MSS rocks Broadway classic Oklahoma! in Broadway style

M’CHIHEENG—After three and-a-half months of intense rehearsals the Manitoulin Secondary School (MSS) production of Oklahoma! took to the stage for its opening night on Thursday, February 12 and blew away the high expectations of an enthusiastic packed house; knocking the Broadway classic out of the cornfield and well beyond the pasture.

Jessica Jordison (Aunt Eller) set the bar high as she opened the production with a clear and steady rendition of ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning,’ with male romantic lead Max Chapman (Curly).

The musical continued with a series of numbers that are long ingrained in our collective consciousness. Mr. Chapman demonstrated an enviable fleetness of foot as he led Ms. Jordison and romantic female lead Lacey Fownes (Laurey) in ‘The Surrey with the Fringe on Top.’

The comedic romantic lead Brad Sayyae was tremendous as the dim-witted but dedicated Will Parker, smitten by the equally hilarious Taylor Van Horn (Ado Annie Carnes), whose role as the ‘I Cain’t Say No’ female comedic romantic lead drew laughter with each musical qualification and equivocation of her commitment to fidelity.

Cody Crawford’s itinerant peddler Ali Hakim and reluctant love interest of the mercurial Ado Annie Carnes kept the audience in stitches with a range of expression, gestures and sotto voce performances that would be the envy of any professional thespian.

If there were a performance by an actor that threatened to steal the show, however, it would have to have been the comedic malevolence projected by the villain James Scott (Jud Fry) in his second scene with Mr. Chapman. Mr. Scott came to his role later in the day than the other cast members, filling in at the 11th hour for a cast member who dropped out.

“It was a lot of fun,” said Mr. Scott of his turn in front of the footlights, quipping with a grin that “You get to do things you normally couldn’t get away with in school.”

Rebecca Dawson (Maggie Carnes) hit the back of the theatre with her hilarious take on the shotgun-toting mother of the erstwhile Ado Annie.

Laurey’s female love challenge Gertie Cummings was well played by Alexa Gordon, whose facial expression and challenging demeanor was in perfect juxtaposition to Ms. Fownes Laurey.

The chorus and dancers filled the stage with the kind of background that has made musicals a favourite Broadway standard throughout living memory and the strong execution of each song and dance number by all the members of the cast spoke volumes about the hard work put in by each of the cast members.

The crowds of theatre-goers provided a great opportunity to raise funds for school projects such as the girls’ gymnastic team.
The crowds of theatre-goers provided a great opportunity to raise funds for school projects such as the girls’ gymnastic team.

The rest of the cast included Mckenzie Gilmore (Ike Skidmore), Grace Duncanson (Fred), Sam Middleton (Slim), Liam Leblanc (Cord Elam), Jordan Pitawanakwat (Kate), Cassie Kuntsi (Virginia), Carissa Holliday (Vivian), Nick Harper (Mike/Joe), David Hall (Sam), Jesse Wabegijig (as the oh-so-flexible Judge Stone), Katie Gillespie (farmer), Kendra Jordison (man) Carolyn Glasby (Sylvie), Laura Brown (girl) and the chorus consisting of Julia Desbiens, Darci Debassige, Malia Leighton, Grant King, Marjorie Scott and the dream ballet dancers Kylie Cranston, Cindy Hu, Michelle Campbell, Hannah Chapman, Yohanna Ogbamichael and Brittany Wall.

The band, led by conductor Chris Theijsmeijer, consisted of Dorothy Anstice piano, Dale Jordison bass, Charles Adam trombone, Chris Thiessen trombone (French horn), Joanne Thiessen clarinet 1, Matthew Scott clarinet 2, Emily Patterson violin, Cheyenne Barnes flute, Emily Granville trumpet, Rebecca MacDonald keyboards (strings) and Jolene Debassige drums.

Band members Chris and Joanne Thiessen travelled from Ottawa to take part in the production at the behest of their friends Chris and Heather Theijsmeijer. The couple participated in the rehearsals through the use of 21st century technology, utilizing Skype to play along with the band.

“It was quite a challenge,” admitted Ms. Thiessen, noting that while the lag prevented a true two-way interaction, the ability to play along with the band allowed the veteran musicians the opportunity to meld with the other musicians remotely.

“The trip up was great,” said Mr. Thiessen, adding that although the couple has visited Manitoulin a number of times in the summer, this was their first time here in the winter months. “It is just about as cold as it is at home,” laughed Ms. Thiessen. Mr. Thiessen teaches music and performs professionally in the Ottawa area.

The production’s directorial staff included Producer Yana Bauer, Artistic Director Tom Scott, Musical Director Chris Theijsmeijer, Head Choreographer Casey Boisvert, Ballet Choreographer Maja Mielonen, Technical Director Heather Theijsmeijer, Set Design Willa Wilson, Financial Manager and Stage Manager Jill Ferguson.

The production crew included Stage Manager Courtney Oswald, Assistant Stage Manager Hanna Hutchinson, Assistant Choreographers Kylie Cranston and Michelle Campbell, Head of Lighting Sean Patterson, Followspot Operators Alexis French and David Windsor, Head of Sound Logan Murphy, Sound Engineer Isaac Gosse, Stage Crew Daniel Chapman, Jordanna Dedman, Kristen Mitchell, and Willa Wilson, Costumes Amelia Kurtz and Jill Ferguson, Sewing Jacqueline Gordon and Carol Gilmore, Make-up Dawn Dawson, Maggie MacDonald and Christine Cranston, Hair Sarah Hutchinson, Set Construction Supervisor Irving Noble and the set construction crew consisting of Nicole Cadieux, Jillian Cooper, Cassandra Cristo, Emily Francis, Gabrielle Janoki, Jillian Kaboni, Margaret MacDonald, Karissa Merrylees, Zada Peirce, Chrystal Quackenbush, Mackenzie Turner, Haley VanderWeerden, Meaghan Wall and Madelyn Windle.

The production offered special thanks to Pierre Masbou and Myra Henderson, John Oswald, Steve Doane and Dorothy Anstice.