I'm tempted to say that the high point of the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse's Oklahoma! comes in the show's first minute, when Adam Clough's Curly enters singing "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" in a thrillingly rich, powerful baritone. Such a statement, however, might indicate that the rest of the actor's performance is somehow less of a thrill. Put simply - and with no disrespect meant to director Jay Berkow or the show's other participants - this Oklahoma! works because of Clough.
As the director of music theatre performance at Western Michigan University, Jay Berkow is well aware of the historical significance of Oklahoma!, which he is currently directing for the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse.
"It is kind of the grandfather, or the progenitor, of the contemporary musical-theatre piece," Berkow says, referencing the work's fame as one of the first "book musicals" in American theatre, wherein songs are fully integrated into the drama, and the lyrics and score are as essential to character understanding as dialogue.
About halfway through the overture for the Quad City Music Guild's preview performance of The Wizard of Oz, my friend, sporting a huge grin, turned to me and whispered, "I feel like I'm watching the movie." With the thrillingly familiar strains emanating from music director Valeree Pieper's splendid orchestra, I agreed completely, and it's fair to say that over the next two-and-three-quarters hours, that feeling almost never waned.
Author's note: Prior to my full-time tenure at the Reader, I worked at the Circa '21 Dinner Playhouse, and for Dennis Hitchcock, for 11 years. This was one of those rare interviews that didn't start with a handshake, but rather a hug.
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