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'Oklahoma!': University's second summer musical has important past

Susan McCormack-Pike swings a pistol
Susan McCormack-Pike, as Aunt Eller, swings a pistol in a rehearsal of "Oklahoma!" for the Shenandoah Summer Music Theater. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Gene Babb performs
Gene Babb, as Andrew Carnes, performs during a recent rehearsal. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Josette Keelor --

WINCHESTER -- The musical "Oklahoma!" is one of those productions that never gets old, certainly never dies and always promises that the audience members will leave humming a few of its memorable tunes, from "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin'" to the title song, "Oklahoma!"

Why?

"'Cause it's a wonderful musical, it's a good story, it's got a great score and it's fun," says Harold Herman, director of the show that holds the second spot in this summer's Shenandoah Summer Music Theater program at Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester.

The show follows another oldie but goodie, "Show Boat," both of which represent landmark musicals. The next two shows, "Seussical" and "White Christmas," have much more recently found themselves on stages around the country, Herman said.

"Oklahoma!," the first musical collaboration between Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, tells the story of two young lovers, Curly, played by David Murgittroyd, and Laurey, played by Catherine Kuntz, who spend much of the show dancing around the idea of being in love while frequently pretending not to be.

"[Curly will] do anything and everything to make sure that he gets his girl. He comes off a little arrogant, but I think at least some of it's a show," says Murgittroyd. "They both give the other one a hard time and expect the other one to come through and love them."

Their attempts at disguising their attraction are futile.

"They have a relationship, one that is teasing and giving each other a hard time, but it's obvious that there's a match," Herman says.

Their courtship will not come too easy for them, however, if Jud Fry, played by Rory Dunn, has anything to say about it. He too loves Laurey, Herman says, referring to the misguided suitor as "the thorn in their side."

Other young love can be found in the pairings of Will Parker, played by Bradford Frost, and Ado Annie Carnes, played by Erica Conoway. Or does Ado Annie really love the peddler man, Ali Hakim, played by Kevin Selwyn? That answer remains to be seen.

Full of spirit, she loves everyone she's with, Herman says.

"Whoever she's with that's who she wants to marry," he says. "By the end of the show, she's definitely with the one man."

Herman predicts that audiences will enjoy "Oklahoma!," which he says the summer theater performed about 10 years ago.

Herman says the cast is average-sized, comparing it to the much larger cast of "Show Boat." Most of the ensemble cast this summer will appear in each show, he says, but each musical will offer different stars, a mix of students and professionals.

Murgittroyd, who graduated in 2008 from Montclair State University in New Jersey, joins the program at Shenandoah for the first time.

"I've always wanted to get a chance to play this role," he says. It helps that he has the curly hair to match the character's description, though he says that he had not even realized how curly his hair was until he decided to let it grow out at age 19. Before that it was just sort of wavy, he says.

One of his memorable roles prior to this one is the role of Jesus in "The Passion Play."

"As far as musicals go, it's probably just as iconic," he says of the character. "I have a lot of impressive names to live up to in this role."

According to Herman, the show has "characters that are a lot of fun, and it's an important musical in the history of musical theater."

"Oklahoma!" was one of the first musicals to offer theatergoers a solid plotline rather than just a collection of humorous dance numbers like so many before it, and set a new standard for musicals to follow, integrating songs and dances into the story with the intention of furthering the plot.

"Along with 'Show Boat,' it was the first musical that really started the category of musical drama," Herman says. "It has continued to this day to be the form and style of musicals."

"It's just a wonderful musical, and considered one of the best ever written. It's fun and serious, but not too serious," he says.

"You just hope that people come and appreciate the show as much as they did when it first started, and I think they will."

Rogers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" will play at the Ohrstrom-Bryant Theatre at Shenandoah University in Winchester from Wednesday to July 4 on Wednesdays through Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m. and Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. For seating and information, call the box office at 665-4569 or 877-580-8025 or go online to shenandoahsummermusictheatre.com.



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