Hazel Park Drama Club goes to ‘Oklahoma!’

Students will perform classic musical March 26-28

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published March 25, 2015


HAZEL PARK — Each year, the Hazel Park Drama Club has a play in the fall and a musical in the spring. For this year’s musical, it’s winding back the clock to the turn of the 20th century, for a tale of romance and rivalry out west.

The retelling of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic “Oklahoma!” is one that director Shawn Polito hopes will help the audience to appreciate the “pre-pop-rock” days of musicals. The production will be held March 26, 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. each night, in the auditorium of Hazel Park High School, located at 23400 Hughes. Tickets are $5 for students and $6 for adults. For the March 26 premiere, students can get in for $4.

The students have been hard at work on the musical for months now, Polito said. Since they started back in January, they’ve been rehearsing every day, from 3-5:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays. On Saturdays, they work for four to five hours on building the sets and props.

“Everything you see is all built by them,” Polito said. “We have a couple adult volunteers who assist with things, but for the most part, the students run everything.”

Due to the limited stage space, this means the students have had to be clever with the set designs, crafting double-sided sets that can be turned around during transitions to change the scenery in a play that takes place entirely outdoors. You have the front porch of a farmhouse, a windmill, some fences and a clothesline, all made to look authentic to the time period. The wood shop at Hazel Park High even crafted a full-size wagon, which will make an appearance at the very end of the play.

The actors will be fully costumed, and the high school band will provide music from the orchestral pit. It’s been a few years since the Hazel Park Drama Club has used live music in its productions. And each dance number is choreographed by two HPHS graduates and former drama club members: Kelsey Altman and the assistant director, Megan Cory.

The tale focuses on the cowboy Curly and the farm girl Laurey. They have feelings for each other but are too stubborn to admit it. Meanwhile, the farmhand Jud Fry, a dangerously disturbed individual, tries to come between them, with his sights set on Laurey.

The musical has a cast of about 26 actors, including the five or six major characters. Sierra Kobel, a senior at Hazel Park High, is playing the lead.

“When she started with us, years ago, she was only interested in being on the crew, and she was one of the best, and still is. But as the years progressed, she became more interested in being on stage,” Polito said. “When she finally auditioned, she sang, and she has the most beautiful singing voice. I had no choice but to cast her.”

Hazel Park High Principal Don Vogt said the students’ passion is evident, whether they’re in the spotlight onstage or working on the more technical elements of the show.

“The kids here in drama — and this has gone on for at least the 14 years I’ve been here — the kids never cease to amaze me each year,” Vogt said. “Dedication? You bet. They all do a tremendous job. I’ve had people come here, over the years, who say they’ve seen productions at other high schools that have more money for things like revolving stages, and they tell me that pound per pound, from the standpoint of the kids enjoying themselves, they’d rather see our productions. Hearing that always makes me feel good inside.”

This musical marks the last production that Polito will be directing. He’s held the role for eight years, and prior to that he was the assistant director, and prior to that, a student himself in the drama club. All in all, he’s been with the group for about 20 years.

As for the reason why he’s stepping down, “It has to do with my family,” Polito said. “I have two small children. It’s become more difficult to balance the time running the drama program, working my day job, and helping raise my children.”

In the fall, he’ll assist the new director in any way they need.

“I’ll still be around,” Polito said.

For his last musical, the goal is to help the audience appreciate the intimacy of theater.

“‘Oklahoma!’ is a classic the audience may know by name, but they’re not familiar with it because it’s older. And I think the students need to know there’s more to theater than just the modern, flashy, pop-rock musical,” Polito said. “This is about the roots of musical theater in this country. Everyone is used to big-budget productions with millions of dollars involved. This is a much more intimate experience, between an audience and a live performer. There’s just something you can’t replicate any other way.”

The Hazel Park Drama Club’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical “Oklahoma!” will take place March 26, 27 and 28, at 7 p.m. each night, in the auditorium of Hazel Park High School, located at 23400 Hughes. Tickets are $5 for students and $6 for adults. For the March 26 premiere, students can get in for $4.