Arts and Entertainment

Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain

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At 7:30 p.m. Friday, July 23, the lights will dim in the Port Angeles High School auditorium and the orchestra, under the direction of Kristen Quigley Brye, will play the opening notes of Oscar Hammerstein ll and Richard Rodgers' musical, "Oklahoma!"

The magic of musical theater, brought to the Olympic Peninsula each summer by the Port Angeles Light Opera Association, begins at that moment.

Well, not exactly. Auditions for the show were held in March and after casting more than 40 parts, rehearsals began. Director Richard Stephens has worked diligently every evening for two-and-a-half hours, four days a week since April.

But the performances by the actors, singers and dancers - the people front and center on opening night - are helped immeasurably by the behind-the-scenes crew assembled by Stephens. If this team does their respective jobs well, the audience will be lost in the story of "Oklahoma!" and unaware of the months of hard work that bring the fantasy to life.

There are many key roles in a production of this size fundamental to its success. Stephens has experience with the association, having directed four previous productions, and wisely has surrounded himself with tried and true talent.

A musical by definition is all about the music and Kristin Quigley Brye lives for and loves her role as musical director/conductor.

"This is what I do," she said. "I conduct opera and musical theater. I love the pit. I could live in the pit. I love everything about it."

The Port Angeles High School auditorium has a huge space where the pit normally would be, and Brye plans to conduct an orchestra of 16-20 musicians.

The challenge of creating a sound balance that will reach every audience member clearly goes to audio specialists Bob Lumens and Tim Brye.

Lumens said, "One of the hardest parts is that it (Port Angeles High School auditorium) was meant to be a concert hall, not to stage live theater and so you have a huge space between the audience and stage."

Finding the 'look'

The sound of the musical is vital, but so is the presentation of the show. Set designer Jim Doell and costume designer Nina Fisher worked closely with Stephens to get the right look for the production. Doell and Stephens have collaborated in the past and are clearly comfortable exchanging ideas.

"Jim and I have worked on six shows together and we have a type of shorthand between us," Stephens said. "Jim has even done 'Oklahoma!' four different times before. But when we sat down and started to talk about what we wanted to achieve visually in terms of telling the story, we were both so in sync that we were literally finishing each other's sentences. When you have that with a designer, it can be very exciting."

As costume designer and head seamstress, Nina Fisher scoured the opera association's wardrobe department for every available swatch of calico. But 40 cast members do not equal 40 costumes. There are numerous changes, two wedding dresses needed, cowboy shirts to be made and special costumes for the famous ballet dream sequence. Fisher has several sewing assistants.

"What I love about working with Nina," Stephens said, "is that she's an outstanding seamstress who 'gets' character idea when we're talking about subtle nuances in the script that suggest color."

An authentic 'Oklahoma!'

When "Oklahoma!" opened on Broadway in 1943, Rodgers and Hammerstein changed the direction of musical theater in America. There were any number of fundamental changes to their approach but one of the most inventive was the inclusion of a ballet in "Oklahoma!" often referred to as the "dream sequence."

The opera association's version not only features this choreographed number but has it performed by the musical's leads: Paul Hanes, Charisa Silliman and Ron Graham.

In addition to playing the lead of Curly, Hanes serves as the production's choreographer who acknowledges the ballet sequence is integral to the show.

"Our intent was not to play the choreography down but to raise the cast up to a higher level," Hanes said. "That's been a challenge and they've responded beautifully."

Stephens echoes that comment.

"Traditionally the principal characters in the dream sequence were danced by professional dancers," Stephens said. "One of the decisions we made early on was to have the leads perform the dance. We're extremely lucky with our romantic leads because we have people that are age appropriate and they sing and move beautifully."

Finding the energy

If a happy crew bodes well for a good show, then Stephens has gathered the right people with the right energy. Mary Beck, in charge of set dressing and props, is working on the production after a 12-year hiatus from the theater.

"This show is a good fit," Beck said. "It's the right people at the right time and it's absolutely something I wanted to do."

Her positive opinion reverberates throughout the crew. Jon Kacirk, in charge of advertising, is a relative newcomer to the peninsula.

"It's all about the community for me," Kacirk said. "I moved here from San Diego and fell in love with the area. You get to work with great people and have fun at the same time."

Bob Lumens has been involved with PALOA for years.

"The part I like the most and why I'm still involved is because of the creative things I get to do," Lumens said. "Jim and John and I have been building Ali Hakim's cart. Where else can I build stagecoach wheels? Seeing it come out onstage will be a hoot."

Director Richard Stephens sums it up best.

"I'm a storyteller," Stephens said. "I really believe that good theater matters, and we are given the privilege to touch hearts and touch minds, and I think the shows we do really matter. I love being in a position where I can work with great actors and everybody - board members and cast members - tell me what an extraordinary experience this has already been. I think the audience will watch the show and feel the warmth and love coming from the stage. 'Oklahoma!' is a fantastic love story."


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