Pulling Out All the Stops: 'Oklahoma!' Comes to the Sandhills
Moore OnStage, in the words of the old expression, has pulled out all the stops in bringing an impressive Broadway style production of the classic musical "Oklahoma!" to the stage of the Robert E. Lee Auditorium at Pinecrest High School Wednesday, Feb. 10, through Sunday, Feb. 14.
It is a fitting tribute to the first collaboration of the legendary Rodgers and Hammerstein team - a show which ran an unprecedented 2,122 performances on Broadway.
Featuring a New York director, four young actors who live amid the bright lights of Broadway, and a pair of costumers especially brought in from Manhattan to dress the more than 40 members of the cast, "Oklahoma!" also has the brightest and best of talent from regional and local stages.
Musical direction is in the capable hands of Steven Menendez, who leads a 12-piece orchestra offering accompaniment as the singers and dancers perform some of the best-loved show tunes of the American stage.
The original "Oklahoma!" on Broadway was a box-office smash, followed by a record-setting 10-year national tour. Later the show enjoyed award-winning revivals, foreign productions and an Academy award-winning film adaptation.
The original production was choreographed by Agnes de Mille, who provided one of the show's most notable and enduring features - a first-act ballet finale, which will be seen as part of the Moore OnStage production, although rarely performed in regional settings.
Patrick Michael Wickham is the New York director whose task it is to bring all the various pieces of the musical together. A vocalist and actor, he has appeared on Broadway and in national tours of such shows as "Miss Saigon" and "Sweeney Todd."
His multi-faceted career includes directorial credentials, and he has also performed lead and supporting roles with the New York City Opera and other companies.
Wickham says that opera and musical theater are not dissimilar.
"The libretto has always been a traditional part of opera, and 'Oklahoma!' epitomized the development of the 'book musical,' a musical play where the songs and dances are integrated into a story," he says
It even won a Pulitzer Prize in the Special Awards category for Rodgers and Hammerstein
"Opera is so much about technique and the voice that the acting is sometimes pushed aside," Wickham says. "What I want to achieve with the actors-singers in this production is to have the audience get to know the people on stage and the characters they portray. There is a lot of history here and I want my actors to symbolize the pioneer spirit as they try to build a community and eventually become a state."
Corey Wright and Jill Ginsberg, who recently were on an international tour for a company of "Phantom of the Opera," have the lead roles as cowboy Curly and farm girl Laurey.
Wright thinks that "Oklahoma!" is one of the most well-crafted and recognized pieces of classic music theater, while Ginsberg calls it simply "one of my all-time favorite musicals."
Ginsberg is enjoying playing the part of Laurey, an independent young woman.
"She is very sure of herself, but at the same time, she wants to find someone on whom she can depend," says Ginsberg.
Wright believes that the show has lasted so well over the years because of its honesty.
"There isn't a lot of glamour or glitz, no big spectacles - just a story the audience can relate to and the great songs," he says. "Every time I go out on stage to sing one of the tunes, I actually put myself in the scene and see the 'bright golden haze on the meadow,' and feel the clip-clop of the horse's hooves, as the surrey is pulled along. It's the way I keep my delivery of each line fresh."
The secondary romance in the show concerns Ado Annie and Will Parker. Justin Gregory has the role of Will Parker, and thinks he is a great character to play. Amazingly enough, Gregory played the same role when he was a student in a community theater production. As a professional, he has been seen in "The Full Monty" at New Jersey's Alexander Kaiser Theatre and in "Carousel" at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center
Kathryn Lumpkin, another New Yorker, is the flirtatious Ado Annie - in her words, "the most fun part to play."
She also thinks she has the best song in the show - "I Cain't Say No."
"Because it has so much humor and the words are really witty - so far ahead of their time when they were written," says Lumpkin.
Among the actors who live a little closer to Southern Pines are Lynda Clark and Michael Jones.
Moore OnStage audiences will remember Clark's superlative performance in last season's Master Class. She has made the jump from playing the diva Maria Callas, to Laurey's Aunt Eller in "Oklahoma!" without missing a beat.
A performer with a lengthy list of leading roles in theaters in Raleigh and around the state, Clark says, "It is so much fun to be part of this cast, much less pressure, and I am happy to be back with Moore OnStage."
Michael Jones, a longtime favorite of Moore OnStage audiences, has the role of the sinister farm hand, Jud.
"It feels great to be playing the bad guy for once," Jones says. "It's a good transition for me to show Sandhills audiences another side of my character, rather than the happy-go-lucky guy I have played in the past."
Some other familiar faces in the cast belong to Don Hopkins, Nick Dokich, Sarah Edwards, Dave Kinney and David Frump. All of them have been seen in previous Moore OnStage productions.
Gary Taylor, who is doing the choreography for this production, has performed the original dances as set by Agnes de Mille, and even appeared at the request of Agnes de Mille on a teaching CD of the production.
In the first act finale, he is dancing the part of the Dream Curly and Kassandra Taylor, a dancer and choreographer who recently joined the staff of Taylor Dance, is dancing the part of Dream Laurey. Dancers from the Taylor Dance Company will appear in the ballet as well.
About 80 costumes are necessary to clothe all the actors and dancers in the production. That assignment fell to New Yorkers Greg Poplyk and Patrick Wiley.
They have worked on Broadway, in television and for film for several years.
Poplyk won an Emmy nomination for his costuming of the PBS special of "Showboat." The "Oklahoma!" costumes came primarily from a collection they had shipped to Southern Pines or ones that they created themselves.
The stage manager for this production is Austin Harter, who is sandwiching in his stage managing duties between work on a film headed to the Sundance Film Festival later in the year.
John Bartenstein is the lighting designer, who is also working on designing an opera set in New York. Sound is being handled by Dave Godsey of Extra Mile Audio, and Jeff Hufford, a graduate of N.C. School of the Arts, has built the set. Two students from NCSA, Lindsay Senior and Nicole Miniclier, helped paint the set.
Sponsoring the show is Dogwood Dental - Dr. Christine Gatti, and the media partner for Moore OnStage for this production is WLHC Life 103.1.
Performances will be at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, Feb. 10-13, with a matinee on Sunday, Feb. 14, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $25 for adults and $15 for students 18 and under. They can be reserved by calling (910) 692-7118, with Visa and Mastercard accepted.
Contact Pinehurst freelance writer Mary Elle Hunter at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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