Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II may never have joined forces if their respective collaborators hadn't passed on adapting the play "Green Grow the Lilacs."
But to the good fortune of musical theater - and Sarah Bermudez - Rodgers and Hammerstein did get together.
They created Broadway's first modern, mega-hit musical, "Oklahoma!" And local actress Bermudez met her husband while portraying the show's heroine, Laurey - the first of five times she's landed the part.
"Oklahoma!" opened the 1994 season of Civic Light Opera of South Bay Cities. And 15 years later, by popular demand, the company returns to the sweeping plains. "Oklahoma!" begins previews Wednesday at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center and opens Friday, directed by Stephanie A. Coltrin and featuring Bermudez.
CLOSBC has produced all of the big six Rodgers and Hammerstein works, which also include "Carousel," "South Pacific," "The King and I," "Cinderella" and "The Sound of Music."
"When (executive director) James Blackman, (managing director) Chris Beyries and I sit down to decide on a season it's challenging," said Coltrin, the company's artistic director. "James suggested `Oklahoma!' and we talked about how we've done it before. But James said subscribers had been asking for it again."
Familiarity is a plus and a challenge, Coltrin explained.
The 1943 musical, which showcases the classic songs "Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin',"
"The Surrey with the Fringe on Top," "People Will Say We're in Love" and the title number, has a ready-made audience.
But because so many people have seen the show, how does Coltrin make it fresh?
"Hammerstein said above all else that this is a play with music," Coltrin explained. "He required that all of the dancing and singing be motivated by the story. So we're focusing on the backstory and character development."
Set in 1906, "Oklahoma!" - like Lynn Riggs' "Green Grow the Lilacs" - is a simple romance between farm girl Laurey and cowboy Curley (portrayed by Damon Kirsche), centered around a box social dance. The story's villain is Jud (Sam Zell), who wants Laurey as his girl.
Coltrin's cast includes a few "Oklahoma!" veterans, but, she said, "I look for flexibility for those who have done it before.
"They have to be willing to try different things. Sarah is just fantastic. She is a perfect Rodgers and Hammerstein ingenue."
Coltrin is clearly not the first director to think that about Bermudez, who has performed in "Oklahoma" five times in seven years.
"I grew up loving Rodgers and Hammerstein," Bermudez said. "And the first time I was in `Oklahoma!' I ended up in a show-mance, falling in love with my husband, Richard, who was Curly. So I have good feelings about it."
Unlike Bermudez, Kirsche is a newcomer to "Oklahoma!" He was in his agent's office when the call came for him to audition for the CLOSBC production.
"I love how closely Hammerstein follows `Green Grow the Lilacs,' and how the story flows into the songs," Kirsche said. "And on the first day of rehearsal, I looked around and knew we had a room full of triple threats who could do not only the songs and dances but the story credit."
Coltrin shared Kirsche's first-rehearsal joy.
"When the cast starting singing the first song for the first time I had the biggest smile on my face," she said. "I knew we already were in great shape."
When: Previews at 8 p.m. Wednesday through Friday; opens Saturday and continues at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 4.
Where: Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center, 1935 Manhattan Beach Blvd.
Tickets: $45-$60; ($40-$50 for previews).
Information: 310-372-4477 or http://www.civiclightopera.com.