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Observer Review: There’s a bright golden show at the theater

The Observer

David Ambro

May 18, 2017

 

As I sat in the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport looking at the playbill and waiting for Oklahoma! to start on press night on the eve of Mother’s Day Saturday, May 13, my mind was on other things, not my mom.

I was wet and uncomfortable after running in the rain up Main Street to the theater from the LaMantia Gallery down the block where I had just attended the opening of gallery owner James LaMantia’s work. I was trying to catch up with the show I was about to see, and I engaged in friendly conversation with the Engeman usher.

That all changed though after the lights dimmed, and the first words rolled off the tongue of Curly McLain, played by Bryant Martin, as he sang “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’.”

“There’s a light golden haze on the meadow,”

“There’s a light golden haze on the meadow,”

“The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye,”

“An’ it looks like it’s climbing clear up in the sky…”

With those words my mom, Helen Ambro, was now in the forefront of my mind. Mr. Martin’s rendition of this iconic song was beautiful, and it brought back fond memories of the days of my youth.

Oklahoma! is the first musical ever written by the renowned theatrical team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and it was the first live show I had ever seen.

When I was a little boy my mother would try to bring me, my brother and my sister and our friends to live theater whenever she could. We went to American Legion and VFW halls, church basements, school auditoriums – my mom would have loved the Engeman – and Oklahoma! was one of her favorites. So, I have seen it more than once.

I haven’t seen this play in many years, though, and never have I seen it with such a talented cast. But, as I watched Curly McLain Saturday night it conjured up fond memories of my mom, reinforcing her place in my memory banks as one of the finest and most influential people in my life.

And, as I sat through Oklahoma! at the Engeman Saturday night watching Mr. Martin portray the iconic character Curly McLain, and angelic Kaitlyn Davidson portray the love of his life Laurey Williams, I soon came to realize why my mom loved this show so much, and why she was so fond of live theater.

Song after song this show is laced with classic music: Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’, The Surrey  with the Fringe on Top, Oklahoma…; and dance routine after dance routine, this show is full of fun and drama, all of it strung together to tell a love story. The rendition of Oklahoma!, a classic musical, is a fitting way for the Engeman Theater to start its second decade of bringing Broadway to Main Street.

As Laurey, Kaitlyn Davidson brings Broadway credits to the cast – she played Ella in Cinderella and before that was in the cast of Nice Work if You Can Get it. As Oklahoma! progresses, the spotlight shines brighter and brighter on the talented Ms. Davidson, who is as good a singer as the Engeman stage has seen. And, she leads a cast deep with talent, actors and actresses who can sing and who can dance the hoedown.

A highlight of the show comes near the end of Act I, with the performance of “Our of My Dreams – Ballet,” which features Ms. Davidson as Laurey and her look alike Kelly Sheehan, as her dream figure. Sheehan is a veteran of the Engeman stage and another actress in the cast with Broadway credentials, having performed in 42nd Street and White Christmas.

Another veteran of the stage in Oklahoma! cast is Nathaniel Hackmann, who plays the deadly cowhand Jud Fry, who competes with Curly McLain for Laurey’s love but ends up dead, falling on his own knife during the wedding of the lead couple. Hackmann, a big man perfect for the role as a hardworking cowhand, is fresh off a run in the lead role of Jekyll and Hyde at the Engeman. He can sing, and he can act and his presence on stage is formidable.

Oklahoma! runs through June 25. For tickets, call the Engeman at 631-261-2900, order online at engemantheater.com or visit the box office at 250 Main Street in Northport.

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