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Spotlight interview: Hunter Oehlschlaeger shows great potential with voice and acting range

It takes range for an actor to go in a matter of weeks from baby-faced World War I soldier pleading for world peace to pure-evil Dickens villain abusing his girlfriend.

But that was life in November for Hunter Oehlschlaeger, who leapt from a prominent role in CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre’s breathtaking “All is Calm” portraying a variety of characters to playing uber meanie Bill Sykes in Children’s Musical Theatreworks’ “Oliver.”

Oehlschlaeger’s versatility impressed me along with his stirring voice. The recent high school graduate wants to work in musical theater, and it’s easy to imagine him going far.

A few days ago I made Oehlschlaeger a central part of my embrace of the CenterStage Clovis Community Theatre musical “All Is Calm” as a lead-in to my Top 20 list for 2022. I figured I’d give you a chance to get to know him better.

After interviewing him on the January episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC,January episode of “The Munro Review on CMAC,” I followed up with an email interview. Here are excerpts.

Q: Think back to opening night, opening scene of “All Is Calm.” You start walking through the fog. What was going through your mind?

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A: With this character, I really just imagined a young guy who believed that this war would be over in a few months. He would go fight for his country with his buddies, and they would be home by Christmas. The entire beginning of the song is him welcoming and encouraging others to join the war, and to go fight. But as the song transitions to a higher, darker key, we hear the lyrics change to describe more sinister parts of the war, and at that point I would change my expression of hope to a darker expression of dread, as at that point he’s gone from a young, hopeful soldier, to a man who’s seen his friends die. It’s the unfair cruelty of war.

Q: Many of the soldiers who died in the trenches of World War I were your age. How did it make you feel to portray some of them?

A: First, it was an honor to portray these heroes. It was really interesting to think about their age during the rehearsal process. I tried to play a lot of my soldiers as more innocent and naive, since the beginning and the middle of the show is pretty cheerful, and the soldier that I was playing was just there to enjoy it. It’s really disturbing when you realize how none of these guys lived as long as they should have, especially the soldiers who died so young. They have their entire life ahead of them, and they didn’t even have the choice whether or not to fight, since many of them were just drafted.

Q: What kind of bond did the cast of “All Is Calm” form?

A: It was a bond unlike any other production I’ve ever been a part of. In a lot of productions, the entire cast isn’t always in the same scene together, or people form little cliques; but in this show we were all onstage together for an hour straight, with no leaving.  With all of us enduring the music process together, it became a very intimate process. We’ve all said that we’re now a band of brothers, and I don’t think anything will ever change that.

Q: You have perfect pitch. How old were you when you first learned you had it?

A: I got into theatre and music later in about 5th grade, so I wasn’t able to find out I had perfect pitch until about 8th or 9th grade. Many people doubted me for a while, but I realized that only people with perfect pitch can tell who else has perfect pitch (not many people have it, I can tell you that). The thing with perfect pitch is that you aren’t born knowing the names of notes, It’s basically where I can hear something or a note and remember the exact pitch that it was. I had to learn what the name of the note of certain songs I remembered were, and it trained my brain to be able summon any note at any time, without failure. It’s kind of a blessing and a curse! “All Is Calm” was the first show where it was very helpful, as it was all a capella, and we had to be sure that we started on the right note, or the song would not have sounded right.

Q: As far as I know, there are no superheroes in the Marvel Universe whose superpower is perfect pitch. If there were one, what would her name be, and how would her power help (or hurt) the world?

A: Her name would be “The Tuner,” and she would know the exact pitch to sing at frequencies so high to explode her enemies’ ear drums.

Q: At what age did you decide that musical theater was your thing?

A: In the 5th grade I was still trying to figure out what I liked. I did sports and robotics, but nothing really felt right. Then one day Buchanan was holding auditions for Munchkins for their production of “Wizard of Oz”, I got in, and for the last seven years I’ve been doing it ever since.

Q: You just completed your first paid project, voicing a character in the original cast recording for “Turnabout: An Ace Attorney Musical.” Tell us about this experience. Any chance it’ll make it to Broadway?

A: I’ve always wanted to originate a character in a cast recording. I came upon the casting call for this show, and I got in! It was such a blast! Voice acting has become a favorite hobby of mine in the last year, and I don’t plan on quitting any time soon.

“Turnabout” is a musical version of the video game “Ace Attorney.” Because of this, the show is kind of unauthorized, so I don’t see it coming to Broadway any time soon, unless Capcom decides to officially license the show, I don’t know if it will ever happen on Broadway, but I will say that there’s a chance I will be performing the show this summer, right here in the Central Valley.

Q: 2022 was busy for you. Not only did you impress a lot of people (well, me) in “All Is Calm,” but you really made an impact as Bill Sykes in “Oliver!” for Children’s Musical Theaterworks. You were pretty scary. Did you enjoy playing a villain?

A: Villains are definitely what I enjoy playing the most, right next to the comedic relief. What got me right into the character was when my assistant director, Diego Sosa, said, “He has no redeeming qualities.” Most villains either have a comedic side, or they have a softer side to show the audience the humane side of them, but Bill has none of that. Bill’s song is literally about how he kills people for no reason and he loves it. So, yes, it was fun to be scary and play this character.

Q: There’s a moment in the show when your character beats up his girlfriend, Nancy. It just so happens you were playing opposite your real-life girlfriend, Emily Swalef. Now that must have sparked some interesting conversations offstage. Tell us about the experience.

A: You know, I’ve wanted to play a couple in a show with Emily, and I never expected my first experience to be playing a guy who kills his girlfriend… Our relationship is quite the opposite. It is acting, after all, and sometimes you have to do things that are very strange in concept. Luckily we’re very comfortable with each other, so learning the different fight choreography didn’t feel weird.

Q: Anything else you’d like to say?

I would like to say that I have been following your articles for a while, and it’s truly an honor to have you take such an interest in me. Thank you so much!

Covering the arts online in the central San Joaquin Valley and beyond. Lover of theater, classical music, visual arts, the literary arts and all creative endeavors. Former Fresno Bee arts critic and columnist. Graduate of Columbia University and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Excited to be exploring the new world of arts journalism.

donaldfresnoarts@gmail.com

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