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The main cast leads of Oklahoma! at this year’s
UKZN/Southern Methodist University collaboration.

Six young artists from the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas in the United States will work with 37 talented UKZN singers and dancers to present four performances of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! at UKZN’s Opera Studio and Choral Academy (OSCA).

This is the fifth time UKZN and SMU have worked together on creating exciting and fun-filled entertainment from the Golden Age of Musicals. Previous productions include Porgy and Bess in 2005, West Side Story in 2011South Pacific in 2013 and Carousel in 2014, all of which played to capacity audiences. 

Based on Lynn Riggs’s 1931 play, Green Grow the LilacsOklahoma! is set in Oklahoma Territory outside the town of Claremore in 1906 and tells the story of a cowboy, Curly McLain, and his romance with farm girl, Laurey Williams. A secondary romance concerns cowboy, Will Parker, and his flirtatious fiancée, Ado Annie.

SMU’s Professor Barbara Hill Moore produces the show and conducts the four-piece instrumental ensemble in all performances, while the stage direction and choreography is by Roger Riggle of Washington, DC.

The musical preparation of the UKZN students is led by UKZN Music Lecturer, Mr Lionel Mkhwanazi.

Collaborative efforts between SMU and UKZN began in 2000 when Hill Moore came to work with talented singers and offered a bursary for an exceptional singer wanting to study in America. This year, the 20th award goes to UKZN graduate, Mr Esewu Nobela, who said: ‘I am excited to be a part of the production and to now go to SMU to study what I love. I am grateful to Professor Hill Moore for this opportunity.’

Nobela will be part of the Music Opera Graduates’ Programme at the Southern Methodist University (SMU) in Dallas, Texas.

According to UKZN Music student, Ms Eunice Mokoena, Oklahoma! presents a way to grow as a performer. ‘It has been challenging to learn the American Southern accent but we’re doing well. This is a learning experience for both UKZN and SMU students.’

UKZN’s Mr Sphelele Sithole, who plays the lead character, Will Parker, said: ‘I have been a part of the UKZN/SMU collaboration for a couple of years and it has allowed me to meet new people, build friendships and exchange skills.’

Said SMU’s Ms Alyssa Barnes: ‘The UKZN students are very talented. It is exciting to see the progress and growth we’ve made.  We’ve learned so much from each other, even a bit of isiZulu, and we will be keeping in touch with.’

Mr Rodman Steele of SMU invited the public to view the production saying: ‘Come and see the new generation take on a classic production. It has good music, a great cast and it’s sure to be fun.’

The public is invited to view the preview on Thursday, June 23 and Friday, June 24 at 19h00 and the show on Saturday, June 25 and Sunday, June 26, at 15h00 in the Jubilee Hall of the Opera School and Choral Academy at UKZN.

Admission is free to all performances and tickets are not required. 

Melissa Mungroo