"Ooooooooooklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain!"
You may not have seen the movie, or the musical, but you know the music.
Altoona Community Theatre will present the Rogers and Hammerstein classic "Oklahoma!" for the first time in its history for five performances May 3 through May 6 at the Mishler Theatre in Altoona. The show is directed by Penn State Altoona instructor Bryce P. Britton - the first ACT show he has been involved with.
A homespun farm girl, played by Katie Kensinger, tries to catch the eye of a charming cowboy, played by Jacob Baskin, as he sweet-talks her butter-churning Aunt Eller, played by Tracey Ingold, in Altoona Community Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!”
Odds are pretty good that, even now, the title song is running through your head. Indeed, that's a highlight of the show, said Katie Kensinger who plays the female lead, Laurey Williams.
"My favorite moment in the show is probably where we all sing the title song all together," she said. "It's one that everyone knows and everybody loves, and it's really cool to hear all our voices really get into it."
The first musical ever written by the legendary team of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, "Oklahoma!" premiered in 1943 on Broadway and was an immediate hit. It was ground-breaking in that it fully integrated the songs and dance numbers into the story - an innovation at the time. It ran for more than five years and has been adapted many times, most famously on the silver screen in 1955 starring Shirley Jones and Gordon MacRae.
If you go
What: "Oklahoma!" presented by Altoona Community Theatre
When: 8 p.m. May 3, 4 and 5 and 2 p.m. May 5 and 6
Where: Mishler Theatre, Altoona
Tickets: $22.50 for adults and $17.50 for students. Tickets are available at the Mishler box office, by calling 944-9434 or online at www.altoonacommunitytheatre.com
An adaptation of the earlier play "Green Grow the Lilacs," the musical follows the love story of Curly McLain and Laurey Williams, two young people in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906. Cowboy Curly struggles to win farm girl Laurey's heart and must ultimately battle with disturbed farmhand Jud Fry over Laurey's hand.
Meanwhile, another young cowboy, Will Parker, returns from a trip to Kansas City with gifts intended to impress Ado Annie. But Annie loves both Will and the Persian peddler Ali Hakim, who has no intention of marrying Annie, despite her father's insistence.
"It's a lovely story. It's a classic," says Jacob Baskin, who plays Curly. "It's basically the journey of two couples and how they progress through the whole show."
Both Baskin and Kensinger avoided watching the famous movie adaptation of the musical.
"I watched a little bit," Baskin, of Altoona, said. "I don't really like to watch the movies of the stuff I do."
Kensinger, a Martinsburg native now living in State College, felt the same.
"I've never seen the movie, and I'm intentionally not watching it until after [the production] for that very reason," she said. "I do want to try and create my own performance and not try to do what was done in the past."
But not seeing Shirley Jones play the same role doesn't mean that she was totally unfamiliar with the musical.
"My grandma took me to see it when I was 9 years old, so I knew the music from that," Kensinger said. "But I had forgotten, or maybe didn't realize, what a beautiful story it was."
One of the most famous parts of "Oklahoma!" is the long "dream ballet" sequence which illustrates Laurey's struggle to choose between Curly and Jud.
"One thing that is unique about me playing Laurie and with Jed and Curley, typically there would be dancers cast for the dream ballet section," Kensinger said. "So that's been different for [the leads]. But I'm actually a dancer, so I'm really excited about that."
The sequence wasn't a problem for Baskin, either.
"I've done a lot of shows, so I've done a lot of choreography," he said.
A more difficult feat for Kensinger was tackling a role with a serious edge.
"This is really my first opportunity to play a character who is not the comic relief," she said. "I really just try to look for the truth in the script, and I try to approach it really honestly."
Overall, Kensinger expects the show to be a hit with the local audience.
"I think they're going to love it," she said. "I'm surprised that this is the first time that ACT has ever performed it on the Mishler stage, because it is such a classic piece.
"I think it'll be an old favorite that people might be seeing through new eyes again."
Mirror Staff Writer Keith Frederick is at 946-7466.