The talented young stars of Oklahoma! are making history – and can count the Queen as a fan

Four of the stars and a young fan. Left to right: Sophia Bonini, Conor Mellor, Reece McMahon and Caitlin Calgie. Photographs: David Harrison
29 Jul 2016 @ 12.54 pm
| Entertainment

For the first time in its long history, York’s Grand Opera House is about to stage blockbuster musical Oklahoma!

And its cast will be the talented stars of the future.

Oklahoma!

Grand Opera House, York

Thu Aug 4-Sat Aug 6 @ 7.30pm; Sat matinee @ 2.30pm

£18.90

More details and book

The show is being put on for this year’s Stage Experience, the annual, intensive two-week project for ten to 21 year olds.

They are directed by professional director and choreographer Louise Denison, and the musical director Adam Laird.

As well as budding actors, Stage Experience welcomes young and aspiring theatre technicians, who will work with the professional team on sound, lighting, set, props and costumes.

“The first show ever written by the Rodgers and Hammerstein team guarantees to be another blockbuster for our Stage Experience team,” said producer Clare O’Connor.

“It has something for everyone – a good story, big songs, catchy tunes, dance routines, and love interests – all of which will showcase the enormous wealth of talent in our cast and crew.”

We caught up with some of the young stars and asked them about their roles.

Conor Mellor

‘It's scary trying to meet expectations for the song’ – Conor Mellor
‘It’s scary trying to meet expectations for the song’ – Conor Mellor

As Curly McLain, York actor Conor opens the show with Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’. The show centres around his attempts to woo farm girl Laurey Williams.

What have been the highlights of your theatrical career so far?

I think the highlights would include playing Link in Hairspray at the Grand Opera House, because it’s such a huge part in a big scale production on a huge stage in a beautiful theatre, biggest role to date. Also singing with world famous songwriter Scott Alan at the Hippodrome in London’s Leicester Square.


What’s it like to open a show like Oklahoma with the title number?

It’s intimidating for sure, especially because the song and show are both so well-known it’s scary trying to meet expectations for the song while setting the scene for the show, and trying to add my own spin on the world famous melody.


Why do audiences always take Curly to their hearts?

I think because he’s just the kind of kind hearted character everyone wishes they had as a best friend. He’s bubbly, headstrong and confident which instantly makes you notice him and when his softer side appears and he becomes more romantic, then you see his sweet side and it’s really touching.


Which is your favourite moment of the show and why?

The opening to Act 2 because of how fun the whole The Farmer and the Cowman number is, upbeat and just makes your toes tap. It just makes me feel good and I’m sure it will have the same effect on the audience!


Caitlin Calgie

‘This cast is making history’ – Caitlin Galgie
‘This cast is making history’ – Caitlin Calgie

Caitlin, from Great Ayton near Middlesbrough, stars as Laurey Williams. She’s the headstrong young woman who gets into a tangle with another man before the inevitable happy ending with Curly.

What have been the highlights of your theatrical career so far?

I’ve been performing in musicals since I was eight and it’s hard to choose a favourite out of all the ones I have done. The most professional ones I’ve performed in though have, without a doubt, been the Stage Experience shows at the Grand Opera House in York.

Our House was my first and it was so much fun: the choreography and energy in West Side Story was amazing, while Oklahoma! has all those ingredients and more, which is why it has remained a favourite through the years.

To be playing Laurey – my first lead role – means that it will always have a special place in my heart from now on.


How would you describe Laurey, and how have you approached playing her?

The character of Laurey is quite mature and knowledgeable about life – or as much as she can be without never having left the homestead and her local community. I think she draws on Aunt Eller a lot for her strength, and knowledge.

I found Laurey’s character quite easy to relate to because, like me, she wants to be friends with everyone and not hurt or upset people. Which is why, even when her heart tells her that she should be with Curly, she still goes to the box social with Judd.

She promised she would and she sticks by that promise, despite her gut instinct, and I think that loyalty and sense of duty is really admirable.


How do you see the role of the female characters in the show?

The show is from an era where the men did all the physical work and the women stayed at home, doing the cooking and laundry and it never occurred to them that they should do any different. Nowadays, we like to think that roles are equal and can be shared but that’s still not true everywhere.

Even today’s farmers are only able to be out in the fields for such long hours because they have the support of their wives/ partners back at home.

The strongest female character is Aunt Eller – she shares her knowledge with everyone else and is quite able to stand up for herself and be independent and I think that is a quality that she has passed onto Laurey. Having said that, there is a hint now and again that Aunt Eller would love to have a man sharing her life!


What’s it like being in the first production of Oklahoma! ever staged at the theatre?

It’s weird to think that this cast is making history as we perform, and it’s definitely something that I will be tell my children about in the future!

What’s also amazing is that we are performing it in the same year when we discovered that the Queen loves the title song. As part of her 90th birthday celebrations, Her Majesty’s Top Ten Tunes was released and we learned that she loves listening to hymns and musicals – but that Oklahoma is her number one favourite!

It’s probably too late to invite her to come and watch but maybe we should send her a recording as a late birthday present!


Reece McMahon

‘Being a cowboy is such fun’ – Reece McMahon
‘Being a cowboy is such fun’ – Reece McMahon

Reece, also from York, plays Will Parker, a cowboy who hopes to marry Ado Annie – but first he must win her from love rival Ali Hakim.

What have been the highlights of your theatrical career so far?

Even though my theatrical career has seen my do many things from perform in Edinburgh, London and all across Yorkshire, the highlight has to be coming back to York and taking part in Stage Experience. The quality and scale of the productions that take place every summer are astounding and I always love every role I play. I particularly loved playing the lead Joe Casey in Our House in 2014 and that production was testament to how great the Stage Experience team are!


How have you approached being a cowboy?

Being a cowboy is such fun! From day one I’ve been in the cowboy boots dancing and prancing around and it’s brilliant!

I played Willard in Footloose (2013), a similar yet more modern version of the role I’m playing in this show so it’s great that this time I really get to play on the old fashioned cowboy stereotype and have a lot of fun at the same time.

My favourite aspect is the Oklahoma dialect and accent, at first it’s a bit of a mouthful but once you get your head around it you can have a lot of fun playing with certain words and phrases.


Why do you think the show has endured all these years and still appeals to modern audiences?

I think because Oklahoma is R&H’s first musical it’s become a bit of a stalwart in the theatre world and culturally quite important. It’s truly one of the classics and nothing these days comes anywhere close to its style and flair.

It appeals to modern audiences because it follows a very traditional structure and ultimately explores themes that are very human and still relevant to us all to day, romance and friendship.

Throw in a couple of catchy and well known songs such as The Farmer and the Cowman, Oh What a Beautiful Mornin and obviously Oklahoma! that are brilliantly written and have wonderful vocal arrangements then you’ve naturally got a musical that will survive the test of time.