CRT stages timeless musical
A love story, a clash of cultures, a dream-sequence ballet, beautiful music - all are part of the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, 'Oklahoma!,' Clackamas Repertory Theatre's new production, opening on Aug. 4.
Certainly that is how director David Smith-English sees the show, first staged on March 31, 1943.
'It broke out of the previous 'follies' mold,' he said, adding that the original producers took a 'big chance' in staging a musical with 'revolutionary elements.'
'Oklahoma!' has no skimpily clad chorus girls, and no off-color jokes. It does not begin with a big show-stopping tap-dancing number; instead, it opens with 'a woman on stage with a butter churn, and off stage you hear the song, 'O What a Beautiful Morning,'' Smith-English said.
For those who have never seen 'Oklahoma!,' he described the plot as a love story, featuring Laurey and Curly, and a celebration of 'the event of statehood, when the farmers and the cowmen had to work together and compromise to create a new state in 1906.'
The legendary Agnes DeMille created ground-breaking dance numbers for the original production, especially the ballet that she insisted 'tell a story and develop the characters in a very real way,' Smith-English said.
Choreographer Wes Hanson said he has tried to 'stay true to the period,' by using traditional styles of dance like clogging, but he also followed DeMille's style and storyline in the ballet sequence, although he cut it in half to about 10 minutes.
Everyone in the cast takes part in the ballet, but the main focus is Laurey, 'who has a nightmare, as she tries to make up her mind to go to the big party with Jud. She is afraid of Jud, and the dream tells her what will happen if she says no,' Hanson said.
The 'complex' choreography will draw the audience into the musical, he added, because this year he has 'amazing dancers' to work with.
'Oklahoma!' is Clackamas County resident Corey Brunish's first time on stage with Clackamas Repertory Theatre, but he has performed with the Oregon Symphony, the Portland Opera and Broadway Rose. He has also acted in films with Madonna, Julianne Moore and Willem Dafoe and recently appeared in the hit TNT series 'Leverage.'
Next up, he will join the company of the new musical 'Bonnie and Clyde,' set to premiere this fall on Broadway.
But for now, he plays Ali Hakim, a Persian peddler, who brings exotic goods to the residents of the small town where the show is set.
'He's designed to be the funny one; he shows up, cracks a few jokes, gets into a love triangle with Ado Annie and Will, and gets Gertie, the girl he did not want,' Brunish said.
The character of the traveling peddler is a realistic one, and very well documented, he said, noting that the peddlers were based out of New York and lived a 'rough life,' sometimes being beaten up and robbed while they were on the road.
The peddlers were generally 'well liked and embraced by the community,' because they arrived with goods, like silk and toiletries, that were not available locally, Brunish added.
Describing 'Oklahoma!' as groundbreaking, Brunish said that CRT has 'wonderful audiences and a wonderful facility - this is a well-oiled machine.'
Hanson, who is co-directing the play with Smith-English, said he could not pick what audiences will like best about the show, since there are so many different things going on.
'The set itself makes you feel comfortable, and voices, acting and dancing are all so strong,' he added.
As for Smith-English, even though he has directed 'Oklahoma!' before, 'it still seems so fresh' to him, and he added, 'we have a great orchestra, directed by Rick Modlin, featuring lots of strings.'
As for how audiences will relate to the show, he has one simple desire - 'I hope they fall in love with Laurey and Curly.'
The cast includes: Dru Rutledge as Laurey, Stephen Ecklemann as Curly, Brianna Rouse as Ado Annie, James Sharinghousen as Will Parker and Michael Mitchell as Jud. Also featured are Corey Brunish as Ali Hakim, Cyndy Smith-English as Aunt Eller and La Salle Prep. instructor Ernie Casciato as Carnes.
All performances take place in the Osterman Theatre in the Niemeyer Center at CCC's Oregon City campus.
• Clackamas Repertory Theatre presents Rodgers and Hammerstein's groundbreaking and timeless "Oklahoma!"
• Thursdays through Sundays, Aug. 4-28, with a special-priced preview on Aug. 4. The Aug. 5 performance is sold out; so opening night is Saturday, Aug. 6. Evening performances Thursday through Saturday begin at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday matinees are at 2:30 p.m.
• All performances take place in the Osterman Theatre at CCC in Oregon City. Tickets are $14-24 and may be purchased at www.clackamasrep.org or by calling 503-594-6047.