"Oklahoma!" - Rodgers and Hammerstein's first masterpiece - sweeps onto the stage this weekend.
Sierra Repertory Theatre will present the classic musical Friday through Aug. 18 at the Fallon House Theater in Columbia State Historic Park.
Set in the Western Territory just before Oklahoma became a state, the show was an instant smash when it debuted 70 years ago and set a new standard for the American musical.
"This show captures a spirit and time that is so appealing," said SRT Producing Director Dennis Jones, who is directing the show. "It was a new beginning for the country, a joy about life - the future looked very bright. That's what they were celebrating when they wrote this and that's why it's still so popular."
The show is packed with memorable characters, well-known songs and lively dances, from the title number to favorites such as "Oh What a Beautiful Mornin'," "Kansas City," "People Will Say We're in Love," "I'm Just a Girl Who Can't Say No," "All or Nothing," and "Surrey With the Fringe on Top."
SRT Artistic Director Scott Viets has called "Oklahoma!" "one of Broadway's most perfectly crafted shows," and Jones agrees.
"It's an American fairy tale," he said, "and there's a great sense of humor at play."
The story centers around a pair of love stories:
Curly, the self-assured cowboy, is trying to win over Laurey, a feisty farm girl who insists she can't stand him. She has also captured the attention of her hired hand, Jud Fry, a moody outcast with a chip on his shoulder.
Laurey impulsively accepts Jud's invitation to the big picnic - mostly to show Curly he can't always get what he wants - and finds herself uneasy and slightly frightened.
On the other side of the fence is love-struck Will Parker - not the brightest cowboy but determined to win over his easily distracted sweetheart, Ado Annie.
Travelling salesman Ali Hakim is his competition and Ado Annie's father isn't keen about either one of them.
While most of the characters are spirited and fun, playing up rivalries between the ranchers and farmers, Jones said adding Jud to the mix gives the play its most interesting contrast. He's the misfit, mocked by Curly, shunned by Laurey and simmering with resentment.
Rodgers and Hammerstein captured that well, Jones said.
"Jud's song 'Lonely Room' is brilliant - an aria for the bad guy," Jones said. "What a great moment."
SRT leading lady Samantha Bruce ("Cinderella," "Carousel," "Gypsy") returns to play Laurey, newcomer Joshua Dixon is Curly and Los Angeles performer Tom Mesmer (SRT's "Sweeney Todd," "Dracula") is Jud Fry.
Jacob January and Halley Electra Mayo (SRT's "Church Basement Ladies") play Will Parker and Ado Annie, and Drew Boudreau is Ali Hakim.
Heather Orth (SRT's "Gypsy," "Carousel" and "Cinderella") returns to play Laurey's Aunt Eller and SRT company actor Ty Smith is Ado Annie's father, Andrew Carnes.
Completing the cast are dancer Kaitlyn Brennan as Dream Laurey, Ron Randall as Ike Skidmore and farmer and cowboy ensemble members Mike Fiore, Michelle Foletta, Kayla Hart, William Hosida, Claire Kaplan, Scott Nelson, Alex Stewart and Ashley Townsend.
Musical director Sean Paxton has created new orchestration for the music, which gives both audiences and the cast a fresh take on the songs and dances.
Choreographer Emily Gatesman, who played Laurey in SRT's 2002 production of "Oklahoma!," is creating the show's many dance numbers, from the "Dream Ballet" that ends the first act to the dance-offs in "Kansas City" and "Farmer and the Cow Hand."
New York guest artist Jose M. Rivera (SRT's "I Love a Piano," "Dial M for Murder") is the costume designer, and scenic design is by guest designer Kenton Jones.
Props are by SRT's Mercy Sharpe, lighting is by SRT's Peter Leibold and stage managers are Doug Brennan and assistant Lara E. Nall.
SRT's production of "Oklahoma!" is presented with the help of Blue Mountain Minerals and Clarke Broadcasting.
Most Thursday and Friday performances begin at 7 p.m., Saturday evening shows begin at 8 p.m. and Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees begin at 2 p.m.
There are Thursday matinees 2 p.m. Aug. 1, 8 and 15, and a "talk back" with the performers follows the evening performance on Thursday, July 11.
General admission ranges from $26 to $32 depending on the day of the performance. The show is rated PG, suitable for ages 12 and up. For reservations, call 532-3120 or visit www.sierrarep.org.