By Larry Laneer
December 11, 2018
As 2018 comes to an end, it’s time to recognize outstanding achievements in theater. It was a fairly fine year for musicals but weak, weak, weak for plays. A new feature of Theater in Review begins this year. Each category (may) include work recognized as “Highly Commended.” It’s analogous to a nomination in the category. While maybe not the best in the category, work cited as highly commended is worthy of special recognition. Only categories with outstanding work are included. Thus, some categories may not appear this year (Best Lighting Design of a Play, for example). From 56 theatrical productions viewed in 2018:
Best Musical: Fun Home (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). This show had it all: quality book and score, creative design, remarkable performances, spot-on staging. It was the highlight of the theatrical year.
Highly Commended: When We’re Gone (Lyric).
Best Play: Greater Tuna (Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre). Theatergoers may be surprised at this selection, an old play that’s been done before. But director Steve Emerson and experienced pros Jonathan Beck Reed and Donald Jordan found some depth in a play that’s often not much more than a party skit, which is how it started. The show didn’t have much competition, but that doesn’t lessen its accomplishment.
Best Touring Musical: The Color Purple (OKC Broadway). In this rarely cited category, the show gave theatergoers a chance to see the touring version of John Doyle’s production that won the 2016 Tony Award for best musical revival.
Best Direction of a Musical: Michael Baron (Fun Home). With a story that jumps around in time and place and one character played by three different actors, this musical gave Baron a chance to show his skill and creativity.
Highly Commended: Lyn Cramer (Mamma Mia!, Lyric).
Best Direction of a Play: Tyler Woods (The Revolutionists, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park). Woods led four actresses in outstanding performances in a handsome, well-conceived production.
Highly Commended: Steve Emerson (Greater Tuna).
Best Choreography of a Musical: Matthew Sipress (Hello, Dolly!, Lyric). With choreography faithful to the show’s origins (in 1964), Sipress had the cast in almost constant motion, or rather, motions.
Highly Commended: Matthew Sipress (Fun Home).
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Amanda Lee (The Revolutionists). Lee swung from ditz to screech owl in a commanding performance that showed greater depth as the play went on.
Highly Commended: Brenda Williams (An Act of God, Pollard Theatre Company).
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play: Stephen Lang (Beyond Glory, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre). This one-man show could have been jingoistic but wasn’t. Lang adapted stories of a variety of Medal of Honor recipients and told them with feeling and depth.
Highly Commended: Jonathan Beck Reed (Greater Tuna).
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical: Katja Rivera Yanko (Dogfight, University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre). In a heart-felt performance, Yanko nailed her character’s harrowing vulnerability and ultimate strength. And her performance reminds us that some of the best, edgiest work is done in our fine collegiate theater departments.
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical: Mateja Govich (Fun Home). Govich gave a riveting performance as Bruce, the troubled father in this musical drama.
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical: Taylor Yancey (Fun Home). The young Yancey handled some of the most intense scenes ever staged at the Plaza Theatre like a seasoned professional.
Highly Commended: Sandra Mae Frank (Fun Home).
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Alexis Ward (The Revolutionists). As the voice of reason amid chaos, Ward was a surprisingly solid anchor in the play.
Highly Commended: Madison Hill (The Revolutionists).
Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Dawn Drake (Fun Home). Lyric got cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s permission to base the scenic design on her images. Drake’s design was creative and reflected the essence of the story.
Best Scenic Design of a Play: Richard Carl Johns (The Revolutionists). Johns’s bold scenic design gave the production in Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s Paseo space a seedy charm.
Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Helena Kuukka (Mamma Mia!). The show’s vibrant costumes and scenery looked brilliant under Kuukka’s lighting.
Best Costume Design of a Musical: Jeffrey Meek (Mamma Mia!). In a Lyric summer season bursting with color, Meek made other colorful shows look drab with this one.
Highly Commended: Jeffrey Meek (Fun Home).
Best Costume Design of a Play: Elisa Bierschenk (The Revolutionists). Bierschenk’s costumes teemed with equal parts detail and whimsy.