The musical, based on Lynn Rigg’s “Green Grow the Lilacs,” is set in the Oklahoma territory in the early 1900s. This was right before Oklahoma first became a state, which was a time period plagued by territorial disputes. Despite this setting, it is considered by many to be the first true American romantic musical comedy.
For anyone who has never seen the play before, this classic centers on two cowboys and their struggle with a violent ranch hand and a peddler for the hearts of the women they love - making for a play that evokes not only laughter, but emotion in general.
Kenn Naegele, the director of the upcoming production, mentioned that he and Tina Radtke, the executive director at the Kingsport Theatre Guild, have been particularly excited about this recreation of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s classic musical.
Naegele emphasized how much talent and work have been put into the upcoming production, saying that he will be excited for the community to finally see - after 10 weeks of rehearsals and preparations - something that has been keeping everyone at the Kingsport Theatre Guild very busy in recent weeks.
“Rehearsals can be long and difficult,” Naegele said. “But when we finally add the costumes and lighting and scenery, it gets very exciting all over again.”
After directing plays for more than 30 years, including about five years with the Kingsport Theatre Guild, Naegele is someone who has a lot of enthusiasm for watching a production come together. He says that the cast for the upcoming production of “Oklahoma!” is one of the most talented he has ever directed.
“There’s real depth to these characters,” Naegele said. “What actors need to do is to get into how these characters feel, and this cast has been fantastic about that. You can see it in the performance of these characters and the way they play their parts - they’ve really dug into who they are.”
The large cast is also quite a mixed bag as far as age goes, with children and adults playing the characters. But there is much more to producing a musical than just the acting.
Coy Owens, the costume director at Kingsport Theatre Guild, has been very busy creating and putting together the costumes for this production. He says that working behind the scenes producing plays can be a lot of hard work, especially when you try to recreate an original like “Oklahoma!” which has a large ensemble.
“It definitely gives you a different kind of appreciation for theatre,” Owens said. “But it’s so great to see it all come together with the costumes and all. That is my favorite part.”
Owens says this is a production that the audience can especially appreciate as well, mentioning the interaction between actors and audiences that he often sees within the production.
“Often times, the audience sees something that the other characters don’t,” Owens explained. “Those parts are like a moment between the actor and the audience.”
“It is a show that has everything,” Naegele added. “It has romance, lots of comedy, and there is a serious undercurrent as well. There is a serious storyline to it, a funny story, and a romantic storyline, and they all thread together.”
Opening weekend for “Oklahoma!” will include the premiere at 7 p.m., March 17, with show times at 2 and 7 p.m., March 18, and 2 p.m., March 19, at the Renaissance Center Theatre in Kingsport. Additional performances will be held at 7 p.m., March 24; 2 and 7 p.m., March 25; and 2 p.m., March 26.
In the meantime, audiences can catch the Kingsport Theatre Guild's final performance of "Diary of a Wallflower" at 2 p.m. today at the Renaissance Center Theatre.
For more information about upcoming productions or about the Kingsport Theatre Guild, contact Tina Radtke at 423-741-3282 or visit their website at www.kingsporttheatre.org. Tickets are available online.