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THEATER PREVIEW: Oklahoma!

by Chris Conley

A salute to Wausau Community Theater for choosing Oklahoma! to open their 2011-12 season. If you can pull yourself away from a certain football game on Thursday night, you can catch the opening performance at The Grand Theater.

Why see Oklahoma ? Because it marks the dividing line in this uniquely American art-form. Before Oklahoma! a night of musical theater involved follies or reviews with short skits and singing and dancing that wasnt part of an overall connected story. Oklahoma! marks the bringing together of everything; a play with spoken dialogue, songs that move the plot forward instead of interrupting it, and the use of dance as part of the storyline. If opera, drama, ballet or vaudeville was your thing Oklahoma! had something in it for you. And we learned before its 2,200th Broadway performance was over that American theater-goers loved this type of storytelling.

This is also the project that brought Rodgers and Hammerstein together, sealing them as the most prolific creators of musical theater weve ever known. There is no one, before or since, who could craft a story around songs like Oscar Hammerstein, and Richard Rodgers gave him great material to work with. Without Oklahoma! there would be no South Pacific , no The King and I , no The Sound of Music . And those are the plays upon which Steven Sondheim, Cole Porter, and later Andrew Lloyd Weber built their works.

This is also the kind of production that Wausau Community Theater will do well with.

WCT has never had trouble finding good male and female leads. There are any number of WCT regulars whod be a fine Curly McLane or Laurey Williams. These are primarily singing roles, both with great, classic songs.

Oklahoma! has some of the most-sought-after supporting roles in the theater. We need a Auntie Eller who has spunk despite her age. We need a Wil Parker whos mastered a simple personality and complicated rope tricks. Ado Annie needs to be boy-crazy yet innocent. Jud Frey needs to be brooding, and not quite understand why some people are looking forward to his funeral. These are all fun roles that lend themselves to the talents that are in the stable of a solid community theater group.

Dont miss performances of Oklahoma! on Thursday at 6:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, and Sunday at 2pm.

Chris Conley
Operations Manager, MidwestCommunications-Wausau
9.8.11

I attended the Saturday night performance of Oklahoma! with my daughter. Here are a few thoughts on the production:

First, congratulations to Diane Kling. She's appearing in her first Wausau Community Theater production (and her first time on stage in 35 years), and she is perfect as Aunt Eller in Oklahoma ! She stitches the entire production together... and she handles her gun well at the box social. Every once in awhile someone like her steps forward and shares their talents with their friends and neighbors... and we are all richer for it. Talents are best when shared. Thank you, Ms. Kling.

There were many enjoyable performances.

You'll know about 10 minutes into Oklahoma! if a good Curley is on stage. Rob Rasmussen won me over by the second verse of Oh What A Beautiful Morning. He and Tom Bullman (as Jud Fry) put on one of the best smokehouse scenes I've ever seen.

It's somewhat unusual to have a singing and dancing Laurey. (Usually a ballet-trained double dances the wedding-dream sequence.) Lauren Weinrauch does both. She is a very talented dancer.

William Hebbe is appearing in his first Wausau Community Theater production in a decade. He was a delight as Ali Hakim.

Becca Wittek, a D.C. Everest High School junior, has lead-roles ahead of her if she keeps performing with Wausau Community Theater. She had the most fun as Ado Annie. The flirty, sassy girls often do.

Oklahoma! was a fun night at the theater. There's one final performance on Sunday at 2pm at the Grand Theater, and walk-up tickets will likely be available.

By Okiefromokla (old) [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons