Oklahoma ready to bow

Published 8:57 pm Monday, August 2, 2004

By By Lindsey Sherrill
The old west will come to Atmore this weekend as the Greater Escambia Council for the Arts presents the musical Oklahoma, featuring a cast of over 50 people from Atmore, Walnut Hill, Brewton and Monroeville.
GECA has performed a summer musical since 2001, but this year's production has proven to be uniquely challenging. Auditions were held in May and around 40 people tried out, leaving many of the vital roles unfilled. Actors were recruited throughout the early weeks of rehearsals to fill the roles.
One such cast member is Joel Brister of Brewton, who is playing Will Parker. At the end of auditions, there was still no one to fill the highly demanding singing and dancing part, so director Phil Johnson held a private audition the following week. Brister, who had never acted or danced before, proved to be a perfect fit for the role. Several chorus members and dancers also joined later as family and friends in the cast encouraged them to assist in the production.
Other casting problems arose throughout the summer as various characters had to be recast or replaced. Two such parts are Ali Hakim and Fred the farmer. Karl Robinson will play Ali, while Daniel Sands will step in as Fred. The part of Pigtails, a largely dance role, has also been shaky. Meagan Adams and Terri Bumann will both step into the role throughout the run.
Despite the hurtles, the production, now in the process of final dress rehearsals, has worked ahead of schedule all summer.
"We actually have two more run-throughs this year than we've ever had before," Johnson said. "We were able to get the sets up two weeks earlier which freed us up for the later rehearsals. We have a really great cast this year."
This year's cast consists largely of GECA and, in some instances, theatre newcomers.
"It's refreshing to see new faces," assistant director Lindsey Sherrill said. "We have so much talent this year we haven't seen before. It's exciting and really brings something new and special to this production. They've been a fabulous group to work with. Also, we're seeing people who are with us every year taking on new roles."
One such person is Sharon Poulsen, who is not only playing Aunt Eller, her first principle role, but also choreographing along with Tom and Wanetta McGinty.
Oklahoma is a largely dance driven show, something which presents a special challenge for the cast and production team. Poulsen and the McGintys have proven up to the task. The show features several long dance numbers and incorporates clogging, rag time, two-step, waltz and ballet styles.
Because of the large amount of dancing in this year's show, extra rehearsals were added to the already strenuous schedule.
"Do you realize that you have been in this building 39 times now?" Johnson told the cast Sunday after the final fix-it rehearsal. Yet, despite the extra rehearsals, the cast has stayed ahead of schedule and enthusiastic.
If the production is dance oriented, it is even more music centered. Oklahoma features nearly 30 musical numbers including familiar songs such as "Oh What A Beautiful Morning" and "People Will Say We're In Love" as well as less familiar tunes such as "Lonely Room" and "The Farmer and the Cowman." The performance will also offer a special performance of "Scandal," a song from the original show which has been cut from many later productions.
Driving the music for the production are strong singers such as voice major Laura Davis as Ado Annie and theatre major Jennifer Couch as Laurey, as well as the large and very talented chorus. The accompaniment will be provided once again by GECA's own "one woman orchestra" Shea Johnson, whom the cast describes simply as "awesome."
Along with the cast, a large and talented production team has stepped up to bring the performance to the stage. Along with Johnson and Sherrill, Dayton Long has assisted with final directing duties. The costume crew, Debbie Luttrell and Judy Huber, have also been hard at work throughout the summer to design and construct the turn of the century costumes. A large volunteer running crew is also working to keep the technical aspects of the show running smoothly. Cast, GECA members and interested theatre patrons have assisted with props, sets, tickets, publicity and the many other aspects of the show. And, as always, a dedicated and generous group of corporate and private sponsors have helped to finance the production.
Performances will be Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Escambia County High School in Atmore. Show times are 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $6 for adults and $4 for children and are available at United Bank or at the door. GECA is also selling season passes for the Oklahoma run and the rest of the 2004-2005 theatre season. Call 327-4250, 368-3899, or e-mail gecarts@hotmail.com for more information or to reserve tickets.
The full cast includes Phil Johnson as Curly, Jennifer Couch as Laurey, Joel Brister as Will Parker, Laura Davis as Ado Annie, Sharon Poulsen as Aunt Eller, Karl Robinson as Ali Hakim, Everette Price as Jud Frye, Jerry Gehman as Carnes, Tom McGinty as Ike Skidmore, Steve Billy as Cord Elam, Ellen Johnson as Ellen, Daniel Sands as Fred, Matt Boatwright as Tom, Lindsey Sherrill as Vivian, Kate Sherrill as Kate, Caitlyn Luttrell as Virginia, Joseph Billy as Slim, Steven Billy as Joe, Sherrie Hursh as Gertie Cummings, Meagan Adams/Terri Bumann as Pigtails, Megan Martin as Falldown, Mike Bethea as Mike, and the chorus: Allison Cruit, Jenny Davis, Pam Dees, Frisco Gehman, Courtney Hursh, Dana Hursh, Wanetta McGinty, Emily Moore, Grant Owens, Brandon Patterson, Meg Sherrill, Sharon Smith, Gilda Stubben, Tricia Troyer, Kristen Gehman, Janet Walker, Kaysie Malone, Don Carter, Laurel Billy and Daniel Johnson.

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