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Quade Sewell and Caroline Page star as Will Parker and Ado Annie in the McLeod Summer Playhouse production of 'Oklahoma.'

CARBONDALE -- Each year, professional actors from across the country converge at SIU, combining their flairs for theatrics to create a series of special productions under the McLeod Summer Playhouse banner.

The Playhouse program offers Southern Illinoisans a chance to witness a variety of theatrical showcases, from the traditional to the more outrageous. But, for those involved, it’s also an opportunity to learn and hone their craft.

Among the cast of players in this year’s series are two students at opposite ends of their collegiate careers, both making their professional debuts. Quade Sewell, who will graduate from Alabama’s Troy University in the fall, and Lexi Carter, a freshman at Elon University in North Carolina, find themselves on the McLeod Theater stage for the first time.

“I’m very, very excited,” said Carter, who plays the role of Laurey in the Playhouse’s rendition of “Oklahoma,” opening Friday, June 20. “I was honored to be offered the role. This has been such an amazing experience.”

Sewell has willingly – and excitedly – jumped into the lion’s den. “Oklahoma” is not only his first professional role but his first in a Rogers and Hammerstein production, as well, and he found himself cast in the major role of Will Parker.

“I really didn’t know what to expect, but they’ve taken good care of us and gone above and beyond to make sure we’re comfortable,” he said.

Through the years, that’s the reputation the Playhouse series has earned, attracting many actors back for repeat performances. The casts work diligently, often having two rehearsals a day, to prepare a full theatrical production in only a few weeks.

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For those like Carter and Sewell, the nerves can set in pretty early.

“I felt a little bit of pressure at first because Laurie is a one of those roles everyone knows, so I tried to find something I could connect to and make it my own,” Carter said.

She said the cast has tried to keep the classic spirit audiences expect from “Oklahoma” while adding a few elements to make this production shine.

“Oklahoma” tells the story of a girl forced to decide between two men who want to take her out. Laurie is courted by the eccentric cowboy Curley and the menacing farmer Jud Frye. Things turn for the worse, and Curley is forced to rescue Laurie, but the hijinks and struggles don’t end there, as they turn a deadly turn.

The plot’s serious elements are offset by a comedic subplot involving the innocent Ado Annie, her sweetheart Will Parker and traveling salesman Ali Hakim.

Directed by New York-based Wes Drummond, the show will be presented at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, June 20-21 and 27-28, and 2 p.m. Sunday, June 22 and 29, at McLeod Theater in the SIU Communications Building. Tickets are $25 for adults and $10 for students and can be purchased at www.playhouse.siu.edu or by calling 618-453-6000.

“I feel ready for it,” Carter said. “I think we’re ready for opening night. The final pieces are coming together.”

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