From the Howell Theatre to the Broadway stage: Tebo earns supporting role in revival of 'Oklahoma'

From the Howell Theatre to the Broadway stage: Tebo earns supporting role in revival of 'Oklahoma'

calendar icon28 Aug 2019    user iconBy Kathe C. Andersen

Mitch Tebo
Mitch Tebo

Lincoln, Neb.--Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film alumnus Mitch Tebo (B.F.A. 1972) is playing the supporting role of Andrew Carnes in the revival of , now playing on Broadway and winner of this year’s Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical.

“It has been great,” Tebo said. “I am part of an ensemble in a supporting role. It is the ensemble nature of this production that has been the most satisfying aspect. It is a wonderful and talented cast, many of whom I’ve worked with since the first production of the show at Bard College SummerScape in 2015.”

He describes being on Broadway as “a bit of a roller coaster.”

“Lots more media attention and some incredible moments, like performing at the Tonys and on the Today show,” he said. “That means some very early mornings and very long days, but still amazing experiences. Also, you get to meet some pretty impressive people—Patti Lupone, Shirley MacLaine, Ben Vereen, Shirley Jones, Diane Keaton, to name a few. Mostly, it’s the satisfaction of knowing your hard work has given you the opportunity to work with extremely talented people, and, hopefully, have an impact on the audience who view it.”

This production of Oklahoma is a contemporary telling of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musical, which was first produced in 1943. Directed by Daniel Fish, the new production features new arrangements and orchestrations by Daniel Kluger. The production began previews in March and officially opened on Broadway on April 7. It is currently scheduled through Jan. 19, 2020.

“In this production, the show has been deconstructed in many ways,” Tebo said. “There is no chorus, only the 11 principal roles and a single dancer for the Dream Ballet. The show takes place in a representation of a community hall with a front row of trestle tables for the audience and crock pots of chili, which is served to audience at intermission with cornbread. In the Broadway venue, Circle In The Square Theater, the audience sits on three sides. House lights are kept up throughout most of the production, but at times the stage is in darkness, and the actors are video projected on a large mural wall.”  

In many scenes all the actors are seated on stage watching the action with the audience.

“The intent is to include the audience as part of the ‘community’ of the play and to focus on the text and the somewhat dysfunctional nature of our culture, especially in Laurey's conflicted feelings for both Curly and Jud,” Tebo said. “The orchestration has been brilliantly reworked for a seven-piece band giving the songs a ‘country hootenanny’ feel.  It is still funny and filled with glorious music, but there is a dark element that has been exposed as well.”

Tebo’s character, Andrew Carnes, is Ado Annie’s father.

“He is a farmer and local justice of the peace,” Tebo said. “Carnes is basically written as a comedic character who is struggling with a daughter who, to put it mildly, is romantically inclined. I love the arc of this character. It allows me find both the humor of the character and as the plot develops a rustic gravitas as he and the community react to the darker aspects of the conflict between Curly and Jud.”

The show was nominated for eight Tony Awards and won two, including Best Revival of a Musical and Best Performance by an Actress in a Featured Role in a Musical for Ali Stroker. With her win, Stroker became the first wheelchair-using Tony-winning actor in history.

“The Tony Awards are thrilling and exhausting,” Tebo said. “Watching our show win Best Revival and Ali Stroker win Best Featured Actress in a Musical were truly joyous moments. Awards are a bit silly as there are so many deserving artists that singling out individuals seems rather subjective, but nonetheless, it is wonderful to be recognized.”

Tebo grew up on a farm just south of Lincoln and was exposed to the theatre program at Nebraska at an early age.

“My sister, Bonna Hays, was a theatre major and after graduation, director of the Lincoln Community Playhouse,” he said. “I also participated in the summer arts programs for high school students, and the speech and drama teachers at my high school (Norris) were graduates of the University of Nebraska. I attended performances at Howell, and they enlisted their friends in the theatre department to work with us. Farm income is not huge, and I managed to get a Regent’s scholarship that helped offset the incredibly low (at that time) tuition for Nebraska residents.”

He said the theatre program at Nebraska helped prepare him for his acting career.

“The theater department gave me a lot of stage time to explore my craft, especially in combination with the summer rep where you got to work with other theater professionals,” Tebo said. “It stretched you because you were often asked to take on roles that as a young actor were probably beyond your abilities. But in doing those roles, you grew as a performer, and it gave you a certain fearlessness in approaching any role.”

He also said there were many talented director/teachers in the department during his undergraduate years, including Dallas Williams, William Morgan, Bob Hall and Tice Miller, to name a few.

“They were fearless in tackling both classical and contemporary works from Shakespeare to Edward Albee to Jean Genet,” he said. “I will always be in their debt.”

Tebo said many actors, including himself, are first attracted to role playing because they are uncomfortable with themselves in some way.

“Donning the mask of a character allows you to be someone else for a while,” Tebo said. “However, as you grow and mature as an actor, you realize that performance is deeply ingrained in human nature going back to the earliest man reciting myths and stories around the fire. There is no civilization that has existed that doesn't have some form of public story telling that holds a mirror up to humanity. At its best, theater reflects back to us the joys and tragedies of existence and, hopefully, shows us how we can be better. Being part of that feedback loop with an audience is like no other art because it exists only for that moment. Each performance is unique and will never be duplicated. The goal is not always reached, but when it is, it is transcending.”

He encourages student actors to “audition, audition, audition,” because you never know where it might lead.

“Sometimes the path is unexpected,” Tebo said. “I auditioned for what appeared to be a summer gig at Bard College in a production of Oklahoma. I don't consider myself a musical comedy’ actor, as I've done primarily straight plays in my professional career. But that ‘summer gig’ got favorably reviewed by the New York Times. That led to an Off-Broadway production three years later at St. Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn that led to a Broadway production. You never know.”

Tebo has loved the journey and the connections he makes to the audience in Oklahoma.

“At the end of the evening when the performance is done, and you stand there for the curtain call, you realize that the two and a half hour journey has bonded you with the audience,” he said. “We have shared a journey, and we are different because of that experience. The change is ephemeral, but impactful. Hopefully, our view of the world has been broadened, even if just a little, and we have a better understanding of our commonality.”