EDGERTON—When it comes to mastering musical theater, the process isn’t always as simple as singing, dancing and acting.
In some cases, it’s not enough to learn your lines. You also need to lasso the language and lingo.
That concept isn’t lost on students at Edgerton High School who have spent weeks nailing down dialects and referencing dictionaries in preparation for three performances of Rogers & Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” this weekend at the Edgerton Performing Arts Center.
“I would say the biggest challenge of this show has been with the scripts,” said Rachel Montry, one of the show’s directors. “They’re not written in everyday English. They’re written as you would read them with a (southern) accent, so it’s like learning a second or third language for some of these students.”
Liv Miller, a senior playing Aunt Eller, admits the script has been a struggle.
“It was a really big learning curve to try to figure out what our lines were actually saying, because the words aren’t spelled out the way they’re being pronounced,” she said. “But it does make it easier to learn the accent because of the way the script is written.”
Further compounding the play’s complexities are references to items not common in today’s modern conversation.
“I had no idea what a ‘shivaree’ was before I had to say a line about it,” said Avigail Stone, a senior playing Ado Annie. “And I sorta figured out what a ‘surrey’ was from the album cover. But if I had heard the song (“Surrey With The Fringe on Top”) without seeing the cover, I definitely would have had to think about it.”
For clarification, Merriam-Webster defines a shivaree as “a noisy mock serenade to a newly married couple” and a surrey as “a four-wheel, two-seated, horse-drawn pleasure carriage.” The more you know.
Set in the early 1900s, the story of “Oklahoma!” involves two love stories, predominantly that of farm girl, Laurey, who is pursued by rival suitors: the handsome cowboy, Curly, and the ominous farmhand, Jud.
Though she actually loves Curly, Laurey turns down his invitation to the big box social and agrees to go with Jud. Though she hopes to make Curly jealous, Laurey also secretly fears Jud’s reaction if she rejects him.
Curly tries to talk Jud out of pursuing Laurey, telling him how popular he would be if he just killed himself. But the move only serves to further anger Jud and make him more determined in his quest.
Meanwhile, Laurey experiences a dream sequence in which she sees herself marrying Curly, only to have Jud kill him and kidnap her.
Tensions rise at the box social, and when Jud tries to corner Laurey, Curly rescues her. The two discover their love as the show heads into the final scene.
To make these relationships believable and to overcome the script’s challenges, it is vital that a cast be tight-knit. Miller said cohesion has not been an issue.
“One of my favorite things about this production has been the cast. We’re all just super close,” Miller said. “A lot of times, the time you spend in rehearsals can take away from having a social life outside of a show, so it’s really nice to be able to connect with the cast and find ways to be creative.”
For Stone, that creativity has come in the escapism of playing Ado Annie—a character Stone said stretches her acting chops.
“I’m a little bit of a tomboy, and Ado Annie is a real girly girl, so I’m wearing a fancy little wig and everything,” she said. “And she’s a little dumb. I value academics, but I’m not the smartest cookie in the jar. She’s different from me in a lot of ways, but she’s similar in other ways, too.”
Montry has been pleased with how well her cast has bonded, and she is impressed by the passion with which her actors have returned to the stage after losing a year to COVID-19.
She likens 2021 as a sort of “rebuilding year” for theater.
“We have a lot of very talented underclassmen coming up, and we have some truly great seniors who are helping to show them the ropes,” she said. “This cast has been just awesome, and we’re super excited to see what will happen in the future.”