There are a lot of cowboy hats at the Village Theatre. That’s because, after entering the front doors, you’re not in Hudson any more. Welcome to Oklahoma!
There are more than a dozen actors on the tiny stage, dancing without knocking into each other (mostly), a testament to Terry Girouard’s imaginative choreography.
“Can we do something about that ending?” asks Mike Melino, who plays Will. “I gotta do something about my two-step.”
Co-directors Karen Cromar and Glen Bowser came to this show and the unique challenges of the Hudson Village Theatre in October, a month later than production would normally start. Oklahoma had to be adapted to a very small stage that generally hosts five to eight actors vs. Oklahoma’s 23 cast members.
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They have the history of the musical itself on their side: It has been reinterpreted in many ways since it was first produced in 1943. The London production even added songs and dialogue.
“It’s difficult to find a director today who’s willing to take on Oklahoma because it was one of the biggest, if not the biggest staged musical there was,” Cromar says. “It was the first Rogers & Hammerstein collaboration, based on a play by Lynn Riggs called Green Grow the Lilacs. It became the epitome of how they did musical shows because it was the first one to integrate music and dancing within the story and it changed the way musicals would be from then on.”
“Everything before that was just song and dance stuff,” Bowser continues. “This actually has a story with dialogue. It requires some acting. Our job is to try to put all of that together. Oklahoma is a very ‘up’ type of show, but it has a dark side with Jud and it depicts a time in Oklahoma that was very difficult. It was the Dustbowl during the Depression and went through four years of drought. It still goes through years of drought; it’s a very tough state to live in. Very hardy, very tough.”
While more than five months of setup and rehearsal would be considered a luxury for a big theatre, it’s just barely enough time for a volunteer-run organization to learn a script, 16 songs and how to not step on each other’s toes in 42 carefully blocked scenes. It’s just enough time, also, to figure out how to make winter wonderland Quebec look like the Great Plains.
“We had a meeting with set designer Jean-Claude Olivier to see whether it could be done,” says producer André Marchand. “He goes, ‘Oh, it’s a very small stage.’ I said, ‘But is it doable?’ and as the meeting went on, he became more enthusiastic.” Enthusiastic enough to build a set in which the house and walls move to depict vastly different scenes.
Says Bowser: “Our strength is intimate theatre and hoping to make everyone feel good. I’m an audience director. When I direct, I sit in the audience and see what they see.”
“The leads are wonderful and I think some of them might steal the show,” Cromar promises. “There are some secondary characters who I think will really shine. But it is an ensemble and they work so well together.”
“We’ve come a long way musically, but they are nailing it now,” agrees musical director Sheila Engel Katz.
The cast rehearses Kansas City one more time and now their two-steps are synced and no one gets in anyone else’s way: “But latter in the second act/When she began to peel/She proved that ev’rythin’ she had was absolutely real!/She went about as fur as she could go!”
There’s a “yee-haw!” from a lady up front.
This production promises to go about as far as it can go. And then some.
Oklahoma stars Jordan Marchand as Curly, Gail Marchand as Aunt Eller, Stefania Vetere as Laurey and Simon Côté as Jud. It runs till March 23 at Hudson Village Theatre, 28 Wharf in Hudson. 450-458-5361, villagetheatre.ca.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified Mike Melino. The Senior Times regrets the error.