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Heritage Hall came alive this past Friday night as the audience was transported back to the wild Oklahoma Indian Territory in the days just before statehood. In a joint effort between Johnson County High School Players and the Johnson County Community Theatre, directors Judy Walsh and Lisa Zeggert worked diligently to present Rodger’s & Hammerstein’s musical, “Oklahoma!”
Walsh thanked the many sponsors who made the production of “Oklahoma!” a reality. “It’s just not to be believed the talent we have in the county,” Walsh said. The production of this musical was dedicated to Evelyn Cook. Walsh explained that the production of “Oklahoma” was a dream of Cook’s. Cook is well known throughout the community as a teacher, a leader and a mentor.
“Okahoma!” was the very first musical written by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Based on a play by Lynn Riggs written in 1931, the year is 1906 in a time where cowboys and farmers were just learning to co-exist together. “It’s a love story as only Rodgers and Hammerstein can create,” Walsh explained.
The curtains open as cowboy Curly McLain, played by Tommy Nelson, is anticipating a wonderful day as he makes his way over to the yard of a young girl who has captured his heart, Laurey Williams, played by Kelsey Yongue. With Aunt Eller, played by Amy Nelson, keeps a watchful eye on the young couple, Laurey and Curly tease each other about the box social dance to be held that evening. Each girl will make a lunch basket to be auctioned off to raise funds for the local school. The winner of the auction will then eat lunch with the girl who prepared it. Laurey had been hopeful that Curly would ask her to the dance but was miffed that he had waited so long. Curly tells Laurey that he has rented a fine carriage, but Laurey doesn’t believe him. Laurey storms off, not realizing that Curly indeed had acquired a carriage. As in many love stories, there are always twists and turns. Jud Fry, played by Zachary Isaacs, is an angry farm hand who works for Laurey and has decided he wants Laurey for his own. Zachary asks Laurey to the box social, and she accepts, mostly to get back at Curly for waiting so long, but she is also afraid to say no.
Cowboy Will Parker, played by Ryan Whitener, is jubilant that he has won $50 at the fair. Will has set his sights on marrying Ado Annie, played by Matney Plyer. However, Ado Annie’s father, Andrew, played by Casey Dorenbush, had decided that Will needed to have $50 before he can marry his daughter. Unfortunately, Will spent the money on gifts for Ado Annie, and the money is gone. While Will was away, Ado Annie has become smitten with a Persian peddler, Ali Hakim, played by Lyn Walker. The audience loved the wit and humor of Walker’s character. Ado Annie is confused, claiming she loves both Will and Ali. Andrew discovers the relationship between Ado Annie and Ali, forcing Ali at gunpoint to agree to marry his daughter. In the meantime, Curly finds out that Laurey is going to the social with Jud. Curly tries to convince Laurey to go with him, but Laurie, worried about Jud’s reaction should she change her mind, instead tells Curly she doesn’t love him. An upset Curly goes to the smokehouse where farmhand Jud lives. Jud reveals that he does not feel appreciated, so Curly suggests that maybe Jud should hang himself. “You never know how much people like you until you are dead,” Cody said. Despite Curly’s efforts, Jud is even more determined to win Laurey’s heart. “I want to get me a real woman,” Jud sys angrily.
In the Oklahoma territory, the farmers and cowboys were having difficulty in getting along. They fought over fences and water, with each side firmly believing they were correct. Aunt Eller, ever the peacemaker, tries to have the two separate groups live in harmony. At the dance, Laurey is upset when Curly shows up with Gertie, played by Deidre Burgess. The competition between Curly and Jud becomes more apparent as the bidding begins for the lunch basket that Laurey prepared. Each man is determined to win the basket and Laurey’s heart. As Jud keeps raising the bid higher and higher, Curly first sells his saddle, then his horse and his gun to make sure he wins Laurey’s basket. Without these items, though, Curly could no longer be a cowboy and would have to turn to farming. A fierce competition begins between Will, who is bidding $50 on Ado Annie’s basket, and Ali. Ali is desperate not to marry Ado Annie and is willing to outbid Will on her basket. Will seems to have a hard time understanding he needs $50 in hand to marry his sweetheart. Ali bids $51 for the basket and Will retains his money. Ado Annie is very content flirting with men, but she and Will work out their differences.
Jud is angry that Laurey doesn’t want to be with him and admits his feelings for her. Jud threatens Laurey when she admits she doesn’t return those feelings. Laurey fires Jud as he storms off. Curly assures her he will keep her safe and proposes to Laurey, who accepts. Curly and Laurey are just married when Jud shows up, drunk and angry. Jud begins to attack Curly with a knife. In the fight, Jud falls to the ground and onto the knife, killing him instantly. A trial must be held, even though it is obvious Curly is innocent. He is soon found not guilty and the happy couple depart on their honeymoon in their very own surrey with a fringe on top.
Throughout the performance, the audience was entertained with the well-known songs from “Oklahoma!”  The many songs included “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,” “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top,” “Laurey’s Entrance,” “Kansas City,” “I Cain’t Say No,” “Many a New Day,” “It’s a Scandal! It’s an Outrage,” “People Will Say We’re in Love,” “Poor Jud is Daid,” “Lonely Room,” “Out of My Dreams,” and of course, the “Oklahoma Overture,” the state song of Oklahoma. Little Asa Nelson, four years old, stole the hearts of the audience as he tucked his little fingers into a belt loop, stomped his red boots in rhythm to the music, threw his hat up in the air and sang “Oklahoma” right along with the older and much more seasoned actors.
There are two more opportunities to enjoy the local production of “Oklahoma!” as additional performances will be held on Friday, October 22nd and Saturday, October 23rd at 7:00 pm.