'Oklahoma!' is OK for a country girl


Well, what would you expect a star of "Oklahoma!" to say except, "I guess I'm just a country girl at heart?"

But April Haar means it. Starring as Laurey in the 50th anniversary national tour of "Oklahoma!" opening at the Lyric Opera House tonight, the actress claims semi-rural western roots -- Western Maryland, that is.

Although born in Panama, where her father was stationed in the Air Force, she grew up in the mountains of West Virginia and Western Maryland -- first in Keyser, W.Va., and from fourth grade on, in Cumberland.

Most of her family -- a brother, sister and her father -- still live in that area, while she resides in Columbia.

"I like to live in the kind of surroundings where you can have your car, and trees and your pets," she says during a hiatus from the long road-show tour that ultimately will have visited more than 125 communities when it ends in the spring.

"It's very depressing, the city, big cities," she asserts. Like many a young actress, she tried living in New York City, in 1988. But the sojourn lasted just four months.

"I just went there to see what it was like. If I'd been more committed, I guess I'd have stayed. But I just wanted to get back home where it was green," she says.

Ms. Haar is doing "Oklahoma!" for the third time, having performed in the musical -- the first collaboration by Rodgers and Hammerstein -- in 1985 at Toby's Dinner Theater in Columbia and in 1987 at the Harlequin Dinner Theater in Rockville.

"She's a lot of fun to play. I like to play her with a little more sass," says the actress of Laurey, the farm girl who is pursued in "Oklahoma!" by rival suitors Jud Fry and cowboy Curly McClain (Craig Benham and George Merrick, respectively, in the current production).

Ms. Haar praises the show as "an old-fashioned musical of old-fashioned values," good for the whole family.

"You don't have to think too much about what the writer was meaning. I mean, it's nice to have a show that's just about the story," she explains, contending much modern musical theater emphasizes technological grandeur at the expense of plot and character. "Theater is about people, and relationships with other people," she says.

Yet for all her love of live theater, which has kept her working frequently in community and dinner theaters throughout the Washington/Maryland area, Ms. Haar was not one of those children who always dreamed of a career on the boards.

In fact, she can't remember how she found herself playing the role of the ingenue in the class play, "You Can't Take It With You," in high school. "I think I was hoping that we'd be doing a musical when I auditioned," she says, noting that her late mother, Mildred, loved to sing and urged her as a child to join church and school choirs. "I was so timid. In school I couldn't give a book report without breaking out in a rash," she says with a laugh.

That high school play led to involvement in theater at Allegheny Community College, whose theatrical wing was known as Stage Left, and in other theaters in this area when she left home to live in Columbia. She does vocal backups and industrial film work, and has also worked as a waitress.

The current role came to her, at least in part, because of previous performing with the Rockville-based Troika Organization production company, which is mounting "Oklahoma!" She auditioned for the part after completing "Kismet" for the same producers.

The tour began with previews in September at Montgomery College in Rockville, and moved on to Providence, R.I., and more than 40 other stages before taking a break this month. The Baltimore run launches a second leg that will go to more than 80 communities.

"Actually, we performed in Panama City, where I was born," Ms. Haar notes.

Ms. Haar's older sister and brother, Krista Turbin and George Haar, now live in Keyser, and her father, Carl Haar, is still in Cumberland. The family plans to see her in "Oklahoma!" during its Baltimore stay.

"I think it's been a good experience, and I've enjoyed seeing so many places," she says of the road show experience. But she adds, "I think I'd be more willing to hold back and say I'm not sure I'd like to do it again."

Indeed, unlike many actresses, her eyes do not seem fixed on the prize of professional stardom. "I've always been very ambivalent about pursuing acting. I love what I do, yes. But you can love your job and have times when you think, 'I can't do this anymore,' " she concedes.

Her life includes a boyfriend, who is a theater lighting designer, and a cat named Sascha.

"Really, I have been very blessed with what I have been able to do," says the actress -- just like a country girl.


Where: Lyric Opera House

When: Today through Jan. 2; 8 p.m. through Saturday; 7:30 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday

Tickets: $20 to $42

Call: 481-SEAT/889-3911

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