This story was corrected on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012.
The Broadway musical “Oklahoma” may have first burst into song on the New York stage back in 1943, but according to local actors, the music and story are as appealing today as they were then.
“It’s one of my dream roles,” says Ben Harris of Laurel, who plays Curly, the cocky cowboy who sets out to win the vacillating heart of farm girl Laurey, in 2nd Star Productions’ presentation of “Oklahoma,” running Friday, Nov. 9, to Dec. 8 at the Bowie Playhouse.
“He’s a fun character to play,” says Harris, who has been singing and writing plays since he was a child.
“He’s witty, he’s charismatic, and everybody in the community likes him,” he says about his character.
The famous song, “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,’” opens the show and includes the famous line, “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye ... .”
Then there is “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” about the fancy carriage Curly says he’s acquired to impress Laurey (Emily Mudd), and also “People Will Say We’re in Love,” the duet between Curly and Laurey in which they dance around their feelings for each other.
The 2nd Star show features all of the “Oklahoma” songs and a shortened version of the “dream” ballet between Curly and Laurey choreographed by Agnes de Mille in the original 1943 production.
“It’s been cut down from 15 minutes to about four minutes, but it still [captures] the essence of it,” says director Jane Wingard.
One of the company’s founding members, Wingard also designed the sets for “Oklahoma.”
“The barn is there ... and Jud’s smokehouse,” she says, referring to Jud (Michael Galizia), a farmhand who also loves Laurey and who locks into an explosive rivalry with Curly for her affections.
Confused about Curly’s attentions, Laurey tells Jud she will go to a community box social with him, which Jud wrongly reads as a sign of interest.
With music by Richard Rodgers and story and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, “Oklahoma” was a smashing success in the 1940s and took the Broadway stage in a new direction, integrating story, song and dance in a narrative style that would dominate until the 1960s.
Set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s, the musical unfolds with a series of rocky romances as cowboys and farmers fight over land and Oklahoma moves toward statehood.
In addition to the triangle between Curly, Laurey and Jud, there is also the story of cowboy Will Parker (Nathan Bowen) and Ado Annie (Nicole Bowen).
Ado Annie is a girl who falls in love with any man who sweet talks her, and she can’t make up her mind between Parker and traveling peddler, Ali Hakim (Gary Seddon).
Also a key player in the story is Laurey’s Aunt Eller (Rebecca Feibel), a leader in the community who has an understanding eye for human nature.
Understudying the role of Aunt Eller is Cheramie Julianne Jackson of Lanham, who will perform the role on Dec. 1, 2 and 6 in place of Feibel. For the remainder of the run, Jackson will sing and dance as part of the ensemble chorus.
Jackson says having understudies perform on certain days is unusual in community theater, where they typically only fill in if someone is sick. Jackson says Wingard likes to give actors “who want to try something different a chance to perform.”
Jackson says she’s acted in nine character parts for 2nd Star, but never in a role as large as Aunt Eller.
“In a world full of ingenues and Disney characters, [Aunt Eller] is somebody who’s a real person,” she says. “The authors understood the dynamics of how an older person can pull everyone together.”
“She has the most lines in the show, and she’s a huge character in the play,” Jackson says. “This is probably the biggest role I’ve had.”
Harris, who played the part of Pippin in “Pippin” at the Greenbelt Arts Center, says he admires Curly for giving up all he has — his saddle, his horse and his gun — to outbid Jud and buy a basket prepared by Laurey for the box social, which is being held to raise money for a schoolhouse.
“He’s ready to start a new life with the woman he loves, and he’s willing to put everything on the line, which is sort of an American thing,” Harris says.
“I think Rodgers and Hammerstein put in him the spirit of America ... the young America, full of hope and full of life,” he says about Curly, who also possesses “a sense of community and a sense of decency.”
“He risks everything based on a hope for the future. Maybe that’s something we’ve lost and need more of.”
Spelling corrected: “Rodgers and Hammerstein.”