by Les Spindle

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Thursday July 23, 2015

Callandra Olivia, Dynell Leigh, Melanie Mockobey and Damon Kirsche
Callandra Olivia, Dynell Leigh, Melanie Mockobey and Damon Kirsche  (Source:Ed Krieger)

Rodgers and Hammerstein's Pulitzer-winning 1943 musical "Oklahoma!" sparkles anew in Cabrillo Music Theatre's exuberantly entertaining revisit to the Broadway classic.

Director Lewis Wilkenfeld offers one of his finest productions yet for the veteran Thousand Oaks company. This show was the first collaborative effort for the legendary team of composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist-librettist Oscar Hammerstein II, whose string of gems ("The King and I," "South Pacific," "The Sound of Music," "Carousel" and more) remain treasured staples of the American musical-theater repertoire.

As one expects in R&H musicals, a blend of romance, warm humor, drama, and colorful ambiance make for an enthralling time, with the duo's glorious songs providing the electric charge that makes their shows so indelible. Based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, "Green Grow the Lilacs," and set in 1906, on the eve of Oklahoma becoming a U.S. state, the show captures the ambiance of vintage Hollywood westerns, in which nimble-footed cowpokes, their gals, and an array of colorful characters of all ages sing and dance up a storm.

John Charron's stylish and invigorating choreography keeps the show vibrant from beginning to end, as musical director Brian P. Kennedy ensures that the ebullient score retains its bounce and luster.

The sparkling romantic lead characters, Curly (Dan Callaway) and Laurey (Callandra Olivia), quickly elicit our interest. Curly opens the show with the glorious "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," which leads into a fanciful duet for the couple, "The Surrey with the Fringe On Top." Spunky Aunt Eller (the irresistible Dynell Leigh) occasionally joins in, while churning butter. The characters are anticipating the evening's box-dinner social.

In short order, we meet other colorful local denizens, including obsessively flirtatious Ado Annie (Melanie Mockobey) and her justifiably jealous beau, the lovestruck Will Parker (Josh Switzer). Complicating matters is fast-talking, shady-acting Ali Hakim (Damon Kirsche), a Persian peddler, who catches Annie's eye. Bringing drama into the story is the brooding and intimidating farm hand Jud Fry (Tim Campbell).

Callaway and Olivia sing divinely, and elicit strong chemistry in their colorful lead roles. Switzer is a charming, high-kicking wonder, with his characterization as sharp as his impressive and athletic dance moves.

Mockobey's Annie belts her songs with panache and great humor. Campbell is properly chilling as the dastardly Fry, and sings gorgeously in the riveting "Lonely Room" and in a scintillating duet, "Poor Jud is Dead," with Callaway. It's unusual to find Kirsche (a superb musical theater performer with many bicoastal and regional credits) in an essentially non-singing role. His characterization of the shady travelling salesman is a comedic tour de force.

Besides the superb primary performances, the large ensemble of adults, youngsters, and children lend terrific support, with special notice due for Brittany Bentley and Michael McArthur, who dance divinely as Dream Laurey and Dream Curley, in the terrific fantasy ballet sequence, originally created by the great Agnes DeMille.

The ravishing production benefits greatly from the contributions of lighting designer Rand Ryan, sound designer Jonathan Burke, and costume designer Christine Gibson.

It seems an understatement to quote two famous lyrics from the title song: "Oklahoma -- OK!" Even more than A-OK, Wilkenfeld's staging for Cabrillo can be termed downright "magnificent."

"Oklahoma!" continues through July 26 at Kavli Theatre, Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks. For tickets and information, visit www.cabrillomusictheatre.com.