March 22, 2010

Theater Emory goes musical with 'Oklahoma'

Theater Emory closes its 2009-2010 season with a fully staged production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical “Oklahoma!” April 1-11. Set in a Western territory in the early 1900s, this classic American musical tells the love story of Curly, a handsome cowboy, and Laurey, a winsome farm girl.

“The show is so iconic that people tend to joke about it, but it really turned the American musical on its head,” explains John Ammerman, the production’s director.

After opening in 1943 at the St. James Theater, “Oklahoma!” ran for an impressive 2,212 performances. The musical, based on Lynn Riggs' 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs,” was the first collaboration between Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. “Oklahoma!” defined the American musical and is considered a historical turning point. In 1944 a Pulitzer Prize jury honored its significance by creating and awarding the musical an Arts Special Citations Pulitzer Prize.

Extensive teamwork throughout every facet was necessary for producing “Oklahoma!” at Emory. Ammerman, also the artistic director of Theater Emory, is using this production as “an opportunity for students, dancers, actors and musicians to cross paths and work on a big challenge alongside professional artists that possess talent, organization and optimism.

Much like the original staging, Theater Emory’s production will present a full orchestra, a large cast and an accompanying chorus to transport the audience to Ammerman’s vision of “bright, sunny, Oklahoma!”

“I wanted to tackle a big musical -- something that many students have wanted for years,” Ammerman says, “but to ‘do it up’ with collaborations from artists in the music and dance departments.” Emory Music faculty member Scott Stewart signed on as the musical director and conductor for the production, while Emory Dance faculty member George Staib is the choreographer for this 23-member cast.

The production’s design team includes set designer Sara Ward, costume designer Marianne Martin, lighting designer Joseph Monaghan III, sound designer Robert Turner and properties master Cat Babb. Additionally, a supporting cast of students and professionals alike will compliment the featured artists, creating an even larger production crew and cast.

“It’s a tall order,” Ammerman admits, “but now that we have the right group collected, it’s going to be quite an adventure!”

Theater Emory will stage “Oklahoma!” April 1-11, in the Mary Gray Munroe Theater in the Dobbs University Center. Tickets ($20; $16 Emory faculty and staff, discount category members; $6 Emory students) can be purchased by calling 404-727-5050 or at

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