It has been nearly 70 years since "Oklahoma!" opened on Broadway, but people still are discovering the classic American musical.
That includes student performers at Sonoma State University, who finished the play's two-week run Sunday at Evert B. Person Theatre on the Rohnert Park campus.
The story of love and conflict in the Oklahoma Territory will touch hearts 70 years from now, said Vanessa Begley, who portrayed farm girl Laurey Williams.
"Even though it's set in 1907, I don't think it will ever be out of date," she said.
The Rodgers & Hammerstein production lifted American spirits during the darkest days of World War II.
"It's about strivers, people who were outsiders, who came to a strange place and created a community," said Lynne Morrow, the SSU music professor who directed Sunday's production. "It tells an American story back to an American audience."
"Oklahoma!" was one of the first American musicals that used songs, comedy, romance, drama and dance to drive a compelling storyline.
It gave us enduring melodies that include "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin,'" "Surrey With The Fringe On Top" and "People Will Say We're In Love."
The Sonoma State production brought some new interpretation to the musical. It humanized Jud Fry, the menacing farmhand who vies with cowboy Curly McLain for Laurey's hand.
Jud may be surly, but "it doesn't mean he has no feelings," said Jon Ostlund, who played him. "From his point of view, &‘Oklahoma!' is a tragedy."
"We really looked at Jud as an interesting character," said stage director Adrian Elfenbaum. "We fleshed him out as a human being."
Choreographer Nancy Lyons made one dance sequence a battle of the sexes, with cowboys trying to rope women into marriage. For Kimberly Hoffman, who portrayed Aunt Eller, the dancing was a challenge. It helped that she had learned Israeli folk dancing, she said.
"Aunt Eller is an older woman, but she dances up a storm," Hoffman said.
Morrow said &‘Oklahoma!" has a special meaning for her, because her father used to sing "Oh What A Beautiful Mornin'" at the beginning of each day.
"He was a morning person," she said.
Morrow was moved on Sunday after the cast rehearsed the song before their last performance. "You guys have been terrific," she told them. "My father would be very happy."
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