(From left) Adam Weaver (as Ike), Nathaniel Henderson (Joe), Norm Eisler (Cord) and Logan Thompson (Will Parker) in a rehearsal for Oklahoma. (Photo credit Brian Lawrence)

Oklahoma returns to Creston stage

One of the great pieces in the canon of great American musicals, Oklahoma, will be the next Footlighters production.

And, for the record, if you know the song, but not the words, music director Leah Darby knows just what you mean.

“I’ve know the song ‘Oklahoma’ for the longest time, but always sang it as ‘Oklahoma, where the blah blah blah blah blah blah blah,” told I Love Creston this month.

Interviewed along with Brian Lawrence in the Advance office on Friday, it became clear that Darby is now intimately familiar with the lyrics. New to Creston, she took the music director’s job at the request of Simone Wiebe, who wanted to play the part of Laurey, a role that includes a lengthy ballet scene.

Lawrence is doing double duty, directing and playing Jud Fry, but he relies heavily on assistant director—and set designer—Jason Smith to direct rehearsals when he is on stage.

If the many hats seem a little confusing, not to worry, the story is easy enough to follow. Set in 1906 in Oklahoma Territory, the plot features farm girl Laurey Williams, who is pursued by two rival prospects, cowboy Curly Mclain (Devan Coward) and Fry (Lawrence), the farmhand. Another love triangle sees Ado Annie (Brittney Boehmer) as the object of interest for both cowboy Will Parker (Logan Thompson) and peddler Ali Hakim (Christopher Bohn).

Lawrence says that the choice to do Oklahoma for the first time in Creston since 1988 was easy.

“This is Oklahoma’s 75th anniversary year,” he said. “In 1943 it was really ground-breaking. Rodgers (composter) and Hammerstein (dramatist and lyricist) wanted to bring all the aspects of a play together as way to advance the story line. Oklahoma influenced all successful musical theatre in that decade.”

With a cast of 25—some as young as 13—and an 11-piece band, the production has involved huge effort and time commitment.

“Fortunately, all the cast has been really good at knowing their lines and cues,” Darby said. Rehearsals began in January and the cast has as many as three rehearsals a week. On Tuesday and Thursday nights smaller groups usually break off to work on scenes, and Wednesdays are full rehearsal nights.

If it sounds like a daunting undertaking, consider that there are 29 musical pieces, and many feature dancing, under the direction of choreographer Kate Webb.

“In some ways this is a much simpler production than Beauty and the Beast,” Lawrence said. “The music is more straight forward and there are no elaborate costumes or set changes.”

He describes Smith’s work on the set and lighting as “fabulous, as usual.”

Asked to name their favourite musical pieces, Lawrence singled out Curly’s Oh What a Beautiful Morning and Darby names Lonely Room, which was not included in the movie version. Both agree that the Dream Sequence, a 12-minute piece that features Wiebe in a ballet role (she’s been taking lessons since September) is an ambitious undertaking that the cast has thoroughly enjoyed.

Other featured performers include Gary Atha (as Andrew Carnes), Suzanne Chubb (Aunt Eller), Norm Eisler (Cord Elam), Zoe Martini (Gertie Cummings) and Andrew Weaver (Ike Skidmore). Ensemble members are Emmalynn Boehmer, Ruth Boehmer, Christopher Bohn, Kia Chan, Connie Cook, Tara Feragotti, Ebby Gregory, Nathaniel Henderson, Zoe Henderson, Aurora Jarvis, Nevaeh Keating-McKendry, Sequoia Keen, Reese Klassen, Jeremy Mogg, Ryan Neufeld and Christine Park.

Oklahoma will run March 22-24, 7:30 pm at Prince Charles Theatre. Tickets are available at Black Bear Books, Kingfisher Used Books and Fly in the Fibre.

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