‘Oklahoma’ is more than OK for new Modesto Performing Arts show

Alyxaundrea Munson and Craig Cady with Modesto Performing Arts prepare for the production of Oklahoma! They are pictured Thursday morning (07-28-16) in The Modesto Bee photo studio.
Alyxaundrea Munson and Craig Cady with Modesto Performing Arts prepare for the production of Oklahoma! They are pictured Thursday morning (07-28-16) in The Modesto Bee photo studio. jlee@modbee.com

Most people may not know what a surrey is, exactly. But they know it has a fringe on top because of “Oklahoma!”

Modesto Performing Arts brings back the Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein musical starting Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Gallo Center for the Arts. The community theater company has produced the popular show four times in its 49-year history, the last time in 2002.

For its return, MPA General Director Paul Tischer wanted to keep things traditional – setting the show in a small town in Oklahoma Territory in 1906, like the original production. So expect plenty of cowboy hats, gingham dresses and maybe even some wind comes sweepin’ down the plain. The story of a cowboy named Curly who falls for a farm girl named Laurey is set against the backdrop of Oklahoma’s road to statehood.

As the first and one of the most beloved collaborations between Rodgers and Hammerstein, “Oklahoma!” has become a staple of American musical theater from Broadway to high school drama departments. It opened in 1943 and won the pair a special Pulitzer Prize for letters. In 1955, it was turned into a movie musical starring Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones and Rod Steiger. It took home two Academy Awards for its music and score.

Tischer said it remains one of his very favorite musicals of all time.

“I think it’s the iconic American musical, to this day. I don’t think there is another musical that is more Americana, for sure. Everyone can relate to it,” Tischer said. “One of the things I’ve learned in theater is never do a show you don’t like.”

The show’s leads include MPA veterans and some newcomers. Stepping into the roles of lovebirds Curly and Laurey are Los Angeles-based professional actor Craig Cady and Modesto actress Alyxaundrea Munson, respectively. Stockton actor Larry Zabel plays farmhand Jud Fry, a loner who also has his eye on Laurey. Bay Area actress Krista Joy Serpa, who was raised in Modesto and worked with many of the regional theater companies, returns to the Valley to play the role of Ado Annie, a girl with suitor problems of her own.

Cady, who played the lead in MPA’s 2011 production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” said he came back to the company for the opportunity to play a famed character like Curly.

“It’s a chance to work my chops on some iconic roles that I’ve wanted my whole life to someday get a chance to do,” Cady said. He said his only other production of “Oklahoma!” was while growing up in high school in the South Bay.

Tischer, who founded MPA as Modesto Youth Theatre in 1967, will stick close to the script on the show. The score includes such instantly hummable hits as “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Morning,” “People Will Say We’re in Love” and its theme, “Oklahoma!”

Those well-known numbers are part of the reason Munson said it is her favorite musical. The actress, who was last in MPA’s 2014 production of “South Pacific,” said the show is a smorgasbord of musical theater greatness.

“It has everything – romance, drama, comedy, great songs, great acting and all that dancing,” she said.

The show is choreographed by Debbie Holtzclaw, owner of The Dance Factory in Modesto. David Braceros leads the orchestra, and Tara Roe created the costumes for the production.

“I want the audience to go out humming the music,” Tischer said. “I want them to be singing ‘Oklahoma!’ and ‘I Cain’t Say No’ and all the rest.”

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

Modesto Performing Arts ‘Oklahoma!’

When: Opens 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 6; shows 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 7, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 12-13, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 14

Where: Foster Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

Tickets: $19-$34

Call: 209-338-2100

Online: www.galloarts.org