New Fringe, Old Surrey
Harrisonburg High To Stage ‘Oklahoma!’
With little more than two weeks left until opening night for Harrisonburg High School’s spring production, Theater Director Stanley Swartz’ office was consumed by costumes. They’re hanging in rows, stuffed in boxes; one dress was draped over a cast member surrounded by volunteers perfecting the garment.
“You can tell the state of my life by the state of my office,” joked Swartz, who has held his position for almost 30 years. “Right now, it is chaotic.”
He quickly digressed into a praise of the mothers standing in his office — none of whom still have kids at the school but have stayed involved — and the school board that backs his program.
“We have a huge parent support system,” he says, with a marked emphasis on the “huge.” “We have some very good support [from] the school board, as well. … We’ve got phenomenally good parents that are doing so [many] things and they’re doing them well, so the kids are getting fabulous exposure.”
With a giddy piano playing in the background and musical equipment lining the hallways, Swartz details how his theater program strives for excellence, and people want to get behind that. Those people are hoping the spring musical — Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” — will be just another example of that effort.
The first musical written by theater powerhouse team Richard Rodgers, composer, and Oscar Hammerstein II, lyricist, Oklahoma! is based on Lynn Riggs’ play, “Green Grow the Lilacs.” Set during the turn of the 20th century, the play relates the story of cowboy Curly McLain and his romance with Laurey Williams, and a separate romance between Will Parker and Ado Annie.
The Broadway production originally opened in 1943, so chances are, many people in the HHS audience will have seen the musical at least once. But Swartz and the cast say don’t be surprised if it’s not exactly what you expected.
“Don’t be fooled by the name that you know so well,” said one cast member, 17-year-old senior Abe Nouri, who’s playing Curly McClain in the show.
Other cast members blurted out similar notices:
“If you think it’s boring or old-fashioned, think again, because it’s going to be fun!”
“Rodgers and Hammerstein like you’ve never seen it before!”
A Timeless Piece
Swartz led the cast through a study of the play to dig at the heart of the content. In addition to the 53 cast members, 14 students are in the stage crew and another 20 in the pit.
“The man who wrote the original play that the musical is based on had very strong opinions about how important characters were in theater,” Swartz explained. “We really are trying to make the people not only memorable characters, but we’re trying to make them very real.”
Upon studying the play, Swartz said he realized it’s really about bullying.
“You’ve got the farmers on one side and the cowhands on the other side, and they’re struggling over land use and who’s got power,” he said, adding that each group falls into the trap of stereotyping the other.
“The villain in the play [Jud Fry, played by 18-year-old senior Evan Yoder] is very much like the character in a school who is bullied and thinks that violence is his only response. As old as the play is, I was amazed at how current the themes are. That’s the mark of great literature, when you’ve got universal themes like that that resonate.”
Swartz’ director’s notes read like this: “With Jud’s violence, he forces his individual perception of reality onto his whole community. Now, a century later, all too frequently America still experiences the same scenario.”
The play will open at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 12, with a preview performance. Tickets will only be available at the door.
The following three evenings, Feb. 13-15, the show will run at 7:30 p.m., with a final showing at 3 p.m. Feb. 16. Tickets for those shows can be purchased online at hhsmusical.org or at the door. Ticket prices range from $10-15.
For more information, visit hhsmusical.org, email email@example.com or call the box office customer service line at (540) 649-5718.
Contact Candace Sipos at 574-6275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.