatre. She has recently been seen as Rita in a full workshop production of FROM HERE TO ETERNITY (Jerome Robbins Theater) under Sir Tim Rice and as Isabel/Tia Carmen in the World Premiere of AMERICAN MARIACHI (DCPA and The Old Globe). Amanda has also appeared at Walt Disney World’s Castle Stage in the opening casts of ELENA’S ROYAL WELCOME (Princess Elena) and MICKEY’S MOST MERRIEST CELEBRATION. Currently, she resides in New York City and continues to work in regional productions around the country.

Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS June 18 – June 30 Music and Lyrics by Mel Leven, Randy Rogel, Richard Gibbs, Brian Smith, Martin Lee Fuller, Dan Root Book Adapted and Additional Lyrics by Marcy Heisler Music Adapted and Arranged by Bryan Louiselle Based on the Screenplay by Bill Peet Based on the Novel The Hundred and One Dalmatians by Dodie Smith Direction and Choreography by Peggy Taphorn Musical Direction by Tali Allen Scenic Design by James Wolk Costume Design by Brad Musgrove Lighting Design by Sean M. Savoie

STAGES Emerson Family Theatre Series production returns this year with Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS. Join the evil Cruella De Vil and her two klutzy henchmen as they try to steal a litter of the cutest puppies ever to hit jolly old London Town. But not to worry – this fur-raising adventure ends happily with plenty of puppy power to spare! A musical treat for the entire family, Disney’s 101 DALMATIANS is sure to have audiences barking for more! This year’s Emerson Family Theatre Series also features 12 students from STAGES Performing Arts Academy. STAGES is offering a unique performance opportunity as the only Academy attached to a professional theatre in the region.

DENA DIGIACINTO (Perdita) Dena is thrilled to be back at STAGES St. Louis where previous credits include OKLAHOMA!, 9 TO 5, and JOSEPH … DREAMCOAT. She appeared on Broadway in the recent revival of A CHORUS LINE. Other favorite credits include EVITA (Riverside Theatre and National Tour), Disney’s THE LITTLE MERMAID, Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and THE WIZARD OF OZ (Variety Theatre), THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Peninsula Players), MARY POPPINS (John W. Engeman Theater), and Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS (Pioneer Theatre Company).

DREW HUMPHREY (Pongo) Drew is thrilled to return to STAGES, where he was most recently seen in OKLAHOMA!; New York/Tour credits include the Broadway production of Irving Berlin’s WHITE CHRISTMAS (also Cast Recording), OF THEE I SING and LADY BE GOOD at Encores!, and the First National Tour of 42ND STREET. Regional credits include CRAZY FOR YOU (Bobby Child), SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (Cosmo), CATS (Skimbleshanks), THE MUSIC MAN (Tommy Djilas), and WEST SIDE STORY (Snowboy).  Drew received a BFA in dance from the University of Arizona. 

LARISSA WHITE (Anita) Larissa has appeared as Bonnie Parker in BONNIE & CLYDE, Dolly in THE THREEPENNY OPERA, Heather McNamara in HEATHERS, Heather (again) in AMERICAN IDIOT, physicist Leona Woods in ATOMIC, Angel in CELEBRATION, Alice in LIZZIE, and Elle in LEGALLY BLONDE. Her show WERDEN SIE MICH TOTEN was produced for Surfacing’s Emerging Playwrights Festival.

ERIC MICHAEL PARKER (Roger) Originally from Los Angeles, Eric is a NYC-based actor and singer. He is also a winner of the Kurt Weill Foundation’s Lotte Lenya Competition and has performed on stages from Tokyo to Rome. Some favorite credits include Freddy in MY FAIR LADY (Musical Theatre West), Harold Bride in TITANIC: The Musical (Moonlight Productions), Robert Martin in THE DROWSY CHAPERONE (Norris PAC), and, most recently, Mr. Collins in AUSTEN’S PRIDE, a new musical of the novel “Pride & Prejudice” (ACT of CT). 

STAGES St. Louis is the region’s foremost not-for-profit company committed to preserving and advancing the art form of Musical Theatre through excellence in performance and education. In 2019, STAGES celebrates its 33rd year of producing Broadway-quality theatre, presenting 140 performances from June through October to nearly 50,000 patrons.

STAGES employs a full-time staff of 23 overseeing a budget of $5.1 million. During the performance season, an additional 150 actors and crew members bring the productions to life. To date, STAGES professionals have produced 120 musicals, with over 3,700 performances, playing to more than one million patrons. Single tickets to STAGES’ 2019 Season are on sale now and prices range from $25 – $65. Subscriptions are still available and begin at just $120. STAGES’ Mainstage productions perform in the intimate, 377-seat Robert G. Reim Theatre at the Kirkwood Civic Center, 111 South Geyer Road in St. Louis, MO 63122.

For more information or to purchase tickets call 314-821-2407 or visit www.StagesStLouis. org.

New York Casting is done by Scott Wojcik and Gayle Seay of Wojcik/Seay Casting.

By Lynn Venhaus
Managing Editor
The game-changing musical “Oklahoma!” is celebrating its 75th anniversary, and Stages St. Louis has honored that legacy with a rollicking hoedown. Their colorful collaboration burns bright with vivid characterizations.
The ensemble’s good cheer emanates. Based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” the first book musical by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers focuses on romantic conflicts — between Laurey and her two suitors, Curly and Jud, and Ado Annie and two men she’s drawn to Ali Hakim and Will Parker.
Set on the Oklahoma territory in 1906, the musical reflects both its innocent time and the rugged pioneer spirit, the hands that built America. Director Michael Hamilton conveys a strong sense of community throughout, and the cast does its part, creating dynamic interactions in a small prairie town.

The cast infuses the old-fashioned characters with plenty of personality, making them appealing to a modern audience. The characters don’t remotely resemble any contemporary archetypes, so they remain quaint caricatures, and the ensemble plays them broadly.
Blake Price, Sarah Ellis and Zoe Vonder Haar in “Oklahoma!”As Curly and Laurey, Blake Price and Sarah Ellis have a playful chemistry together as they tussle, clearly meant for each other, and their vocal ease is a high point of the show.
Price sets the tone with “Oh What a Beautiful Morning” and is a convincing charmer in “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.” Their “People Will Say We’re in Love” is a superb rendition as they project yearning.
Ellis showcases a satiny soprano, outstanding on “Out of My Dreams” with the girls, and flawless both “People Will Say We’re in Love” and reprise.
But then there’s hired hand Jud (versatile David Sajewich), whose undercurrent of menace has some others on edge. Today, he’s viewed as a tragic figure who boils over in frustration and anger, misunderstood. You do feel sympathy for Jud, especially when Sajewich sings “Lonely Room.”
Sparks fly with the comical love triangle between lively Ado Annie, cowboy Will Parker and peddler Ali Hakim, who play their characters strictly for laughs.
Con O’Shea-Creal, with a winning smile and jaunty demeanor as Will, is convivial in “Kansas City,” an ebullient dance number unleashing rodeo spirit!
Newcomer Lucy Moon is the spunky boy-crazy lass Ado Annie and animated Matthew Curiano, with crackerjack comic timing, had the crowd on his side as the charming peddler stuck in the middle.
Zoe Vonder Haar, who has been part of Stages St. Louis for 31 of its 32 years, crackles as Aunt Eller. Her spunky delivery is another bright spot.
Stages’ veterans Leah Berry stood out as Gertie Cummings, with her distinctive laughter, while John Flack as crusty Andrew Carnes and Steve Isom as the lawman Cord Elam capably crafted lived-in characters. In Flack’s case, his shotgun-daddy character is a real “character” – he was straight out of Yosemite Sam’s playbook.
With their first collaboration, the legendary songwriting duo of Rodgers and Hammerstein set the gold standard with their innovations in 1943, seamlessly integrating music, dance, drama and comedy. They changed musical history and won a special Pulitzer Prize for their efforts.
The music effortlessly flows, and each number is crisply delivered and smooth as corn silk. Stuart M. Elmore handled the orchestral design while Lisa Campbell Albert oversaw the music direction.
The robust rendition of the title song brings out the community pride at being settlers in this new land. Since I learned it in fourth grade music class, it has always been one of my favorites, especially with the exquisite harmony and the modulated delivery.
Agnes DeMille’s landmark original choreography is honored by choreographer Dana Lewis. While the Dream Ballet is a beautiful component of this show, it’s a wee bit jarring when the Dancing Curly is a different guy – primo ballet dancer Nicholas De La Vega (who stood out in The Muny’s “Jerome Robbins’ Broadway” this summer) when Dancing Laurey is ballet-trained Ellis. Effortless nonetheless.
With the cast’s vitality shining through, the dance sequences fit the stage well. Costume designer Brad Musgrove has made eye-popping homespun costumes that stand out too.
The intimate staging at the Robert G. Reim Theatre works well for the large ensemble. Scenic Designer James Wolk’s work is stunning. His scrim and set evoked early American paintings and breathtaking vistas of what motivated pioneers to embark on an adventure. Sean Savoie’s exquisite lighting design accented every scene beautifully.
Steeped in Americana, this vigorous “Oklahoma!” honors our country’s love of the land, and our hard-working ancestors who believed in the American Dream and most definitely, the pursuit of happiness.
What a fitting way to end Stages’ 32nd season.
Photos by Tom Sakiyama