NORMAN — It’s been nearly 50 years since I’ve seen many tears inside the Sooner Theatre. It was the mid 1960s and Disney’s “Old Yeller” finally made it to the Norman screen.
Young Travis Coates’ adopted dog develops rabies defending his ranch family from an infected wolf. When Travis is forced to shoot the rabid “Old Yeller,” most of the theatergoers wept like hungry babies. Not even the new pup from his litter would help us.
My brother and I waited a long time to leave the theater that day. We feared someone seeing our red eyes. Big boys don’t cry, we were taught from birth.
There were some Sooner Theatre patrons lingering with tears on a weekend earlier this month. But unlike the sad tears of “Old Yeller,” these were tears of joy. The crowd didn’t want to leave after the Sunday matinee performance of “Hello, Dolly!”
It was the final time for the show which ran for the past two weeks. What a treat for the Norman community. Jennifer Baker, in celebration of her 10 years as the Sooner’s executive director, performed the role of Dolly Levi, matchmaker and meddler extraordinaire. She joined with a cast of university students, at least one faculty member and community performers in the show.
Norman is blessed with an abundance of arts offerings. Sure, the university gets great performances from its annual roster of stellar students. This past week saw a number of performances on campus. But we also get to see our neighbors who have artistic talent that would otherwise go unappreciated.
They are painters, sculptors and weavers. They play the saxophone, the drums and bass guitar. All have day jobs that pay the bills but their passions for art in whatever form comes through.
They show that artistic side at community theater at the Sooner, live performances at singer-songwriter nights, at late-night festivals in Lions Park and in galleries on Main Street. There’s a community band that is open to anyone whoever held an instrument, choral groups that perform several times a year and lots of opportunities to paint murals in parking lots, skateparks and on buildings.
Our community turns out in support, too. Second Friday is becoming known throughout central Oklahoma. Main Street, from Stash west to Sprouts, is packed with people. Restaurants can tell when the arts supporters come downtown.
It’s nearly the season for festivals. Count them down. Norman Music Festival is gone. Next up: May Fair (May 4-5), Jazz in June (June 20-22), then Midsummer’s Night Fair, (July 12-13).
Mark those calendars.