The play may be called “Oklahoma!” but some of its cast members call Lutz home.
The Patel Conservatory is presenting the famous Rodgers and Hammerstein musical from May 1 through May 10 at the David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Art’s Teco Theater, 1010 N. MacInnes Place in Tampa. The production features students in grades five through 12, as well as some professional actors.
“Oklahoma!” is the story of Curly McLain, his love interest Laurey Williams, and his rival, Jud Fry. Set in the territory of Oklahoma in 1906 as the area approaches statehood, those characters and others resolve their romantic relationships with a social dance as a backdrop.
It has enjoyed several runs on Broadway and London’s West End, as well as national tours, film and audio recordings since its first run in 1943.
Among the 60 performers in the play are siblings Ryan and Victoria Santello of Lutz. Ryan plays Curly McLain, the show’s leading man. Victoria is a featured dancer.
They’re both excited to be part of the production.
“I love doing it because it’s a rush of energy. So many people are watching you, and they’re all enjoying it,” 15-year-old Victoria said.
After opening night, she offered this assessment: “It went well.”
Her performance requires a considerable amount of enthusiastic dancing, so it’s important that she has the right mindset going on stage each night. Since she doesn’t play a specific character, Victoria created one in her mind so she would have a role to play while dancing. The character has a flirty, bubbly personality, and she uses that identity to get the most out of her dancing and help convey the story.
For his part, 17-year-old Ryan had to challenge himself to take on the lead role. He watched Hugh Jackman’s take on Curly from the 1999 film around 30 times, revisiting certain scenes over and over. That was in addition to the hours of rehearsals each week in the months leading up to opening night.
Both Santellos attend Steinbrenner High.
Victoria said she appreciates being able to perform with her brother and watch him grow as an actor. She admits she was unsure how Ryan would fare in his first leading role, but was happy to see him grow into the part successfully.
“When we were in rehearsal, I would always be nervous for him,” Victoria said. “He’s doing really well. He’s come a long way from the first rehearsal.”
Ryan also is impressed with his sister’s performance. Since dancing takes so much work and energy, he didn’t want her getting hurt or struggling with the dances. But those concerns were put to rest once he saw her on stage.
“She’s doing awesome. Before the show, I didn’t know she could dance like that,” he said.
For Ryan, the hardest part wasn’t the singing or learning all the necessary lines. It was the way he had to say them.
“It’s the accent. It’s easy to get, but it’s hard to keep for a two-and-a-half hour show,” he said.
As a Florida native, a country accent isn’t his natural speaking style, but he focused on maintaining his pronunciation and is now able to keep it consistently. In fact, Ryan said it takes time to lose it when each performance is finished, so he’ll still be talking like his character is the car or at home that night.
Kara Goldberg, the play’s stage manager, said the Santellos’ hard work is paying off. While Victoria might not have a lead acting role, Goldberg said that a featured dancer requires at least as much rehearsal time and effort as any other part. The way the play is set up, dancing is integral to the play’s progress.
“She and all the other lead dancers, they help to tell story,” Goldberg said. “They do a great job of that. I’m up in the lighting booth, and I see her always ‘on’ when she’s on stage. She’s always in character, and that’s really something that we need in this show in particular.”
And while this was the first play where she’s worked with Ryan, Goldberg has taken note of his ability and work ethic.
“I can tell that he’s doing his homework,” she said. “When you’re an actor you have to do your homework, you have to look up words you don’t know in the script and you have to study your lines really well.”
With just a little encouragement, he was soon rehearsing off-book, meaning he didn’t have to refer to a script to practice.
Goldberg, who has been involved in theater for about 15 years, said at first she wasn’t sure how the play would turn out since it had so many young performers. But once she saw the dress rehearsal, she knew everyone was ready, and has been impressed as both a stage manager and a fan of the theater.
And the Santellos have been a big part of that. They’re doing great,” she said. I just think that they really enjoy performing.”
For information, call (813) 229-7827 or visit StrazCenter.org.
Published May 7, 2014