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Johnson fulfills dream of directing 'Oklahoma'

PRESCOTT--Veteran Director Judy Johnson of Prescott's Great River Road Theatre is about to realize one of her long-held dreams.

Johnson's in charge of the theatre company's production of "Oklahoma," opening this week in Town Square Park near Prescott Middle School. The famed Rodgers and Hammerstein musical will be presented locally by a 35-member cast plus pit band over nine days.

"I've always wanted to direct 'Oklahoma,' ever since I got interested in theatre," she said Thursday.

Johnson's been with the Prescott troupe a dozen years alone, but during her entire directing career was never able to obtain royalties for the musical set in the turn-of-the-century West, she said. If a play is out on the road anywhere in an applicant's vicinity, say the Twin Cities or Milwaukee, it's off-limits, she explained

"They finally came through," she said of the New York outfit where she applied six years ago, one of eight such places she knows offers royalties. The application process includes being sent a perusal copy of the script and submitting to a background check.

Johnson actually learned of her success a year ago, yet couldn't proceed because of a previous commitment to "A Connecticut Yankee," the theatre group's effort last summer, she said. As she read through the script for "America's favorite musical," she had ideas about who might take the various parts, though didn't decide alone.

"There were so many people who wanted to be in it, we had to have judges," she said, agreeing the community has a lot of talent.

Auditions were held at the Steamboat Inn in late March and rehearsals began shortly after Easter, initially at Malone Elementary School, the director said. Among those in the eight major parts and 27 supporting roles are a mix of newcomers and veteran local performers. They've got a lot of lines to memorize and many switch from acting to singing and even dancing throughout the two-and-a-half hour production, divided by an intermission.

"It's a love story," she said of the plot, spotlighting cowboys and farmers around the time when the state joined the union.

A young man finds the love of his life, then faces losing her, she said. As the story unfolds, the audience learns how people got along in the early U.S., their customs and the like.

Well-known music to be played by the dozen-member pit band includes such numbers as "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," "People Will Say We're in Love," "It's a Scandal, It's an Outrage," "Surrey with the Fringe on Top" and the title tune, "Oklahoma." Johnson said there's a square dance, special props such as a vendor's wagon, plus surprises like the horses being brought in for some performances.

Although costuming is mostly provided by the actors themselves, some suits and special dresses will be supplied by a costume company in Minneapolis, she said. The set features an entrance to a small house, garden with a windmill, corn and wheat fields, as well as a smokehouse; it was built off-site and put up in the park early this month.

The show will be presented at 7 p.m. this Wednesday through Saturday and Thursday-Saturday, Aug. 3-5, along with 1 p.m. matinees on Sundays, July 30 and Aug. 6. Tickets are $8 ($4 for children ages six to 16), available at Ptacek's IGA, First National Bank of Prescott, Prescott Chamber of Commerce and from cast members.

A concession stand will operate during performances and show goers are invited to picnic in the park. They'll be able to have their pictures taken in a surrey to be stationed there, too, Johnson said.