Wild, wild west comes to Kent Stark

Ron Soltys

The Kent State Stark Theatre department performed its third production of the season last weekend at the Stark campus. “Oklahoma!” opened Feb. 16 and will run until March 4. The musical, directed by Phillip Robb, features a mix of Kent State students and other experienced actors and actresses.

Despite cold and icy conditions, the theater was packed each night.

“We had a very good turnout so far,” Robb said. “We are expecting larger crowds as the word of mouth gets out.”

Robb has worked at the Stark campus since 1971, and “Oklahoma!” marks his 129th major production since his start.

The cast and crew have been rehearsing four days a week since Jan. 2.

“The cast is more interested in the production than they are in themselves,” Robb said. “They really enjoy performing the show and working with each other – that is a rare combination in a show.”

“Oklahoma!” is the first show the department has produced this semester. In the fall, it produced two shows: “Glengarry Glen Ross” in September and “A Man’s a Man” in November. “Top Girls” will be produced in April.

Although scenery wasn’t elaborate, it allowed audience members to visualize the time period. The set included a small wooden framed house and an illustrated backdrop of a Western sunset.

Live amnumition and lighting that changed colors with the mood added to the excitment of the show.

Kristin Benner, senior theater and dance major, plays the part of Ado Annie Carnes, a boisterous, flirty young woman living in turn of the century Oklahoma. She performed numerous songs, including “Can’t Say No,” which brought about cheers of laughter from the audience.

At the end of the show, all cast members harmonized in the musical’s theme song “Oklahoma!”

“It has been so much fun working with the “Oklahoma!” group, and I will definitely be auditioning for more shows here,” Benner said. She has also been involved in various other theatrical productions in Hudson, Tallmadge, Kent State and the Carousel Theatre in Akron.

Benner’s onstage leading man Bart Herman said it was a joy to work with such a great cast and crew. Herman played a stereotypical cowboy in the wild west and impressed audience members with his wide range of vocals.

“This is the best cast I have ever worked with,” Herman said. “The staff has been terrific and very welcoming.”

“Oklahoma!” is the first Kent State Stark show Herman has been a part of. He has performed across Ohio in various productions including the outdoor drama “Trumpet in the Land” and Broadway musical “Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding” in Cleveland.

The show has drawn community members including Stark county resident Shirley Mitchell, who attended the Sunday matinee with her 10-year-old daughter.

Mitchell said her daughter enjoyed the show and hopes to bring her back to another show in the future.

“This was my first time attending a show here at Kent State, and I really did enjoy it.they did an excellent job,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said her daughter, Kaytlan, prepared for the show by listening to the musical soundtrack for weeks before the performance.

“I loved it. I even sang along to the songs that I knew, but I didn’t sing too loud though,” Kaytlan said.

All performances of “Oklahoma!” begin at 8 p.m. in the Kent State Stark Fine Arts Theatre, with the exception of a matinee performance at 2:30 p.m. on March 4.

Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for non-Kent State students, children under 17 and senior citizens. Tickets for Kent State students are free with a current student ID.

For reservations or group rates, contact the Kent State Stark Theatre Box Office at (330) 244-3348.

Contact Regional Campuses Reporter Abby Laner at [email protected].