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PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZ Doug Carpenter (Curly), PHOTO BY LEE A. BUTZ Doug Carpenter (Curly), "Oklahoma!," through June 30, Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival

THEATER REVIEW 'Oklahoma!' more than OK; it's fantastic at PSF

Wednesday, June 19, 2013 by PAUL WILLISTEIN pwillistein@tnonline.com in Focus

The Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival opens its 22nd season with an exuberant, stupendous and memorable production of the landmark Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, "Oklahoma!"

PSF Associate Artistic Director Dennis Razze pulls out all the stops in his thoughtful yet zealous direction of the huge cast of 25, a dynamic 14-piece orchestra conducted by music director Nathan Diehl and rambunctious boot-scootin' boogie choreography by Stephen Casey.

"Oklahoma!" continues through June 30, Main Stage, Labuda Center for the Arts, DeSales University, 2755 Station Avenue, Center Valley.

You know you're in for an extra special theater experience and an extraordinary evening of artistry when the overture begins and the curtain rises.

Set Designer David P. Gordon positions a farm house and porch and large gray barn wood planks hanging vertically and in an arc along the fly space. Fly and set pieces indicate a train station, smokehouse interior, barn, windmill and plow.

Lighting Designer Eric T. Haugen bathes the backdrop in sunrises and sunsets and carefully conveys a scene's emotional content.

Costume Designer Michael McDonald has an amazing array of lovely gingham for the females and plaid shirts, jeans, cowboy boots and mighty fine cowboy hats for the males.

Sound Designer Matthew Given adds outdoorsy and other effects, which are so realistic with the new Imax-like Labuda sound system.

The fight scene between Curly and Jud, choreographed by Rick Sordelet, is so believable as to be wince-inducing.

At the center of PSF's "Oklahoma!" are jaw-dropping performances.

Speaking of jaws, from the moment Doug Carpenter (Curly) opens his mouth for the show opening "Oh, What A Beautiful Morning," you realize you're in the presence of greatness. Carpenter has a boyish virility and winning demeanor.

Carpenter shines and the voice of Christine Negherbon (Laurey) glistens in their duet, "People Will Say We're In Love."

Carpenter and Brent Bateman (Jud) provide dour humor in "Pore Jud is Daid," followed up by Bateman in outstanding voice for "Lonely Room."

Julia Pfender (Ado Annie) is perhaps the show's biggest surprise. She combines humor and vocal fireworks in "I Cain't Say No!" and is a coquettish comedienne with an endearing angularity.

Pfender and Sean McGee (Will Parker) turn on the charm for their duet, "All Er Nothin.'"

Tom Frye (Andrew Carnes) is humorous in a key role as Ado Annie's father.

Fran Prisco (Ali Hakim) provides comic relief without resorting to stereotype.

Kaitlyn Kurowski (Gertie) proves a guaranteed laugh-getter with her scintillating laugh.

The play's anchor is Anne Lewis (Aunt Eller), whose snappy delivery, no-nonsense stance and efficient appearance gives the story its moral compass.

Act Two opens with the ensemble in a thunderous "The Farmer And The Cowman." The ensemble concludes the show with the eye-popping title song.

PSF's "Oklahoma!" is more than "OK." It is fantastic.

In a program note, PSF dedicates the "Oklahoma!" production to "the people of Oklahoma." Donations for the Central Oklahoma Habit for Humanity are being taken in the Labuda lobby.