When I walked into the new Mead Center lobby during intermission on Oklahoma!‘s opening night, I heard several critics and theatergoers asking the same question over and over: “Who are these two young actors?” They were referring to June Schreiner and Cody Williams who had just ‘stolen’ the first act with their rousing performances of ‘I Cain’t Say No” and ‘Kansas City”.
It didn’t surprise me that June was stealing their hearts as Ado Annie. I have been a big fan since I saw her WATCH Award-winning performance as Little Sally in the musical Urinetown-The Musical at Reston Community Players. I had not seen Cody perform before and I was thrilled by his high energy athletic dancing and heart-felt performance as Will Parker.
Joel: What is Oklahoma! about from Ado Annie and Will Parker’s perspective?
June: With June, Oklahoma! is about transformation and maturation in every way. A territory is becoming a state, and Ado Annie is becoming a woman. She’s innocently curious about men and the attention she can get from them. She follows through without hesitation to explore what she doesn’t know about yet. To Ado Annie, Oklahoma! is about her journey into discovery and maturity.
Cody: In Will’s eyes Oklahoma! is all about getting “took up” with Ado Annie. From the minute he appears, his mission is to get happily married to her. Every struggle and conflict that he faces is all in the name of his love for Ado Annie.
Joel: Why did you want to play the roles, and how much of the real you are in these characters?
June: I wanted to play Ado Annie because I knew I would have a blast. I have so much fun and I can most definitely relate. Molly made the decision to have Ado be a teenager and she decided to cast me, a true 16-year-old, to do the role. Because of this, I feel a deep connection to Ado. She’s enthusiastic, energetic, optimistic and curious all in the same ways that I am in real life. Although I’m not as overeager as Ado Annie could be described as, I definitely understand all her motivation.
Cody: I wanted to play Will in this production because Will Parker has been one of my dream roles for a while. The fact that Oklahoma! was located at such an amazing venue didn’t hurt either.
I can really relate to Will because, like me, he knows exactly what he wants for his future, and he is bound and determined to get it. When I started working on this role, I made a point to really research the script and play every moment as if I were the first person to ever play it. In doing this, I chose to play with a ton of excitement (or as I like to say “bright-eyed, bushy-tailed-ness”) and determination. I’d say these are qualities that people often relate to Cody Williams. The fact that I actually find June Schreiner (who plays Ado Annie) so loveable and cute-as-a-button helps me relate to Will as well.
Joel: Tell us about your auditions.
June: I did my first audition in April and then had two more auditions in the course of three months. In total, I sang “I Cain’t Say No,” I read two scenes, and I learned part of the dance from “The Farmer and the Cowman Should be Friends,” for my auditions. I immediately felt connected to Ado when I read the scenes and sang the song. I guess I really felt like I could play her truthfully. So many times she’s portrayed as a fully-grown woman who will forever be a hopeless “hussy.” I see her as a real person who is still growing up and simply learning how to handle herself.
Cody: I originally went to a dance call in May. After a few dance callbacks, I sang “On the Street Where You Live”, and then I was asked to sing “Kansas City.” I knew that I could sing and dance the role well. I also knew my gymnastics and athleticism was something that would work well with Parker’s choreography. Besides those skills, I’ve always thought that my drive, masculinity, youthful charm, and passion were traits that would be great for Will Parker.
Joel: Do you remember your reaction when you heard you got the role?
June: I SCREAMED. I was at my house, when I got the call from a (202) number…. I saw the D.C. area code and I began to pace. When Dan [Pruksarnukul, Artistic Associate: Casting] told me that I got the part, I shrieked with joy and then immediately proceeded to apologize for potentially making him go deaf…. It was a wonderful day.
Cody: At my fifth callback for the role, it was obvious that I was in a room full of potential Will Parkers. After I sang and performed sides, the casting director came and whispered to me that he would love for me to come back that afternoon. Thinking it was a sixth callback, I came back and I was thrilled to find a hall full of Ado Annies. That was when I realized that everything was going my way.
Joel: You both have big numbers to introduce you to the audience – June, you have “I Cain’t Say No” and, Will, “Kansas City” is your showstopper. Set up the songs for us.
June: Right before my number, Ado Annie is off on a rendezvous with the peddler Ali Hakim. She leaves him for a minute to visit Laurey and Aunt Eller, her second family. Laurey is trying to remind Ado about Will and shoots off the song by telling her “Well, you can’t just go around kissing every man that asks you, didn’t anybody ever tell you that?” To which Ado sings her explanation.
Ado Annie is an incredibly brave girl for being so honest with herself. In her song, she is bluntly telling herself and her best friend, Laurey, that she simply can’t say no! And she’s aware that it’s a problem but she knows she’s not ready to solve it yet. Her body has just begin to shout at her, and she’s not going to stop listening to it till she has a real understanding of everything that she feels and wants. I am honestly in awe of Ado for being able to completely tell the truth all the time. I can relate to the feelings that she has but I definitely show more hesitation, stemming from rational thinking that she lacks.
Cody: For the past month, Will has been gone. He rode his horse for two weeks straight in order to get to Kansas City to compete in a rodeo. The winner of the rodeo got 50 dollars; Ado Annie’s paw told Will if he could get 50 dollars he could marry her. Will not only won the rodeo, but he saw some incredible new-fangled things and did some fine shopping. The song starts when he finally gets back to his dear friend Aunt Eller’s house and he can no longer contain his excitement about what he has seen.
I personally relate to the song by remembering my excitement the first time I explored the Innoventions Pavilion when it first opened at Epcot at Disney World. Innoventions housed some of the most amazing things I had ever seen, from a lawn mower that cut the grass by itself, to a computer that typed whatever you said.
Joel: You both come in and grab the audience and never let go. How do you accomplish this?
June: Wow, that’s so nice. Thanks so much Joel! But I honestly just have fun! I stay as true to Ado and to the story as I can. I relive it every single night.
Cody: Thanks for such a nice compliment! In this show I have so much fun, and I believe that is the key. The role has songs that really let me sing. Parker has choreographed an incredible number for me to dance, and the show has scenes that I can really commit to and have so much fun. I absolutely have the time of my life doing Oklahoma!
Joel: Cody, tell us about Parker Esse’s choreography for “Kansas City”.
Cody: Parker did such an incredible job of choreographing this song. The number starts by Will teaching the guys the fancy new dances he learned in Kansas City. Once they get it they all burst into a fantastic unison dance having the time of their lives. All of the steps are athletic and reminiscent of a hoedown. For me the most difficult part is breathing in the middle of all the intense movement.
Joel: You perform the duet “All er Nuthin’” in the Second Act. What has happened to your characters that leads up to this song?
June: Immediately before the number, Will has shown the whole community, and most importantly Ado and her dad, that he has raked up the $50 that is needed for him to get Ado’s hand in marriage. So this is the “engagement song” I would say. They discuss and try to figure out the balance that is marriage.
Cody: Since Will spent his 50 dollars on presents for Ado Annie, he is no longer allowed to marry her. He then finds out that she is now promised to the peddler Ali Hakim. Through a ton of finagling, Will once again gets 50 dollars so Ado Annie is once again promised to him. As he is trying to set up their wedding date, she again slips into thinking about other guys. “All er Nuthin’” is where Will finally puts his foot down and gives her an ultimatum.
Joel: What advice did Director Molly Smith give you?
June: Molly encouraged me to play Ado Annie as truly as I could. Ado’s head works as fast as lightening and her attention is constantly being shifted. Molly really worked with me on making the changes in her thought process be super fast, but also very clear.
Cody: Aside from amazing technical advice about things like diction, timing and how to play in the round, Molly really helped me realize how Ado Annie is Will’s main driving force in life. She also really has taught me so much about keeping the show fresh because, since I just graduated from school, I’ve never performed a show for more than two weeks.
Joel: You are performing in the round in The Fichandler. What were some of the challenges in rehearsals trying to stage the show in this space, and challenges now for both of you when you perform the show?
June: It is so strange to perform in the round but so wonderful because the audience is all around us. They are completely part of our world! In rehearsals, it was definitely hard to make sure that we faced all four sides of the audience as evenly as possible. Another hard part is to make sure that you’re always on an angle with your scene partner. This way as much of the audience will be able to see each actor as possible.
Cody: Well, because I had never performed in the round before Molly had to teach me the technical things that are so important for being in that kind of space – like standing shoulder to shoulder and never being on the same plane with your scene partner, and how much diction and volume is required so that people looking at the back of your head can understand every word you say. Once we started performing the show, I realized that I have to make sure that I am really specific with staying on top of all of these things. Our wonderful stage manager, Sue White, really helps remind me if I start to let a moment slide.
Joel: You are working with stage veterans in the show – E. Faye Butler and Hugh Nees – and Musical Director George Fulginiti-Shakar. What have you learned from them?
June: They have taught me so much! From life lessons, to theater etiquette, to technique… I have learned so much from them. I will forever be grateful to them for everything they’ve done for me!
Cody: Working with all of the veterans in the show has been a really great experience. Every single one of them has taught me so many different things. For me, it is one of the best perks of being a performer. Constantly, I am working with, and therefore learning from, new people. I think a valuable lesson I’ve learned from E. Faye, Hugh and George is the benefit of relaxing and staying focused backstage. It really helps me stay focused and present onstage.
Joel: What is your favorite song from Oklahoma! that you don’t sing or dance in?
June: “The Surrey with the Fringe On Top” is definitely my favorite because it is such a good song! And Nick has SUCH a beautiful voice that I just love it. The girls in my dressing room and I also have an interpretive dance that we do to “Surrey” every night…. It is loads of fun.
Cody: I have always loved Jud’s song “Lonely Room.” It was one of those songs I used to listen to over and over again on my iPod. I think the reason I like it so much is because of how the character gets swept up in the beautiful imagery of his dreams only to come crashing back to reality. And then I love how his dreams give him so much sense of fight and determination.
Joel: Let’s talk about you. Where did you receive your acting, vocal, and dance training?
June: I have taken acting, voice and a few dance lessons. but I think I’ve really learned the most from actually doing shows and from all the directors and actors that I’ve worked with. Andy Regiec was my first director and I definitely owe a lot of my success to him. The Reston Community Players (where I did my first show) is like family to me, and I will never be able to thank everyone there enough for getting me started and continuing to support me through everything!
Cody: I didn’t really have any formal training or performing experience until high school. Out of pure luck I got talked into going to a performing arts magnet school outside Atlanta where I grew up. Pebblebrook High School is a great school that really got me dancing, acting, singing and tumbling. Aside from just training at Pebblebrook, I got to take a great deal of amazing classes at Atlanta Ballet. After high school, I was so fortunate to attend the top musical theater program in the country at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music. The goal of the program is to produce triple threats, and I feel that my performance in Oklahoma! is a testament to the school. I finished up in Cincinnati in April and moved to New York. There I study acting with Joan Rosenfels, dance with Wilhelm Burmann, and voice with Chad Johnson. All three are world-class teachers to say the least.
Joel: What was your first appearance on the stage? Why did you want to become an actor/dancer?
June: My first show was Honk! with the Reston Community Players. I was a duckling! I loved every moment of that show and it was really what made me realize that I want to do this. I loved the feeling of being onstage and being able to express myself!
Cody: When I was in second grade I did a summer camp where we put on a play. I was cast in the role of “Young John Travolta” and absolutely had a blast. However, it wasn’t until I was performing in the fall musical, Footloose, my freshman year of high school that I truly decided that this is what I wanted to do for my career.
The reason I wanted to become an actor was because I love getting to experience the world from so many different perspectives. I went to school to learn how to play pretend professionally. Learning how to really use my voice and body is such a great plus as well. I only have one life. When I’m old it will make me so happy looking back and knowing that I got to dress up like a cowboy and sing and do flips to entertain thousands of people.
Joel: What makes this production of Oklahoma! so special, and why do you think audiences are loving it?
June: I think this production is special because we have so much fun onstage, because the audience is so close to the stage, and because the audience is all the way around us. They truly feel like they are a part of the world and we truly embrace them as being a part of that world. It’s a pretty young cast, and definitely an energetic one. I think we all love one another and we send out that love to all the 600 people in the audience.
Cody: The creative team was absolutely outstanding on this production. Everything from the costumes, set, lights, orchestrations, and choreography are top notch. They all do a great job of working with Molly’s direction, which makes this production more gritty and realistic – an Oklahoma! that has more of a “dirt under your finger nails” sort of feel. When you combine these things with heartfelt and committed performances and an outstanding show to begin with – you have a recipe for success!
Joel: You are a junior at the Madeira School in McLean, VA. How are you juggling school and performing in Oklahoma!
June: It’s really been hard but I’m doing it because I have to! I don’t have the option of skipping school, or of not doing my homework so I just get it done. I usually do homework during my breaks in the show, and in between shows on Saturdays and Sundays. I can’t remember what “bored” feels like!
Joel: I sat with your beaming parents on opening night. What advice did and have they offered you during this very exciting experience?
June: I first want to say to them-THANK YOU for everything! They are constantly supportive. They have really encouraged me to balance school and the show and put everything I can into both… while staying healthy. Couldn’t do it without you Mom and Dad!
In addition to being incredible parents, they have taught me to be truthful, simple, clear, smart and brave with my acting. They have always encouraged me to make bold decisions and to follow through all the way. They are the best!
Joel: Why should DC area audiences come and see Oklahoma! at the new Mead Center?
June: Because we are telling the story of transformation and growth! It’s a story everyone needs to hear and everyone can relate to! Every single character in the show becomes something new or is becoming something new by the end of the show. We can inspire people to take that leap into furthering his or her growth as a human being. We are all territories just waiting to become beautiful, thriving states! And plus… it is loads of fun!
Cody: This production is a really special one. Oklahoma! is the quintessential American musical. Our version of the show is full of heart, skill and creativity. It’s a show that will make the audience do everything from laughing until their sides hurt to tearing up with pride and patriotism. You don’t want to miss this show in one of country’s most beautiful theater spaces.
DCTS review of Oklahoma!