Last week my wife took me to the Tinnin Center at Three Rivers College to see a play. She had taken me to plays there before, to see such classics as "Our Town," but this time was different. This time we were going to see a musical, and not just any musical, we were going to see perhaps THE musical -- Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma". She knew that "Oklahoma" is probably my favorite musical.
I have grown up watching "Oklahoma" when it showed up on TV, and I even have a copy of it on DVD (and VHS, if you must know). I even know the words to most of the songs, having owned the soundtrack on 8-track during my early driving days (and now in MP3 format, if you must know). A lot of you are probably thinking that my grasp on my man-card is growing tenuous sentence-by-sentence but maybe it will help if I point out that, while watching the movie, I had the hots for Laurie (Shirley Jones), and not Curly (Gordon MacRae).
I went with my wife that night with modest expectations, knowing that no one at Three Rivers could match the performing skills of James Whitmore as Mr. Carnes or Rod Steiger as Jud Fry, or the singing skills of Gordon MacRae as Curly or Gene Nelson as Will Parker.
The modest entry fee of $10 did nothing to allay my misgivings but at least it wasn't going to cost a fortune. Right on schedule, the curtain opened, and the play started with Aunt Eller, played by Kathy Richardson. I was pleasantly surprised. In fact, this lady was GOOD! She didn't just PLAY Aunt Eller, she WAS Aunt Eller.
She was joined by Laurey (Mara McClintock). I found myself actually getting into the play. They were THAT good.
Here came Curly (Alex Mitchell) singing, "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning". With the least little bit of smug satisfaction, I made note of the fact that his beautiful voice didn't match the rich baritone of Gordon MacRae. Of course, it was quick to hit me that MacRae was in his mid thirties when he played the part of the youthful Curly, who was supposed to be more nearly the same age as Mitchell. So Mitchell's impeccable rendition was actually more appropriate for the part than MacRae's.
Ado Annie, played by Mia Gayle, pulled me in immediately. Gayle played the chuckle headed, loveable girl who "cain't say no" perfectly. Her slightly off key rendition of her songs was easily the match of Gloria Grahame from the movie. And, glory of glories, I noticed that Gayle "found" her key when Addo Annie reached her epiphany and decided she could make her life with Will Parker. Clarity of life choices equals clarity of voice. Great touch!
Will Parker, that loveable, slightly clueless cowhand who either didn't understand, or chose to ignore, Addo Annie's weakness for men, was played by Kevin Harbison, who equaled the performance of Gene Nelson from the movie in every way. When Harbison sang, "Everthin's Up to Date in Kansas City" I really wanted to sing along. I admit, Will Parker's songs are some of my favorites and I know most of the words but, with Harbison's engaging performance, I still laughed aloud when he sang about going to the "bur-le-que" and belted out, "You can go to the privy in the rain and never wet your feet."
In the part made famous by Eddie Albert, Michael Starnes put on a more than adequate performance as Ali Hakim, the bumbling, more than a little crooked, womanizing Persian peddler. Maybe it was just me but I found his accent just as funny and maybe a bit more believable than Albert's.
In the movie I always found the scenes with Jud Fry just a little too dark for my taste. It was well acted by the inimitable Rod Steiger, but I was eager for his demise, which may have been the point. In the Three Rivers play, Ryan Humphrey did an impeccable job but I found myself sympathizing with Jud Fry somewhat. Humphrey played Fry just as despicable, but rounded him out into a real person. Impressive.
Mike Malone took on the role of Andrew Carnes, played by James Whitmore in the movie, and played it perfectly.
I could list all the supporting roles and bit parts individually, but I think I've made my point. They were all tremendous. Even the kids came across as real children, without coming across as children trying to play a role.
I have to point out that I was particularly delighted with Kathy Richardson's performance as Aunt Eller, the raucous, full of life matron of the show. Fantastic performance in a show brimming with great ones. Also, maybe because he played my favorite character in the play, Kevin Harbison was particularly engaging with his unselfconscious performance as Will.
Tim Thompson directed the play, and did so flawlessly.
I don't want to forget to mention the incredible orchestra, directed and conducted by Cindy White. I don't think impeccable is too strong a word for their work.
Unfortunately for you, "Oklahoma" has finished its run at Three Rivers. Luckily for you, they have a couple more stage performances scheduled for the Three Rivers College/Community Theater Company this year. They will perform "A Raisin in the Sun" from July 9 to 12 and "Nunsense" from August 6 to 9. Three Rivers also has art shows and concerts scheduled. For more information, call 573-840-9648 or visit TRCC.EDU.
Would you believe that all parts in "Oklahoma" were performed by students and employees of 3R, as well as other area residents? Folks, we have some real talent in our area. One would think, to find such talent, you would have to go to St. Louis, or Columbia, or -- yes, I'm going to say it -- Kansas City.
Because everything's up to date in Kansas City, just like in Poplar Bluff, at least at Three Rivers.