Northgate High's Backstage Players plan three performances of musical

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A dance number in “Oklahoma” features, front, from left, CeCe Locke, Sayre Henley and Brianna Donaldson.

By W. WINSTON SKINNER winston@newnan.com A fresh wind will come sweepin' down the plain this week as Northgate High School students recreate an Oklahoma hamlet from a century ago. "Oklahoma," the popular Rogers and Hammerstein musical, will be presented by the Northgate High School Backstage Players at the Centre for Performing and Visual Arts on Lower Fayetteville Road in Newnan Thursday through Saturday. Doors will open at 6:30 p.m., and the play will start at 7.
Tickets are $8 for adults and $5 for students. Set in the town of Claremore in what was then Oklahoma territory in 1906, "Oklahoma" tells the story of a budding romance between cowboy Curly McClain and independent Laurey Williams. Other characters include Ali Hakim, a salesman from Persia; Ado Annie, Laurey's friend who is torn between two boyfriends; and Laurey's well respected Aunt Eller. "Oklahoma" was based on a 1931 play, "Green Grow the Lilacs" by Lynn Riggs. Adapted with music and dance by Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein II, "Oklahoma" made its debut on Broadway in 1943 -- running for more than 2,000 performances. A 1955 film version starring Gordon McRae and Shirley Jones earned two Academy Awards. The mythic reputation of the story creates an instant audience -- and challenges for anyone mounting the play. "Meeting everyone's expectations" is the biggest challenge, according to Melanie Bruner, Northgate's drama teacher and director of the production. Most of the people who come to the Centre later this week to watch the drama unfold will have "seen it somewhere before," Bruner noted. At a practice at Northgate, the students in the cast were enthusiastic -- smiles lighting their faces as they acted, danced and sang their way through the story. The play includes numerous props to recreate an ambience of the frontier in 1906. Costumes have come from several sources to help provide the right country couture for "Oklahoma." Molly Jacobson, who plays Ado Annie, rented her outfit from a costume shop. Other costumes were donated, and there also are pieces left from 2003 when Northgate last staged "Oklahoma." "Most of us have to put on a thick accent," Jacobson noted. "The script is actually written in dialect," said Ashley West, the stage manager. Jacobson said the songs have lots of non-repetitive lyrics. "It's really rare when we do have a repeat," she said. Students have been working on "Oklahoma" since mid-March. Tanner Baker, who plays Will Parker, said "learning to tap dance" was a challenge. All of the cast, however, are enjoying what they are doing and looking forward to Thursday's opening night. "Everything that's hard about it is the same thing that's fun about it. If it was easy, I don't think it would be fun," observed Antonio Mathis, who has one of the lead roles as Curly. "I would agree with that," Baker said. In addition to Bruner, adults working with the students include Bruce Patterson, music director; Harry Burnett, technical director; and Ashley Betsill, choreographer.


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