Mike Humerickhouse (Dream Jud Fry, left), Stephanie Chang (Dream Laurey) and Michael Feliciani (Dream Curly) reenact the fantasy ballet scene, in which evil Jud Fry succeeds in taking Laurey away from Curly.

ACT triumphs with 'Oklahoma!'

The Army Community Theatre
production is a fresh staging
of an American classic

Story and photos by John Berger

All too often it seems that the big dance numbers in local musicals do more toward stretching the running time of the show than advancing the story or adding fresh perspectives on the characters. Few indeed are as marvelous as choreographer Grace Bell Humerickhouse's staging of the climatic "Dream Ballet" in Army Community Theatre's latest production of "Oklahoma!" A dance number that could have easily been used as filler becomes one of the highlights in a fine traditional treatment of a classic Broadway hit.

Stephanie Chang (Dream Laurey), Michael Feliciani (Dream Curly) and Mike Humerickhouse (Dream Jud) share credit with the choreographer for a dance sequence that goes from strength to strength in building to a powerful climax. Chang, a trained ballerina, becomes one with Feliciani. Humerickhouse, who also portrays the "real" Jud Fry, is massive and menacing as their nemesis.

The ballet is the pivotal scene in this Rodgers & Hammerstein classic. The dream couple's counterparts have spent Act I flirting and playing hard-to-get as each tries to get the other to commit first. It takes the threat of Fry, the malevolent hired hand who dwells in the smokehouse on Laurey's farm, to put an end to their game-playing.

Keith R. La Bryer (Ali Hakim), Susan Pester (Aunt Eller) and Laura McCray (Laurey) are seated while Chang and Feliciani stand behind.

Humerickhouse is excellent in the show's most complicated role. Is the hired hand a loner because he's evil, or are his dark thoughts and penchant for violence the result of his feeling isolated from those around him? The role is the most complex in the show, and Humerickhouse makes it the foundation of the ACT production.

Josh Harris (Curly) and Laura McCray (Laurey) are likewise nicely matched as the romantic leads. Harris looks every bit a cowboy and plays Curly, for the most part, as a cowhand almost too honorable and naive to understand what he's up against in taking on Jud Fry. Harris, however, also proves worthy of the dramatic challenges involved in bringing out the bizarre facets and dark humor of the song "Pore Jud is Daid," Curly's rather transparent attempt to persuade Jud to commit suicide.

Humerickhouse's subsequent solo, "Lonely Room," is even darker and more ominous in contrast.

Christopher Arsenaut (Will Parker), Jennifer Harris (Ado Annie) and Keith R. La Bryer (Ali Hakim) are a nicely balanced team in playing out the lighter romantic complications that ensue when cowboy Will thinks Annie wants to marry the wily Persian peddler Ali Hakim. Harris became an instant audience favorite with her first big number "I Cain't Say No." Arsenaut and La Bryer are both very good as rival suitors, and Derrick Kam adds a nice bit of comic menace as Annie's shotgun-wielding father.

Jenny Mayumi Unno (Gertie) adds a brief but noticeable comic presence as a woman Curly uses in his efforts to make Laurey confess her interest in him.

Set designer Tom Giza has done a fine job suggesting the rural setting of Laurey's farmhouse. The windmill is a nice touch, and choreographer Humerickhouse makes imaginative use of it in staging "All er Nuthin' " in Act II. The dark smokehouse is also nicely executed and includes a mysterious covered "something" that adds visual impact to Fry's thinly-veiled threats.

Lina Jeong Doo gives the performers ample musical support and treats each of the show's classic tunes with the respect they deserve. Although there were problems with microphone noise on opening night, from the moment Josh Harris burst into "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'," it was evident that the new sound system is a notable improvement over the old one.

Director Glenn Cannon has done some trimming to accommodate the modern desire for shorter shows, but the basic Rodgers & Hammerstein tale of two parallel romances somewhere on the American frontier remains delightfully intact.


Presented by Army Community Theatre

Where: Richardson Theatre, Fort Shafter
When: 7:30 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, running through Sept. 21
Tickets: $12; $6 children up to 11 years of age
Call: 438-4480

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