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The humming of eager chatter filled Liberty’s 640-seat Tower Theater as the audience patiently waited for the curtain to rise and unveil the stage. With a wave of the conductor’s wand, the orchestra began to play famous, familiar melodies that raised the excitement in the room to a higher decibel. The opening weekend of Liberty University Department of Theatre Art’s presentation of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!” started off with sold out shows Sept. 23 and 24.
From scene to scene, thick accents and patterned dresses both mesmerized and entertained the audience.
“Everyone was laughing at the comments they would make or the actions they would do,” freshman Valerie Ogle said.
Each character’s lines were periodically interrupted gently by the crowd’s chuckles and laughter, and clapping resonated from the seats as the actors broke into song.
“There was definitely audience interaction, especially during the songs,” Ogle said.
For sophomore Rachel Osterhus, who plays the lead role of Laurey Williams, the audience interaction is what keeps the actors from growing tired.
“I think the shows have gone very well,” Osterhus said. “We feed off of the laughter and the clapping and just the energy that comes from the audience.”
As the “Oklahoma!” cast prepares for the remainder of their shows, Osterhus said there’s relief at the fact that each show gives them more experience and more comfort with each other.
“I feel like we’re getting more comfortable,” Osterhus said. “We know our lines. We know the blocking, so now we’re just kind of living in it. It’s such a ball.”
With every look and line said, confidence exuded from the actors.
“I think the show is getting progressively better,” Thomas Scott, who plays the role of Jud Fry, said. “I felt more relaxed tonight. Yesterday was really good. Every show that we do, the audience is giving us better feedback.”
Although the production is filled with comedic roles and humorous lines, the actors and audience agree that the themes and intense scenes that are woven in add a needed level of depth to the story.
“I enjoyed just about everything about it,” junior Jarvis Wilson said. “I felt like I was hit with many different aspects that I wasn’t expecting. All I knew was the song. The messages that were inside of the play were much deeper than I expected.”
Scott, whose character takes the role of the villain, sees the importance of his role, seeing how the presence of evil can give greater appreciation for what is good.
“I kind of worried about the audience’s reaction (to the show’s intensity) at first but I think it gave the show a lot more depth,” Scott said. “If it didn’t have the intensity it would just be happy and dancing around for the fun of it. It added a conflict that I think the audience would really enjoy.”
For students like Ogle, “Oklahoma!” may be the first of many theater shows they attend.
“For a month’s work, that was incredible,” Ogle said. “I couldn’t memorize all of those lines.”
Liberty Theater will be performing shows from now until Oct. 16. Show times are available on Liberty’s Department of Theater Arts website. Tickets are available at the Vines Center box office, online through the Liberty Theater Arts website or by calling (434)582-7328.
“Hopefully, the show will exceed their expectations,” Scott said.