NORMAN — Delve into an epic melodrama of danger and excitement during the University of Oklahoma’s upcoming production of “Coram Boy.”
Set in 18th-century England, the play — based off the award-winning children’s novel by Jamila Gavin — weaves together several storylines and music in what director Rena Cook calls an “emotional wallop.”
“It's an emotional thrill ride and in getting that, of course, you deal with the themes of human trafficking, cruelty to children — which was prevalent in the era — trouble with friends and relationships, the pursuit of passion — it deals with those themes,” Cook said.
A cast of 50 students from OU Weitzenhoffer Family College of Fine Arts’ schools of drama, musical theatre, music and dance tell the story focusing primarily on two young men who are orphans at the Coram Hospital for Deserted Children. The cast also includes five children from the community.
The audience watches the boys — one raised in wealth who wants nothing more than to be a musician and the other a young man raised in poverty by a cruel, abusive father — as they grow and progress over eight years, Cook said.
The production also largely centers around George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah,” which Cook said acts as the emotional underlying foundation of the storytelling.
“The chorus is another character,” Cook said. “They not only enhance and underscore the drama but they come forward in five different places in the show to just sing music that enhances the story telling, to have their own statements and contribute to the understanding of the show.”
The chorus is supported by a chamber orchestra of Norman Philharmonic members, led by director Richard Zielinski, Norman Phil music and artistic director and OU professor.
The music features contemporary twists on Handel’s “Messiah,” Zielinski said. Offering the listener clever takes on an old favorite, the arrangements include excerpts of melodies or duets made with a variety of instrumentations.