I sat down with Ray Kennedy, long time director/choreographer for Opera House Theater Company at the Oklahoma! wrap party on a warm Sunday afternoon in a saloon-like venue in Historic Downtown Wilmington, NC. A sense of graceful accomplishment sounded clearly in his sigh as we began to chat. Ray Kennedy has been with Opera House Theater Company for over 25 years in all of the many facets of theater.
Beginning as an actor with the Company, Mr. Kennedy was later hired by Lou Criscuolo as a main director and chorepgrapher. 'Opera House is where I honed my craft.' Mr. Kennedycurrently lives in New York City and his vast dedication to the Opera House Theater Company has him commuting down to Wilmington, NC to conduct summer rehearsals. 'We decided when I moved (to NYC) that we would experiment with me flying back and forth on the weekends to direct for the summer shows and it's proven sucessful.' Mr. Kennedy has been making dedicated travels for 3 years and counting.
'The process is fast and intense. Four weekends of a 10am to 10pm format. The schedule was meticulously structured. There was no time to work without a plan and there is very little room for exploration. If something wasn't working I'd come back the next weekend and change it.' The cast was large, orchestrating 55 people on and off stage. Particularly, the dancing sections were intensive. 'Those hours become very precious' to the overall product.
As a classically trained musician, Mr. Kennedy began his 'love affiar with musical theater' during his first high school production of Oklahoma! where he began his journey. With his sister watching, a sense of familial community was reinforced in the process and performance of Oklahoma!.
'To finally be directing and choreographing Oklahoma! has been extremely fufilling.' As a director/choreographer with a musical background Mr. Kennedy says, 'you must listen to what the music is saying. The music is an extension of the script. So you must ask, what is the script saying? I intentionally listened to the music and the words and stuck to that. Generally, you should not steer away from those instincts. If it feels false, it is false.'
Oklahoma! is famous for introducing and highlighting classical ballet in a Musical Theater show. Mr. Kennedy focused intently on the Dream Ballet that closes Act I.
'I agree with Agnes De Mille that the Dream Ballet gives us (the audience) a chance to get in to Lori's mind. The Dream Ballet is a vehicle to learn more about Lori. When choreographing the Dream Ballet my intention was to stay clear with the story even down to the postcards (of the french saloon women) that come to life. The dancing was not about how many a la seconde turns the dancers could execute.' Instead, Mr. Kennedy used the mysticism that is seen in ballet and in dreams to drive the choreographic choices in the dream narative. 'I had dancers and nondancers come up to me after the show and say it was their favorite part.'
The choreography in the waking life of the show was 'based on classical technique combined with traditional square dancing and a touch of appalchine clogging' relating to a Carolinian Audience. 'The choerography was mainly based around what they did (1907, Oklahoma) with a hieghtened level of technique to honor the theater,' said Mr. Kennedy.
The love affair with Musical theater and those that exist in the plot of Oklahoma! holds signifigance in the modern world according the Mr. Kennedy.
'The plot of Oklahoma! is set in history surrounding the politics of the land, where the main character in the show is the land itself. What is interesting is the themes are not dated. You have two love triangles (Ado Annie, Will Parker, and the Pedler, and Lori, Curly, and Jud.) The people who see the show understand navagating through the tretorous waters of relationships. That's the core of the show. There's nothing we can't relate to.It's timeless.'
As timeless as the music that guides Mr. Kennedy in the singing, acting, and dancing of Oklahoma! he finished our talk adamently saying, 'I'd like to say one more thing. Great music never goes out of style. When you hear the orchestra warming up each night and the audience appluading just after the overature, it proves to be a constant.'
He intently and sweetly kissed me on the cheek as we parted ways. Mr. Kennedy's southern charm, sincere artistry, and meticulous professionalism form a timeless triangle in an admirable director.