Review: Curious George: The Golden Meatball

Gavin Guthrie as Curious George and Justin Larman as Chef Pisghetti   Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
January 28, 2019

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma has come up with the good idea to present shows geared toward younger (and future) theatergoers, in addition to offerings for adults. Thus, they are now putting on a colorful production of Curious George: The Golden Meatball at the Plaza.

Curious George has been done in various media since Margret and H.A. Rey published the first book in 1939, including more books, television, and film. With music by John Kavanaugh and book and lyrics by Jeremy Desmon (both new to me), the Lyric production gives us an entertaining story with moral attached.

Although intended as a show for children, the production has the same high quality as Lyric’s adult shows. Directed and choreographed by the reliable Matthew Sipress, the production bursts with color in scenic, costume, and lighting design. Dawn Drake Toney (scenery), Jeffrey Meek (costumes), and Fabian J. Garcia (lighting) flood the Plaza stage with reds, greens, pinks, yellows, oranges, purples, blues, and more hues beyond description. The Man in the Yellow Hat wears yellow everything, way more than his ten-gallon topper. Same goes for all other characters. Curious George, an adorable monkey prone to a few monkeyshines, is the most toned down in brown overalls, striped shirt, red tennis shoes, and a red kerchief that keeps flying into the stratosphere.

The story line involves Chef Pisghetti (Justin Larman), who inadvertently gets his meatballs entered in The Great Meatball Contest. Various unlikely complications and coincidences precede that. Kavanaugh has composed a jaunty, if unremarkable, score. Desmon’s lyrics run along the lines of “Go, monkey, go, go, go!” and “I’m lucky to have a buddy like you.” “If you’ve got a big heart, who cares if you’re small,” The Man in the Yellow Hat (Greg Gore) and the Chef sing to George. The show does not pretend to be great art or literature, but it should appeal to the target audience.

The big disappointment is the production uses recorded accompaniment. I hope Lyric doesn’t intend to teach young theatergoers that musicals are not performed by live musicians. The orchestration provided by the canned band isn’t an improvement over a two or three-piece live combo.

The young cast are top-notch actors, singers, and dancers. Gavin Guthrie scampers about on all fours in a sweet, athletic performance as George. He does George’s dialog in a squeaky “hoo-hoo, ha-ha.” Well, that’s much like how monkeys really talk. Elvie Ellis, Bailey Maxwell, and Jenna Mazzoccoli play various characters with energy and skill. The production encourages audience participation. Boo the rival chefs’ meatballs! Cheer Pisghetti’s! Not above the latest fad, Sipress includes a little flossing in his unfussy choreography.

After the curtain calls, the actors tell their names, hometowns, and colleges and invite a little Q&A with the audience. This has the potential to be the best part of the show. A youngster asked George if he likes meatballs or bananas better. (George equivocated.) Another lad wanted to know the actors’ ages. (Mostly 20s; Larman admitted to 30). The cast better be prepared for youthful ids.

Running about an hour, the production holds the attention of theatergoers who looked as young as three or four, as well as parents and curmudgeonly theater reviewers of a certain age. It’s a well-done, engaging show that one hopes will make youngsters lifelong enjoyers of live theater. Booster seats provided upon request.

Curious George: The Golden Meatball by John Kavanaugh (music) and Jeremy Desmon (book and lyrics)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
10:00 a.m. Wednesdays-Fridays, 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Saturdays, 1:00 p.m. and
4:00 p.m. Sundays, through February 17
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.


Review: The Phantom of the Opera

Quentin Oliver Lee and Eva Tavares in The Phantom of the Opera                Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
January 15, 2019

Any musical that’s been on the boards continuously since 1986 could likely use a makeover, so The Phantom of the Opera is back in a revamped staging. The Broadway and London productions are still playing since they opened in the last century, and the show has toured long and widely, including here at least once.

Phantom is now spooking up (sort of) the Thelma Gaylord under the auspices of the OKC Broadway touring series. Cameron Macintosh, the show’s original producer, had this freshened version made, but it’s still the same music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, lyrics by Charles Hart, and book by Richard Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber. Phantom fanatics will have to tell you how much has changed. I assure avid fans the first act still has its traditional ending. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the show.

With an onion-skin thin plot, the show relies on spectacle and performances. Posters in the theater lobby warn theatergoers “Theatrical haze, pyrotechnics, live flame, live gun shots, and strobe like effects will be used during this performance.” This is largely hype. None of this is new in musical theater, although they do heighten the pyromania in the second act.

Paul Brown’s set design includes huge moving pieces that glide into various settings. An elaborate gilded proscenium and box seats frame the stage. Mick Potter’s sound design bounces the Phantom’s and other voices around the theater. Video and projection design by Nina Dunn and lighting by Paule Constable fit with the overall design without adding much to it. The production has retained costumes by Maria Björnson, who died in 2002, and they are sumptuous. But none of the design and special effects show us anything we haven’t seen before.

 The director Laurence Conner has restaged the show with a cast of more than 30 actors, singers, and dancers. Scott Ambler’s choreography consists largely of depicting ballet rehearsals, although he does display the full cast to pleasing effect in “Masquerade” to begin the second act.

The show rides on the performers playing the Phantom and Christine Daaé, the Phantom’s love obsession, because the characters sing so much of the music. Quentin Oliver Lee played the Phantom at the reviewed performance (others will do the role during the show’s run here). Lee has a strong baritone, but he seemed to strain at times. It’s hard to tell if this is his natural voice or if he is trying for some theatrical effect. Eva Tavares plays Christine, and her voice has a throaty warmth in the lower register. But she has a delicate voice that turns shrill when she needs power. Both are fully capable actors.

The supporting actors are fine. Jordan Craig plays Raoul, the third side of the love triangle involving the Phantom and Christine. They almost leave him hanging late in the show. Susan Moniz is appropriately imperious as Madame Giry.

A 14-piece orchestra accompanies the show. Although it has string, reed, and brass sections (if you can call one lonely horn player a brass section), it’s heavily synthesized with three keyboard players. The orchestration (by David Cullen and Lloyd Webber) is passable most of the time, but at one point early in the first act, it goes heavily electronica which recalls the disco era when classics were remastered to a dance club beat. It’s cheesy as all get out. Fortunately, this musical misstep never comes back for the rest of the show.

At intermission, I went down and looked into the orchestra pit. The musicians wear black tie (for the men with the women in comparable black dress). In this day and age, musicians in pit orchestra rarely wear even a necktie. The black tie is a classy attention to detail few audience members will see.  And it fits with the production, which is set in a 19th-century opera house.

It’s hard to say what Phantom fanatics will think of this new production. People often get prickly when someone messes around with a beloved chestnut. Those of us who are indifferent about the show will find nothing in this production to arouse much interest.

The Phantom of the Opera by Andrew Lloyd Webber (music), Charles Hart (lyrics), and Richard Stilgoe and Lloyd Webber (book)
OKC Broadway
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday,
7:30 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday,  2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
through January 20
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.
Ticket prices vary