The farmer and the rancher figure how to be friends yet again in this weekend’s Waco Children’s Theatre production of “Oklahoma!,” but the musical also provides a chance for friends made by the children’s theater summer camp to revisit those memories.
Waco Children’s Theatre alumni and alumnae are invited to attend the Saturday night performance of the musical, which runs Friday through Sunday at the Lee Lockwood Library and Museum, 2801 W. Waco Drive.
Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II’s groundbreaking 1943 musical, set in pre-statehood Oklahoma, concerns the budding romance between cowboy Curly (Collin Selman) and Laurey (Braden Braziel), under the watchful eyes of Laurey’s Aunt Eller (Summer Surley) and jealous farmhand Jud (Graham Smith).
There’s a secondary romance between another cowboy, Will Parker (Jack Counsellor), and an ever-friendly Ado Annie Carnes (Alex Blanton), complicated by traveling salesman Ali Hakim (Anthony Alvarez) and Annie’s father (Evan Graves).
Driving the story is a score with some of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s best-known numbers, such as “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’,” “People Will Say We’re In Love,” “Kansas City” and the titular “Oklahoma!”
For several Waco Children’s Theatre veterans, the musical brings back memories, some specific to the musical and others tied with how the 26-year-old children’s theater and director/founder Linda Haskett shaped their lives and careers.
Allison Baucom Figley, 34, played Laurie in the 2003 Waco Children’s Theatre production of “Oklahoma!” It was one of many productions Figley would star in during her years with the theater, including “The Wiz,” “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Grease,” “Lil’ Abner,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and “The 1940s Radio Hour.”
The children’s theater and its founder and director Linda Haskett took a shy fourth-grader and opened her eyes to the world of theater. “I loved every minute of it,” Figley recalled, and the experience shaped her life.
She studied arts administration at Wagner College in New York, spent about a decade as a New York actress, then returned to Waco with her husband and two children several years ago, teaching English and choir at Connally High School. For the last several summers, she’s worked with the WCT camp as an administrator, filling in with voice and acting training when needed.
“It’s come full circle,” she said. “This is my second home.”
Jenni Stewart, assistant artistic director of Shakespeare Dallas, played Ado Annie in her last production before moving to Dallas in 2003 to attend college. Remembering those days “brought back a lot of warm memories,” she recalled. “I started (the children’s theater) when I was 6 . . . and it completely changed my life, although I didn’t know it at the time,” she said. “My best friends came out of that program.”
For 22-year-old Kylie Zweifel, that same 2003 production at Waco High’s Richfield Performing Arts Center saw her WCT debut as a seven-year-old playing a child in town during the song “Kansas City.”
Galloping like she was riding a stick pony, she fell off the stage, much to the shock of her mom and camp instructors, who rushed to her side on the floor. “All I could think was I have to get back onstage,” remembered Zweifel. “The show must go on.” Zweifel went on to perform in “Grease,” “Bye Bye Birdie” and other musicals, which gave her a craving for the stage that led to theater studies at Texas Tech University.
What she took away from her time in the children’s theater was a strong sense of family and a feeling of being part of something larger than her. “(Haskett) made you feel included. She made you see how you actually play into the bigger picture,” Zweifel said.
Haskett also taught what theater demanded, recalled Becca Shivers, who attended her first camp in 1992, graduated from Midway High School in 1998, then performed as a professional actress in Dallas for about 10 years before returning to Waco and her family’s insurance business.
“On the whole, Linda taught us a lot about theater etiquette and what was expected of us,” she said. “You had to be ready, with no excuses. You had to be there early to be on time. She taught us a strong work ethic.”
A sense of family is what A.J. Alvarez remembers from his time in the children’s program. He and his younger brothers got involved shortly after the death of his father and theater gave a place for his family to connect with a larger community. “It was a wonderful outlet . . . There were so many different incarnations of family there,” he said.
After studying theater in high school and college, Alvarez moved to New York and presently works as an assistant producer for the production company behind Broadway productions “Mean Girls,” the revival of “Angels in America,” “Come from Away” and “Hello Dolly.” The multitasking skills needed in theatrical collaboration and production definitely started with the WCT, he said.
Alvarez’s youngest brother, incidentally, is performing in this weekend’s show.