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Draper Journal

The Off Broadway Theatre sends up local culture in ‘Utahoma!’ at Draper Historic Theatre

Feb 05, 2024 02:15PM ● By Katherine Weinstein

From left to right, Alexis Owen, Daniel Peckham, Hunter Smith and Makayla Barlow play two young couples in love in the Off Broadway Theatre production of “Utahoma!” at Draper Historic Theatre this month. (Photo by Nic Brown with special permission from Off Broadway Theatre)

This month, The Off Broadway Theatre presents the musical parody, "Utahoma!" on the stage of Draper Historic Theatre. Set in pioneer days, "Utahoma!" pokes gentle fun at Utah culture while borrowing the melodies and basic plot from Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Oklahoma!" “Utahoma!” will be presented Feb. 2 through 24.

"Utahoma!" was first written and presented by the company in 2006. The production's author and director, Off Broadway Theatre co-founder Eric Jensen, said, "I wanted to do a show that celebrated Utah history." Jensen, whose pioneer ancestors worked as miners in the early days of Utah Territory, explained that a spoof of "Oklahoma!" was the perfect place to start. "Everything I saw in 'Oklahoma!' I saw in Utah," he said. "The stories have a universality."

"Oklahoma!" is set in 1906, shortly before Oklahoma Territory achieved statehood. In "Utahoma!" the characters' romantic entanglements take place against the backdrop of the joining of the Transcontinental Railroad at Promontory Point.

The plot also loosely follows that of "Oklahoma!" with its love triangle between a young lady named Laurey, her cowboy suitor Curly and the dangerous farmhand Jud Fry. In “Utahoma!” the counterparts of these characters are named, respectively, Lenora, Laverle and Jed. 

Makayla Barlow, who plays Lenora, explained that Lenora and Laverle want to be together but neither wants to admit it. “Too much pride,” Barlow said. “Lenora flirts with Jed to make Laverle jealous but Jed thinks she really likes him.”

In the role of Jed Bridger, Jeff North explained, “He is not as dark of a character as Jud Fry. I’ve really enjoyed playing Jed. It’s super fun to be the bad guy. He gets two of the funniest songs, like ‘Poor Jed is Wed.’”

Hunter Smith, who has taken on the role of Laverle, said, "The heart of this show is about finding love. You have two couples who are looking for love and want to settle down in Utah. And they go about it in a very wacky way!"

While “Oklahoma!” features a character named Ado Annie, who sings, “I’m just a girl who can’t say no,” “Utahoma!” has a character named Ellie who can’t say “yes.” Actor Clarence Strohn explained, “Her beau goes off to fight in the Mormon battalion and she falls in love with the Persian peddler Giuseppe Fettucini. She has to decide what to do.” 

Strohn, who plays Fettucini, has been performing with The Off Broadway Theatre for nearly 30 years and has acted in a previous production of “Utahoma!” He feels that this show stands out from the theater company’s repertoire of comic musical parodies. “This has the best lyrical work in a parody show,” he said. 

“It's really funny. Anyone who has lived in Utah will find this show hilarious,” North added. 

Ane Genessy plays the show’s pioneer narrator, Eliza R. Snow. “There are a lot of Utah jokes, a lot of Mormon culture jokes,” she said. “It will have you laughing the whole time. It is a fun, fast-paced show and the cast is just dynamite.” 

As in all productions by The Off Broadway Theatre, ad-libbing and improvisation is encouraged. “I love the humor, the awful dad jokes, the audience interaction, being goofy on stage,” Smith said. “You never know what’s going to happen next.” 

While the plot may be set in pioneer days, the show’s humor and cultural references are very current. For example, instead of singing, “The cowhand and the farmer should be friends,” as in “Oklahoma!,” the cast sings, “The Cougars and the Utes should be friends.” 

In fact, that particular song reflects the message at the heart of this production. “There are so many reasons to be divided,” Eric Jensen said. “It’s much more important to find common ground and enjoy things together.”

The Off Broadway Theatre presents “Utahoma!” at Draper Historic Theatre on Mondays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 2 through 24. Draper Historic Theatre is located at 12366 S. 900 East. For tickets visit λ