LISA M. Leonard Tribune Correspondent
“Chicks, ducks and geese better hurry when I take you to Surrey…”
These are just a few of the spirited lyrics offered when Fremont High School performs this year’s spring musical, “Oklahoma!” of Rodgers and Hammerstein!
Set in 1906, the story features a farm girl and her two suitors – a kind-hearted cowboy and a sullen farmhand – amid anticipation of the Oklahoma Territory’s accession to the state.
“This is an exciting time for the performing arts,” said Mark Harman, director of choral activities. “The pandemic has raised the question: ‘Can we or can’t we come together?’ Returning to production helps us get back to normal.
Putting on a musical is an annual tradition at Fremont High School, a process Harman has enjoyed for 21 years.
“The auditions are limited to students in the choir class,” he said, “so I already know they can sing.”
Casting singers who could act rather than actors who could sing was not common practice in the 1930s, when Rodgers and Hammerstein began turning the stage play Green Grow the Lilacs into a musical. The logic behind their decision was to create a story enriched with music instead of filling the stage with lots of music but very little story.
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For many students, singing comes more naturally than acting and dancing, which are also key parts of musicals. Senior Hailey Newill, who plays Laurey Williams in this year’s production, found learning ballet as well as contemporary dance steps both fun and challenging.
“It helps when you work with people you know,” she says. “We all stumble together.”
The role of cowboy Curly McLain is played by Cade Rasmussen. His love of singing began when he was old enough to read the words to worship songs.
“I joined the church choir when I was in fifth grade. For me, the most beautiful music is music that honors God. Now a junior at Fremont High, Rasmussen leads the Wednesday night worship service for the group youth from First Evangelical Free.
Newill’s love for singing also began in church. After performing in several programs, she participated in All-City Chorus and then joined a group called the Broadway Club. “It only lasted a few years, but I learned a lot about what goes into making a music production. Lots of work behind the scenes.
During his first year, one of Newill’s jobs was to manage the projection screens for “Newsies”. A year later, she was playing the second piano part in the orchestra pit.
“Only juniors and seniors can be on the cast,” she said, “but freshmen and sophomores can be on film crews and things like that.”
This year marks Newill’s first time in a leading role. In the production of “The Addams Family” last year, she was an ensemble player.
“It was hard learning to do this musical because of all the COVID protocols,” she said. “But having to struggle with that makes this year a lot easier when you’re trying to learn songs and choreography without a mask and having to consider social distancing.”
Having the lead role in a musical is nothing new for Rasmussen. Before playing a singing cowboy, he had the title role in “Aladdin.” He also played the caterpillar in “Alice in Wonderland” and Merlin in “King Arthur”.
Although this year’s musical has a lot of songs to learn, Rasmussen thinks the storyline about the impending state of Oklahoma is especially relevant during this pandemic.
“At the end of the show, you see farmers and cowherds finally putting aside their differences, coming together and becoming the community they need to be,” he said.
A theater production company is a community in itself, and one of the key members is the stage manager. Ava Woods was last year’s assistant stage manager, which helped prepare her for new responsibilities.
“During rehearsals, I take attendance and take notes so I can let the cast know what changes are needed,” Woods said. “I also make sure our director has what he needs.”
At age 10, Woods attended Drama Camp at the Fremont Opera House. As her leadership skills developed, she found herself taking on the role of mentor.
As stage manager, Woods not only helps the cast members learn their lines and show an appropriate reaction, but also does what she can to maintain morale.
“I’ve been an actress,” she said, “so I know how hard it is.”
One of the hardest parts of acting is keeping a straight face. Jacilyn Foster plays Teen Annie, the girl who can’t say no.
“She’s really funny and also kind of clueless,” Foster said. “I must be playing dumb!”
Foster is grateful to work with a cast and supporting crew. “When one of us blows a line, it’s fine. It helps to know that there is always someone supporting you. His advice to those considering performing in musicals? “Go for it! You never know if you have that spark in you.
Two people responsible for sparking community interest are Emma Sorensen and Zach Dein, the presidents of Publicity. Sorensen was last year’s president, so she already knew what to do to spread the word and find sponsors.
Dein’s job last year was to help with the costumes. Because so many of his friends were already on the publicity team, he decided to cross over and join them.
“The first thing we did was create the poster,” Dein said. “We really couldn’t do anything else until this was done. Emma did a lot of the design, and I called places and helped the big things come together.
One of those big things was media coverage. He contacted Tribune editor Tammy McKeighan, who then assigned a correspondent to take photos and conduct interviews.
Sorensen is grateful for another year of publicity coverage.
“Coming into the job this year, I knew what to expect. One of the challenges was trying to come up with designs for our posters,” Sorensen said. “We needed one that would catch the attention of the community. This year we made sure to get things started right away so we could get all of our information out to the public as quickly as possible and made sure everyone was up to speed on the musical.
When asked if any of his courses helped him prepare for advertising work, Dein said his graphic design course helped him develop his computer skills. More than anything, however, he is grateful for the excellent leadership shown by his Advertising Co-Chair. “Without Emma, none of this could have been done so well.”
Teamwork is something Harman strives to instill in its students on the football field as well as on stage. “In the fall, I’m a linesman, so it’s easy for me to compare every musical performance to a tournament. For my performing artists, Opening Night is their Game Day.
When asked why he chose “Oklahoma!” for this year’s musical, Harmon said he felt the need for something with a more traditional flavor. Another reason is perhaps more personal. “I played Curly at the Bellevue Little Theater.”
Evening performances will be Thursday, March 10 and Saturday, March 12 at 7:30 p.m., followed by a matinee performance on Sunday, March 13 at 2:30 p.m. Tickets purchased online are $6 for students and $12 for adults. Those purchased at the door will be $10 for students and $15 for adults.