Oklahoma! at Porthouse Celebrates 'Til The Cows Come Home

Porthouse Theatre
Professional Equity House Theatre

Music by Richard Rodgers
Lyrics and book by Oscar Hammerstein II
Original dances by Agnes de Mille
Based on the play Green Grow the Lilacs by Lynn Riggs

Review by Kevin Kelly

There is a lot of celebration going on at Porthouse!

Porthouse Theatre concludes 50th Season with an energetic production of Rodgers & Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!"
Oklahoma! is celebrating its 75th birthday.
Artistic Director Terri Kent is getting all kinds of love coming her way. She was brought down to the stage before the production started for a special presentation from the Chicago representative of Actors’ Equity. A proclamation was read in honor of the 50th anniversary of Porthouse Theatre and Kent State University. Included in the accolades, Terri Kent was recognized for being the Artistic Director for the past 18 years. For the Porthouse family, it was a beautiful celebration of accomplishment. Being an Artistic Director is not all glamour. People love you, people hate you.

Now we come to my brother's favorite musical Oklahoma! Director Terri Kent serves up a fierce hamper of talent that the audience ate up like Laurey's lemon meringue pie. Nothing is better than an American Classic, and certainly, this one took the book musical to new heights. Kent has put together a great production team, and a cast that radiates passion, energy, and pure joy.

Set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, this musical tells the story of two pairs of lovers. Curly (a fantastic Matthew Gittins) is a cowboy who has trouble admitting his feelings to Laurey (Rebecca Rand), as she does to him, because of their stubbornness. Judd (San Johnson), the hired hand at Laurey's farm, tries to come between them. Ado Annie (Samantha Russell) is torn between Will (Christopher Tuck*), a cowboy who has strong feelings for her, and Ali Hakim (Joey Fontana), a peddler who's a ladies' man and doesn't want to marry her. Their love stories intertwine with the Farmers and the Cowmen that are sharing the land that will eventually become a state.

My first reaction to this production is the incredible performance of Matthew Gittins as Curly. This is the most natural and honest interpretation I have ever seen. From the moment he arrives, his easy manner and down-homeness are supremely engaging. Thanks to his parent's gene pool, Gittins cuts a handsome figure on stage and becomes the perfect cowboy matinee idol. His voice is perfect in the belly of R&H, and he conveys all the emotions necessary by not overplaying, but just honest fine acting. The engaging Rebecca Rand as Laurey held her own with her skill set. She plays a tougher Laurey than usual. At times, I felt it was too Annie Oakley. She has a dynamic voice. But she chooses to belt the songs that usually a prettier lyric tone works better. But, having been directed to be this character, this is just another take on Laurey, making her tough as nails, instead of hard to get. She softens up in Act II, as does her lyric quality and self-actualizes into a beautiful characterization. 

Christopher Tuck* is the bomb. I remember him from other Porthouse seasons, and he is just a charming ball of fire. He has tremendous connectivity with the audience, and literally lights the stage whenever he enters a scene. His voice, vocals, and characterization of Will Parker were fiercely on point. He can also kick up his heels with the best of him. Certainly a Blue Ribbon winner at the Porthouse fair. Samatha Russell is a hot mess of delight as Ado Annie. She is probably what Miley Cyrus is singing about in Wrecking Ball, of love that is! My only point of order is that a lot of the time in Act I, the voice was turned up way too much, and became almost more annoying than Gertie. But Act II, that was pulled back and she settled into a far more vocally appealing character. Russell is also a ball of fire and worked incredibly well with Tuck. She also can dance with the best of them. Great work.

Matthew Gittins as Curly, Lenne Snively* as Aunt Eller

Can we talk about the show-stealing Ali Hakim, manically played by Joey Fontana? What a blast this guy is! Fontana crushed this role. Comedic timing and characterization for days. What an incredibly fun performance. Very well done. On the other side of life, Sam Johnson kicked some serious ass as Jud Fry. The entire time of stage, his sense of darkness prevailed. Playing someone as haunted in such an upbeat musical is tough, and Johnson played it perfectly. Very impressive work. Lenne Snively* as Aunt Eller was a blast. She brought a bright light to the proceedings. I found her very engaging, and her character work is ridiculously on point. You just can't help but love her, and her sense of caring and protection. Plus she can belt out with the best of em. Kelli-Ann Paterwic is a piercing delight with her laugh and milks it to no end, which is annoyingly delightful. Veteran Christopher Seiler* had some great moments as Andrew Carnes, milking the scenes with whatever milk is left from this cast. Mavis Jennings* adds some equity love to Ike Skidmore.

Terri Kent delivers another pace perfect hit! 18 years of them in fact. Bravo for creating such a production, and a summer theatre season, that brings so much joy and entertainment. Jennifer Korecki's orchestra lit up the air with brisk and delightful musicianship. Cynthia Stillings Lighting Design was on point. Nolan O' Dell's Set Design was eye pleasing and had a very inventive set change implemented for Jud's Cabin. John Crawford-Spinelli's Choreography was as fun as a tub of apple butter. Dances were all in line with the themes, but the real creativity came with the Dream Ballet. Nicely done unique vision.Brittney Harrell did a great job costuming this classic. Great looks without one miss. Everyone looked good and comfortable. Sound Design by Tyler Forbes was excellent.

There is nothing better than a crowd standing and clapping and singing their hearts out with the cast. Yep. That happened. Bravo!

*Member of Actors Equity Association.

Cleveland Stage Alliance
Ticket Information
and Promotional Materials

Through August 12


8pm Tuesdays
8pm Wednesdays
8pm Thursdays
8pm Fridays
8pm Saturdays
2pm Sundays

$27-$38 Reserved Seating

(330) 672-3884
Order Tickets Online

Porthouse Theatre
Blossom Music Center
1145 W Steels Corners Rd
Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44223