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But Dru Rutledge and Jared Q. Miller are more than ready to play Laurey and Curly in musical (he has played the role before)



CRAIG MITCHELLDYER/BROADWAY ROSE THEATRE COMPANY - Dru Rutledge as farm girl Laurey and Jared Q. Miller as cowboy Curly find love in Rodgers and Hammerstein's first musical, 'Oklahoma!'Just like the characters they play in Broadway Rose Theatre Company’s production of “Oklahoma!” the two lead actors have Midwest roots.

“Oklahoma!” is the first musical written by composer Richard Rodgers and librettist Oscar Hammerstein II and is based on Lynn Riggs’ 1931 play, “Green Grow the Lilacs.” The story of cowboy Curly McLain (played by Jared Q. Miller) and farm girl Laurey Williams (played by Dru Rutledge) is set in the Oklahoma Territory in 1906.

Rutledge grew up in a small town in Kansas called Emporia, and Miller grew up in Minnesota, and they both worked all over the United States before finally settling in Portland within a couple years of each other.

But they were separately cast in “Oklahoma!” and never met face to face until rehearsals started, although Miller said, “I was aware of her from her work.”

While Rutledge grew up in a small town, her high school was the only one serving a large area, so it was comparable to a big-city school.

“It had a really great choral tradition,” said Rutledge, but her interest in performing started long before that. “At age 6 I auditioned for the first time, and I was so scared. It was at the local college for the part of a dog named Frilikin – a green dog with one ear and no tail. Other kids lay on their backs with their arms and legs held stiffly in the air. I finally had the courage to go up on the stage, and my dog had just died, so I lay down on my side and was very sad – and I got the part.

“About 15 years later, they were cleaning out storage areas at the theater and found that little green Frilikin costume and gave it to me. There are advantages to living in a small town – everyone knows you and remembers you.”

Rutledge’s second stage role was a year later when she was in the first grade and cast as Gretel, one of the Von Trapp sisters, in “The Sound of Music.” But at one point, left alone in the dressing room, she found green makeup and was discovered painting her face with it, apparently trying to recreate her first role. After that, she was not left alone in the make-up room.

Rutledge started taking voice lessons in sixth grade under a teacher who was careful not to overwork her developing voice, and in high school, Rutledge found a great mentor in her music teacher.

“Mr. Grant was the best music teacher, and his two sons are my best friends for life,” Rutledge said. “He really fostered talent, and I had another great teacher in college.”

In Rutledge’s sophomore year in high school, she became a student of voice teacher Ken Prewitt, who is now at Western Michigan University, but he was her teacher and mentor for the next nine years.

“He was about classical singing,” Rutledge said. “He would teach his students how to teach, and now I teach voice lessons. He and the high school musical director were very particular about what you did on stage.”

At Emporia State University, Rutledge majored in voice performance and theater, and five years later, she earned her degrees.

“There was a lot of stage time and attention paid to you being in a smaller school,” she said. “Ironically, I went from playing Gretel in ‘The Sound of Music’ as a child to playing the Mother Abbess in a college production. I was a terrible actress. I also worked on the design crew, did makeup and worked on the scenery crew – it was a complete experience.”

After college, Rutledge started working on her master’s degree in opera performance at Wichita State University while spending summers abroad performing in such countries as Austria, Italy, Mexico, S. Korea, Germany, France, Switzerland and England.

“In Austria, I was in a six-week opera and language intensive program and bought my return ticket for a month after it ended, so I could travel around,” she said. “I’ve been so lucky to sing and perform in amazing cities.”

Once back in the U.S. and finished with her master’s degree, Rutledge planned to move to Texas to study with a renowned teacher. “I was driving there to find an apartment when she called to say her cancer had returned and she was quitting teaching,” Rutledge said. “I had friends in both Chicago and Los Angeles who said I should join them.

“But I had a sister at Lewis & Clark Law School – she is now a public defender – and my parents had moved to Warrenton, and my grandpa had moved to Corvallis.”

So it made sense for Rutledge to move to Portland, which she did in 2009.

“Fiddler on the Roof” was being performed in Oregon City, and although the show’s lead roles had already been cast, Rutledge was given the opportunity to audition.

“The director said, ‘Oh, you’re a singer,’” Rutledge said. “I was cast in the ensemble, and shortly after that, one of the leads left to go to graduate school, and I got the role of Hodel, one of the daughters.

“If I hadn’t checked my ego at the door, I wouldn’t have gotten the daughter’s role. And you learn so much when’re you’re not the lead. I like whatever makes me better and what I’m doing. And I love how Portland fosters talent, like the town I grew up in.”

Since arriving here, Rutledge has performed for a number of local companies, including Portland Opera, Portland Center Stage, the Oregon Symphony and the Portland Gay Men’s Chorus, and she recently was awarded the Drammy Award for Best Actress in a Musical for “She Love Me” at Lakewood Theatre Company.

Rutledge participated in Broadway Rose’s general audition for this year’s shows, got called back and was cast as Laurey in “Oklahoma!” as well as Peggy in the upcoming holiday show, “A Taffeta Christmas.”

And she has a day job too at ActivityConnection.com, which is an online resource for activity directors, recreational therapists and administrators in nursing homes, offering monthly programs and planning resources, and selling products like games and manuals and other professional resource items.

“We have buckets of ideas and many templates to help produce calendars with suggested activities,” Rutledge said. “I feel so lucky to work for a company during the day that allows me to pursue my passion and career.”

As for Miller, he considers Portland his home base and owns a home here but lives part time in New York and frequently works in Alaska. In fact, because he had a job commitment in Alaska and had played the role of Curley in “Oklahoma!” once before, he was able to start rehearsing a week after the rest of the cast started.

Growing up in Minnesota, Miller performed in plays and musicals in both high school and college, and always sang, starting in church.

“But I also was into athletics,” Miller said. “I went to college on a football scholarship.”

Miller attended the private Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where he got a degree in exercise science and minored in theater.

“I had a voice teacher there who became like a second mother,” he said. “The first time I met her, after singing for 10 minutes, she said, ‘You could do this for a living.’ She pushed me to stay with her and keep singing.”

Miller explained that he weighed a lot more when he left college and ended up getting the “bigger-man-funny roles.”

“My first agent in New York said, ‘I don’t know where I could place you,’ but as I lost weight, I transitioned to leading man and acquired a confident swagger.”

Miller’s first job after graduating from college occurred after he saw an opening for a singer at a cabaret theater at Arcadia National Park in Bar Harbor, Maine.

“The job and location sounded perfect,” Miller said. “I sent them a recording of my singing, and they offered me a job. With $300 in my pocket, I drove to Maine. Most of my life, I have not been about accumulating stuff. From Maine, I drove to Tampa, Fla., and then to Alaska, where I sold my car.”

Miller’s gig in Alaska, which he returns to between other jobs, is singing at lodges in Denali National Park. But he has continued to travel the country for various jobs, including Jacksonville, Fla., where he performed as Curly in “Oklahoma!” with the local symphony orchestra about seven years ago.

“We did four performances of that show, and then I did six different shows there and made a lot of great connections,” said Miller, adding that “as soon as you do a few shows, people you work with have your back, and one thing leads to another.”

Miller ended up in Portland in 2011 after his partner got a job that brought them both here for a weekend. “The second day, we started looking for an apartment,” he said. “We thought the city was great. We were amazed that in downtown Portland, cars stop for you when you’re crossing the street – that doesn’t happen in New York. People are smiling, and everything is green.”

Miller started making local theater connections and has appeared with such companies as Portland Center Stage, Artists Repertory Theatre and Portland Playhouse.

“Oklahoma!” is his first Broadway Rose show and came about when Miller was in New York and put on his Facebook page that he would be in Portland for a weekend in February this year. Sharon Maroney is Broadway Rose’s co-founder, producing artistic director and the director of “Oklahoma!” and she saw the post and called him and asked him to audition. “They let me know 1 ½ months later that I got the job,” he said.

One last connection Miller and Rutledge have in common is that they won’t be doing much dancing in “Oklahoma!” He admits, “Dancing isn’t my greatest strength,” and as rehearsals for “Oklahoma!” were starting, Rutledge fell and sprained her ankle.

Fortunately, dancers will be playing “Dream Curly” and “Dream Laurey” in the show’s famous dream ballet.

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