Review: Grease

Cast of Grease                                               Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
June 16, 2021

Can you believe Grease turns 50 this year? Any production today will likely have cast members whose parents are younger than the show. That could be the case with the version Lyric Theatre is putting on now.

Lyric has done a fine job in 2021 bringing us (mostly) live performances in outdoor venues. Theatergoers greatly appreciate the company doing its best to tide us over until theater comes back onstage and in person this fall.

With book, music, and lyrics by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey, Grease is about high school students in 1959. So, it sort of makes sense for Lyric to do the show at the Bishop McGuinness High School football stadium. The audience sits in the stands (on cushioned seatbacks provided by a Lyric sponsor), and the action takes place on the field.

Michael Baron directs, and he must know now what it’s like to be a marching band director. He marshals a cast of 30 and a “teen chorus” of 32 over an area between the 20-yard lines. This is a  huge number of people on a large field. Baron generally fills the space effectively and keeps the action moving. Much of the show takes place on several large, wheeled platforms. The platforms let Baron stage a lot of unnecessary scene changes. Less time spent moving scenery and props would make a tighter production. The show runs just under two hours with no intermission but with a seventh-inning stretch, if you can excuse a baseball reference on the gridiron.

Baron does a remarkable job of slipping in many subtle details. My favorite is seeing the “audience” at a drive-in movie theater watching a 3-D picture through their special, cardboard-framed glasses.

Kimberly Powers did the scenic design, which includes several large pieces making the scenery proportional to the outdoor setting. I never cease to be amazed at how far lighting technology has come. Lighting designer Fabian J. Garcia creates big effects with what looks to the untrained eye like relatively few lighting instruments. Jeffrey Meek’s costumes go for period authenticity rather than parody, which fits the setting just right. The at times exuberant choreography is by Vincent Sandoval.

Lyric again has used canned accompaniment for this production. Under today’s circumstances, theatergoers can forgive them once more for doing so, but that cat is running out of lives. At the reviewed performance, the recorded music seemed at first to overpower the singers resulting in drowned-out lyrics. But the show soon settled in, and the sound is fine.

Grease will appeal to nostalgia buffs who like mindless entertainment. It has just enough plot to get from song to song. The score sounds like it could have been written in 1959 but not as musical theater. The rock-and-roll and pop songs snap with period authenticity. The nonsense wordplay of “We Go Together” and the poignant “Hopelessly Devoted to You” pass the test of time.

The youthful ensemble cast does a fine job. The McGuinness football stadium is not the most desirable setting for musical theater. But Baron and music director Eric Grigg have taught the cast to do the show to its full force and effect under the circumstances. Best example: late in the show, Sydney Jones, as Sandy, sings the slow “Look at Me, I’m Sandra Dee,” across the multilane running track that circles the football field and a four-foot chain-link fence, with the same power and presence she would achieve downstage at the Plaza Theatre.

That song as sung by Jones summarizes what Lyric has done this year. Through sheer force of will and professionalism, they have done what needs to be done to bring us theater at a high standard. I hope everyone associated with the company knows how thankful theatergoers are for their efforts.

Grease by Jim Jacobs and Warren Casey (book, music, lyrics)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
8:00 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays through June 27
Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School Pribil Football Stadium
801 NW 50 St.

Review: Nunsense

Brenda Williams with Brooke Melton in Nunsense                            Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
April 22, 2021

Well, we have to start somewhere bringing back theater. Lyric Theatre decided to go with the 1985 crowd-pleaser Nunsense. This show will not burden you with thought-provoking ideas or an intricate musical score. But theatergoers can hardly blame Lyric for it. We’re just relearning to walk, theatrically speaking.

Directed by Ashley Wells at the Water Stage, this production may look incomplete to fanatics of Nunsense and its several sequels. The show has been trimmed to a not-always-so-brisk 90 minutes without intermission. But it’s not that Lyric is defacing a great work of art here. It’s not like painting a mustache on the Mona Lisa.

With book, music, and lyrics by Dan Goggin, the show is rife with corny jokes, ribald dialog, and a score of jaunty showtunes of the last century variety with country and gospel inflections and even a few bars of opera. It has pop culture references galore (some updated from 1985). Try to resist tapping your toes to the penultimate “Holier Than Thou.” Can’t be done.

In case you need a refresher, the show concerns nuns of The Little Sisters of Hoboken who are putting on a show to raise funds for some clean-up work after an unfortunate incident at the convent.

Wells has assembled a fine cast of well-known and new triple threats. None other than Brenda Williams anchors the ensemble as the Mother Superior. Williams has long been one of our most treasured artists, a saint of the theater, if you will. Ashley J. Mandanas always gives top notch performances. Cheyanne Marie, Brook Melton, and Viviana A. Goodwin are new to me, but all have strong voices and solid acting chops.

Matthew Sipress did the choreography. But how do you create dances for nuns in traditional habits? All you can see are their feet. Sipress goes retro with moves that would look vintage in 1985, including one tap dancing number. Lighting designer Fabian J. Garcia does his own choreography illuminating the trees across the pond from Water Stage. Scenic designer Kimberly Powers has decorated the stage with props for Grease. Why Grease is explained early in the show.

It’s not a deal killer, but the big disappointment in this production is the recorded soundtrack that accompanies the show in lieu of a live band. Theatergoers can cut Lyric some slack on this matter for a while. Pit bands are expensive; Water Stage presents challenges, although I bet if money were no object, Lyric would figure out a way to have musicians here; the show is being staged for greatly reduced audiences, which doesn’t help the finances. Lyric has been good about employing sizeable orchestras (West Side Story and Titanic in recent seasons). So, we’ll assume the soundtrack is a temporary measure, and when we’re back in the theaters, we’ll have living, breathing musicians accompanying the shows.

A professional production of Nunsense has not been done around here for a long time. For young theatergoers, this is a good chance to add it to their experience. For the rest of us, it’s a link back to normal.

Nunsense by Dan Goggin (book, music, lyrics)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through May 9
Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage
301 W. Reno Ave.

Review: Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds

Denise Lee in Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds                     Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
March 28, 2021

Attention theatergoers! Lyric Theatre is back on the boards—well, concrete—at the Myriad Gardens Water Stage with a new, cabaret-style show and, brother, is it a welcome sight to behold. The bulkily titled Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds features none other than Denise Lee and a crack, four-piece combo in a pleasing production that way outshines anything you might see on Zoom.

A Dallas-based singer and actor, Lee has been seen here before. She was in three Lyric shows and played Gary Coleman in Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s Avenue Q in 2016.

Her strong voice and engaging stage presence, honed through years of cabaret experience, give Lee the chops to hold the stage—and the audience—by herself. She has selected an eclectic program. Most of the songs are not the usual standards. A soulfully sung “Bridge Over Troubled Water” is the most well-known. It’s great to hear the immortal “Pig’s Foot and a Bottle of Beer.” A feisty song subtitled “Musical Apology” (the title is far too long for here) shows the singer as someone you wouldn’t want to mess with. “Push Da Button” delights in double-entendre.

Lee and Monique Midgette, who also directs, wrote the between-song banter. Lee explains the show’s title early on. It’s mostly light stuff, but parts are deadly serious or poignant. The account of an ugly incident when Lee was a college freshman in 1979 at East Texas State University in Commerce leads to “I Gotta Sing My Song.” Midgette staged last year’s, pre-pandemic Having Our Say for Lyric.

The company has not skimped on any part of this production. Kimberly Powers’s clean, simple scenic design fits the cabaret format neatly. Lighting designer Fabian J. Garcia has illuminated every part of the park visible to the audience. The full moon at the reviewed performance held its own. The men in the band wear matching black suits and neckties with white shirts. Lee’s dress sparkles diamondlike (costumes are by Jeffrey Meek). The show runs around 75 minutes without intermission, which is about right. Shows should leave the audience wanting more, not wanting to get out of there.

Lyric has put together a 2021 season that in normal times would leave theatergoers mainly nonplused. Nunsense at the Water Stage, Grease at a high school football stadium, for example.  On the other hand, the company is staging the first local production of Terrence McNally’s 1995 Master Class, long overdue here. But these are about as far from normal times as you can get, so theatergoers should appreciate the effort. At least, Lyric is doing something when other theater companies shut down or stuck to fundraising. The company’s board, management, and artists get full credit. They are one of a handful of theater companies in the country who are operating right now. And do we ever need it.

Denise Lee: Pressure Makes Diamonds
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
2:00 p.m. March 28, 7:30 p.m. March 30-April 1, 8:00 p.m. April 2, 2:00 p.m. and
8:00 p.m. April 3

Myriad Botanical Gardens Water Stage
301 W. Reno Ave.

2020 Theater in Review

By Larry Laneer
December 15, 2020

So, what’s to review? Theater has suffered as much as any industry during the pandemic, and that doesn’t seem to be changing much anytime soon. But a number of our much-appreciated theatrical artists made do and made drama and music as best they could. Some productions, therefore, were noteworthy, and we’ll hail those. Only categories with outstanding work are included. Thus, some categories may not appear this year. Categories (may) include work recognized as “Highly Commended.” This designation is 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. This year, some of the categories had to be improvised, too. Here are the outstanding achievements in 2020 theater:

Best Play: Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). This play had no competition to speak of, and it would be interesting to see where it ranked in a normal theatrical year. But that shouldn’t take away from recognition for a well-staged, designed, and acted memoir about two remarkable Americans.

Best Touring Musical: Come From Away (OKC Broadway). This is a fairly rare category, but it would be churlish pass on this delightful musical set on and after September 11, 2001, in Gander, Newfoundland. The show is not strictly a musical comedy, but it had more genuine humor than most that work hard to be funny.

Highly Commended: Miss Saigon (OKC Broadway).

 Best Direction of a Play: Michael Baron and Ashley Wells (A Christmas Carol, Lyric Theatre). Baron and Wells had a lot of people—including the audience—to maneuver over a large, outdoor area. They made it work.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Nikki Mar (Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma Shakespeare). Mar was one of the main reasons the second act of this production were some of the year’s best moments of theater. Theatergoers look forward to seeing more of this outstanding young artist.

Highly Commended: Terry Burrell and Julia Lema (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Lyric Theatre).

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Renee Krapff (Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma Shakespeare). As Nurse, Krapff nailed both the comedy and tragedy in the role and the play.

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play: Hal Kohlman (Romeo and Juliet, Oklahoma Shakespeare). As Friar Lawrence, Kohlman, along with Krapff (see above), was a major reason for some success in this wildly uneven production.

 Best Scenic Design of a Play: Debra Kim Sivigny (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Lyric Theatre). Sivigny imagined in teeming detail the sisters’ tidy, comfortable home in a New York City suburb.

Best Costume Design of a Play: Jeffrey Meek (Having Our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years, Lyric Theatre). Meek’s costumes fit so seamlessly (no pun intended) into the production they were hardly noticeable. That’s effective costume design.

Best Something Different: Pollard Theatre Company Plugged In (Pollard Theatre Company). The company’s artistic director, W. Jerome Stevenson, conducted video interviews of some of our leading theatrical artists. The interviews were in the style of James Lipton of television’s Inside the Actors Studio. It was a pleasure to get to know the personal stories of artists whose work we’ve seen for years.

Best Getting Something Going When We’re Starved for Live Performance: Moonlight Cabaret (Lyric Theatre). Lyric staged three musical revues at the Water Stage in Myriad Gardens. The different casts and musical directors, all Lyric regulars, put on in-person shows which were a welcome restoration of live performance.

Best Adaptation to the Circumstances: A Christmas Carol (Lyric Theatre). Lyric figured out a way to adapt its highly successful indoor production into an outdoor production, done at the Harn Homestead in Oklahoma City. It worked, and some moments were outstanding.

Best Sixty-one Minutes of Theater: The second act of Romeo and Juliet (Oklahoma Shakespeare). Featuring excellent performances (see above), the second act made theatergoers wonder what went wrong with the first act.

Best Special Theatrical Event: Theatre Crude Fringe Festival. The pandemic turned the fringe festival, which made a fine debut last year, into a film festival. Some were highly edited in cinematic style, while others more-or-less filmed their stage shows. It worked well when watching them “live,” but I had problems trying to view archived videos later. The most memorable was Naked Brunch, written and performed by Rodney Brazil, a harrowing autobiographical account, which inspired me to reread William S. Burroughs’s Naked Lunch.

One thing theatergoers have learned during the pandemic is this: while video efforts have been far better than nothing, they suffice only temporarily. For theater, you have to be in the room where it happens.


Review: A Christmas Carol

W. Jerome Stevenson in A Christmas Carol                           Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
November 12, 2020

This marks the tenth year Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma has been staging A Christmas Carol. The production is revamped every five years, so this was to be last of the current version. Then, things went to hell in the pandemic with theater hit as hard as any industry.

Doing a show every year can become ritualistic, but one of the amazing facts about Lyric’s production has been how they’ve kept Christmas Carol fresh season after season for a decade. Thus, theatergoers will not be surprised the company came up with a brilliant concept and presents the familiar story in a completely new light.

Under the leadership of producing artistic director Michael Baron, who adapted Charles Dickens’s story for the stage, and top-notch collaborators, the company is presenting the show outdoors at the Harn Homestead, a territorial era farm smack dab in the middle of Oklahoma City, just a few blocks south of the state capitol. We’re used to seeing scenery move across the stage, but in this production, the scenery stays put, and the audience moves with the scene changes. It’s a pleasure to report this adaptation maintains the high standards Lyric has always had with this show.

The Harn Homestead has a two-story farmhouse, a wonderful stone barn, and other buildings. Lyric consulted a designer who’s an expert on outdoor theater. Scenes take place on front porches or rustic platforms built for this production, creating fine sightlines for the socially distanced audience, limited to 100 per performance. All this is seen under Fabian J. Garcia’s lighting design that about equals anything you would see Lyric do at the Plaza or Thelma Gaylord. Audience members are required to wear masks, so the fog on your eyeglasses adds to the atmosphere. Sound design has always been an important part of this show, and Josh Schmidt and Corey Ray have brought the electronic torrents to the farm. (One wonders what the neighbors think, though.)

Costumed “lamplighters” lead audience members in groups through the show. Directed by Baron and Lyric associate artistic director Ashley Wells and running one hour, 15 minutes without intermission, the show flows with the intricate smoothness of the first-class marching band. We still see the Ghost of Christmas Past aloft, while the Ghost of Christmas Present is in a loft. Jeffrey Meek’s costumes retain the subtle sumptuousness and edge of the indoor version. You wouldn’t want to meet the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come in a dark alley. By keeping it simple, Lyric achieves a total effect that’s remarkably appealing. Something about several actors holding lanterns and spread across a lawn in a late scene has a quiet, dignified beauty.

The unmasked, socially distanced actors wear body microphones, and cleverly disguised speakers set throughout the playing area. The show plays for a much longer run than usual, so all roles are double cast, not just the children. At the reviewed performance, Jonathan Beck Reed, who originated the role of Scrooge in the first Lyric production, railed in top form as the world’s most infamous curmudgeon. W. Jerome Stevenson will alternate with Reed. This may inspire theatergoers to go twice to see both casts.

How Lyric leadership, staff, and artists came together to find the venue, adapt the show, and make it happen to a high degree of quality would be an outstanding theatrical achievement in any season. Now, it’s downright inspiring. Just when inspiration is one thing we need more of in these harrowing times.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Baron
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:00 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Fridays-Sundays, through December 23
Harn Homestead
1721 N. Lincoln Blvd.

The Twilight Zone Redux

By Larry Laneer
October 31, 2020

The Great Interregnum of 2020 has given me a chance to revisit television’s The Twilight Zone (1959-1964).  A while back, I acquired a boxset of all 156 episodes. The episodes are around 27 minutes, so three or four about equal an evening at the theater.  I just completed the first three seasons.

The show solidly reflects its era. The Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation informed the early seasons. People at the time pretty much assumed the world would end in an atomic holocaust; it was just matter of how soon and who would survive. And would surviving a nuclear conflagration be the most desirable outcome? Other differences from today stand out. It’s odd to see the show’s creator and host, Rod Serling, making his famous introductions to each episode, often with a cigarette in hand.

Although some storylines lean a little maudlin or far-fetched, most of the teleplays stand up to scrutiny today. The second season included one of the most famous episodes, titled “Eye of the Beholder.” It’s the one where a family’s “ugly” daughter undergoes a facial operation to improve her looks. At the end, the bandages are removed before her grotesque-looking family to reveal the failed surgery and comely visage of Donna Douglas, who later played Elly May in The Beverly Hillbillies. Several episodes are westerns, a nod to the popular television genre of the time. At the end of some, James Arness does a promo for Gunsmoke, which also aired Saturdays on CBS.

The second season also included a one-hander titled “The Invaders” in which the great Agnes Moorehead has not a single word of dialog. Just some grunts, gasps, moans, snorts, and other gesticulations. Her performance should be studied in drama schools. An intense, suspenseful score by Jerry Goldsmith also enhances the episode.

Most of the actors are not well-known today, but many were big stars of their era, future stars, or familiar character actors, some in the same episode. The list is almost hard to believe. Season one had Ed Wynn and Murray Hamilton (Mr. Robinson in The Graduate); Dan Duryea and Martin Landau; Ida Lupino and Martin Balsam; Gig Young and a young Ronnie Howard together.

Season two brought Art Carney playing Santa Claus with the character actor John Fiedler; Dick York; Burgess Meredith and Don Rickles; Buddy Ebsen; Billy Mumy; John Astin; and Dennis Weaver.

Season three glows more star-studded: Elizabeth Montgomery and Charles Bronson; Jack Klugman and Jonathan Winters (really!); Peter Falk playing a Fidel Castro-like figure; Lee Marvin and Strother Martin; Cloris Leachman; Buster Keaton in a time-travel episode harkening back to silent films; Dean Stockwell and Leonard Nimoy; Robert Redford as the Grim Reaper (I kid you not); Burt Mustin; Barry Morse as an irascible theater critic named Fitzgerald Fortune who lives in an garishly opulent apartment (file this one under fantasy); Edgar Buchanan and Dub Taylor; J. Pat O’Malley and Nancy Kulp (Mr. Drysdale’s secretary in The Beverly Hillbillies); Claude Akins; Theodore Bikel; Andy Devine and Howard McNear (Floyd the barber in The Andy Griffith Show); Cliff Robertson playing a ventriloquist who thinks he’s going insane and Frank Sutton (Sgt. Carter in Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.); Jesse White and Carol Burnett; and Donald Pleasence.

Ray Bradbury penned the teleplay for an episode titled “I Sing the Body Electric” (after Walt Whitman and about a cyborg nanny), which included a young Veronica Cartwright. Bernard Herrmann’s score for a 1962 episode closely resembles his music in the early scenes of Psycho.

The nuclear holocaust never happened (yet). The show with Pleasence playing an elderly teacher at a boys’ school gives a poignant lesson on how we can enrich the lives of others, even when we don’t know it. That theme still rings true today.


Review: Moonlight Cabaret

The socially distanced cast of Moonlight Cabaret.     (Photo Provided)
The socially distanced cast of Moonlight Cabaret                                                                            (Photo Provided)

By Larry Laneer
September 19, 2020

It’s a helluva lot better than nothing. It’s a million times better than Zoom. It is Lyric Theatre’s Moonlight Cabaret, now live and in person at the Myriad Gardens Water Stage. And not a moment too soon.

The song list of this musical revue looked odd at first, then I noticed the show sports the theme  “Super 70’s Cabaret.” (Lyric sent me the song list in advance; they do not provide printed programs at performances, but you may be able to get one with your cell phone.) Director Ashley Wells has brought together six of Lyric’s well-known artists plus two newcomers. The show’s lone instrumentalist, music director Eric Grigg, emcees from an electronic keyboard onstage behind plastic barriers.

This is one of the few shows in the country being staged with the approval of theatrical unions or professional associations. Lyric went to great lengths to prove the production would be done under pandemic precautions. Audience members wear masks but may take them off when seated in the theater. Only 100 theatergoers will be allowed in a house that seats probably four times that. Michael Baron, the company’s producing artistic director, acts as a kindly traffic cop before the show routing the audience to their well-spaced seats. Cast members are not masked but are placed apart onstage.

Thomas E. Cunningham, Mandy Jiran, Vince Leseney, Justin Larman, Olivia Yokers (a newcomer to the city; theatergoers look forward to seeing more of her), and Kat Metcalf make up the ensemble cast along with young Erica Burkett and Skylar Hemenway. All give fine performances. The between-song banter is pretty good at times and could use editing at others.

In fact, the spare musical forces work to the production’s advantage. The songs come across with a clarity that would be lost in a raucous arena show or even a stage musical. It’s a pleasure to hear them sung in this setting by the top-notch cast.

The 1970s was a huge decade for pop music, so any 80-minute show can strike only a glancing blow against the musical catalog. Wells has programed familiar songs by big names: Billy Joel, Eric Clapton, Carole King, Patti Smith, Bruce Springsteen, Carly Simon, Dolly Parton, Maureen McGovern, Elton John. She includes three show tunes, to wit, “What I Did for Love” from A Chorus Line and songs from the obscure musicals Starting Here, Starting Now and The Baker’s Wife.

This is an ensemble show, so cast members don’t outshine each other. But Leseney’s performance of Elton John’s “Border Song” rings true as a song of our times.

Lyric will do three completely different productions of Moonlight Cabaret. Each one runs for only four performances and will have different directors and casts. The next two come under the unrevealing titles “Silver Linings” and “Welcome to the (New) World.”

It is so good to see live performances again, and a show a fraction the quality this one of would be satisfying. But Lyric has gone to great lengths to stage a production, in context, as fine as anything they would do at the Plaza or Thelma Gaylord. The show never feels skimpy or lacking the energy you would expect from musical theater. We’re now into nice weather, and in a beautiful setting, Moonlight Cabaret provides a fine evening of post-canicular theater.

Moonlight Cabaret
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:00 p.m., Saturday-Sunday, September 19-20
Myriad Gardens Water Stage
301 W. Reno Ave.
Cast:  Thomas E. Cunningham, Mandy Jiran, Vince Leseney, Justin Larman, Olivia Yokers, Kat Metcalfe, Erica Burkett, Skylar Hemenway, directed by Ashley Wells, music direction by Eric Grigg

7:00 p.m., Thursday-Sunday, September 24-27
Cast:  Michael Andreaus, Stephen Hilton, Lexi Windsor, Helen Han, Cristela Carrizales, Ashley Mandanas, Devi Peot, directed by Matthew Sipress, music direction by Brian Hamilton

7:00 p.m., Thursday,-Sunday, October 1-4
Cast:  Jennifer Teel, Courtney Crouse, Antonio Rodriguez, Charlie Monnot, Renee Anderson, Campbell Walker Fields, Cheyanne Osoria, directed by Michael Baron, musical direction by Corie Melaugh

Pollard Theatre Company Plugged In

By Larry Laneer
July 22, 2020

As far as the theatrical world goes, not much good has come out of this pandemic, but we have some artists giving it their best shot. One delightful surprise has been Pollard Theatre Company Plugged In. PTC’s artistic director, W. Jerome Stevenson, has conducted video interviews with some of our leading theatrical artists and made them available on the company’s web site. The interviews are in the tradition of James Lipton on television’s Inside the Actors Studio. You hear the interviewees say their favorite curse word.

Stevenson said the idea for the program originated with the company’s board of directors. All interviewees have worked at some time with PTC.

Theatergoers have seen the work of these artists for years, if not decades. It’s nice to get to know them personally and hear their experiences. The director/choreographer/actor Matthew Sipress speaks movingly about being in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway and seeing Carol Channing at the top of the stairs in the title number. Choreographer Hui Cha Poos and Stevenson have a thoughtful discussion about the art and current issues of the day. (Her dances for PTC’s In the Heights in 2014 still linger in my mind.)

Kolby Kindle, a young actor from Edmond who was in In the Heights, has embarked on a successful career in touring musicals. He was in Australia with Come From Away when theater shut down. Brenda Williams and Elin Bhaird detail their long careers on the stage. In aggregate, how many shows have theatergoers seen these two wonderful actors in? It must be in the high two figures, if not three.

And anyone would benefit from spending time with the great Albert Bostick, who grew up in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Bostick is a master teacher and performer who has worked in about every art form, both performing and graphic.

Stevenson conducted the interviews remotely, and they all run about an hour. He always asks about the artist’s “point of no return,” when they knew theater was to be their world. We hear about their education and training and how they broke into their first theatrical jobs. Every interview is laced with humor; some are disturbing.

Stevenson said he hopes to continue these interviews “even after we’ve found a way back to our preferred art.” It would be a treat to see our top theatrical artists interviewed live with a chance for questions from the audience.

More episodes of Pollard Theatre Company Plugged In will be available, including one soon with Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre artistic director Donald Jordan.

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.