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‘Oklahoma!’

Students at New Ulm Area Catholics Schools to present performances next weekend

Helen Fischer as Ado Annie and Brendon DeVries as Will Parker rehearse their first scene together in the NUACS production of “Oklahoma!”

The “Oklahoma!” revival comes to New Ulm Area Catholic Schools (NUACS) with performances of the musical next weekend.

Director Michael Koester said now is the perfect time to produce “Oklahoma!” as the musical recently received a revival on Broadway in 2019. It is a great entryway to teach students about musical theater and its history.

“Oklahoma!” is the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical set in 1906 when Oklahoma was still a territory. The cast includes cowboys, farmers and a traveling salesman, all competing for the favor of the local ladies.

The main story features cowboy Curly McLain, played by Jared Gleisner, and farm girl Laurey Williams, played by Elissa Reis. The two have a contentious relationship, with Laurey playing hard to get while other women flirt with Curly. At the same time, farmhand Jud Fry (Landon Klawitter) has an interest in Laurey, though his affection borders on obsession that could prove dangerous.

Meanwhile, Laurey’s friend Ado Annie (played by Helen Fischer) must decide between her love for cowboy Will (played by Brendon DeVries) and traveling peddler Ali Hakim (played by Brennan Glawe).

Elissa Reis as Laurey Williams and Helen Fischer as Ado Annie.

Much of the drama in the play comes from the divide between cowboys and farmers. Michael Koester said farmers put up fences to keep livestock in and cowboys took the fences down to let their cattle roam, creating a rivalry. Curly and Laurey come from different sides of the rivalry, creating further tension for the couple.

Koester said there is a slight “Romeo & Juliet” or “Westside” story vibe to the story, but with a country setting.

In any production of “Oklahoma!” establishing the setting is the greatest challenge. Finding a way to recreate a small town on the prairie with limited space is a challenge, but the cast and crew made it possible.

Koester said since many of the cast and crew have grown up in rural Minnesota, they have access to old farm props for the production.

Instead of assembling 1900s farm implements, they were able to borrow equipment from the families, including a vintage butter churn, old fashioned horse bridle and barrels. Koester was pleased to find the school still had Ali Hakim’s peddler wagon from NUACS last production of “Oklahoma!” that was performed in 2006.

Ali Hakim peddles his wares for the lady folk in “Okahoma!” L to R: Elissa Reis as Laurey, Helen Fischer as Ado Annie, Brennan Glawe as Ali Hakim and Chloe Beranek as Aunt Eller.

Costuming was relatively easy for this production since several of the actors had the necessary cowboy boots and hats for their costumes.

Another fortunate part of the production was the younger actors were developing the right accent. For this production, the characters speak with a country accent. Koester said young actors all picked up the accent very well. There were a few incidents where the kids had trouble understanding the dialogue, as many of the phrases were centuries out of date, but they caught on quickly.

Actor Brendon DeVries, who plays Will Parker said the greatest challenge of this production was learning to dance in cowboy boots. DeVries is senior and a veteran of many NUACS production. He said the show was shaping up nicely. DeVries was really impressed with the younger grades joining the production. DeVries believed the future of NUACS theatre productions looked bright.

Koester said the production was unique in that it is a younger cast than the previous production. He said half of the cast is 7th graders. Many of the students are first-time actors, but Koester said he was pleasantly surprised at how fast students were learning.

Koester said the main reason for doing any production is to teach students about theater and with “Oklahoma!” they are having a lot of fun and learning.

Koester has seen students who were too shy to speak, gain the confidence to use their voices.

“That’s my favorite part is working with kids,” Koester said. He enjoys seeing the kids grow as actors across several productions.

NUACS will hold three performances of “Oklahoma!” next week. Shows are 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 and Saturday, Nov. 2.A special 2 p.m. performance is Sunday, Nov. 13.

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