Junior theatre major Reagan Fraze will be playing the role of Laurey in Theatre Wesleyan’s production of “Oklahoma!”
Fraze is very familiar to Theatre Wesleyan. She wrote in an email that she has been involved in three shows in the 2017-2018 school year.
“For ‘Blithe Spirit,’ I was on the set crew, I was cast as Martha Bessell in ‘Spring Awakening,’ and I was a part of the Front of House crew for ‘Important Hats of the Twentieth Century.’”
But now Fraze has a lead role in “Oklahoma!” She writes that she has worked closely with both cast and staff members throughout the rehearsal process, but works more closely with the cast.
“I work more closely with the members of the cast than I do with the staff members,” she wrote. “The reason for this is because the actors will work scenes and the moments within the scenes outside of rehearsal, then bring the scenes to rehearsal to be perfected by Jeanne [Everton], the director.”
There is a lot that goes into preparing everything for the opening night, Fraze wrote.
“We have rehearsal Monday [through] Friday from 7-10p.m. every week and on Saturdays from 2-5p.m.,” she wrote. “In rehearsal hours alone, we have worked over 80 hours each on this production.”
Fraze also discussed how each cast member has to spend extra hours working on individual assignments.
“Each member of the cast has spent additional hours outside of rehearsal working on various aspects of the show, whether it is a scene, memorizing lines, working through the songs, or perfecting the dances,” Fraze wrote.
Richard Givans, a sophomore theatre major, is playing the role of Curly.
“Curly is a hard-working cowman who is liked by everybody around him! He has such a positive outlook on life and is charming too!” he wrote in an email.
Givans also discussed the process of landing the role.
“I prepared for the audition by studying the character and choosing an audition song that I thought was a good fit for the way I wanted to play Curly. Then I got cast!” he wrote.
Tristen Brown, sophomore theatre major, is playing the role of Ali Hakim. He describes the show as feel-good, catchy, and jocular.
“’Oklahoma!’ is a feel-good show because it tells a story of a group of people living in the land of Oklahoma and how they ‘belong to the land,’” Brown wrote in an email. “[It’s] catchy because the show is constantly going from song to song, and each song has a very catchy sing-along tune that spreads like wildfire. The show is very jocular. You can see a difference of interaction between each group, and if two groups interact with each other that’s where the fun begins.”
Leading up to opening night, Brown is most excited about experiencing the dress rehearsals.
“Not to brag or anything but I am IN LOVE with my costume,” he wrote. “I’m dressed so nice and so is everyone in ‘Oklahoma!’ The costumes really flesh out each character, and it’s amazing how good this show is going to look!”
Brown wrote that he is excited for the orchestra that will be accompanying the cast on stage in the W.E. Scott Theatre.
“We will have a string section and this is the first time for me being in a show and having an orchestra,” he wrote. “I love hearing the music of the show, and it truly just makes the show that more magical.”
Jeanne Everton, associate professor of theatre, is the director of “Oklahoma!” She said “Oklahoma!” was chosen to be performed by Theatre Wesleyan because it is the 75th anniversary of the show.
“It is a very important musical in the history of American musical theatre,” she said. “I’m happy to be doing it.”
She also said “Oklahoma!” was selected because it is a golden-age musical.
“It comes out of a period from the 1940s through about the early 1970s, [which] is considered to be the golden age of musicals,” she said. “This is the first American musical in which the songs progress the story. Every song is part of the action of the piece. [The musical] is important from that standpoint.”
Everton said the choreography was going to surprise the audience the most.
“Our choreographer has created some pretty remarkable dancing, and the student performers are doing a terrific job,” she said.
Everton said the whole team has had eight weeks’ worth of rehearsals and eight weeks’ worth of building costumes and the sets.
“Typically, I work from six months to a year on shows before we open,” she said. “In this case it has been about five or six months.”
Everton said everyone working on the production is a Wesleyan contributor.
“On the musical this year, the scenic designer is a faculty member, the costume designer is a faculty member,” she said. “Props and sounds are being designed by students. The stage management team is also all students.”
She said that what audience members take from the production will vary.
“The people who see ‘Oklahoma!’ for the first time are going to see a bunch of people living on the prairie, in Indian territory, anticipating becoming a state,” Everton said. “A lot of older people who have seen ‘Oklahoma!’ before probably come to see it because they enjoy the music. It’s beautiful music and it’s a sweet story, so what people take away is going to be very different.”
Theatre Wesleyan wants to give a performance that is about people who had a hard life, Everton said.
“It was a hard life [having] to raise cattle, or to farm on that stretch of the prairie. We tried to bring it back down to the land rather than some productions that we are aware of that have made [‘Oklahoma!’] pretty, or as I like to say, ‘Disneyfied.’ We’ve tried not to do that.”
Everton also discussed the process of getting everything together for the production.
“Initially, rehearsals are very sporadic. We start by teaching all of the music, then we start adding dance numbers, the stage parts that are not dance numbers, the dialogue scenes, and then try to pull it all together,” she said.
Everton said the students are excited that “Oklahoma!” will be performed in the Scott Theatre.
“I think the students are excited about performing in a different theatre, and the idea of working on a different side of town,” she said.
She said the reason behind performing at the Scott Theatre is that “Oklahoma!” is such a well-known play, and the Scott can accommodate more people than the Thad Smotherman Theatre.
“The other [reason] is that because Scott Theatre is a different theatre than the one [Wesleyan] has. It provides the students with the opportunity to work with some technical aspect that we don’t deal with here,” she said. “It’s good for them to have that experience.”
According to Bryan Stevenson, department chair and associate professor of theatre, the last time a Wesleyan production was performed in Scott Theatre was in 2002 with the musical “Show Boat.”
Jacob Sanchez, the business manager for the Theatre Department, wrote in an email that performing in the Scott Theater will allow the participating students to get an insight as to what type of working environment they may find themselves in upon graduation.
“This year happens to mark the 75th anniversary of the show, but we originally wanted to produce OKLAHOMA! to not only give our students the opportunity to work on a classic musical theatre piece, but do so within the mindset and environment that is, for all practical purposes, like doing a national tour of a Broadway show,” he wrote.
Sanchez compared the experience the students will have to working for productions like “Hamilton” and “Phantom of the Opera.”
“We are using Texas Wesleyan as our rehearsal space, design studio, and scene shop, then loading everything on a truck and taking it over to the Scott Theatre. It’s no different than what shows like HAMILTON and PHANTOM OF THE OPERA get to do, but unique for an environmental and collegiate setting,” Sanchez wrote.
Sanchez hopes to have future productions performed at the Scott Theatre.
“Hopefully, [this production] sets up a new trend that will allow us to go produce musicals there every few years,” he wrote.
Marla Owen, the arts center director of the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, shares Sanchez’s hopes.
“I am hoping the experience will be great for everyone involved,” Owens wrote in an email, “and that Wesleyan will want to return to the Scott Theatre stage.”
“Oklahoma!” runs April 19-22 at the W.E. Scott Theatre, which is at 3505 W. Lancaster Ave. in Fort Worth. Show times are 7:30 p.m. April 19-21 and 2 p.m. April 22. For more information, go to txwes.edu or fwcac.com.