BHS theater presents ‘Oklahoma!’ live

Musical is expected to be first event performed in new Performing Arts Center at Brainerd High School.

Brainerd Musical Oklahoma cast and crew photo
The cast and crew for the Brainerd High School musical Oklahoma pose for a photo Thursday, April 15, 2021, at Tornstrom Auditorium in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

It’s “Take 2” on the musical “Oklahoma!” for the Brainerd High School Theater Department.

The high school shut down the musical production last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, cast members are getting ready to perform this family-friendly musical involving a farm girl and a cowboy to be performed live in the new performing arts center — expected to be completed on time for the musical to hit the stage.

The performing arts center — which hasn’t been named yet — is nearing completion. The voter-approved, $8 million arts center is expected to seat 1,200 people. It will be available for school productions and concerts, as well as for performers from all over the region.

BHS Theater Director Karla Johnson said the spring musical is set to be the first event hosted in the new art center. Performance dates are 7 p.m. May 6-8 and 2 p.m. May 9. Tickets for the musical are $9 for adults and $6 for students. To order tickets, go to . Seating will be limited to about 350 people per performance to abide by the COVID-19 restrictions set forth by the Minnesota Department of Health.

Johnson said last year the theater students were in the middle of rehearsals when the pandemic hit and all the activities, including the musical, were shut down.


“We were disappointed,” Johnson said. “Last year, we picked ‘Oklahoma!’ because it's a well known show, very family-friendly and ... I think it's a very likable show by most people.

“We had all these resources already into the musical. We had the copyrights (to the show), the backdrops, the costumes, so we were able to get the rates for this upcoming spring of 2021.”

Johnson said they typically begin musical rehearsals in February and have performances in late April or early May. But this year with COVID-19 cases and contact tracing, the high school condensed rehearsals into six weeks.

“We've had some very intense rehearsals and a short turnaround time just because we don't want to chance anything,” Johnson said. “If we have a shorter rehearsal calendar, there's less chance that people could be exposed. So that's what we decided to do.”

All the students — actors and the tech crew — are wearing face masks during all the rehearsals. There is a hand sanitizer station right by the stage, so when students go on and off the stage, they sanitize their hands.

“We just want to keep everyone as safe as possible,” Johnson said.

The cast also was reduced to keep the production smaller to minimize the chance of anyone potentially being exposed to COVID-19. Typically, all the musicals at BHS have involved up to 45-50 students. The cast this spring numbers 15.

“It was very competitive,” Johnson said of the auditions. “(With a smaller cast) we will need more voices so when the actors are backstage they have to keep their microphone on and still be singing along with the show.”


Johnson worked with Brian Stubbs, the BHS choir director, who helped her with the planning and the decision-making of the spring musical. She said they also decided not to have a live pit orchestra like they typically do. Johnson said if one student in the pit orchestra would get exposed to COVID-19 right before the performances the whole group would not be able to perform and they would have to cancel the show. They instead are recording the instrumental tracks for the musical.
Johnson said putting the musical together this year is different than the past. She said the energy is different and one of the challenging things is the actors wear a mask during the show so it's hard to see their facial expressions. The students have to rely more on gestures and physical actions with their body.

“In this musical, there are several kissing scenes,” Johnson said. “Obviously, with COVID-19, we can't do that. I came up with the idea of having two kissing fairies, where we'll do some light hearted things. So instead of having the kissing scene, well have two actors come in and put a shield like Plexiglas in between the two actors with their masks on and just have them do something kind of silly, something that will get people to laugh because, obviously, we can't have a romantic kissing scene.”

With all the challenges the past year, Johnson said she is grateful the theater department is able to have a spring musical live on stage.

BHS seniors Elaina Tanner and John Toven are playing the lead roles, respectively, of Laurey Williams, the farm girl, and Curly McLain, the cowboy in “Oklahoma!” The musical tells the story of Laurey and her courtship by two rival suitors, Curly and his farmhand Jud Fry, played by Dean Root.

Tanner, who has acted since she was 10, said her character Laurey is a bit of a feisty girl.

“She really likes Curly, but she's a little too prideful to admit it to herself,” Tanner said of the character. “She wants him basically to fall at her feet and worship the ground she walks on, but he's too cocky for that. So the whole show they go back and forth, like a cat and mouse the whole time, and she's pretty sensitive, too. She's getting attention from Jud Fry, who is not the nicest guy. He's kind of sketchy and so she wants Curly to protect her, but she doesn't have it in her to actually admit it.”

Tanner said playing Laurey has been fun and it’s been interesting to act with masks on, but she is adjusting.

Tanner has been in several community plays with theater groups, such as Stage North Theatre in Brainerd and Greater Lakes Area Performing Arts in Pequot Lakes, but this is her first play with BHS. Tanner did a play with Johnson through Stage North Theatre and got to know her and when Johnson announced the high school was going to do “Oklahoma!” she thought it would be a lot of fun.


Tanner was never available to do the high school plays because the community theater plays ran at the same time. Some of the theater companies in the area are still closed because of the pandemic.

“I love theater because it brings so many different personalities together,” Tanner said, “It also gives you so many opportunities to learn new things. I love the dancing, the music and the musicals are my favorite by far, because you get to learn how to dance. I got to learn how to tap dance in a (Stage North) show and that was so fun ... acting just really brings together so many different talents and I love it.”

Toven also loves theater and joined his freshman year.

“(At the time) I thought why not,” Toven said about trying out for the fall play “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

“I was like, I’ve wanted to do theater for a while, but I never really saw an opportunity. I thought, ‘It'll be fun.’ I was really nervous for my first audition, but luckily everybody here was really nice and really friendly. I ended up doing the Prince and since then I've done three shows a year. This year is my senior year and three and a half years later, I love theater more than I ever thought I would at the beginning.”

Toven said acting is a great way to express himself. He said the theater community is a safe place for him to forget about all the stressors in life and acting provides him with a healthy stressor.

Toven said he enjoys playing his character Curly, who just wants to be with Laurey, but doesn’t want her to know that. The senior said it was challenging to memorize all the lines and learn the songs as the theater department had about a month to put together the musical.

“There’s definitely a lot of pressure, but I have a lot of faith in our theater troupe. ... It always works out in the end,” Toven said.


Cast list

  • Curly McLain is played by John Toven;

  • Laurey Williams played by Elaina Tanner;\u0009

  • Aunt Eller played by Izabelle Baysinger;

  • Will Parker played by Max Johnson-Ding;

  • Jud Fry played by Dean Root;

  • Ado Annie played by Jayley Andresen;

  • Ali Hakim, the Peddler played by Will Nguyen;

  • Gertie Cummings played by Isabel Haglin;

  • Andrew Carnes played by Daniel Roehrich;

  • Slim/Ike/Skidmore/Joe played by Jordan Higgins;\u0009

  • Cord Elam/Fred/Mike played by Devin Knopf;

  • Ellen (Act I)/first girl played by Elizabeth Reynolds;

  • Vivian/second girl played by Scottie Svoboda;

  • Third girl played by Kailee Roberts;

  • Kate/fourth girl played by Riley Pelowski;

  • Ellen (Act II) played by Abby Pratt;

  • Ballerina dancer played by Jada Klecatsky.

Crew list

  • Stage Manager, Mia-Rose Severson;

  • Lights, Gracie Simonson and Mackenzie Pratt;

  • Backdrops, Harley Kopek;

  • Tech Crew: Cadence Porisch, Jack Saulsbury, Kya Olstad, Haddy Aker, Atticus Osborne, Lily McDermott, Brooke Higgins, Randall Mitchell and Audree Rosekrans.

  • Hair/make-up: Nina Nguyen, Ava Branstner and Gillian Middagh.

  • Choreographers: Kylie Brenny, Lily Medved-Charpentier and Jenna Hanson.

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.
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