Eleasha Gamble, Nicholas Rodriguez, Aaron Ramey Are Triangle of Arena Stage's Oklahoma!, Opening in DC

News   Eleasha Gamble, Nicholas Rodriguez, Aaron Ramey Are Triangle of Arena Stage's Oklahoma!, Opening in DC
The first official opening night at Arena Stage's new Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, DC, is Nov. 4. The 60th season opens with Oklahoma!, directed by artistic director Molly Smith.

Eleasha Gamble and Nicholas Rodriguez
Eleasha Gamble and Nicholas Rodriguez Photo by Carol Rosegg

The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical about optimism in Indian territory is presented in Arena's signature in-the-round home, the Fichandler Stage. New this fall, the Fichandler building itself is now enclosed in the expansive Mead Center, which also houses the Kreeger and Kogod Cradle performance spaces.

Director Smith said in a statement, "This is a moment of great joy and optimism for the new Arena Stage, and so too it was for Oklahoma, a frontier on the cusp of becoming a state. My idea is simple: I want to create an Oklahoma that looks and feels like it's 1907 on the frontier — a place in the middle of becoming. Our production of Oklahoma! reflects Arena and America today: modern, diverse and cross-cultural."

Previews began Oct. 22. Arena canceled the Oct. 26 preview performance of Oklahoma! due to the sudden departure of actress Valisia LeKae in the lead role of Laurey. LeKae had to withdraw "due to pressing personal matters."

Helen Hayes Award winner Eleasha Gamble, who was last seen at Arena Stage in The Women of Brewster Place and recently portrayed Svetlana in Signature Theatre's production of Chess, stepped into the part.

A multicultural cast takes on the musical about farmers and cowmen and their dreams of a "brand new state" (and happy love lives) in the Oklahoma Indian territory of the early 1900s. Performances play to Dec. 26. DC favorite E. Faye Butler (Arena Stage's Crowns, Ain't Misbehavin') stars as Aunt Eller, with Nicholas Rodriguez (Broadway's Tarzan) as Curly, Aaron Ramey (Broadway's Curtains, Thoroughly Modern Millie) as Jud, Cody Williams (making his Arena Stage debut) as Will Parker, June Schreiner (a high school junior at The Madeira School in McLean, VA, who was discovered in last summer's Arena Stage Academy Musical Theater Training Company) as Ado Annie Carnes and Nehal Joshi (Roundabout's Threepenny Opera) as Ali Hakim.

The production team includes music director George Fulginiti-Shakar and choreographer Parker Esse. "The sound of our production will be a cross between the lushness of a symphonic orchestra and the plain-folkiness of a western string band," Fulginiti-Shakar said in a statement. "We are using a restored score just released with the addition of a fiddle, banjo, harmonica and rhythm."

Tony Award-winning designers Eugene Lee (set) and Martin Pakledinaz (costume) are also on the creative team, along with assistant director Anita Maynard-Losh, assistant musical director Mary Sugar, assistant scenic designer Tristan Jeffers, choreographer Parker Esse, assistant choreographer Ashley Yeater, fight choreographer David Leong, lighting designer Michael Gilliam, sound designer Tim Thompson, stage manager Susan R. White, assistant stage manager Jenna Henderson, production assistant Alexandria Wood and dramaturg Janine Sobeck.

The cast also includes Philip Michael Baskerville (Cord Elam), Andrew Hodge (Slim), Shane Rhoades (Fred), Vincent Rodriguez III (Sam), Anton Harrison LaMon (Jess), Cara Massey (Gertie), Emilee Dupre (Vivian), Annie Petersmeyer (Virginia), Jessica Wu (Kate), Cyana Cook (Ellen), Semhar Ghedremichael (Aggie), Hollie E. Wright (Sylvie/Dream Laurey), Kyle Vaughn (Mike/Dream Curly), Kurt Boehm (Male Swing) and Jessica Hartman (Female Swing).

For tickets and information, visit www.arenastage.org or call (202) 488-3300.

E. Faye Butler, Cody Williams and company in <i>Oklahoma!</i>
E. Faye Butler, Cody Williams and company in Oklahoma! Photo by Carol Rosegg
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