The shows were performed at the Russellville High School auditorium.

The shows were performed at the Russellville High School auditorium.

By Donna Wilkerson For the NDL

Students from Russellville and Logan County recently participated in a week-long drama camp that culminated in three public performances of the musical, "Oklahoma!"

Based on a 1931 play by Lyon Riggs entitled Green Grow the Lilacs, the musical adaptation focuses on farm girl Laurey Williams (played by Katie Ray Holloman) and her two rival suitors, Curly (play by Sammy Henley) and Jud (played by Aaron Cunningham). Laurey's neighbor, Ado Annie (played by Emma Grace Gwynette) also has two suitors competing for her attention: farm boy Will (played by Joshua Lawrence) and peddler Ali (played by Josh Proctor). The sage Aunt

Eller (played by Keyleigh Harlan) presides over the resulting shenanigans as a variety of friends, neighbors, and townspeople attend a pie auction, a dance, a fight, and, ultimately, a wedding.

Rounding out the Oklahoma! cast were Elijah Corbin, Lucy Graves, Chrys Avila, Allyson Thomas, Jennifer Wilkerson, Teresa Avila, Graciann Beard, Carolina Gwynette, Bailey Howell, Lily Buffa, Gracie Langley, Patience Sanchez, Alison Moore, Brylie Person, Isadora Perez, Leah Buffa, Abigail Brown, Na'Khyla Duncan, Kilby Long, Lizzie Langley, Taylor Gwynette, Paul Quincy Perez, and Lane Bibb.

In addition to singing, dancing, and acting, drama camp students made many new friends. The annual camp sponsored by the Russellville Arts Council blends together Russellville and Logan County students, as well as a few students who are home-schooled or attend school in an adjoining county. While some of the students are acquainted through other extracurricular activities, the time spent in drama camp is unique because, rather than competing on rival teams, students from different schools work together to collaborate on a production of which everyone can be proud.

During the week, students also learned some history (Oklahoma was still a territory at the time the musical is set), some interesting trivia (Oklahoma! was the first show written by legendary musical collaborators Rodgers and Hammerstein, winning a special Pulitzer Prize and enjoying at least six revivals, including a 2019 Broadway revival), and some important life facts: retired folks and teachers on "summer vacation" sometimes put in more hours than those who go to a regular job every day, and volunteers can make priceless contributions to the community.

Speaking of creatively inspired, hardworking, and tireless volunteers, Russellville Arts Council president, Larry Vaught (a retired music teacher), served as director of the production. This year marks almost a decade of summer musical productions under Mr. Vaught's capable direction; other productions have included School House Rock, Aladdin, Cinderella, The Music Man, Beauty & the Beast, Suessical the Musical, Jungle Book, and The Lion King (he has also helped with Logan County middle school and high school productions). Russellville High School assistant band director Trevor Cardwell served as music director, and drama camp alumnus Sarah Brown was the choreographer. RHS art teacher Chris Holloman worked his always-impressive artistic magic, turning the deGraffenried Auditorium stage into a farm in rural Oklahoma at the turn of the century. Costume director Rebecca Gwynette worked with MCTI Theater in Greenville and others to provide appropriate costuming (cowboy boots, hats, and lots of flannel shirts for the boys and prairie dresses, long skirts, and aprons for the girls) to transform contemporary middle and high school students into 1906 farmers, ranchers, and townspeople.

Logan Aluminum was the corporate sponsor of the camp this year, generously providing funds for the show kit and license necessary to teach and perform the play. RHS band director Brian Brown and Mr. Eddie Brooks provided assistance with sound, lights, and video. RHS student Noah Brown acted as stage manager, with technical and backstage assistance from fellow students Eli Baker, Taylor Corbin, Jayden Hammer, Karissa Holloman, and MyDuyen Tran. Betty's Antiques, Connie Sitz, and several community members lent props and other items to help set the stage for the production. Hannah Lawrence and Jaclyn Batchelor -- both also drama camp alumni -- pitched in as vocal and life coaches. Dr. James Dobson and Jean Oberhausen contributed to the camp by providing healthy snacks and drinks for the campers. Kerry Holloman coordinated a cast party between the afternoon and evening shows on Saturday. Iris Perez and Donna Wilkerson helped with decorations and photography.

Students had a special treat this year -- a surprise visit from a couple with ties to both the family upon whom the musical is based and Logan County. Mr. Neil McNeill is the grandson of Laura Thompson, the inspiration for the character Laurey Williams, the young woman whom both Curly and Jud are seeking to court in the play. Mr. McNeill explained to the students that, while his grandmother and some of the other characters in the musical were real people in the town in which the playwright grew up, their stories didn't necessarily turn out the way they were portrayed on the stage. (For example, his grandmother did marry, but she did not marry Curly or Jud.) The relationships between the parties were also different in real life; "Aunt" Eller was actually his great-grandmother, Mary Thompson, and "Ado Anna" was just a made-up name for his grandmother's sister.

Mr. McNeill's wife, the former Cheryl Huffines, is a 1978 graduate of RHS. The couple was in town for Mrs. McNeill's high school reunion, heard about the play through social media, and decided to stop by. Interestingly, Mrs. McNeill saw Oklahoma! on Broadway back in 1979, before she met her future husband, and "absolutely loved" it. Although Mrs. McNeill did not perform in any high school musicals at RHS, she was an active student, serving as co-editor of the yearbook, president of the National Honor Society and the Oakville 4-H Club; she was also in the science club and was the recipient of the deGraffenreid Award when she graduated. She enjoyed coming back to the school and the deGraffenreid Auditorium (where her graduation was held) to watch the arts council production of Oklahoma! She thought it was a very good production and was amazed that the actors pulled off such an impressive performance after only a week-long camp (plus a few more practices for principals). When informed that all of the adults who helped with the play were volunteers, Mrs. McNeill stated, "Volunteers definitely make the world what it is!" She, herself, has been a Girl Scouts volunteer for more than 20 years.

To learn more about upcoming events sponsored by the arts council, check out their Facebook page or contact Mr. Larry Vaught at