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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.

Valisia LeKae (Laurey) was last seen in the Drury Lane Oakbrook's production of Ragtime as Sarah, for which she was nominated for a 2010 Joseph Jefferson Award and 2010 Black Theater Alliance Award. Broadway credits include: the Tony-nominated revivals of Ragtime (where she understudied and performed the role of Sarah), 110 in the Shade with Audra McDonald (Vivian Lorraine, Little Girl, Snookie u/s) and The Threepenny Opera with Cyndi Lauper. She was part of Camelot, which was taped for Live from the Lincoln Center on PBS. Off-Broadway credits include: Almost Heaven, also in the Center Repertory Theater production. National touring credits include: All Shook Up (Lorraine) and Mamma Mia! (Lisa). Ms. LeKae's TV credits include One Life to Live, The View, 2009 CBS Thanksgiving Day Parade, 2006 Tony Awards and The Ryan Seacrest Show. Regional roles include: Mamma Mia!; Big River; Little Shop of Horrors (nominated for a 2010 Kevin Kline Award); Caroline, or Change; Dreamgirls; Godspell and Smokey Joe's Cafe.

Nicholas Rodriguez (Curly) last appeared at Arena Stage in The Light in the Piazza. On Broadway, he performed the title role in Tarzan; and Off-Broadway he's appeared in The Toxic Avenger, Almost Heaven and Bajour. He's toured in Jesus Christ Superstar (Jesus), Evita (Che) and Hair (Claude). His regional credits include originating the role of Aaron and understudying Val Kilmer's Moses in The Ten Commandments (Kodak); JCS (Jesus); Oklahoma! (Curly); Damn Yankees (Joe); Cinderella (Prince); South Pacific (Cable); Master Class (Tony); Love, Valour, Compassion! (Ramon) and The King & I (Lun Tha). Last summer, he was seen in the film Sex and the City 2. Most recently, Mr. Rodriguez portrayed Nick Chavez on ABC's One Life to Live. He holds a B.M. and M.M. in vocal performance from Univ. of Texas at Austin.

Aaron Ramey (Jud Fry)'s Broadway credits include: Curtains, Young Frankenstein, Thoroughly Modern Millie (Original Cast); National Tours: Sweet Charity (Vittorio Vidal), Disney's Beauty & the Beast (Beast); NYC: A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Darnay, workshop), Take Flight (Charles Lindbergh, workshop), The Woman Upstairs (NYMF); Regional: Carousel (Barrington Stage), Shenandoah (Ford's Theatre), Songs for a New World (Alpine Theatre Project), A Little Night Music, Oklahoma (Pittsburgh CLO), Sweeney Todd (CenterStage), Miss Saigon, 1776 (Paper Mill Playhouse), West Side Story (AMTSJ), Baby Case (World Premiere, Arden Theatre Co.), SNEAUX! (World Premiere, Matrix Theatre, LA). TV: Kings, New Amsterdam, Guiding Light, All My Children, As The World Turns.

June Schreiner (Ado Annie Carnes) is a junior at The Madeira School in McLean, VA, and is a two-year graduate of the Arena Stage Academy Musical Theater Training Company. She has performed with Synetic Family Theater in The Snow Queen and Hansel and Gretel and understudied Jacqueline Bouvier in Studio Theatre's Grey Gardens. Ms. Schreiner was last seen with the McLean Community Players as Amy March in Little Women and has done several productions with Reston Community Players.

Cody Williams (Will Parker) has performed professionally in numerous shows with Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, Casa Mañana and West Virginia Public. He's also been a guest artist with Atlanta Ballet. Mr. Williams earned his B.F.A. this past spring from Univ. of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music.

Nehal Joshi (Ali Hakim) returns to Arena Stage after last performing in Señor Discretion Himself. D.C. credits include Mister Roberts (Kennedy Center); Recent Tragic Events (Woolly Mammoth); The Mad Dancers (Theater J) and Carousel (Olney). Broadway: Les Misérables (original revival cast) and Threepenny Opera (Roundabout). Off-Broadway: Falling for Eve (York). Regional credits include: Working (2008 revision; Old Globe, Asolo Rep); Tommy (Dallas Theater Center); Mother Teresa Is Dead (City Theater Company); the 25th & 26th annual Humana Festival of New American Plays (Actors Theater of Louisville). His film/TV credits include: HBO's The Wire; Blackout and New York, I Love You. He will be heard in the next edition of the World of Warcraft videogame.

The Cast of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! also includes Philip Michael Baskerville (Cord Elam), Andrew Hodge (Slim), Shane Rhoades (Fred), Vincent Rodriguez III (Sam), Anton Harrison LaMon (Jess), Cara Massey (Gertie), Emilee Dupre (Vivian), Annie Petersmeyer (Virginia), Jessica Wu (Kate), Cyana Cook (Ellen), Semhar Ghedremichael (Aggie), Hollie E. Wright (Sylvie/Dream Laurey), Kyle Vaughn (Mike/Dream Curly), Kurt Boehm (Male Swing) and Jessica Hartman (Female Swing).

The Creative Team of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! includes Assistant Director Anita Maynard-Losh, Music Director George Fulginiti-Shakar, Assistant Musical Director Mary Sugar, Set Designer Eugene Lee, Assistant Scenic Designer Tristan Jeffers, Costume Designer Martin Pakledinaz, Choreographer Parker Esse, Assistant Choreographer Ashley Yeater, Fight Choreographer David Leong, Lighting Designer Michael Gilliam, Sound Designer Tim Thompson, New York Casting Director Paul Hardt, Arena Stage Casting Director Daniel Pruksarnukul, Stage Manager Susan R. White, Assistant Stage Manager Jenna Henderson, Production Assistant Alexandria Wood and Dramaturg Janine Sobeck.

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