Babes in Arms: Joan Roberts of 1943's Oklahoma! Stars in Long Island High School Show, March 28-29

News   Babes in Arms: Joan Roberts of 1943's Oklahoma! Stars in Long Island High School Show, March 28-29 Freeport High School on Long Island gets a brush with American musical theatre history March 28-29 when Joan Roberts, the original Laurey of Oklahoma!, is the jewel in a diadem of Richard Rodgers songs in concert.
Joan Roberts (with Alfred Drake) in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! in 1943.
Joan Roberts (with Alfred Drake) in the original Broadway production of Oklahoma! in 1943.

Roberts, of Rockville Center, NY, is the above-the-title star of the concept concert, Oh, What a Beautiful Evening, which is constructed by Freeport High School choral director Stephen C. Pagano as a show of Rodgers songs refracted through Roberts' experience.

Pagano told Playbill On-Line he met Roberts after she attended a previous Freeport High School concert and she volunteered her talents to the current show. Pagano constructed the show around Roberts, a legend who first sang "Out of My Dreams," "People Will Say We're in Love" and "Many a New Day."

Pagano said his students have gained invaluable experience working with Roberts, and that working with professionals often teaches students more than they could learn in a teacher-only environment.

"I'm training them, but when you are working with a professional, it's wholly different," Pagano said. "I've also gained a lot from this, going to her house and rehearsing with her."

The 8 PM concert, directed and musical directed by 26 year music department veteran Pagano, is framed with an "Inside the Actors Studio"-like interview with Roberts, with songs flowing from the interview. Act One features songs by Rogers and Lorenz Hart, and Act Two features the lyrics of Hammerstein. The show is presented almost 60 years to the day (March 31, 1943) of the opening night of Oklahoma!

Roberts' most recent Broadway appearance was in the Roundabout Theatre revival of Follies, in which she sang "One More Kiss." In Oh, What a Beautiful Evening, an original show constructed with the permission of The Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, Roberts will sing "Where or When," "With a Song in My Heart," "Getting to Know You," "Climb Every Mountain," and (from Oklahoma!) "Out of My Dreams" and the title song (she'll play Aunt Eller in the latter number).

Pagano said the interplay of seventy-something Roberts' voice with the vocals of young women in "Where or When" and "Out of My Dreams" is moving and theatrical (a young actress appears behind the older in "Where or When," a la Follies, which was about age and youth, memory and music.

Peter Martin created new orchestrations. The 37-piece student orchestra plays on stage, with a singing troupe of 50 kids.

Performances at Freeport High School's 950-seat auditorium in Freeport, NY, are nearly sold out, but fans might try calling (516) 867-5300 ext. 4241 for ticket availability.