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April 06, 1993 - Image 9

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1993-04-06

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ARTS

The ichian DilyTuesay, pri 6,193 Pge

'Oh,

What a Beautiful' production of 'Oklahoma!'

by Melissa Rose Bernardo
In its 50 years, "Oklahoma!" has
been done by virtually everyhigh school,
college and community theater group in
the country. But the Birmingham The-
aie chose to put on "Oklahoma!" in

Oklahoma!
Birmingham Theatre
April 2, 1993
spite of the show's hackneyed history,
and (thankfully) breathed some new
life into this historical musical.
"Oklahoma!" was the first collabo-
rative effort of composer Richard
Rodgers and lyricistOscarHammerstein
II. (They went on to write eight other
musicals, including the hits "South Pa-
cific," "Carousel," "The King and I"
and "The Sound of Music.") It was
considereda landmark in the institution
of musical theater because of its equal

mix of plot, musicanddance. Itwas also
the first Broadway musical to play for
over 1000 performances (2212 to be
exact). The Birmingham Theater pre-
sents "Oklahoma!" in honor of the
show's golden anniversary.
"Oklahoma!" takes place just after
the turn of the century in the Indian
Territory which is now Oklahoma. The
show opens on Aunt Eller's farm with
the inspiring "Oh, What a Beautiful
Mornin'," and we learn that Curly, a
handsome and successful cowboy, has
been eyeing Laurey, Aunt Eller's beau-
tiful young niece. Laurey wants Curly
too, but if it were as simple as that, we
wouldn't have musicals, would we? So
just to spite Curly, Laurey allows Jud,
the brooding farmhand, to take her to
the big farm party. But Jud is an evil
man, and threatens Laurey. Fortunately,
Curly comes along, takes Laurey into
his big strong arms and promises her
that he'll protect her and hey - why
don't they get married? All's fine and

dandy until you-know-who shows up
on Curly and Laurey's wedding night,
drunkas a skunk and brandishing a gun.
I won't give away the ending, but this is
Rodgersand Hammerstein-thepeople
whohelped Julie Andrews and aslewof
kiddies escape from Nazis.
So how does a theater like the Bir-
mingham keep this predictable story
exciting and new? With an innovative
set and - this is essential - polished,
professional performances.
Traditionally, the setof"Oklahoma!"
consists of an intricately painted back-
drop, flowers everywhere and some-
times even fake farm animals - all so
obnoxiously bright you dare not watch
without sunglasses.Fortunately, this set
consisted of no backdrop; in fact, the
back of the stage was even visible. In the
middle of the stage was apiano, around
which the musicians (also ensemble
members) would group. Aunt Eller's
farm house was represented by two
wooden frames on either side of the

stage. The stage itself consisted of
wooden platforms, partof which flipped
up to create Jud's smokehouse. This set
entrusted the audience's imagination
with the details - a smart move, and
one which not many set designers have
the courage (or intelligence) to make.
Curly and Laurey were the perfect
handsome-boy-next-door-falls-in-love-
with-pretty-girl-next-door pair. As
Curly, Merwin Foard was irresistible-
handsomeandpure-hearted, with avoice
(and a smile) that could melt butter. In
'The Surrey with the Fringeon Top,"he
infused his lyrics with such feeling that
I could actually picture the beautiful
wagon with white horses and silk fringe.
His "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin',"
was truly inspiring.
Curly and Laurey were
the perfect handsome-
boy-next-door-falls-in-
love-with-pretty-girl-
next-door pair. As
Curly, Merwin Foard
was irresistible -
handsome and pure-
hearted, with a voice
(and a smile) that could
melt butter.
As Curly's counterpart, Rebecca
Baxter was a lovely Laurey. She repre-
sented the quintessential Rodgers and
Hammerstein heroine - dreamy-eyed
and rosy-cheeked, with a smile that lit
up her face and golden curls that crowned
herhead, heralding innocence and pure-
heartedness. The life on her face was
matched by the life in her voice. In
"Many a New Day" and "Out of my
Dreams," her soprano was clear and
melodic, yet not overdone.
It isno surprise that FoardandBaxter
worked so well together-they'rehus-
band and wife offstage. In "People Will
Say We're in Love" they each played
off of each other, honing in on their
character's hidden feelings and high-

lighting them at just the right times.
They were complemented by a string of
strong secondary lead and ensemble
performances.
Rebecca Hirsch held her own as
Ado Annie, decked out in fringe and a
flirtatious smile from ear to ear. She
vamped up the toe-tapping "I Can't Say
No," even flirting with the band mem-
bers. She had a huge voice - refined
and melodic, yet powerful and inspir-
ing.
Wade Williams made a character
out of the usually one-dimensional "bad
guy" Jud Fry. In "Lonely Room," he
illuminated the other side of Jud, show-
ing us aman who wants the same things
everyone else does - and a man who
cannot express those emotions without
violence. His gentle voice contrasted
nicely with his rough exterior, allowing
the man in Jud to appear.
Deb Girdler was a hilarious Aunt
Eller, the warm yet stern aunt-to-every-
one. Girdler's Aunt Eller didn't take
crap from anyone - she's brassy, loud
and boisterous yet at the same time

vivacious, endearing and warm. The
ensemble was polished, especially in
"Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin"' and
"Oklahoma!" in which they backed up
Curly's soulful lead, holding the me-
lodic four-part harmonies with vigor.
"Oklahoma!" is a show that is usu-
ally done well, but can also easily be
done badly. It is very, very rare that it is
done exceedingly well. On those few
occasions- like this one- you realize
that the show is really Rodgers and
Hammerstein's best, and you long for
the days that musicals were like these.
Catch this landmark "Oklahoma!" -
and keep an eye out for the "Okla-
homa!" commemorative stamp, com-
ing soon to a post office near you.
OKLAHOMA! runs at the
Birmingham Theatre, 211 S.
Woodward, through May 2. Tickets
range from $18.00 to $32.50
(depending on time and day of
performance) and are available at the
Birmingham Theater box office and
all Ticketmaster outlets. Call (313)
644-3533 for specific dates and times.

I. U

STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN
340 1/2 S. STATE (upstairs) " 994-3888

"Oklahoma!" hits the big 50 and hundreds of productions across the country mark the anniversary.
In the court of the purple Prince
New Power guitarist on life with His Royal Badness

" Prism Productions & 89X
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A contest... and a sale.:
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by Kim Yaged
Levi Seacer, Jr., the guitarist for The New Power Genera-
tion, has been on board with Prince since "Sign of the Tunes"
in 1987. In fact, he is the only member of the N.P.G. to have
ever toured the United States with Prince. That was back in
1988 on Prince's Lovesexy tour, his most recent tour of the
U.S. until now.
Seacer describes this tour as "a totally different style than
[they've] ever done. It's somewhere in between seeing a
regular concert and a Broadway play ... We're kinda adding
that musical story-line in with this one which we've never
done really. We hinted on it in 'Lovesexy,' but I think here
we're taking it a little further, which is really cool ... We're
calling this album the funk-rock opera."
Also, Seacer is quick to deny the assertion that Prince and
company preferEurope to touring in theU.S. "I really believe
its our time to be in the States now because when we're on
stage it really feels good. I can tell that everybody, they're
really vibing on it. I think it was good for us to be away ...
It wasn't intentional, but I think it worked out... And I don't
think there could be abetter time to tour the States than now."
With Glam Slam clubs in Yokohama, Los Angeles and
Minneapolis and plans for future venues, Seacer "sees the
whole N.P.G. thing getting larger than life."
Since Prince has not toured the U.S. in five years, many
people were annoyed thathe chose toplay only small venues.
Seacer says, "The people who are negative about it are the
ones whocouldn'tget tickets. I think the people who actually
saw the show actually preferred it in a smaller setting." He
points to lights, sound and the desire for a "club atmosphere"
as the stimuli for avoiding arena size performances.
"The sound we have this year is so much bigger... I think
just sonically it just sounds better. When you get in a big
arena all the echoes, and everything starts blending. Even
with the best sound systems in the world, it's just not very
distinct."
Personally, Seacer sees himself with Prince as
"continu[ing] to explore different combinations of music."
He sites tracks from their latest album as examples of this.
"Blue Light" has a "little reggae flavor to it," and he deems
"Continental," "rock, punk, soul."
"I think we're just expanding the possibilities ... trying
more radical things and seeing how they come together," he

progression formostmusicians... to try something on [their]
own. I don't look down on it. I wish them all luck. I think
[Prince] feels like if someone wants to try something then
sure. You know, let them do their thing. I mean, he's doing his
thing ... There's no hard feelings or anything like that."
Seacer's assertions are evinced in the fact that he himself
is working on aside projectin the form ofa small record label.
His first act is set to be Jevetta Steele, one of the singers from
The Steeles. The Steeles have sung backing vocals on tracks
off of all of Prince's last three albums.
"Prince is a very vibe oriented cat," Seacer answers when
questioned about Prince's tendency to be omnipresent on a
single album. "I think in the past when he did albums by
himself, I think at that time he felt like, 'I need to do this by
myself because, A, I do have the ability to do it, and, B, I'm
not sure that everybody's feeling it the way I am ... As the
years went on, then I feltlike he felt like, well, maybe we were
feeling the same way on a lot of the songs and our attitudes
towards projects. So, he felt like we could give him the same
results. And so it gave him more time and space to concen-
trate on other things ... I don't think anyone can ever catch
up totally to what he is feeling because he is just a dude with
a lot of great ideas. He's very prolific. I think for every step
I made ... he's probably making five."
"Prince dominated the '80s ... I personally feel [the
critiques] don'twantto see him dominate the '90s. They want
anew hero... And they don't find much, and I think itmakes
them mad. I think it's gonna take a lot for someone to come
along and take Prince's belt away from him and not just
because I'm in the band, but because the guy really works
hard at his craft, and he's so talented at so many things ... I
mean; here you got a guy who sings, plays, dances, writes,
you know, he puts his whole show together. It's endless. I
think it's gonna be along time before we see someone come
along that can do all those things, and then, do them well."
And as far as the accusation that Prince is trying to play
catch up by including so much rap music on his new album,
Seacer says, "'The people who feel that way haven't done
their homework. If they go back and listen to a lot of Prince's
older records, he's always done some rap on some record
somewhere. Now it's just that rap is such a big thing that
people are more sensitive to it."
Seacer describes what Prince does as basically "talking"

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3) Tickets & backstage passes
to the show
Bring your creative/outrageous cake to Schoolkids' the day of the
concert, April 13, and register by 3:30 p.m. 3 jocks from 89X will
start judging at 4:00 p.m. Then check Mudhoney out in concert at
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I

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