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Published by The Oklahoman – Read original article here

Originally published on June 21, 2015 

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Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre brings OKLAHOMA! home

Oklahoma City’s Lyric Theatre will kick off its 53rd summer season with the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!”

The Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical “Oklahoma!” has become so ingrained in our collective consciousness that it’s hard to imagine the major hurdles its authors faced in getting their first collaborative effort to Broadway.

During tryouts in New Haven, Conn., a New York scout sent to check out the new musical wired back, “No legs, no jokes, no chance.” Still being called “Away We Go” at the time, the show seemed destined for failure.

But after some last-minute changes, which included dropping a tap dance solo from the second act title number and reconfiguring it as a rousing choral number performed by the full company, the newly titled “Oklahoma!” became an enormous hit when it opened on Broadway in March 1943.

Lyric Theatre will kick off its 53rd summer season with this legendary musical, the only Broadway show to produce an official state song. In 1953, the Oklahoma Legislature passed a bill making “Oklahoma” the state song.

Michael Baron, Lyric’s artistic director, will helm the opening production of the summer season. It will feature Mat Govich as Curly McLain, Kirsten Scott as Laurey Williams, Christopher Rice as Will Parker, Kasey Yeargain as Jud Fry and Julie Johnson as Aunt Eller.

Early appreciation for roles

Govich grew up listening to his dad, Bruce, a voice professor at the University of Oklahoma, sing selections from “Oklahoma!” He couldn’t have known at the time that one day he’d take on the role of Curly, a smart aleck young cowboy.

“I played the role at Discoveryland, but after a few summers of doing that, I thought I had put Curly to bed,” Govich said. “I was ready to move on to playing Jud. When I learned that I had been cast in this Lyric production, I was glad to have a chance to do the role the right way.

“The challenge for me has always been to not be too proper with the role. I grew up singing opera so it took some time to let go of those nice round vowels and allow some of Curly’s twang to come in. I had to reset my mind.”

Rice, an Oklahoma City native who grew up in Edmond, said that after seeing a Discoveryland production of the Rodgers & Hammerstein classic as a young boy, he decided to stage his own version of the show in his backyard. It’s another case of being destined to be cast in the musical as an adult.

“I remember wearing a cowboy hat and boots, I had my own stick horse and kept a cassette tape of the music cued up ready to sing along to,” Rice said. “Will is a fun role to jump into because although he’s strong willed, he’s not the brightest character.

“He’s a stinker sometimes, and he always seems to stick his feet in his mouth. He’s also very Southern so he’s never in a rush to get anywhere. I do connect with his desire to get the party going. And for a dancer, it’s so much fun.”

Strong-willed characters

Scott, who grew up in Pennsylvania, was introduced to “Oklahoma!” when she landed a small part in the musical during her senior year in high school. But unlike Govich and Rice, both of whom are Oklahoma natives, Scott had to work hard to grasp her character’s Southern twang.

“I had a really great dialect teacher so when I was cast as Laurey for this production, I reached out to him for help,” Scott said. “It’s drastically different from what I knew growing up in the Northeast so I’m glad we have a dramaturg helping with the dialect.

“I also love Laurey’s complicated nature. She’s a strong woman who lived in a time when women didn’t really have rights. I feel like she was written as a pro-feminist character before such a movement existed.

“It’s also been interesting to explore the relationship between Laurey and Curly. They’re both strong-willed people who love fighting with each other. It’s like they need someone who will challenge them intellectually. It’s always a cat-and-mouse game with them.”

More intimate version

This marks Lyric’s fifth outing with “Oklahoma!” and like the much-acclaimed centennial production that was staged in 2007, this has been sanctioned as an official state production.

Brian J. Marcum will choreograph the show. David Andrews Rogers returns as music director, and Jeffrey Meek is the costume designer. Jo Rowan, chairman of the dance department at Oklahoma City University, will choreograph the celebrated dream ballet.

“We’re going to have a cast of 32, which is large for any production of this musical,” Baron said. “But since so much of it focuses on just two characters, I’m looking to do a more intimate version of the show.

“You have to celebrate what Rodgers, Hammerstein and (original choreographer) Agnes de Mille created because they were honoring Oklahoma the state, too. I just want to make it as honest as it can be. It should be genuinely funny and genuinely moving, a real reflection of how we got here and who we are now.”