Theater in the Time of COVID-19

By Larry Laneer
March 18, 2020

Although COVID-19 is barely in our area, it has already dislodged theater here. The fine arts may not be the most important things in a health emergency, but they are important. The theater and other artists who make them for us are among those workers who may lose income during the hiatus.

“We have made the difficult decision to simply end our current 18th season,” Donald Jordan, founding artistic director of Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, said. The company planned a brief revival of The Oklahoma City Project as part of the 25th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing next month. In June, Oklahoma City Rep was presenting A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which was expected to be one of the major productions of the season.

Three shows scheduled to open this month or in April have been moved to other dates. Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma rescheduled the world première of Distant Thunder to September-October. They bumped the new musical planned for that slot, Head Over Heels, to 2021. Lyric’s summer season at the Thelma Gaylord is still on with rehearsals beginning June 9, Michael Baron, the company’s producing artistic director, said. Matilda is planned to open June 23.

Oklahoma Shakespeare plans to move As You Like It, which had been cast and was to begin rehearsals this week, to September. The company canceled its statewide tour to rural schools in about 20 communities. A fundraiser in April has been postponed. “This will be a financial blow,”  Kathryn McGill, artistic and producing director, said. OS still plans to stage their new program, “Pay What You Will,” on the Myriad Gardens Great Lawn on June 18-28.

Pollard Theatre Company already had the musical You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown in rehearsals for an April opening. According to Pollard artistic director W. Jerome Stevenson, the company hopes to produce that show and the drolly titled Puffs, or: Seven Increasingly Eventful Years At a Certain School of Magic and Magic, but no dates have been set.

Elizabeth Gray, general manager of OKC Broadway, has no update on the touring Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, scheduled for May12-17. The decision to postpone or cancel will be made by the producers in New York.

See the Show and Theater Guide (button at upper right) for the latest schedule updates.

With theaters, movie houses, and bars closed, theatergoers will have to be creative in finding things to do.  As for me, I still have 102 episodes of The Twilight Zone to go.

 

Review: Anastasia

Lila Coogan and company of Anastasia                         Photo by Evan Zimmerman, MurphyMade

By Larry Laneer
March 4, 2020

When you hear the musical Anastasia was inspired by a 1997 animated film, which was based on 100-year-old rumors, you may think it doesn’t sound very promising. Although it won’t raise your consciousness or blow your mind, the show is a surprisingly satisfying two-and-a-half-hour diversion.

Now at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway touring series, the show takes some explaining. Soon after the Bolsheviks shot to death the abdicated Tsar Nicholas II along with his wife and children in 1918 rumors began circulating that one family member survived and was among the people. This set off a flurry of imposters and pretenders to the Romanovs’ supposed vast wealth.

In this show, the conmen Dmitry and Vlad scheme to find a young woman who could pass as Anastasia Romanov and present her to the Dowager Empress, guardian of the Romanov fortune, who packed off to Paris before the Russian revolution. But what if they accidently stumble upon the real Anastasia, who is now destitute and fending for herself? It could be enough of a story to make a musical.

This production features an outstanding scenic design (by Alexander Dodge) and the most effective use of projections (by Aaron Rhyne) I’ve ever seen. Until now in theater, projected backdrops usually have been inferior to those built in three dimensions. Projections typically appeared flat, fuzzy, and unconvincing. But Rhyne’s high-definition images have an extraordinary depth and clarity. The only time the projections become obtrusive and distracting is when they go into motion. Then, they can overpower the action on stage and turn the show into a movie. But most of the time, the projections are highly effective. With Donald Holder’s lighting design and Linda Cho’s costumes, the show looks elegant and elaborate. Darko Tresnjak directed the production, and he covers a lot of ground, both geographically and chronologically, and in some scenes supernaturally, with smooth efficiency.

The show’s creators, Stephen Flaherty (music) and Lynn Ahrens (lyrics) (Once on This Island, Ragtime) and playwright Terrence McNally (book), have musical and theatrical bona fides.  Flaherty’s jaunty score is mainly in the style of contemporary musical theater, melodic division. But some musical numbers set in 1927 Paris are appropriately jazzy. I was struck by how much of the score is in triple meter. Peggy Hickey’s choreography closely matches the music. A 12-piece pit band accompanies the production, including (small) brass, reed, and string sections, not bad for a touring show.

But this 2017 musical really looks back to the old-fashioned book musicals of yore. It’s the story of a young person striving to overcome abject circumstances and an apparatchik villain with a glib love story or two added to hook the audience. It’s a proven formula.

The appealing Lila Coogan plays the title role, also known as Anya. She has a solid singing voice. Her Anya shows appropriate feistiness, and her Anastasia possesses authentic insecurity. The handsome Jake Levy plays Dmitry, both conniving and conflicted. Edward Staudenmayer is the roguish Vlad. He has some scenes with the fine comedic actor Alison Ewing as Countess Lily, especially “The Countess and the Common Man.”

Overall, the show is a sum of its parts, no more, no less. Whether that’s enough to spend some time with it is up to you.

Anastasia by Lynn Ahrens (lyrics), Stephen Flaherty (music), and
Terrence McNally (book)

OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, through March 8
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.
405-594-8300