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STAGE REVIEW : Civic Light Opera’s ‘Oklahoma!’ Misses Exclamation Mark

With its heartland openness and cornfed pluck, “Oklahoma!” has traditionally been one of the American stage’s most engaging musicals. But despite some capable voices that comfortably support the Rodgers and Hammerstein score, the Fullerton Civic Light Opera’s routine, fitfully paced production is not as inviting as it could be.

All the basics are in place. Director Jan Duncan has peopled Steven Craig’s ranchy landscape with the requisite bowlegged, buckskinned cowboys and pretty gals in gingham, all as country as can be. Duncan adequately sets up the wholesome romance between Curly and Laurey, and the not-so-wholesome infatuation of that nasty Jud.

What’s missing is a consistent sense of vitality. Too often this show takes on a static, perfunctory feel that subverts Rodgers and Hammerstein’s carefully orchestrated momentum. And without that momentum, this 1943 antique, even with its wealth of charming melodies, can get pretty slow.

The production’s weaknesses are especially glaring considering what FCLO accomplished with last season’s “My Fair Lady.” With its straightforward, energetic style, the show was an illustration of how an old horse can perform old tricks with brio.

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As Curly, David Hess has the pipes for the job--his singing is rich and effortless--but he fails to give the character full-bodied dimension. Curly is more than just the best-looking, most able cowhand around these parts; he’s a hero, and Hess doesn’t quite get that across.

Molly Irene Minor’s portrayal of Laurey is also too fuzzy. She has a pretty voice, but the characterization, while as pretty and sweet as the singing, doesn’t really draw us into her romantic travails. Even her troubles with the dangerous Jud (infused with the right menace by Robert Lauder Jr.) lacks punch.

The best elements of this “Oklahoma!” are Barry Ramsey as Will and Polly Seale as Ado Annie. In roles that are designed to show off spunk, these two take advantage of every opportunity and raise the interest level.

In other important secondary roles, Maureen Hawk Turk has the gumption needed to satisfy Aunt Eller, but Glenn Freeze’s heavily accented, clownish Ali Hakim is more annoying than funny.

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‘OKLAHOMA!’

A Fullerton Civic Light Opera production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical. Directed by Jan Duncan. With Maureen Hawk Turk, David Hess, Molly Irene Minor, Richard Cobb, James Trebilcox, Matthew Vargo, Barry Ramsey, Robert Lauder Jr., Polly Seale, Glenn Freeze, Meghan Jones, Christy Cook, Megan Starr-Levitt, Yolanda Rowell, Kathleen Sullivan, Lorraine Kreuz, Dan B. Rodgers, Robert Lauder Sr. and Cari Reese. Sets by Steven Craig. Choreography by Sha Newman. Lighting by Donna Ruzika. Musical director Benton Minor. Plays Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. through Nov. 6 at Plummer Auditorium in Fullerton. Tickets: $9-$17. (714) 879-1732.


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