More than OK
On a cross country road trip, just wanting to get through the state of Oklahoma on a trip out west, we randomly pulled off the highway and into a state park to sleep. We had no expectations of the state and was in a hurry to get through it painlessly. Upon waking we were met with the most beautiful and wonderful surprise. Red Rock Canyon State Park was the first of many incredible sights in Oklahoma. I had similar expectations about the musical, set over a hundred years ago and wondering what relevance it could have for me. Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production of Oklahoma was similarly full of beauty and surprise. The seventy-eight-year-old Pulitzer prize winning Rogers and Hammerstein musical is timeless in its universal themes of love and jealousy, intrigue and danger set in the Oklahoma territory in the time leading up to statehood. The director addressed the audience before the play began relating the themes of warring cowboys and farmers in Oklahoma to the world today at large and the need for people with different backgrounds to find common ground and work together, regardless of what you believe or who you love. That statement resonated through the cornfields and the prairie in the love story of Curly and Laurey (Ryan Skerchak and Kaitlyn Sage), and the anger and rage of Jud (played menacingly by Bobby Conte), whose powerhouse voice filled the playhouse. Aunt Eller (Mandi Elkins Hutchins) is the elderly, wise matriarch of the little town outside of Claremont, Oklahoma. Played with wit and humor expertly by Mandi Elkins Hutchins, last seen as a gorgeous and flamboyant divorcee in Mamma Mia. Derby Dinner Playhouse consistently does so many things right from the plentiful salad bar and delicious buffet to the dessert selection. Southern home cooking featuring fried chicken and fish, turkey tetrazzini and carved ham and turkey with all the fixings was almost enough to fill us up, but the temptation was too great to not partake of a new dessert item, the pecan pie cake. The theatre attracts amazing talent as servers who double as footnotes, opening the show and showcasing desserts, drinks and future shows. Some of the servers pull triple duty as footnotes and cast members and never miss a beat in any of them. Oklahoma is chock full of traditional folk type music, Rodgers and Hammerstein songs, square dancing and even lasso tricks all performed exceptionally well. Combined with authentic period costuming, the viewers are transported to a different time in American life. Aesthetically, my favorite part of Derby Dinner Productions are the creative uses of space and set design. Theatre in the round presents unique opportunities for set pieces. The audience was literally on Aunt Eller’s porch and in the blink of an eye (with the help of creative lighting and dropped set pieces) we found ourselves transported to Jud’s frightening and steamy smokehouse. Corn stalks appeared and disappeared from the ceiling and lighting let us know that Laurey was having an intense, dark dream about Jud and Curly. One of my favorite moments came just as Laurey inhaled the smelling salts that would give her the answers she was seeking. Illuminated by a spot light as the rest of the stage slowly melted away in darkness, Laurey reaches back before sleeping. Her pose struck me as an exact replica of a favorite famous painting, Christina’s world by Andrew Wyeth. It was either an incredible coincidence or a bit of directing brilliance. I tend to
think the latter, as so much of Derby Dinner Playhouse’s production was brilliant. Like the diverse and wonderful state, the musical astonishes and delights from one end to the other.
Oklahoma runs through May 27, 2018 For show times and ticket information visit https://derbydinner.com
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive, Clarksville IN 47129