The waving wheat and wind-swept plains have settled the territory of the Jerry Herman Ring Theatre in its latest production of “Oklahoma.”
The show premiered Wednesday and features a cast of 25 UM students performing the classic golden-age musical.
The show was the first written by famed duo composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II. It debuted on Broadway in 1943. It was later remade into a movie in 1955 starring Gordon MacRae and Shirley Jones.
Set in the territory of Oklahoma in 1906, the show follows the romance between cowboy Curly McLain and farm girl Laurey Williams. With such a classic musical as the Ring’s season-closer, the cast felt concerned about appealing to a college audience with a more traditional show.
According to junior Brian Reiff, who plays Jud Fry, trying to make the show appeal to younger audiences was difficult, but the show is “wholesome,” and “light-hearted” and filled with things students may not expect.
“They hear ‘Oklahoma’ and they think of this golden-age classic show and that reads to them as boring but in actuality there are so many things brought up in it that it think can translate into modern day well,” Reiff said.
As with many classical musicals, the show will feature several grand dance numbers and well-known songs.
Senior April Ripley performs as 60-year-old Aunt Eller and believes older audience members will be familiar with the songs “Oklahoma,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “Many a New Day.” She notes that nearly every song is a dance number as well, which is uncommon in modern musicals.
“I know my grandmother, who’s 98, will be tickled pink to come watch something that when she was in her 40s and 50s went and saw and was in love with,” Ripley said.
Senior Schyler Rice will perform as lead female Laurey Williams, a tomboy who is in love with the male lead Curly (senior Luke Hamilton) but does not want to admit it.
Rice considers “Oklahoma” to be a dance-heavy show. She will perform the classic dream ballet scene, unlike in other productions where the “Dream Laurey” dance role is a separate performer. Rice was thrilled to perform both parts alongside Hamilton.
“I guess you could say I’m old fashioned,” she said. “It was a challenge but it didn’t seem as hard as it really was because I was having so much fun because I love it so much.”
As she is more of a “girly-girl,” Rice said it was challenging to physically and vocally portray her tomboy character. However, she could relate to Laurey in that they are both small-town girls. Rice comes from a small town in northern California with 3,000 people and one stoplight.
In fitting the vast territory of Oklahoma into the small ring theater, the production embraces a minimalist set design and incorporated painted panels above the audience.
For Ripley, having the chance to perform a well-known story was a way to embrace the past while incorporating newer elements.
“It’s fun to have a throwback musical in such a contemporary musical world. It was fun to get to learn that style of music,” she said. “It was exciting to have a throwback, to be able to have a nod to the old but still have new choreography and the costuming and everything.”
IF YOU GO
WHEN: Through April 26
WHERE: Jerry Herman Ring Theatre
COST: Tickets start at $25 and are $10 for students. April 21 will be Totally Tuesday, when students can watch the show for free.