Curly (L, Anthony Cataldo) plays it smooth with Laurey (Lauren Drewello) in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Oklahoma!” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Curly (L, Anthony Cataldo) plays it smooth with Laurey (Lauren Drewello) in Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts’ production of “Oklahoma!” Photo by Gary Nieter, Times-Union.
Playing the roles of Laurey Williams and Curly McLain in Wagon Wheel Theatre’s production of “Oklahoma!,” Lauren Drewello and Anthony Cataldo may experience moments of déjá vu.

That’s because Drewello and Cataldo have played the same roles before within the last two years.

“I’ve actually had the privilege of playing her before so it’s really cool to revisit it after two years. It’s kind of special,” Drewello said.

She played Laurey the summer after her freshman year at Montclair State University back home in southern Maryland.

“Now it’s the summer before my senior year at Montclair State so lots can happen in two years,” Drewello said.

She said she’s playing Laurey a little differently this time around.

“I think in two years you grow a lot as an individual and I’ve grown a lot as an actor. And working with (director) Tony (Humrichouser), he’s incredible with his insight of how he wanted to create our version of Laurey, me bringing what I created but also getting rid of some of the things I did in the past and creating something entirely new. So it’s definitely different than what I did before,” she said.

Cataldo, who was born and raised in North Carolina, played Curly in summer 2018.

“So it’s very interesting. And Lauren and I have both talked about, like both having to revisit the show. She played Laurey and I played Curly, but at different times in different productions. So it’s fun to revisit it,” he said.

He said in the last production of “Oklahoma!” he was in, he played opposite another actress as Laurey and Drewello played opposite another Curly.

“So she’s giving me different things and I’m giving her different things than we’re used to. But it’s nice because also what Tony, our director, is bringing to it is such a sincerity and just an honestness about the people and who they are. It’s a very genuine, honest, grounded production, which is very nice,” Cataldo said.

He said the songs – like “The Surrey with the Fringe on Top” and “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” – are classics and quickly came back to him. The dialogue wasn’t much different.

“This is so weird to say but whenever Lauren and I were talking about it, it’s almost like Shakespeare because it has such a meter to it and it just kind of flows. So when I was looking over my script again, it just kind of all came back because it just flows so easily,” he said.

Cataldo said most people would never think about comparing Shakespeare to “Oklahoma!” because “they’re two vastly different things” but “it just flows so easily.”

Cataldo, who is enjoying his first summer at the Wagon Wheel, was R.F. Simpson in “Singing in the Rain” and Mr. Wormwood in “Matilda.”

Audiences may remember Drewello played Miss Honey in “Matilda,” but as Laurey, Drewello sees a lot of herself in her.

“She’s a dreamer and she’s a little stubborn, a little sassy. But she’s just so well and it’s a testament to Rodgers and Hammerstein and the book writer and all the things that came together to make ’Oklahoma!’ this beautiful, well-crafted show. It truly is like Shakespeare for musical theater because everything is there. And just to sing these songs and say these words, it’s an actor’s playground,” Drewello said.

“Oklahoma!” was the first musical written by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Based on the 1931 play “Green Grow the Lilacs,” it’s set outside of Claremore, Okla., in 1906.

It just won several Tony Awards, including best revival of a musical.

“It just celebrated its 75th anniversary a couple of years ago and it’s still just one of those shows that everyone will continue to do because there’s messages and storylines that even now still relate to us,” Drewello said.

Cataldo said, “I think one, especially with this show, is this show absolutely revolutionized musical theater, like modern-day music theater. Before now, you didn’t see people acting and singing and dancing all at the same time. ... But with ‘Oklahoma!,’ they really pulled all three of them together and made a beautiful piece of art that obviously has lasted 75 years already. And that music, I think, just aids in that. It’s so melodic and it invokes ... such a sense of patriotism and the world that would be neat to have now.”

He said it talks about the land and the people.

The basic synopsis of the show is that it tells the story of a farm girl, Laurey, who is being courted by two rivals, cowboy Curly and farmhand Jud Fry. There’s also a secondary story involving another cowboy, Will Parker, and his fiancee, Ado Annie.

Cataldo said, “I think it’s so interesting because I think when people think of ‘Oklahoma!’ they think of Curly being the good guy and Jud being the bad guy. Like a very stark white and black. But I don’t think it’s like that. I think that just like life, not everybody is all good, not everybody is all bad.”

He said Curly is obviously trying to get the girl and seems like the all-American pretty boy cowboy.

“You could say he’s the ‘obvious’ choice, but Jud is so endearing. Jud is trying just as hard as Curly, but in a different way,” Cataldo said.

There’s a scene in Jud’s smokehouse where another side of Curly and Jud are shown.

“It’s so difficult as an actor to do because Michael (Pacholski, who plays Jud) is my friend and I don’t want to hurt him or anything, but Curly is the one antagonizing and no one is around to see it. So people still think Curly is the nice guy, but Curly is actually the one pushing all of Jud’s buttons,” Cataldo said.

As for messages in the show, Drewello said, “I think it’s a story about community. There’s a whole song that starts Act II called ‘The Farmer and the Cowman’ so these two different types of people, two different ways of living, coming together to create this community so that it can turn Oklahoma territory into Oklahoma state. So it’s really about community and love and really just about bringing people together.”

The relationships between Curly, Laurey and Jud is the main focus in “Oklahoma!”

“I think it’s very much a story about love. You can’t have ‘Oklahoma!’ and just completely ignore it’s there. Curly and Laurey, they have their love. They like playing games with each other because each one is playing hard to get. They know they’re going to end up with each other, but they’re enjoying the game of it and Jud comes along because he is the farmhand and he’s always around. Because of that, Curly feels some sort of stigma toward him,” Drewello said.

She said Jud was “labeled” the bad guy, but if you ask Pacholski he’d tell you that Jud was just “misunderstood.”

“Oklahoma!” paved the way for modern musical theater, Drewello said, “So it’s truly an important piece of that history and I think everyone deserves to see it once in their life.”

“Oklahoma!” is at the Wagon Wheel Center for the Arts through July 13. Tickets can be purchased through the box office; by calling 574-267-8041 or 866-823-2618; or online at www.wagonwheelcenter.org.