The hard work and dedication of the 27 cast members, who spent the previous six months leading up to Friday night’s performance rehearsing, certainly paid off for the production. As the lights came up and the simple lives of the hard-working Oklahoma territory settlers took shape, it quickly became evident that this would be no ordinary community theater experience.
The words themselves – community theater – evokes a certain feeling of unrefined, primitive play making that is almost sure to provoke snores from the less-than-enthusiastic audience of family members forced to attend in support of their loved one’s latest endeavor. In the case of Cedar Valley Community Theatre however, nothing could have been further from the truth.
Greeted at the door of the Heritage Center Theater by the quaint, old-time sounds of Wilhelm, a self-proclaimed “gypsy jazz band” that hails from Cedar City, patrons were immediately thrust back in time. The upbeat music that filled the halls outside of the theater room doors set the mood for the fun that lied ahead that evening.
The vibrant bursts of color that sparsely decorated the simply designed set created by Ben Hohman, gave a midsummer country feel to the air; and as the lights slowly rose to illuminate the scene on stage it was nearly impossible not to become infected with the playful energy that filled the air.
Delight twinkled in the eyes of dear old Aunt Eller (Judy Whitaker) as she churned her butter listening to the wild carryings on of young Curly (Grayson Moulton) who came to court her spitfire of a niece Laurey (Emilie Andersen Moulton). From the beginning, the onstage chemistry between the two lead characters sparked and sizzled.
The music, conducted by Jackie Riddle-Jackson, resonated into the theater from the depths of the pit below and laid the perfect blanket to warm the whimsical dance numbers choreographed by Tatem Trotter. The simple, yet energetic promenades did nothing to separate the inexperienced dancers from those who had previously trained, creating a cohesive bond that unified the cast throughout the night’s performance.
As the evening pressed on the fully attentive audience, who had obviously become deeply invested in the story unfolding before them, began to clap in time with the music; dancing in their seats just a little. There was no mistaking the buzz in the air, and when – in the blink of an eye – intermission came around, it was almost difficult to leave the animated oneness of the theater chambers.
The happy chatter that resounded through the hall during the short break offered further confirmation that the Cedar Valley Community Theatre’s production was shaping up to be a successful undertaking for the young organization.
Heading back in for the second half of the show, the outside world quickly melted away and once again, the complexities of life as an Oklahoma settler falling in love on the range appeared front and center. With each new song and dance number, the spirited cast drew the audience in and kept their full attention right until the final dramatic moments.
Each element – from start to finish – layered together to add a fresh coat of paint to the old-fashioned 1940’s composition, bringing to life director Zac Trotter’s vision of a younger, more vibrant telling of the story.
"Oklahoma!" continues this week at the Heritage Center Theater, 105 N. 100 East, Cedar City, Utah, Friday, Saturday and Monday at 7:30 p.m.
More information about the Cedar Valley Community Theatre is available at www.cedartheatre.org, or on the Cedar Valley Community Theatre facebook page.