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Camelot Theatre stages Rodgers and Hammerstein's 'Oklahoma'

Camelot Theatre celebrates the holidays with the Broadway show that set the standard for the modern musical, Rodgers and Hammerstein's “Oklahoma!”

“People just seem to love an old-fashioned musical at Christmas,” says Livia Genise, Camelot's artistic director.

“Oklahoma” was Rodgers and Hammerstein's first collaboration back in 1943. It is generally seen as their most innovative and most important work. Broadway critics say it set the pattern for the Broadway genre for years, establishing ways of constructing musicals that are still followed today.

“It broke the mold,” Genise says.

The show previews at 8 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday, Dec. 2-3, opens Friday, Dec. 4, and runs through Jan. 10 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. The Dec. 2 performance is a fundraiser for Southern Oregon Goodwill. Tickets for this show are $25. Tickets for the Dec. 3 preview are $14. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays through December. There will be a 2 p.m. matinee on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24, but no shows on Christmas Day or New Year's Day. In January, the show will run Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are $29, $27 for students and seniors (except Sunday matinees). A pay-what-you-can show will be offered at 8 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 9.

Tickets and information available at www.camelottheatre.org or 541-535-5250. The box office is open from noon to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday and one hour before performances. Reserved seating is available for an additional $2 per ticket. Student rush tickets cost $10 and can be purchased 10 minutes before curtain, except Sundays.

Based on the 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs” by Lynn Riggs, the musical is set in Indian territory in 1906. Against a background of rivalry between the local farmers and cowboys, Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, an independent farm girl, fall in love.

We all know the course of that story never runs smooth. Will these headstrong romantics be able to make a new life together? What about Curly’s rival for Laurey’s affections, the menacing Jud? And what about all these other colorful characters as this colorful territory becomes a brand-new state?

“Oklahoma!” was the first Broadway musical in which the songs and dances were fully integrated into a story with literary-style underpinnings, including a plot that went beyond the former Broadway style of just creating broadly comic opportunities for song and dance. Because Hammerstein wrote the lyrics first, and Rodgers then set them to music, the team’s songs — instead of making it necessary to suspend the action during the time somebody came forward and sang and danced — actually moved the plot along. Another innovation was recurring motifs that give the whole a certain unity of effect.

Camelot’s production is directed and choreographed by Rebecca K. Campbell and features musical direction by John Taylor. The production features a cast of 28 led by Nathan Monks as Curly and Grace Peets as Laurey. Linda Otto plays Aunt Eller, with Sarah Gore as Ado Annie, Rigo Jimenez as Will Parker, Daniel Stephens as Andrew Carnes, Ernie Rosales as Ali Hakim and Aaron Garber as Jud Fry.

“Rebecca has a voice (in choosing shows),” Genise says of Camelot's artistic associate. “And with her ballet background, there’s a lot of dancing. There’s a huge dance break in the song “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.”

The show also features a famed dream ballet sequence at the end of the first act when Laurey has taken a “magic potion” that’s actually laudanum sold to her by the unscrupulous peddler Ali Hakim.

“Oklahoma!” was awarded a Tony Award in 1993 on the 50th anniversary of the original production (there have been four Broadway revivals since) and a Tony for Best Revival of a Musical in 2002. The 1955 film adaptation won an Academy Award. The musical also received a Pulitzer Prize.

Having just seen a rehearsal, Genise says she was excited to see Monks as Curly enter and burst into song: “There’s a bright golden haze on the meadow … ”

“He has an exquisite voice, and the two (Monks and Peets) are great together,” she says.

The show also features a large band, which will be off-stage and out of sight, and several actors in their teens who have trained in Camelot’s Conservatory.

Genise says the hardest thing in putting the show together was, as usual, finding male dancers who can also sing and act.