STAGE TUBE: Molly Smith Talks OKLAHOMA! at Arena Stage!

Arena Stage begins a new life in its renovated home at the Mead Center for American Theater in Southwest D.C., opening its inaugural season with a classic American musical that similarly embraces life on a new frontier. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! is the first production at the Mead Center and features an all-star cast under the direction of Artistic Director Molly Smith. Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! runs October 22-December 26, 2010 in the Fichandler Stage. See below for a look at the production!

Inspired by the toughness of the prairie, Smith sets her production in the robust world of territory life filled with a dynamic cast as rich and complex as the tapestry of America itself. D.C. area favorite E. Faye Butler (Arena Stage's Crowns, Ain't Misbehavin') stars as Aunt Eller, with Valisia LeKae (Broadway's Ragtime, 110 in the Shade) as Laurey, Aaron Ramey (Broadway's Curtains, Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Jud and Nicholas Rodriguez (Broadway's Tarzan) as Curly, who played Fabrizio last season in The Light in the Piazza, also directed by Smith. Cody Williams makes his Arena Stage debut as Will Parker alongside June Schreiner as Ado Annie Carnes, a high school junior at The Madeira School in McLean, VA, who was discovered in last summer's Arena Stage Academy Musical Theater Training Company. With Rodgers and Hammerstein's timeless music, Smith's Oklahoma! celebrates the vigor of America's pioneering spirit with athletic dance and boot-stomping energy.

"Arena is in the midst of her own harvest," says Smith. "This is a moment of great joy and optimism for the new Arena Stage, and so too it was for Oklahoma, a frontier on the cusp of becoming a state. My idea is simple: I want to create an Oklahoma that looks and feels like it's 1907 on the frontier-a place in the middle of becoming. Our production of Oklahoma! reflects Arena and America today: modern, diverse and cross-cultural."

As the first modern musical to use music and dance as an integral part of the plot, Smith's Oklahoma! is also a collaboration between Music Director George Fulginiti-Shakar and Choreographer Parker Esse. "The sound of our production will be a cross between the lushness of a symphonic orchestra and the plain-folkiness of a western string band," says Fulginiti-Shakar, who celebrates his 15th production with Arena Stage. "We are using a restored score just released with the addition of a fiddle, banjo, harmonica and rhythm."

"My goal is to capture the ‘modern times' of the early American frontier," says Esse. "I hope to infuse these movements to reflect not only the hardships these settlers had to endure but also the wishes, dreams and romantic desires that would have filled their heads and distracted them from their harsh everyday realities."

Further complimenting the production, Smith has commissioned Tony Award-winning designers Eugene Lee and Martin Pakledinaz to develop dynamic sets and costumes respectively that bring the rough-hewn Oklahoma to life.

The Cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma!:
E. Faye Butler (Aunt Eller)'s previous Arena Stage productions include: Crowns, Ain't Misbehavin', Polk County and Dinah Was. Other D.C. Metro: Gospel According to Fishman, Saving Aimee (Signature); Take Joy (Strathmore); The Great Gatsby, Moon Until June (Washington Ballet at Kennedy Center). Regional credits include: Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, Once on This Island, Caroline, or Change, Trouble in Mind (CenterStage); Crumbs from the Table of Joy (Steppenwolf); Christmas Carol, Purlie (Goodman); The Wiz (La Jolla). National Tours: Dinah Was, Mamma Mia!, Ain't Misbehavin', Don't Bother Me I Can't Cope, Nunsense, Nunsense 2. Recently Ms. Butler released her CD Circle of Firsts and has a cabaret act, Just in Time, which travels around the country. Ms. Butler has been honored with several awards: Helen Hayes, John Barrymore, six Joseph Jefferson, three Black Theater Alliance, Ovation, Excellence in the Arts, After Dark.

STAGE TUBE: Molly Smith Talks OKLAHOMA! at Arena Stage!
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