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Tuesday, July 14, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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CdA Summer Theatre puts new spin on ‘Oklahoma!’

Nick Szoeke as Curly and Amy D’Orazi as Laurey, foreground, with Tristan Berg as Will Parker and Aimee Paxton as Ado Annie in Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!” (Courtesy photo)
Nick Szoeke as Curly and Amy D’Orazi as Laurey, foreground, with Tristan Berg as Will Parker and Aimee Paxton as Ado Annie in Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!” (Courtesy photo)

When director Stu Cabe says the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!” is “a new spin on an old classic,” he means it literally.

The summer theater’s production, which opens on July 11 and runs through July 28 at the Salvation Army Kroc Center, features a revolving stage, also known as a turntable.

“A revolve isn’t a new concept but it is a new application to ‘Oklahoma!’ ” Cabe said. “Hugh Jackman did a production of it 21 years ago that used a revolve, but the revolve was primarily used to move sets. Our revolve is moving people.”

The musical “Oklahoma!” centers on the independent Laurey Williams (Amy D’Orazi) and cowboy Curly McLain (Nick Szoeke) and the mysterious farmhand Jud Fry (Jackson Bouchard), both of whom are in love with Williams.

All the while, the flirtatious Ado Annie Carnes (Aimee Paxton) finds herself in the middle of a love triangle, trying to decide between cowboy Will Parker (Tristan Berg) and a Persian peddler named Ali Hakim (Anthony DeLeon).

If that wasn’t enough tension, the musical also deals with the rivalry between cowmen and farmers.

“Oklahoma!” features music by Richard Rodgers and a book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II and marks the pair’s first time working together.

The musical also features original dances by Agnes de Mille, and it’s based on the Lynn Riggs play “Green Grow the Lilacs.”

The 2019 Broadway revival of the musical was recently nominated for seven Tony awards, winning for best revival of a musical and best performance by a featured actress in a musical (Ali Stroker, who made history as the first wheelchair user to win a Tony).

“Oklahoma!” marks Cabe’s first “sun up to sun down” production as director, and this season is his first as artistic director.

The show is a full-circle moment for Cabe as he played Will Parker when the Coeur d’Alene Summer Theatre produced “Oklahoma!” in 1990.

Cabe called Parker one of his all-time favorite roles but said they did the show very traditionally, “with corn cobs and hay bales.”

“Fast forward to this particular time and there’s so many things that have changed,” he said. “We’re in the era of ‘Hamilton’ and ‘Wicked.’ Two years ago, all of the Tonys nominated had come from a movie first. We’re in a very different kind of atmosphere.”

Which is where the revolve comes in.

During Curly’s performance of “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin,’ ” for example, Szoeke will appear to actually be walking through the cornfields as he navigates the revolve like a “huge treadmill.”

“I believe that once somebody sees this version, if it goes the way we hope, when somebody walks out, it will be difficult for them to ever see another version of ‘Oklahoma!’ ” Cabe said. “Creating a new precedent.”

Having performed in “Oklahoma!” himself, Cabe understands how much the show asks of the cast and crew.

At one point in the script, Cabe said, there is a party, a fight, a death, a wedding, a celebration, a send off and a trial, all in nine pages.

“That makes it challenging and our actors are being asked to cover pretty much every human emotion possible,” he said. “And in the middle, we might sing, too. The script asks a lot of people and poses challenges for the artistic team to make it all seem real. I think we do a good job of walking all those fine lines.”

Difficult as the show may be to perform, Cabe said people keep coming back to “Oklahoma!” The musical, which debuted in 1943, is set in 1906 and deals with the idea of privilege and how others view those with mental or physical setbacks.

The character of Fry, for instance, is often described as disturbed and scary, someone the other characters try to avoid. But Cabe thinks he is misunderstood and the most sympathetic and empathetic character in the play.

“Mental illness wasn’t diagnosed back then like it is now,” he said.

On the other hand, Curly seems to get away with just about anything because he’s handsome, charming and has charisma.

“Those three things seem to almost give him a pass that wouldn’t be given to other people, which I think is very topical today,” Cabe said. “We’re seeing it on the news pretty much everyday.”

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