David Treadwell: Oh, what a beautiful evening!

To celebrate my recent 79th birthday, Tina and I attended two theatrical performances. On the first night we saw “Oklahoma,” presented by the Heartwood Regional Theater in Newcastle and featuring student actors from Lincoln Academy as well as home schooled students. The second night we saw “Cabaret”, hosted by Portland Players in South Portland.

Oh, what a treat it was to experience the live theater after the long hiatus forced by the pandemic.

“Oklahoma”, the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical that hit Broadway in 1943, is a national treasure, a wellness story with catchy numbers (eg “Oh, what a beautiful morning”, “Surrey with the bangs at the top ”and“ People Will Say We’re in Love ”), which has remained popular with domestic and international audiences.

It was a real treat to see 20 enthusiastic young people immerse themselves in the magic of “Oklahoma”. Kudos to Griff Braley, Artistic Director of the Heartwood Regional Theater, a master at harnessing the talents of actors, young and old. When I congratulated Griff after the show, he explained to me that two months earlier he wasn’t sure they had time to put together such an ambitious show. The students definitely seized the opportunity and lived up to Griff’s high standards.

I returned to see “Oklahoma” marveling at the impact Griff Braley had on young people for almost 40 years. In addition to developing their singing and acting skills, the students learned to work together towards a common goal. They gained confidence by performing in front of an audience. And they discovered the rewards that can be had when you push yourself harder than ever before.

“Cabaret” provided a very different, but equally compelling, theatrical experience. This daring musical is set in Berlin in 1929, as the Nazis rise to power. The Kit Kat Club serves as a metaphor for the disturbing political developments at the end of Weimar in Germany.

The talented cast of professional and semi-professional actors and dancers did a great job creating an ominous but sometimes manic tone as people struggled to deal with personal relationships as well as events in Germany during this time. Ray Dumont, a leading figure in theatrical circles in Maine, used his talents as a director and choreographer of the twenty actors and five musicians of “Cabaret”.

There was no encore at the end of the “Cabaret”, which was a brilliant decision for me. The overarching message (the threat of an emerging dictatorship) was to linger in the air, undiluted by loud applause from the audience, though the performers certainly deserved recognition.

I left “Cabaret” even more concerned about the future of democracy in America. Former White House chief of staff John Kelly noted that President Donald Trump had already praised Hitler, saying he had “done a lot of good things.” Bad things can happen when a charismatic leader without concern for legal niceties and without empathy manages to manipulate a large group of people to the point where dissent from the leader’s views is no longer tolerated.

Those who think comparing Hitler to Trump is too far a bridge might consider what is happening now in terms of behind-the-scenes maneuvering at the local, state and national levels. I really hope that my fears will prove to be unfounded. Meanwhile, all patriotic Americans must unite to ensure that in America the truth still counts, that the Constitution is still in force, and that democracy remains our best hope.

Thank you to the theater for helping us see the sun – and ourselves – through the raindrops.

David Treadwell, a writer from Brunswick, welcomes comments and suggestions for future “Just a Little Old” columns. [email protected]

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