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Swamp Donkey Theatre brings 'Oklahoma!' to life

As the season finale, Oklahoma! is the biggest production with the most show dates and the largest cast.

Travelling back in time to the early 1900’s in the rural town of Claremore, Oklahoma, several farmers, cowboys, and a travelling salesman vie for the love of the local ladies.

That’s the plot of the play "Oklahoma!" that will light up the Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre in May. 

“It's just kind of akin to what I think Bragg Creek would have been many years ago when it was settled by ranchers and farmers,” said Trisha Gizen, founder and president of Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre.

The musical follows several hysterical characters, Gizen said, mixing comical and dark moments. 

This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Broadway production of Oklahoma!, the first musical written by the duo Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. The musical is based on Lynn Riggs's 1931 play, "Green Grow the Lilacs."

The show will run in the Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre on May 3 to 5 and May 10 to 12.

As the season finale, Oklahoma! is the biggest production with the most show dates and the largest cast, Gizen said.

The cast of 15 is made up of ten adults and five youth from the Bragg Creek area, Cochrane, and Canmore.

Some cast members have been with the crew since the first production in 2018 while others have joined more recently.

“One of them marked their very first musical theatre production with our Christmas show,” Gizen said. “He’s playing the role of Al The Peddler.”

She added another cast member became involved through his daughter who has since gone to Toronto to study musical theatre. After volunteering and being on the board of directors he decided to take a chance and step into the spotlight this year.

“He's playing Andrew Carnes for his very first time ever, ever being in a musical,” Gizen said. “So we have people with all levels of experience and all ages, which is awesome.”

Looking back, Gizen said it has been a great season. The season began with the contemporary musical Spitfire Grill, followed by the youth production of "Willy Wonka Junior," and then the original Christmas musical. The company just finished up the second youth production of "Raise Your Voice."

The youth cast of Oklahoma! came up through the youth programs offered by the theatre company to join the main stage production. Something Gizen said they love to see happen. 

After asking some of the kids what they love about Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre, many of the young thespians said it’s like their second family.

“These kids, and adults, they don't know where they would be without [musical theatre], they have a family and friends and it's a real true community for them,” Gizen said. “Being on the main stage is sort of the icing on the cake.”

The cast is busy preparing for the show, rehearsing twice a week, and making sure their costumes are just right.

While the energy is high right now, Gizen said the final performance always comes with some post-show blues.

“We spent a lot of time together,” she said. “You get to know each other pretty well backstage and then it ends, so they call it the post-show blues when you're just not around those people anymore. It’s bitter-sweet.”

Despite one season coming to an end, Gizen said they are already starting to prepare for the following season, which will be announced soon.

Auditions for the following year are held in mid-June, ensuring the entire next season is cast before the summer break.

“All of the volunteers need a break from musical theatre for a little bit before we get going again in September, and we will announce all of the performances, all of the productions, for our next season following opening night for Oklahoma!,” Gizen said. “So whoever is there in the audience, will find out before anyone else what we’re doing for the next season.”

Oklahoma! tickets can be found on the Swamp Donkey Musical Theatre website, and Gizen added, they’re going quick.

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