FOSTORIA - "Oklahoma" is to take to the Fostoria Senior High School stage this weekend with performances at 7:30 p.m. today and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday in the school's performing arts center.
Having just written two articles about "Oklahoma!" I was at a loss for what to write. I decided to focus on some of the features that have made it a favorite high school production. For one thing, the set and costumes are relatively simple and easy to find or construct. This is a plus for schools with limited budgets.
The story also offers a nostalgic glimpse of the early 1900s when the American West still was being settled. The Native Americans were relegated to reservations, but cowboys moved their herds across the landscape, often trampling the crops of homesteaders. Sheriffs and federal marshals were expected to enforce what laws existed. Those challenges drive the action of the play.
The many delightful songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein are a draw for actors and audiences, even those who have seen the production multiple times. In addition, several of the leading characters are about the same age as the high school students who play the roles. An exception is Aunt Eller, who is a more mature character. She has numerous songs to master and appears in almost every scene. Hers is a challenging role for a student actor.
The FHS version features Taylor Garcia (who actually has curly hair) as cocky cowboy Curly and Alaina Conlin as pretty farm girl Laurey. Kaitlyn Gonyer plays the wise and plucky Aunt Eller. We can only guess the reason Laurey has been left to live with her aunt. Eller serves as a surrogate mother to Laurey and a mediator between the farmers and the cowhands. Her instincts and actions are vital to the plot.
Matt Sierra is cast as Aunt Eller's hard-working farmhand Jud Fry, who competes with Curly for Laurey's affections. One of my favorite scenes from the show is in Jud's smokehouse for the dark but funny "Poor Jud is Dead" duet with Curly.
Adding comic relief to the show are the characters of Ado Annie and her suitors, Will Parker and Ali Haikim, played by Samantha Rusk, Aaron Hinkle and Emmanuel Clawson, respectively. Their most memorable scene is the barn dance and basket auction in which Annie's dad (David Lamalie) pokes his gun into Ali's back and commands him to buy Annie's parcel if he plans to marry her.
On the way to the social, Jud's advances scare and anger Laurey. She bans him from the farm and seeks comfort from Curly. Curly wastes no time proposing and the wedding plans are made; however, Aunt Eller and other residents worry Jud may seek revenge at being rejected.
Just when a happy ending seems to be at hand, Jud does appear, threatening the newlyweds. Garcia and Sierra have choreographed a realistic fight scene in which Jud is fatally injured and carried off to be buried. The incident puts a damper on what was supposed to be a happy occasion, but the resilient characters bend the law a bit and send the lovers off on their honeymoon in a real "Surrey With the Fringe On the Top."
Director Elizabeth Bellavia puts her own spin on the show with assistant director Laurie Martishius, orchestra director Mr. Schindler and technical director Mrs. Garcia-Tio.
All of these are good reasons to see "Oklahoma!" one more time.
Tickets are $5. For details, call (419) 436-4110.