The Kelly Critics is a joint program of the Post-Gazette and Pittsburgh CLO's Gene Kelly Awards for Excellence in High School Musicals, in which students at Kelly schools review musicals at other Kelly schools.
Upon my arrival at Northgate High School to see their “Oklahoma!,” I was welcomed by ushers dressed in cowboy hats and flannels and a huge 16 foot tall rotating windmill, all of which clearly indicated that the show would be engaging, exciting and enjoyable.
“Oklahoma!,” the first classic musical produced by the brilliant minds of Rodgers and Hammerstein, tells the story of rivalries and love triangles set in a western territory soon to become the state of Oklahoma. From love and happiness to tragedy and violence, this show has almost everything. It’s impossible not to adore the romance between leads Curly McLain and Laurey Williams, just as it’s impossible not to love the hilarious town flirt, Ado Annie Carnes, as she struggles to sort out her affections for two men.
The plot takes a dramatic turn with the interference of Jud Fry, the farmhand obsessed with Laurey, and all the climaxes seem to be building up toward the town’s box social that evening. Delightful music, comical dialogue, engaging characters, and a captivating plotline all add to the overall thrill and excitement that this musical brings to the table.
Northgate's production exceeded my expectations. Several aspects of the lighting, set work, costume design and music indicated that the students and faculty involved put in a great deal of time and hard work. The lighting especially stood out in the opening scene - bright and cheerful as if it were actually early morning on the Oklahoma frontier. Throughout the rest of the musical, the lighting remained pretty consistent, varying with the progression of the day until Laurey’s dream ballet scene. As with any dream scene, there is much room for interpretation, and Northgate used the lighting in this scene really well to emphasize Laurey’s own confused feelings with bright reds, pinks, and purples fluctuating with the drama of the dream.
Northgate’s sets were also impressive. The 16 foot tall, 8rpm windmill rotated throughout the play. Other than backdrops, greenery, and props (benches, fences, etc.), there was a wood building representing Laurey and Aunt Eller’s cabin, which opened up into Jud’s smoke shack and then turned around once again to add to the setting of Skidmore’s Ranch. Overall, it was well built and authentic and I applaud Northgate on finding such an innovative way to represent their scenes.
The costumes were incredible as well. All the male characters wore chaps made out of faux leather over their jeans, and paired with a cowboy hat, they really did look like farmhands and cowboys! Northgate also made their own hats and hair bows for each actor and the girls customized their own baskets for the box social scene. The skirts, petticoats, dresses, bloomers, jackets, vests, and aprons, also all designed by Northgate, helped make the play itself more realistic and made the frontier setting more present.
“Oklahoma!” is one of the more fun musicals out there, so I was pretty excited to see how the actors would portray their characters, and I was pretty impressed. The roles of Laurey, Aunt Eller, and Ado Annie were played perfectly; each actress engaged with the crowd and brought a lively spunk that each of these characters posseses. Ado Annie especially, played by senior Hannah Dunn, was charming, flirtatious, and funny, just as Ado Annie was meant to be. She almost stole the show with her solo number, “I Cain’t Say No!” Laurey, played by Madison Conley, had a beautiful voice, and was just the right amount of stubborn in all her scenes with Curly. Speaking of Curly, Sal Valeriano sang and acted with an air of confidence that complemented his character’s attitude as one of the more sought-after cowboys on the frontier.
The final number, “Oklahoma!” was one of the most exciting scenes of the entire musical. With the whole cast present under sun-like light, the actors sang out with a cheerfulness that engaged the audience to clap along to the catchy tune. That, and the final entrance of the promised surrey with the fringe on top, were a grand and exciting ending and each curtain call was met with uproarious applause from a highly supportive audience. As I left the theater, the cast entered the hallway and received hugs and flowers from all their admiring family and friends.
Watching Northgate’s production of “Oklahoma!” was overall an extremely enjoyable experience that had me singing the play’s songs for the rest of the following week.
Reviews are edited by senior theater critic Christopher Rawson. For more high school musicals coverage, go to http://www.post-gazette.com/ae/theater-dance/ and scroll down.