CAMDEN — Caesar Rodney High School’s production of the classic musical “Oklahoma!” promises bales of good clean fun and corn “as high as an elephant’s eye” when it opens Thursday in the school auditorium.
First performed 74 years ago this month, the show could aptly be called the grandpa of the modern musical. It is a classic in every sense. The first collaboration of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, it was also the first to use music to advance the plot.
When Curly, played by senior Sean Scanlon, walks out on stage singing about what a beautiful morning it is, about the golden corn and the little brown maverick, we know he’s a very happy cowboy. When Ado Annie, portrayed by senior Mallory DeCleene, tells us that she just “cain’t say no,” we get a better picture of what a guy might get slapped for back in the day.
“We like to revisit the pieces that set the standard from time to time,” Director Keith McCarthy says. “It gives kids who don’t have that background knowledge exposure to the classics they may not get any place else.”
While some might wonder if the corn is just a little too deep for sophisticated modern audiences or high school
performers to embrace, part of “Oklahoma!”’s charm is the window it opens into social history. Through its representation of stereotypical gender and innocence, we catch a glimpse of bygone days in America, not only of 1906, but also of the 1940s, when the play was written.
Senior Mallory DeCleene, who brings the role of Ado Annie to life, thinks the music is the best part of the show. Still, she agrees with some of her fellow actors, it’s the camaraderie and atmosphere the show engenders that makes it special.
Several of the key roles are played by seniors who are likely to be performing for the last time together.
The musical score, with DuWane Sandlin directing a live orchestra, reflects Rodgers and Hammerstein’s unparalleled variety of influences.
“The music captures a sound that somewhat defines this country,” Mr. McCarthy continues.
“It’s classic Americana; the style, the syncopation. It even has hints of jazz. The humor is lasting, the music is lasting, the characters are lovable, and the dancing is fun.”
The dancing, in fact, includes a dreamy ballet number that features some new recruits from the student body.
Math teacher, Samantha Timlin, the show’s choreographer, has encouraged some skilled dancers who have never appeared in a CR theater production to join the fun.
As we watch the classic conflicts of love and class churn like Aunt Eller’s butter in the 1906 town of Claremore, Aunt Eller, portrayed by senior Rita Welch watches them even more closely.
“She’s like a mom to all,” says Ms. Welch. “She doesn’t really match-make; she just notices the young people in their cat-and-mouse routines. Her philosophy is they’ll just gravitate toward the right person.”
And that in spite of the likes of Gertie Cummings, played by Megann Martinez, also a senior, who confides that (spoiler alert) there might be a catfight if her character can’t keep her eyes to herself.
“Oklahoma!” is a classic but as “up-to-date” as everything “in Kansas City.”
The show runs Thursday through Saturday at 7 p.m. at the school on Old North Road in Camden.
Tickets are general admission for $10 and can be purchased at the door on the evening of the performance or online at www.crscat.org.
Dee Marvin Emeigh is a freelance writer living in the Milford area.