published Friday, June 17th, 2011

Newlyweds sweep ‘Oklahoma’ onto Cumberland County stage

When the musical “Oklahoma” opens on the Cumberland County Playhouse stage today, art will imitate life with romantic leads Nicole Bégué Hackmann and Nathaniel Hackmann.

Not only do their characters Laurey and Curly wind up married with the knowledge they’ll “soon be livin’ in a brand new state,” but the couple are newlyweds in real life after having met several years ago at the Crossville theater.

“It’s a great, great show,” said director Jim Crabtree. “It is what I call one of the eight to 10 bulletproof great musicals.”

As for his leads, Nicole, a member of the theater’s resident company for several years, and Nathaniel, fresh off a year as Gaston in the national tour of Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast,” “they’re just terrific,” he said.

The CCP version of the classic show by Rodgers and Hammerstein has even more to offer, Crabtree said.

In addition to the Hackmanns, it also features Britt Hancock, who recently toured nationally in “The Drowsy Chaperone,” as repugnant farmhand Jud Fry; show-stealing former Chattanoogan Jason Ross as peddler Ali Hakim; 22-year-old Cumberland County native Leila Nelson, who portrays Ado Annie and doubles as the show’s choreographer; venerable Carol Irvin, a “Rock of Gibraltar” who has played Aunt Eller in each of the playhouse’s four “Oklahomas” in the CCP’s 47-year history; and a “great, great scenic design” by nationally known Joe Varga.

IF YOU GO

What: “Oklahoma.”

When: Today-Sept. 3.

Where: Cumberland County Playhouse, 221 Tennessee Ave., Crossville, Tenn.

Admission: $22 adults, $21 seniors, $20 groups, $11 children/students.

Phone: 931-484-5000.

Website: www.ccplayhouse.com

Nicole Hackmann and Hancock also serve as associate directors to Crabtree on specific scenes.

“It’s a real partnership on this [show],” the director said. “I’m grateful for their help. They know the show as well as [knowing the] other folks in the show.”

The show, set in Oklahoma territory in 1906, focuses on the romance of cowboy Curly McLain with farm girl Laurey Williams against a backdrop of the lighthearted general feud between the cowboys and the farmers.

It features such well-known songs as “Oh What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “The Surrey With the Fringe on Top,” “The Farmer and the Cowman” and the title song, which became the official state song of Oklahoma.

Crabtree said he’s thrilled with all the numbers in the show and that Nelson’s choreography is the best for any “Oklahoma” show he’s been associated with. But his favorite number in the show, he said, is the climactic “Oklahoma.”

“They bring it to life in a way I haven’t seen it before,” he said.

“Oklahoma,” according to Crabtree, is not only a stellar musical but also a seminal piece of musical theater history.

It not only began the collaboration of Rodgers and Hammerstein, but instead of a story filled with songs, it was a story told through songs. Rather than a story that opened with showgirls dancing and singing, typical of many 1930s musicals, it opened with a lone cowboy singing and closed its first act with an extended ballet finale.

“It took a step toward the creation of the modern musical,” Crabtree said.

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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