"Oklahoma," the musical being staged this weekend by South Elgin High School, may be set in a simpler era, but it is filled with complexities.
"It's a fun musical with underlying serious tones," said Joseph Beaty of Elgin, who plays Curly, the male lead. "There are controversial themes of sex and violence that people didn't really talk about back in the time when it was set or when it was written."
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If you goWhat: South Elgin High School's production of "Oklahoma"
When: 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 6-7, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8.
Where: South Elgin High School, 760 E. Main St., South Elgin
Tickets: $10, $8 for students and seniors. The box office will open one hour before each show.
Details: For tickets in advance, call Karen Brhel at (847) 289-3760, ext. 3486 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some of the controversy centers around the violence of Jud Fry.
"They incorporated Jud as a contrast to Curly," said Jim Chrouser of Elgin, who plays Jud. "Curly is lighthearted, easy-go-lucky, and popular, and Jud is serious and unattached and doesn't know how to function in society."
The female characters don't fit the mold either.
"Ado Annie and Gertie are two characters who are known to be rather popular and easy," observed Elisheva Kohn of Elgin, who plays Ado Annie.
But Maddie Hayes of Elgin, who as the female lead plays the more proper Laurey, thinks her character has her own unconventional qualities.
"Laurey's really strong. She doesn't want to conform and be with this guy (Curly). She plays hard to get."
Justin Santostefano of Elgin, who portrays the playful Will, said, "He tries to be tough. Sometimes he acts a little cocky, but really he's making himself look stupid. He's the comic relief."
So too is the peddler Ali played by Daniel Mikhail of Elgin, who noted his character's "weird quirks, his outsider accent, and his efforts to sell everything to everyone."
Then there is Aunt Eller, played by Grace Comerford of South Elgin. "She's the matriarch of the whole town," Grace Comerford said. "She gets to be sarcastic, very rude and wry, but everyone knows there's love underneath it all."
At the heart of the musical is the romance between Curly and Laurey.
"Laurey can be fun and sassy -- and serious," Maddie Hayes said.
Beaty added, "You might look at Curly and say he's not really smart, but he's got intelligence and street smarts behind the charm and smooth-talking."
Carrie Crowe, who along with Karen Brhel, is producer and director, continues the theme of unexpected complexity.
"While it is mostly 'plain fun,' 'Oklahoma' is a slice of Americana," Crowe said. "The characters share a passion for their territory and its entry into the union. It suggests hope in the American dream. Curley and Will, in particular, are letting go of their lives as free-roaming cowboys to settle down, build a family, and run a farm."
Crowe also commented on the deceptive challenges of this "simple" musical, filled with familiar songs like "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning" and "People Will Say We're in Love."
"The music, choreography and characterization are far more mature than shows we have performed in recent years," Crowe said. "Students are being exposed to a more operatic style of music, formal ballet dance, and the development of complex characters."
So which is it -- simple joyous story or complex, layered production? The fact that it is both may be the reason "Oklahoma" is always popular and why this talented cast and their directors love it.
In addition to Crowe and Brhel, Renee Heitman is choreographer, Mary Crum is costume director, Brian "Stick" Leatherby is technical director, Jen Prise is lighting designer, and Maci Sepp and Luz Almenza are student directors. Several parents are helping with props, sets, tickets, and refreshments.
When asked why people should come to see their musical, the cast members laughed and poured out their affection for the production:
"The music is fun and upbeat."
"The characters are so whimsical."
"It has its deep parts and its fun parts."
"The dancing is exceptional."
"It's a really genuine show." "Everybody's put in a lot of hard work."
"There's a ridiculous amount of talent in the cast."
And then one of them summed it up -- "'Oklahoma' is a classic!"
Performances are 7 p.m. Thursday and Friday, March 6-7, and 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 8. For tickets in advance, call Karen Brhel at (847) 289-3760, ext. 3486 or email her at email@example.com. Tickets are $10, $8 for students and seniors. The box office will open one hour before each show.