Debbie Croft: Sierra Rep play better than just 'OK'

August 4, 2013 

As the morning sun peeked above the horizon to light up a new day, Curly (played by newcomer Joshua Dixon) opened the first act singing, "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'. "

It's just one of the classic scenes from the classic musical "Oklahoma!"

Delightful action and boot-stompin' fun describe Sierra Repertory Theatre's current show. The story takes place around the turn of the 20th century, just before the western territory gained statehood.

Two love triangles provide humor and romance, with rancher-versus-farmer rivalry lending a bit of tension to the saga.

Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II collaborated 70 years ago to revive a play that had flopped on Broadway. Critics expected another flop with "Oklahoma!"

But using great choreography, warm humor and their combined composition skills, the two men surprised and delighted an entire nation with their hit musical.

SRT's producing director, Dennis Jones, is thrilled to be directing this show. "It captures a spirit and time that is so appealing … the future looked very bright," he said.

Many believe the optimism celebrated in "Oklahoma!" is part of what made the show such a success. Endearing characters and memorable songs add to its long-standing appeal. And generations later, audiences still enjoy it.

Artistic Director Scott Viets calls it an American fairy tale.

Sean Paxton, a Los Angeles composer and orchestrator, temporarily relocated to Sonora this summer to create new arrangements for the well-known songs: "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'," "Kansas City," "People Will Say We're in Love," "All or Nothing" and "Surrey With the Fringe On Top."

Choreography was arranged by Emily Gatesman, who played the lead female role in SRT's 2002 production of "Oklahoma!"

In addition to great acting and singing, costumes, set design, lighting and sound are extremely well-done.

Heather Powell from Portland, Ore., attended last week, and was impressed. She works with Pentacle Theater in Salem.

"It's fun to come to such a little theater and see such a professional show," she said.

Powell and her parents, also in attendance, agreed that they absolutely loved it. So did the rest of the audience in an almost sold-out theater: They gave a standing ovation at the end.

Samantha Bruce plays the feisty farm girl, Laurey, whose heart is eventually won by the charming cowboy, Curly. Halley Electra Mayo fills the role of spunky Ado Annie, and Will Parker, her smitten admirer, is played by Jacob January. Lots of talent across the stage keeps the action moving, even by the actors and actresses who filled smaller roles.

Heather Orth was believable as Aunt Eller, and kept the shenanigans from getting out of hand.

When misfit and bad guy Jud Fry (played by Tom Mesmer) sang "Lonely Room," we couldn't help but feel sorry for him, even as Curly's snide remarks brought laughter from the audience. But Curly had a right, since Fry was trying to steal his girl.

"Oklahoma!" runs through Aug. 18. Matinee shows are at 2 p.m. on Wednesdays, select Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Evening performances are held on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $18 for kids under 18, to $32. Discounts are available for students, seniors and groups of 20 or more.

Visit or call (209) 532-3120 for information or to reserve tickets. The Fallon House Theatre is at 11175 Washington St. in the historic town and state park of Columbia.

With cowboys and couples silhouetted against a moonlit sky and the action winding down, we could almost feel the breeze as another day came to a close. For exceptional work with a timeless story, Sierra Rep is to be congratulated.

Debbie Croft writes about life in the foothill communities. She can be reached at

Merced Sun-Star is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service