The Cowboys of Goodspeed's 'Oklahoma!'

 Jake Swain in action. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Jake Swain in action. Photo by Diane Sobolewski

For Jake Swain, it’s all about the wrist and its loose, fluid and hypnotic swivel that turns his rope into a swirling lasso. He’s been practicing daily; he’s twirling it as he walks to rehearsals. He’s even spinning rope in his dreams.

The Utah native is playing champion steer roper Will Parker in Oklahoma! at the Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam, now in previews and opening Aug. 2 and continuing through Sept. 23.

 Cowboys of "Oklahoma!" Photo by Diane Sobolewski

Cowboys of "Oklahoma!" Photo by Diane Sobolewski

“I didn’t get the job because I know how to lasso, lemme put it that way,” a laughing Swain says during a break in rehearsals. Swain and some other cast members from the cowboy ensemble gathered recently to talk about the art of the cowboy way.

Swain got a bit of an assist from Chris McDaniel, “a professional rope tricker and a legit cowboy,” says the actor.

“He walked in and right away he had street cred. He told me the wrist is everything, and my instructions from him were essentially, ‘Wrist! … Wrist! … Wrist!’ It was really hard, but then I slept on it and let it marinate and I woke up the next morning and I was far better than I was the day before.”

The rope tricks are featured in Katie Spelman’s choreography (based on Agnes De Mille’s original dances) in the Rodgers & Hammerstein song “Kansas City,” which has Swain’s character returning from winning a roping contest at a state fair. The number is one of the highlights from the musical, which had its world premiere in 1943 at New Haven’s Shubert Theatre — under the show’s out-of-town title, Away We Go!

“The pressure is on,” says Swain, who must sing, dance and act in the number.

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 During rehearsal. Photo by Frank Rizzo

During rehearsal. Photo by Frank Rizzo