Theater Review: Highland flings and Oklahoma hoedowns

Kristen Connelly, Nick Johnson, Rebecca Chaney and Victoria Hay: appear in Clarksville Little Theatre’s “Oklahoma!”  photo courtesy of clarksville little theatre

Kristen Connelly, Nick Johnson, Rebecca Chaney and Victoria Hay: appear in Clarksville Little Theatre’s “Oklahoma!” photo courtesy of clarksville little theatre

Music Theatre Louisville ends its season with “Brigadoon,” which takes place in 1947. The production is a treat for the eyes and ears — a pleasant evening in the park. The sound quality is superb, despite the large venue, while the dazzling sets evoke the Scottish countryside and the lighting flatters the performers in their brightly colored kilts and finery.

The story begins when two New York wiseacres get lost in the Scottish Highlands while on a hunting trip. They find themselves in Brigadoon, a mystical town that appears to outsiders only one day each century. This curious characteristic began in the Dark Ages after Brigadoon’s pastor made a strange bargain with God to save the town from the evils of witchcraft running rampant at the time. The pastor bargained that no villager could leave town without causing Brigadoon to cease to exist.

Tommy Albright (Brian Bowman) and Jeff Douglas (Matt Wallace) arrive in Brigadoon, where it is still 1747. Upon their arrival, two sisters — Fiona (Colette Delaney-Barney) and Jean (Ashley Kate Adams) — are shopping for accoutrements for Jean’s wedding to Charlie Dalrymple (Dewey Caddell). Charlie is itching to get hitched. Caddell poignantly delivers the tender ballad “Come to Me, Bend to Me,” as Charlie longs for Jean to come out and kiss him before the wedding (although it’s bad luck).

Meanwhile, Meg (Bridget Witzke), the village tramp, takes a shine to Jeff, the brash New Yorker played by Matt Wallace. She coaxes him to take a “rest” on a cot, and when he returns, he’s wearing different pants. Like a musical version of the autobiographical work of conceptual artist Tracey Emin, Witzke runs through a litany of her sexual history in the bawdy “The Love of My Life.”

But the real love story is between Tommy and Fiona. Bowman and Delaney-Barney’s voices blend flawlessly in the familiar “Almost Like Being in Love.”

In the marvelous dance sequence at the wedding, Harry Beaton (Robert McFarland) goes a bit mad, having been spurned by Jean for the well-heeled Charlie. Harry performs a saber dance, clogging around the four corners of two crossed swords. Harry views the town’s enchantment as a curse because he must live forever without his true love. He threatens to run away, and hence destroy the village. Instead, he is killed as Jeff accidentally trips him. Not wanting to ruin the wedding, the men wait until after the festivities to carry Harry’s body to his funeral. Maggie (Amanda Lee Anderson), who loved Harry unrequitedly, expresses her grief in a moving dance tribute to Harry. McFarland, a classically trained dancer, is a standout.
Meanwhile, Tommy has a dilemma: Outsiders are allowed to remain only if they love a villager enough to give up everything. Does he want to go back to his yappy fiancée in New York or stay with Fiona? He learns that through faith anything is possible.

Clarksville Little Theatre opens its 60th season with “Oklahoma!” (interestingly, Agnes DeMille choreographed both the original “Brigadoon” and “Oklahoma!”). The cast’s resident theater provides greater intimacy than the Iroquois Amphitheater, and it’s impossible to resist being carried away by the cast’s exhilarating enthusiasm. The songs, liltingly accompanied by music director Doug Jones’s haunting, carnival-like synthesizer, linger in your head.
Another love story, “Oklahoma!” cleverly portrays the tension between farmers and ranchers, as well as the war between the sexes. Curly McClain (David Borgelt) is a young cowboy smitten with Laurey Williams (Jennifer Poliskie). Laurey plays hard-to-get while her wise Aunt Eller (Janet Morris) encourages Curly to invite Laurey to the “box social.” Morris is winning as the crusty, ribald crone. Laurey tells Curly she’s going with Jud (the creepy hired hand, admirably played by Chris Haulter). However, Laurey fears Jud is a stalker.

Will Parker (James Butterfield) bursts in, back from a successful cow-punching trip, and leads a mind-blowing paean to “Kansas City.” Butterfield, last seen as Tin Man in CLT’s “Wizard of Oz,” is the consummate cowboy in love with the town tramp, Ado Annie (Kristy Calman). Annie dallied with a Persian peddler (Kevin Braun) during Will’s absence. She just “cain’t say no.”

Laurey’s nightmare sequence is unforgettable and hair-raising. After a tragedy, Laurey learns that you have to be tough to enjoy the tender moments. The show ends on a high note, with the entire cast manically belting out the titular song.

Coincidentally, in both musicals, the secondary female characters are sexually promiscuous, and both secondary male characters are killed and carried off in Christ-like positions. This Gnostic theme of sacrifice and redemption is a dark undercurrent that may go unnoticed amid the overarching frivolity that is typical of musicals.  

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