Oak Bay students get into a western state of mind
The scene at the Oak Bay High theatre is classic Broadway.
Throughout the space, teens in early 20th-century western garb are gathered in groups of various sizes. Some are singing, while others work on dance steps. More than a few ‘howdys’ and ‘aw, hecks’ escape their lips. On stage is an old-fashioned horse-drawn carriage and a farmhouse that would fit right in with The Wizard of Oz.
But instead of Kansas, all this song and dance is set a little further south. The students are in the final rehearsals for the school’s spring musical, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, Oklahoma!
This is no fly-by-night operation. The production features a cast of 46, a 23-member orchestra, a dozen stagehands and 14 costume and makeup assistants. Until last weekend, the groups mostly worked separately, but with opening night fast approaching, the time has come to bring it all together. Thankfully for the man running the show, this group of nearly 100 students is ready for the challenge.
“What’s great about this opportunity is the kids start to think on their own,” says director Steven Price, at the helm for his seventh musical at the school. “When the show runs, I’m the only adult in the house – I sit up at the front and conduct the orchestra – and the rest of it’s all done by them.”
Before the curtain goes up on Friday, there’s still lots of work to be done. Costumes need finishing touches, scene-change hiccups must be sorted out and actors need to smooth out the onstage wrinkles.
However, one crucial detail has already been taken care of. Price managed to find a restored antique carriage known as a surrey, which is the subject of one of the show’s musical numbers and an important element in the play’s final scene.
“When we do shows with big set pieces, they tend to take on a life of their own, almost,” he says.
The story line of Oklahoma! revolves around characters with conflicting romantic interests, all of whom come together at a box social one evening.
“It’s a bunch of love stories kind of tangled up in one another, is the best way to describe the show,” says Grade 12 student Mark Adams, who plays the show’s protagonist, Curly McLain. Adams has been in previous musicals at the school, but this is his first time in a lead role.
Playing Laurey Williams, the object of Curly’s affections, is Grade 12 student Elsa MacDonald. She says it wasn’t hard to create the necessary romantic chemistry between the different characters.
“We’ve been working together on musicals for a while now, so we all know each other fairly well, so it was easier than expected,” she says.
“There’s nobody we really hate,” Adams adds with a laugh.
Though they started putting the show together back in October, the final product is worth the wait, MacDonald says. “Working with the whole cast and putting the time and effort in, then to see the result at the end as it all comes together, it’s kind of an amazing feeling to see that.”
It’s a sentiment shared by her director. “To see them coming together as individuals and coming together as young adults, it’s incredibly encouraging, because they just take it over and they take ownership of it,” says Price.
Oklahoma! opens Friday (Feb. 24) at 7:30 p.m. in the school’s west auditorium. Other evening shows happen Feb. 25 and 29, and March 1, 2 and 3. There’s also a 2 p.m. matinee on Feb. 26.
Tickets, $12 for adults and $10 for students and seniors, are available at the school's east and west offices or at the door. For more information call 250-598-3361 ext. 429.