BWW Interview: Brynna Horswell & Adam Campbell Of OKLAHOMA! At Charleston Light Opera Guild
Brynna Horswell (Laurey)
"Oklahoma! Is and will always be my first love," explained Brynna Horswell, who portrays Laurey in Charleston Light Opera Guild's (CLOG) upcoming production of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic. "It was the first musical I remember being exposed to as a very little girl. I grew up singing and dancing to those songs and dreamed that one day I'd be Shirley Jones with my own Gordon MacRae."
"I have such a deep, sentimental attachment to this show that I can't believe I get the honor to be a part of it - especially with it being the Guild's 70th Anniversary Show!"
CLOG choose Oklahoma! as the final show of their 70th Anniversary Season due to their history with the hit Broadway musical. CLOG's 1960 production of Oklahoma! is often credited with being the show that pushed CLOG from being an operetta to becoming a full-fledged musical theater production house. Since 1960, Oklahoma! has been performed twice more, once in 1971 and again in 1990, with 2019 being their 4th production of the iconic Broadway musical.
"I knew immediately when I saw that the Guild was putting on Oklahoma! that I had to audition for it," said Horswell. "I hadn't done a show in years, since my son was born. With full-time work and single-parenting, I've had to put performing aside. I'd been begging Nina Pasinetti (The Director) for years to do Oklahoma! and never thought the time would come. I knew I would somehow have to at least audition or I'd never forgive myself."
Oklahoma! premiered on Broadway in 1943 and was the first production created by the renowned pair of Rodgers and Hammerstein who won a special Pulitzer Prize for the production in 1944. The show ran for a then unprecedented 2,000+ performances and later became an Academy Award winning film. Since its initial Broadway run Oklahoma! has remained in the spotlight thanks to multiple revivals, including the recent Broadway reimagining, as well as national tours.
Horswell plays Laurey, the strong and independent, yet ultimately warm-hearted girl who harbors a secret love for Curly, a charming yet cocky cowboy.
"Laurey was orphaned at a young age and grew up with her dear Aunt Eller out on their farm in Oklahoma territory. She is fond of Curly and secretly hopes that he'll take her to the box social, but she's too proud and stubborn to just let him know it - especially when he's being 'fresh'," explained Horswell. "So, to spite Curly - who waits until the very last minute to ask her - she decides to go with her brooding, stalkerish farmhand Jud, who she has expressed actually frightens her. She becomes the centerpiece of the drama and tension in the show, as the two men become rivals over her."
Horswell sees a bit of herself in the character of Laurey. "She is a deeply passionate and emotionally expressive person - as am I. She is the only character in the show who cries, and she does so three times!"
"Laurey loves deeply and I think she is a hopeless romantic," explained Horswell. "She has a sweet, little monologue that never fails to choke me up where she reveals that she 'wants things that she can't tell you about - things so nice that if they ever did happen to you, your heart'd quit beating' and you'd fall down dead!'"
"Laurey dreams of having the family that she didn't quite get to enjoy as a girl; she wants to have a home and raise a family with the man of her dreams, yet she is faced with the inevitable practacilities of a hard pioneering life and wonders if it'll ever happen for her. I really identify with this longing - so when she gets some of her dreams realized in the second act I can truly emote her elation and relief."
Horswell explained that she's always had a bit of old fashioned country girl in her. "My family has always teased me for being the 'Anne of Green Gables' of the family, always daydreaming, forever believing in true love."
Laureys kindness and compassion speaks to Horswell, and helps her to identify with the character. "I admire Laurey's compassionate heart that tended to a dirty, lowly Jud when he was sick, giving him the only tender female touch he's probably ever had, checking his head for fever, feeding him soup. Laurey cares fiercely about people."
Oklahoma! has been a staple of musical theater for over 70 years, ushering in a new era in theater while continually impressing audiences with its inventive musical numbers and captivating story. Horswell shared a few words about why she feels that Oklahoma! has enraptured audiences for so long.
"Well, first, Rodgers and Hammerstein - need I say more? This was their first collaboration and it's just perfect, in my opinion. Oklahoma! is such an iconic piece of Americana and was the first musical of its kind - it truly ignited a different genre of musical theater, where scenes were stripped down and brought to life by singers who were also actors - though it still boasts a few big crowd-pleasing dance numbers - and it was the first musical to showcase a ballet that advanced the plot."
"It is such a romantic love story and has just the right balance of drama and comedy," praised Horswell. "Enough cannot be said about the music. This score is just breathtaking. It's so beautiful and melodic and heartwarming that it truly brings a tear to my eyes. The songs live on in your head and your heart long after the curtain drops."
Among the many reasons for Oklahoma's timelessness is its message which still resonates with audiences after all these years.
"I think the show is ultimately about humanity's ability to rise above the toughness and adversities of life when united in wholehearted love for each other," explained Horswell. "Aunt Eller's moving little monologue to Laurey at the end of Act 2 describes the heart of this show and time period best - 'Oh, lots of things happen to folks. Sickness or being poor and hungry, being old and afeared to die. That's the way it is, cradle to grave, and you can stand it. There's just one way: you gotta be hardy. You gotta be. You can't deserve the sweet and tender in life unless'n you're tough.'"
Oklahoma's score, widely adored, was also praised by Horswell.
"I adore getting to watch and listen to the opening number, 'Oh, What A Beautiful Morning' while I wait to enter onstage. I never fail to get teary-eyed during that song and Curly's next song, 'Surrey With the Fringe on Top'. It's just so sweet and romantic and the melody is sublime. My next favorite number is starkly different in tone and mood - Jud's song, 'Lonely Room'. It is dark and haunting, yet also sad and beautiful. It really makes me begin to emphasize with this tortured, perhaps misunderstood villain."
In closing, Horswell took a moment to paise the cast and crew.
"This cast is brimming with talent and I think everyone can sense what an overwhelming privilege it is to put on this 70th Anniversary show that honors the Guild's rich history and heritage and pays homage to their first ever musical theatre production of Oklahoma! in 1960."
"It has just been the greatest joy to get to prepare to perform this with warm and giving co-actors and with a devoted director, Mrs. Pasinetti, and musical director, John Marshall, and audiences will appreciate this hard work when they experience this heartwarming and beautiful production."
Adam Campbell (Curly)
Adam Campbell was enticed by friends to audition for the roll of Curly, whom they believed he would be perfect for and would serve as an ideal role to mark his return to the stage after a multi-year hiatus.
"I moved to Florida back in 2013. My last show with the Guild was Civil War right before I moved. I decided to come into town to visit family and I met my Aunt and cousin at the Guild straight from the airport so that I could see my old Guild friends. It was there that several people told me I should audition for the role of Curly and, after about an hour, I decided to do it!"
"I have been show-hungry ever since Civil War, and this opportunity presented itself at a transition period in my life," explained Campbell. "I love music and I love the theater." Campbell added that he was also excited, "for the opportunity to once again share the stage with my old friends and my family!"
Campbell plays Curly, Laurey's secret love interest and an overall rough and rowdy cowboy.
"Curly is a braggadocios cowboy who is not-so-secretly in love with Laurey," explained Campbell. "Curly and Laurey's love story is one of the main story arcs of the show and in a way parallels the relationship between the 'farmers' and the 'cowmen' of the show who often find themselves at odds as both expand in the Oklahoma territory."
This dynamic between the two character's worlds forms the basis of the dramatic conflict present throughout the show.
"The relationship between Curly - a cowboy - and Laurey - the daughter of a farmer family - starts off as contentious but ends in a union. Likewise, the relationship of the farmers and the cowmen evolves in much the same way, with both coming together to form a unified community. Without the plot line involving Curly and Laurey, perhaps the farmers and the cowmen would have never become friends."
The cocky attitude that Curly often emanates is far from Campbell's normal personality, but with searching he found ways to empathize with the character.
"I personally do not identify with Curly nor his motives, however, after studying and learning his character, I definitely agree with his motives in the show. He is too proud to show his softer side to Laurey, choosing instead to be a braggart. His motive is to ultimately win Laurey's love and affection, even though Laurey feels the same affection for him already."
As the show progresses, so too does Curly's attitude, eventually allowing him to display his softer side.
"Once Laurey's affection and safety are put in jeopardy by Jud, Curly is able to allow his softer side to emerge in order to ultimately ask for her hand in marriage."
As for why Oklahoma! has endured as a classic, Campbell said, "I believe Oklahoma! has endured because it was the first show of its kind and was the birth of the modern musical. It has everything that audiences crave from a great musical: wonderful music, wonderful dancing, love stories, suspense, and comedy! It's energetic and thrilling and keeps the audience singing and dancing in their seats, with laughs and tears in-between! It is the total package!"
Ultimately, Oklahoma! is about unity at a time when America was expanding and the struggles presented by this new world.
"The main message of the show is that of community, "explained Campbell. "Without strong and cohesive communities, our country would not have been able to grow and develop as it did. In order to have a strong community, you have to trust and respect your neighbors, regardless of whether you agree with how they live or their customs."
"In Oklahoma! the farmers and the cowmen are at odds with one another at a time when Western Expansion was occurring. Without strong communities, the territories created with Western Expansion may have never banded together effectively to eventually become the states."
In closing, Campbell provided a few words about his favorite song in the show and about working with this talented cast and crew.
"My favorite production number is the title song, 'Oklahoma.' That song captures the energy of the show and highlights the coming together of the community," explained Campbell.
"The Guild is investing a lot in this show in order to commemorate their 70th anniversary. For that reason the resources utilized to bring this production together are unlike any prior show. We have a fantastic orchestra, breathtaking sets and costumes, and a dedicated cast. Although Guild shows are always professional and quality production, this run of Oklahoma! will be exceptional and will have audiences craving more!"
Oklahoma! Opens on November 8th, 2019 at the Charleston Coliseum and Convention Center Little Theater and will run through November 24th, 2019. Tickets can be purchased online through CLOG'S website. Tickets cost $25.00. The Little Theater is located at 200 Civic Center Drive, Charleston, WV 25301.
All photos used in this article are property of Brian Marrs.