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Natrona County High School students Ethan Cox, as Curley, and Jessica Cowen, as Lori, rehearse for the school's performance of "Oklahoma" Saturday morning.

Natrona County High School produces the classic Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, “Oklahoma!” beginning on Thursday in the John F. Welsh Auditorium. The school’s theater department is also celebrating a milestone this year, so we checked in with theater director Zach Schneider, who is a 1994 alum of the department and the school. Schneider is in his 10th year as theater director at his alma mater and is the second-longest tenured director after Welsh.

Tell us how you chose “Oklahoma!” We wanted to do a big classical musical. We’ve done a bunch of modern ones. I was teaching a musical theater unit in one of my drama classes and “Oklahoma!” is the first one you start with. It was the first musical that integrated a play along with songs that fit the character in the story and dance as well. Before “Oklahoma!” there was a play and songs, but the songs were all hit songs that didn’t have anything to do with character or story. It turned out the 75th anniversary of “Oklahoma!” is this year, because it was first produced in December 1943, so this is its 75th season.

What are the challenges with this show? Every show is difficult in its own way. Modern shows have a lot more difficult orchestration and our entire pit is made up of students. This one is a bit easier on the orchestra, but it’s more demanding in the dance area because all of the choreography is based on the original Agnes De Mille. (De Mille created a new type of dance for “Oklahoma!” when she combined ballet with popular music.) There is a 17-minute dream ballet at the end of the first act, so it’s very dance heavy. It’s a big show. With 50 kids on stage, it’s a challenge.

Tell us about the other theater anniversary at NC. The International Thespian Society is celebrating its 90th anniversary. It’s an honor society that promotes and celebrates theater excellence at the highest level, like lettering in athletics. It was the idea of Dr. Paul Opp and Earl Blank, who were classmates together in West Virginia. Mr. Blank ended up teaching at Natrona and in 1929 helped charter the International Thespian Society. As a thank you for doing that, he was allowed to bring Troupe Number 1 home to Natrona County. Worldwide, there are 8,000 troupes, so our kids are treated like celebrities when they show up at events and announced as “troupe number 1.” The kids love it. Similar to athletics, going out for the team isn’t enough. You have to spend some time on what we do. You can’t do one show and then you’re in the society. You have to show some dedication and excellence to the activity.

Talk about your funding. All of our productions are funded on our ticket sales. We try to remain self sufficient from any district fundraising, so this is our big fundraiser. We hope we get a good turnout and good support from the community.

(“Oklahoma!” runs at 7 p.m., Thursday to Saturday and March 21 and 22, and at 2 p.m. on March 23, in the John F. Welsh Auditorium. Tickets are $10 each and can be purchased at the NCHS main office, at www.nchs.booktix.com or at the door.)

Follow community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @WYOSAS

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Follow community news editor Sally Ann Shurmur on Twitter @WYOSAS

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Community News Editor

Sally Ann Shurmur arrived at the Star-Tribune to cover sports two weeks after graduating from the University of Wyoming and now serves as community news editor. She was raised in Laramie and is a passionate fan of Cowboys football, food and family.

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