A Singer's Notes by Keith Kibler

A Singer’s Notes 77: Music Theater Everywhere

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Matt Gibson and Chasten Harmon in Berkshire Theatre Group's Oklahoma! Photo by Abby LePage.
Matt Gibson and Chasten Harmon in Berkshire Theatre Group’s Oklahoma! Photo by Abby LePage.

I stand in awe of the combination of skills needed to perform the American musical well. While a voice which is less than perfect may be usable, even good, the acting must be convincing, and the dancing cannot in any way seem labored or “almost there.” In the Berkshire Theatre Group’s Oklahoma there was a textbook example of how to do this in the person of Chasten Harmon who played Ado Annie. This young woman convinced me that she sang because she had to sing, and she danced because she had to dance, and all of this flowed along as a single narrative, without bumping. It justified the form and showed that the modes work together to make a kind of super language which can go off in any direction at any time. It is difficult for me to think of her dancing as separate from her role or from her singing. It is hard for me to remember how she went from speaking to dancing. One just did not notice these things. The completeness of her performance had the pathos we feel when a really wonderful performer shows us what can be done, how good a performance can be. It renews our faith. The production itself was well-cast in every respect, each character convincing: Jarid Faubel as Curly just corny enough and believably so, Diane Phelan making the inwardness of Laurie moving, and from Austin Durant, a Judd Frye that might have had a heart.

It probably does me no good to write this, but my one caveat is the amplification —sometimes so loud that I could not understand the words being sung. For me, this diminishes the performance significantly; it does not enhance it.

It was also very pleasant to ride again to the MacHaydn Theatre in Chatham, NY, to see some young performers do a difficult show, Singin’ in the Rain. Why difficult? Have you seen Gene Kelly dancing with an umbrella? Try to do any of his dances in your living room — you will see what I mean. Patrick Heffernan made a strong effort at it, making a sympathetic character out of the role of Don Lockwood. Heather Farney sang Cathy Seldon’s role beautifully. Caitlin Wilayto gave us a Lena Lamont that was not too likable. Michael Coale Grey was an irresistible Cosmo. Once again I must praise the music director, Josh Smith, who puts wonderful energy into the MacHaydn shows. He is committed to his young artists, and there is joy in every number that he plays. He is a great big part of why this theatre charms.

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