"Oklahoma!", directed by Diane Malone, will be performed at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow, Friday and Saturday at Lubber Run Ampitheater, north of Rte. 50 at Columbus and Second streets, Arlington.
When the lights at Lubber Run Park dimmed on nearly 1,400 spectators -- the largest crowd anyone can remember seeing there -- musical director Barry Hemphill and his small orchestra launched into a rendition of the overture to "Oklahoma!" that promised a fast-paced, tuneful evening.
Members of the audience familiar with the music even hummed along with the orchestra.
The actors were not quite so adept at taking things in their stride.
A handsome Curly (Curtis E. Booker) stumbled on his way to exclaim "Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin'". A flustered Ado Annie (Lorraine Gandy) had trouble with "I Can't Say No." A lovely Laurey (Susan Slosky) moved stiffly through squabbles with her suitor.
"We tried to prepare (the actors) for the audience's size," said Sharon Fecondo, producer of the show and past president of Arlington Players which staged the production, "but we usually get about half this number."
Gradually, the main characters warmed to their parts. Ado Annie loosened up as she traded lines with the eager and naive cowboy Will Parker (Bubba Garner) and the lecherous, marriage-shy peddler Ali Hakim (Lyle Smythers). g
But the principals involved in the show's main love triangle -- Laurey, the angelic-looking farm girl, who is wooed by the hero, the cowboy Curley worships and the sinister farmhand Jud Fry (Joe Sorge) -- took a little longer to loosen up. Their voices flowed out strong and clear, however.
But the initial stiffness by the main characters was easilys minor and easily forgotten in the face of the dancing: Five women doing ballet en pointe; cowboys performing rope tricks that would have put Will Rogers to shame; bawdy girls flipping, prancing and enticing poor Jud until one almost is willing to forgive his evilness, and 17-year-old Betsy Fee leading a haunting "Dream Ballet" under the ethereal lighting designed by Rick Malone.
Kathryn Fredgren, the choreographer from the Arlington Dance Theater, pushed the dancers to heights rarely attempted in community theaters.
Her choreography is based primarily on techniques she learned doing Agnes de Mille's "Rodeo" at the University of Oklahoma.
"I know they've never done 'pointe' in this theater," said Fredgren, "but when I saw the quality of the people auditioning, I knew we could do it. In fact, I just wish we had a bigger stage -- I have people who can do aerials."
The auditions for Arlington County's annual summer musical were "straight out of 'A Chorus Line,'" said Ed Gardner, a library assistant and community theater regular transformed into a thigh-slapping, rope-twirling cowboy in "Oklahoma." "The rehearsals were incredible -- four nights a week, plus Saturday, for two whole months. We needed more time than ususal, to learn those dances."
"We wanted to do 'Oklahoma!' last year, but then we found the Kennedy Center was running a revival of the show," said Fredgren. This year "we decided to do it anyway, as the artists' gift to the community.
"This is a chance for the family with five kids, the students with no money, the people who just can't afford to go to the Kennedy Center anymore to come on down and see some theater for free. And this is real family theater . . ."
The county's performing arts department turned to the Arlington Players -- a volunteer group that enjoys the use of two of the county's theaters throughout the year -- for this production. The union has proven very workable.
"Oklahoma!" itself contributed to the success, Fecondo says. "I think it's the play," she said. "When we held auditions, 140 people showed up -- they came out of the woodwork to do 'Oklahoma!'"
"We've never done anything of this scope before," said Fecondo, "but thanks to Arlington, we could afford a small stipend for the Kathy and Barry, and use Lubber Run's big stage."
Fecondo sees the county support as the major difference between this 40-year-old group and Northern Virginia's 15 other community theaters. The support runs to facilities only; all funding comes from Arlington Players memberships, subscription sales and ticket sales at the door.
"We all keep track of our expenses and, after a show, reimburse them. Then, if there's anything left over, we send it off to cover the cost of the next play," she said.
Such hand-to-mouth economics are common in community theater, and faze the Arlington Players not at all. They already have planned their 1980-81 season, which will include four shows and will culminate with "Damn Yankees."
As to the quality of their production, Aunt Eller (played by a cheerful and low-key Millicent Thomas) says it best:
"I don't say I'm no better than aybody else, But I'll be darned if I ain't just as good."