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'Oklahoma' arrives

“Oklahoma!

Where the wind comes sweeping down the plain,

And the wavin’ wheat

Can sure smell sweet

When the wind comes right behind the rain!”

Right from its opening scene, “Oklahoma!” is one of those beloved Rogers and Hammerstien classics. The much-loved show is set at the turn of the 20th century in the Oklahoma Territory. The story centers on love, but also highlights a clash between the cattlemen and the farmers.

Bremerton High School students will bring “Oklahoma!” to life starting with opening night May 1 at the BHS Performing Arts Center.

Director and drama teacher and coach at BHS, Sheryl Cole, has been working with her cast of about 30 students (and at least as many behind-the-scenes individuals) since the last week of February. In the second to last week of rehearsals, BHS’s production of “Oklahoma!” was really coming together as Cole watched from the soundboard on Tuesday.

“I love the spirit, the music and the whole atmosphere,” Cole said of the musical while keeping a close eye on her young actors and actresses onstage.

Cole has been directing theater at BHS for the past two years, but she’s been involved in the art form much, much longer than that.

“I tell all the kids I’ve been doing theater for 100 years,” she says with a laugh.

This week the students dug into two new challenges: sets and choreography.

Emily Andrews, a BHS graduate who is now employed by the school district, designed the farm house, ranch house, wagon and smoke house which will be used in “Oklahoma!” BHS’s stage technology class actualized Andrews’ plans, though the cast also swung a hammer or two last weekend.

“We started them (the sets) about as early as Sheryl decided on ‘Oklahoma!’” Andrews said.

The large wooden structures were still incomplete as last week’s rehearsals continued, but it was an important step for the performers to grow accustomed to their presence. The cast had previously been trying to visualize the sets through shapes made with red tape on the stage floor.

“Even though it was taped out, they were jumping through the set,” Amber Wiltgen, stage manager and a junior at BHS, said.

And just days after Lawan Morrison of Bremerton Dance Center finished arranging the choreography, the students were shuffling across the stage like they’d been practicing their steps for weeks.

“Wait until you see some of it,” Cole promised. “It’s so fun.”

The cast has until this Thursday evening to work out any bugs. The show continues May 2 and 3 and May 8, 9 and 10. Curtain time is 7:30 p.m.

For those who love to sing along to the music, the audience will be invited to sing verses of some “Oklahoma!” favorites on opening night.

“We’re getting close,” said Justin Beal who plays Curly, the lead male role in “Oklahoma!” during one of his rare breaks from the stage.

This is Beal’s first bona fide lead role, but he originally fell in love with acting way back in third grade.

“It’s different for me,” said the BHS junior of playing Curly. “I’ve never had a romantic role.”

Beal has found, “just acting smooth and the kissing parts,” to be the greatest difficulties as a leading man. But he adds, “I’m getting better.” He’s made sure to practice his smooching skills — on stage that is.

“It’s got great music, great dancing and a really good story — all the makings of a great show,” Beal said.

Support male leads include John Placido as Will Parker, Ricky Garcia as Jud Parker and Taylor Mantzke as Andrew Carnes.

The female leads have been double cast. Miceala Thomas and Megan Jones play Laurie, Hazel Lozano and Alicia Thompson play Ado Annie and Michelle Abad and Stephanie Lewis play Aunt Eller. Maddie Miller and Khaliqa Carter have also been double cast as the lead dancers in the dream sequence ballet.

“There’s just so much talent, so I took on that challenge,” Cole said of her decision to double cast.

For Megan Jones, one of the two Lauries, the experience has been an enjoyable one. She’ll be playing Laurie in the first, third and tenth shows.

“It’s fun to see how both the people portray the character because it’s different,” Jones said.

Her counterpart Miceala Thomas is delighted to also be a part of “Oklahoma!”

“This is one of my favorite plays in the whole world,” said the talented senior who’s been singing “forever.”

Cast members have been practicing about four hours a day, but are still singing “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” and “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” with enthusiasm.

“They’re great kids,” Cole said. “They stick up for each other and they work together.”

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