2019 Theater in Review

By Larry Laneer
December 16, 2019

As 2019 comes to a close, it is time to recognize outstanding achievements in theater. This was a surprisingly good year for plays. Musicals? Not so much. Only categories with outstanding work are included. Thus, some categories may not appear this year (for example, Best Sound Design of a Play and, of all things, Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical). 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. From 60 theatrical productions viewed in 2019:

Best Play:  Frost/Nixon (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma).  In our present troubled times, this docudrama was both historical and as relevant as today’s headlines. With extensive use of video screens, the production was almost overwrought, but overall it came across as rock-solid and engaging.
Highly Commended:  A Doll’s House, Part 2 (Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre), Driving Miss Daisy (Pollard Theatre Company), Twelfth Night, or What You Will (Oklahoma Shakespeare).

Best Musical:  Titanic: The Musical (Lyric Theater of Oklahoma).  A deeply personal depiction of the nautical catastrophe, the show itself was titanic with a cast of 41 actors, a choir of 58 singers, and an orchestra of 21 musicians.
Highly Commended:  Curious George: The Golden Meatball (Lyric).

Best Direction of a Play:  Ruth Charnay (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Oklahoma City Rep). Charnay’s light-handed but sure staging put the CitySpace audience right in the Helmers’ living room.
Highly Commended:  Michael Baron (Frost/Nixon, Lyric), Linda K. Leonard (Every Brilliant Thing, Oklahoma City Rep), Kathryn McGill (Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Oklahoma Shakespeare).

Best Direction of a Musical:  Michael Baron (Titanic: The Musical, Lyric). In recent years, Lyric has put on musicals at the Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre employing huge casts and full orchestras. With an able director such as Baron, these shows can be satisfying spectacles, as was this one.
Highly Commended:  Matthew Sipress (Curious George: The Golden Meatball, Lyric).

Best Choreography of a Musical:  Lyn Cramer (Singin’ in the Rain, Lyric).  Cramer recreated with much accuracy Gene Kelly’s dances from the movie, with plenty of tap dancing as well.

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play:  Stacey Logan (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Oklahoma City Rep). As Nora Helmer, Logan gave an unwaveringly strong performance in a tour-de-force role.
Highly Commended:  Brenda Williams (Driving Miss Daisy, Pollard).

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:  D. Lance Marsh (Frost/Nixon, Lyric).  Marsh captured with penetrating detail Nixon’s insecurities and self-defensiveness in a remarkable performance.
Highly Commended:  Matthew Alvin Brown (Frost/Nixon, Lyric), Jon Haque (Every Brilliant Thing, Oklahoma City Rep).

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play:  Jessa Schinske (Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Oklahoma Shakespeare). As Viola, Schinske’s performance ran the gamut from heartfelt to slapstick.
Highly Commended:  Pam Dougherty (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Oklahoma City Rep).

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play:  Tyler Woods (The Book of Will, Oklahoma Shakespeare). Playing two giants of Elizabethan theater, Woods was impressive and the highlight of the show as the imperious playwright Ben Jonson and railing actor Richard Burbage.
Highly Commended:  Stephen Hilton (Twelfth Night, or What You Will, Oklahoma Shakespeare).

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:  Susan Riley (Beehive: The 60s Musical, Pollard). As more or less the first among equals in an ensemble cast, Riley was narrator and guiding light in a show that was much more than its inane title implies.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:  Lexi Windsor (Singin’ in the Rain, Lyric). With a voice like fingernails across a blackboard, Windsor was delightful as Lina Lamont, one of the great opportunists in musical theater.
Highly Commended:  Jennifer Teel (Beehive: The 60s Musical, Pollard).

Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical:  Richard Riaz Yoder (Singin’ in the Rain, Lyric). As Cosmo Brown, Yoder performed almost exactly Donald O’Connor’s dance moves in “Make ‘Em Laugh,” but Yoder did it live and without retakes.

Best Scenic Design of a Play:  Ben Hall (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Oklahoma City Rep). Hall’s elegant and tasteful scenic design provided a beautiful background for the play.

Best Scenic Design of a Musical:  Dawn Drake (Curious George: The Golden Meatball, Lyric). This show is intended for young theatergoers, but the design was anything but juvenile, beginning with Drake’s scenery in a production that burst with color.
Highly Commended:  Misha Kachman (Girlfriend, Lyric).

Best Lighting Design of a Musical:  Fabian J. Garcia (Curious George: The Golden Meatball, Lyric). Garcia flooded the Plaza Theatre stage with a multi-hued palette that raised the temperature on an already hot-looking show.
Highly Commended:  Frank Labovitz (Girlfriend, Lyric).

Best Costume Design of a Play:  Jeffrey Meek (Frost/Nixon, Lyric). Meek hit the mark with 1970s costumes from the days of plaid polyester trousers.
Highly Commended:  Lloyd Cracknell and Jeremy Bernardoni (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Oklahoma City Rep), Emily Herrera (The Book of Will, Oklahoma Shakespeare).

Best Costume Design of a Musical:  Jeffrey Meek (Curious George: The Golden Meatball, Lyric). Meek’s cartoon-like costumes brought a fine production up a notch or two.
Highly Commended:  Michael James (Beehive: The 60s Musical, Pollard), Jeffrey Meek (Titanic: The Musical, Lyric).

Best Sound Design of a Musical:  Ryan Hickey (Girlfriend, Lyric). Hickey’s sound design was highly effective in establishing both rural and town locations in many varied scenes.
Highly Commended:  Anthony Risi (Titanic: The Musical, Lyric).

Oh, I almost forgot. In 2019, we saw the touring production of Hamilton. It lived up to ridiculously high expectations. We can all go to bed now.


Review: It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

By Larry Laneer
December 9, 2019

Pollard Theatre Company has revived It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play from last season. I see a few changes from the previous staging. But the production is still so far off the mark, it could be accused of false advertising.

PTC put its long-running A Territorial Christmas Carol on hold last year, replacing it with It’s a Wonderful Life. On paper, this looks like a great idea. The playwright Joe Landry adapted Philip Van Doren Stern’s 1943 short story “The Greatest Gift” and Frank Capra’s 1946 film into this stage version. Landry sets the play in the late 1940s, when dramas were performed on radio before live audiences. The actors wear period clothing, read from scripts, and a sound-effects man provides slamming doors, splashing water, breaking glass, punches to the jaw, among numerous other noises.

I saw this play at the University of Oklahoma in 2006, so I can vouch for the script’s worthiness. In fact, it’s great fun to see actors playing multiple roles, sometimes in conversation with themselves, and the clever ways sound effects are created. If you close your eyes, you can hear the show as if it’s on the radio. That’s the point of Landry’s adaptation. Radio dramas take place mainly in audience members’ imaginations.

The PTC production begins true to the script, following the movie storyline. George Bailey strives to save the family savings and loan in Bedford Falls, New York, and gets into such a mess, he’s thinking of ending it all. He wishes he’d never been born.

But about an hour into the show, director W. Jerome Stevenson spoils the magic of a live radio drama by inexplicably inserting an intermission into the production. Radio dramas do not go off the air for 15 minutes, so audiences can take care of business or buy drinks at the bar. What I guess would be called the “second act” takes up where the story left off, but before long Stevenson completely abandons the live radio play conceit. The lights change and the actors put down their scripts and go off microphone, performing as if this were a conventional stage play. Oddly, the sound-effects man continues his work.

It took me a while from last season’s production to figure out what Stevenson is doing. The switch away from the live radio play comes in the scene where the angel, Clarence, saves Bailey from doing away with himself by drowning and, then, shows him what would have happened if he had never been born, Bailey’s expressed wish. In the movie, this scene is fantastical. Angels do not come to Earth and show people what life would be like if they’d never been born. Stevenson seems to be trying to achieve the same fantastical effect by changing the production from a live radio play to a 21st-century stage drama.

Landry has not written the script this way, so why Stevenson would make these intrusions is beyond me. Throughout the production, Stevenson lays a heavy hand on the show. He has actors constantly moving around the stage to different microphones and has them pantomime action in the script (such as eating or talking on telephones). Would radio actors do these things?

Stevenson is the director; he can do whatever he wants.  But some fine performances are lost in the superfluity. Joshua McGowen plays a credible George Bailey, although you may wonder why the upstate New York character sometimes lapses into a Southern drawl. James A. Hughes is terrific as Old Man Potter and in several other roles. Kara Chapman and Kris Schinske Wolf play multiple females. The always-solid David Fletcher-Hall is Clarence, the angel second class. Timothy Stewart does a fine job in several roles. So, you see the production has a highly qualified cast.

This play is an excellent fit for PTC. The theater makes a realistic setting as a radio studio. If the company would do the script as a live radio play, replace the recorded music with a musician (an organist!), make the sound effects even better than they are, and let the actors focus on creating characters without a lot of extraneous running around, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play could be a highlight of any theatrical season. But, alas, it is now an opportunity missed.

It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play by Joe Landry
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Saturdays-Sundays, through December 22
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie


Review: A Christmas Carol

Dirk Lumbard and Charlie Monnot in A Christmas Carol  Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
December 2, 2019

Lyric Theatre has reopened its A Christmas Carol for the ninth consecutive season, the fourth for this production. Surely, all theatergoers around here have seen this show at least once. If not, why not? Some theatergoers have been skeptical when I’ve highly praised this show, and that’s understandable.

In less capable hands, a theatrical adaptation of Dickens’s story could be maudlin or reek with religiosity. But adapted and directed by Michael Baron, Lyric’s production passes the test of time as a fine work of theater. That’s because the story is as relevant today as it was when Dickens published it in 1843, and Baron and his designers have successfully employed all the elements of modern drama. Although it would be hard for any show to retain the magic and surprise of seeing it for the first time, this production bears up even after four (or nine) years.

First, Jeffrey Meek’s beautiful costumes range from tasteful to spectacular. The authentic 19th-century clothes are handsome and detailed. You get a good look at them when the cast mingles with the audience before the show begins. Then you have the blue and white robe with a diamond-encrusted diadem Mateja Govich wears as the Ghost of Christmas Present. It bears repeating, this costume would come in handy if Govich is ever called upon to play God.

Kimberly Powers’s scenic design, mainly in red bricks, is convincing as mid-19th-century London. Movable elements and a turntable keep the action flowing through several scene changes.

Integrated with the period costumes and scenery are completely modern lighting by Weston Wilkerson and sound design by Josh Schmidt and Brad Poarch. Wilkerson employs a wide palette, and Schmidt and Poarch thunder, clank, roar, and whistle when appropriate. The Jacob Marley scene shakes the walls. The production includes several traditional carols and songs done to recorded accompaniment. Although Schmidt’s original music is highly electronic, it fits easily with the period setting.

This spectacle wouldn’t amount to much without top-notch acting and singing by the cast. Baron has made a few minor cast changes, but many Lyric regulars are back in their usual roles. Although you occasionally see a little ham, all do fine jobs. Dirk Lumbard as Scrooge is back for the fourth year. Charlie Monnot repeats as Bob Cratchit, while Nakeisha McGee is new as Mrs. Cratchit. Andi Dema returns as Fred, Scrooge’s nephew. Susan Riley and Jennifer Lynn Teel are fine in various roles. Thomas E. Cunningham is delightful in vastly contrasting roles. Brenda Williams and Matthew Alvin Brown serve as narrators and in other roles. Child parts have been double cast (the Holly Cast and Ivy Cast).

Next season will be the fifth and last for this particular staging. Lyric runs the show for five years, then brings out a completely new production. Don’t worry that it’s only A Christmas Carol. It’s hard to find fault with Dickens, and Lyric does a fine job bringing his story to life.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Baron
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays,
2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sundays
through December 22, and 7:30 p.m. Monday, December 23, and

2:00 p.m. Tuesday, December 24
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.

Widely Staged Shows, Playwrights Presented Here

By Larry Laneer
November 15, 2019

Who says we’re behind the times?  Not true!  At least, not completely true theatrically speaking.

American Theatre magazine has released its top ten list of most-produced plays and playwrights in the 2019-2020 season (which are really 14 shows because of ties). (Theatre season runs the same as the academic year, fall to spring with an additional summer session.) The magazine is the organ of the Theatre Communications Group, an organization of professional, non-profit theater companies in this country. The list is not comprehensive; it includes productions by TCG members only. And they don’t count Shakespeare and productions of Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

According to the magazine, A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Simon Stephens, based on the book by Mark Haddon, will be the two most-produced plays in the 2019-2020 season with 12 productions each. A TCG member, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre staged a brief run of Curious Incident in April and is presenting A Doll’s House, Part 2 at CitySpace now. Next on the list of most-produced plays is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan Macmillan (10 productions), which Oklahoma City Rep opened with this season. Also on the list are the musical Bright Star by Steve Martin and Edie Brickell (9 productions), presented earlier this year by Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, and The Wolves by Sarah DeLappe (8 productions), done this year by both Oklahoma City University’s School of Theatre and OU’s Helmerich School of Drama.

The magazine also identified the top twenty most-produced playwrights (which are really 22 because of ties). Lauren Gunderson leads the list with 33 productions. Oklahoma Shakespeare staged her The Book of Will in August. Lucas Hnath, author of A Doll’s House, Part 2, will be the third most-produced playwright, tied with Tennessee Williams at 17 productions each. (By the way, Hnath’s last name rhymes with wraith; the H is silent; the N is sounded.) The OCU School of Theatre will present Eurydice by Sarah Ruhl (10 productions) in early 2020. Simon Stephens (13 productions), Duncan Macmillan (11 productions), and Steve Martin (9 productions) also made the top twenty. So did Neil Simon, who died in 2018 (13 productions). Twelve of the most-produced playwrights are women; 10 are men.

Shows don’t necessarily get on this list because they’re always great works of art. Sometimes they just gain popularity or are relatively easy or inexpensive to stage, needing one actor, one costume, and one set, for example. But it’s good to know our theater companies are presenting works that are prominent in the current conversation.


Review: The SpongeBob Musical

Daria Pilar Redus, Lorenzo Pugliese, and Beau Bradshaw in The SpongeBob Musical  Photo by Jeremy Daniel

By Larry Laneer
November 13, 2019

When you create a musical based on a television cartoon, you can’t expect to come up with much more than a cartoon musical. That’s what you have in The SpongeBob Musical, now playing at the Thelma Gaylord. Presented by OKC Broadway, this is the touring version of the Broadway production that ran in 2017-2018 to some acclaim.

The show’s protagonist, SpongeBob SquarePants, is a, well, sponge who lives in Bikini Bottom at the bottom of the ocean. By “sponge,” I mean “a porous rubber or cellulose product used similarly to a sponge,” that is, “an elastic porous mass of interlacing horny fibers that forms the internal skeleton of various marine animals (phylum Porifera) and is able when wetted to absorb water.” SpongeBob is not a sponge in the sense of “one who habitually depends on others for maintenance or for support.” Just to clarify.

Kyle Jarrow wrote the book, and original songs are by a Grammy award show worth of musicians, including among others Sara Bareilles, Lady Antebellum, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Panic! at the Disco, They Might Be Giants, and The Flaming Lips. The Flaming Lips! Their appealing anthem “Tomorrow Is” closes the first act. The composer Tom Kitt (Next to Normal) has wrangled the pop/rock songs into a cohesive score, keeping the show from sounding too composed by committee.

The literary level of this musical rates about the same as a middling television cartoon with anodyne sentiments, corny dialog, and sight gags worthy of the Road Runner. Once the story settles in, a natural disaster threatens Bikini Bottom. SpongeBob leads the effort to save the town while dealing with a local villain.

The same creative team who did the Broadway production created this version. Directed by Tina Landau with choreography by Christopher Gattelli, the show goes full blast visually, dramatically, and musically. David Zinn’s scenic and costume designs run just about the gamut of the color spectrum with everything turned up to full brightness. The costumes are regular clothes for human-like characters such as SpongeBob but run more cartoonish for the “vast array of undersea creatures” played by the supporting cast.

The show counters its dramatic inanity with visual spectacle and performances that are so over-the-top, they’re kind of sweet. Lorenzo Pugliese gives a winning performance in the title role. You can’t help but like SpongeBob and pull for him. As Squidward Q. Tentacles (remember, we’re dealing with cartoon characters here), Cody Cooley just about steals the show. His four-legged tap dance in the second act is the show’s highlight. Beau Bradshaw does a fine job as Patrick Star, a loveable oaf of an undersea slacker. Daria Pilar Redus plays Sandy Cheeks, who is a squirrel. By “squirrel,” I mean “any of various arboreal rodents of the genus Sciurus and related genera, usu. with gray or reddish-brown fur and a long, flexible, bushy tail.” If the show explained why a squirrel lives at the bottom of the ocean in Bikini Bottom, it went right by me unnoticed. The busy supporting cast gives strong performances.

Before the show, I saw more booster seats and people sized to need them than you see at most musicals. Maybe they got a lot out of this one. If you’re a fan of cartoon musicals, SpongeBob may be the show for you.

The SpongeBob Musical by Kyle Jarrow (book) and various artists (music/lyrics)
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 November 17
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.

Review: A Doll’s House, Part 2

Stacey Logan (l) and Pam Dougherty in A Doll’s House, Part 2   Photo by Wendy Mutz Photography

By Larry Laneer
November 11, 2019

When accomplished actors perform a well-written script, theatergoers wonder why all theater can’t be so engaging. This may be your reaction to Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath, now at CitySpace. Well, theater isn’t as easy to do as this production makes it look.

Hnath has written the 2017 A Doll’s House, Part 2 as a sequel to Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play A Doll’s House, an important work in theater history. It’s still studied in drama schools today. At the end of the Ibsen, Nora Helmer leaves her husband, Torvald, famously slamming the door on her way out. Part 2 takes place 15 years later, when Nora returns home for the first time.

Scholars and theatergoers have been wondering since 1879 about what happened to Nora after she left Torvald. Ibsen never said. How did she make her way in the world? Did she have to become a prostitute to make a living? Or die of consumption? Hnath gives his take on the question (from seeds planted by Ibsen). I won’t reveal it here, except to say Nora has developed some radical ideas, which have put her in a difficult situation.

You don’t have to know the Ibsen to get a lot out this play. But if do know it, you will understand why the characters say some of the things they do. Hnath provides all the background you need for Part 2.

Directed with a light but sure hand by Ruth Charnay, the Oklahoma City Rep (they don’t want to be called “City Rep” anymore; fine) production brings together all theatrical elements into a satisfying whole. Hnath has written intelligent dialog, which is more 21st-century than 19th. This well-done production seems to want to be a comedy, but it’s more quick-witted than funny.

This production displays some of the most admirable acting we’ve seen in a while. The commanding Stacey Logan carries the show as Nora. She’s onstage for the play’s entire 90 minutes without intermission. Logan is an Oklahoma City Rep regular, and here the company has cast her in a role that fits like a kid glove. Nora is a strong character, and Logan shows every bit of that strength.

But the acting doesn’t drop off after Logan. Pam Dougherty (she played Violet Weston in Oklahoma City Rep’s August: Osage County in 2010) keeps step with Logan as Anne Marie, the Helmers’ maid (all characters in this play come from the Ibsen). Irascible, conniving, and practical, Dougherty’s Anne Marie is a pleasure to watch. As Torvald, Steve Emerson gives a fine performance. His Torvald finally gets to tell off Nora after she walked out on him. Avery Carlson plays the couple’s daughter, Emmy, who would have been a toddler when Nora left. Carlson’s Emmy shows she has inherited her mother’s spunk, although not in a way sympathetic to Nora.

Ben Hall’s set design is a study in elegant simplicity. In consists of a three-dimensional back wall in what looks like some pleasing shade of light yellow highlighted with white wainscoting and molding. A handsome door with rounded corners opens from the middle of the wall, and the stage is dark wood. Four chairs and a side table look completely appropriate for the parlor of a successful Norwegian bank manager such as Torvald.

The understated, authentic period costumes by Lloyd Cracknell and Jeremy Bernardoni look sharp on the actors. Theatergoers appreciate such attention to detail at the close range of CitySpace. It’s like you’re right there in the Helmer household with the characters.

A Dolls’ House, Part 2 is by no means a great work of drama. It has intelligent dialog, however, and tells a story with a strong point of view. In fact, if Ibsen had written a sequel to A Doll’s House, it might have been very much like Hnath’s Part 2.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Lucas Hnath
Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre
7:30 p.m. Fridays, 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays, 1:30 p.m. Sundays, through November 24
CitySpace, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.

Review: Evil Dead: The Musical

By Larry Laneer
October 22, 2019

Some theatergoers may think taking Sam Raimi’s cult films of the 1980s and basing a stage show titled Evil Dead: The Musical on them sounds like a terrible idea. But not so fast. Take a look at Pollard Theatre Company’s current production of the musical and see what a feat of theatrical transmogrification it is.

This show may sound familiar. PTC did Evil Dead: The Musical in 2014. The company has said they revived the show because of “audience demand.” That seems odd at once, because it had played for a week by the time I saw it, and at the reviewed performance, the theater was barely half full. But that’s not the only odd thing about this show.

Rodgers and Hammerstein created their catalog of musicals with just the two of them. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Hamilton all by himself. But Evil Dead: The Musical took the committee of George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, and Rob Daleman to birth it.

First, their pop/rock score is an unusual achievement. I would give you the titles of some of the songs, but PTC has saved me the trouble by not printing them in the program. Anyway, these composer-lyricists have written an entire show of songs that you will have forgotten by the time you get to your car. Or maybe seconds after they come out of the actors’ mouths. But the songs don’t matter much, because the cast in this production has a clever way of disguising the lyrics, so you can’t understand most of them.

Next, the show relieves audiences of a logical plot, cogent dialog, and thought-provoking ideas. Lines such as “What the fuck?” and “The trees are alive!” are clear, to the point, and delivered forcefully by the cast. A reference to the actor Henry Winkler causes the cast to give the double thumbs-up sign and exclaim “Aaaaaay!” And you thought Shakespeare was a great playwright.

The cast includes some of our leading actors. Wil Rogers, Megan Montgomery, and Jon-Philip Olson return from the 2014 production. Kristin Küns, Ian Cummings, Laura Renfro, and Kaleb Bruza are new to this revival.

The director Jared Blount must have coached the actors to give intentionally “bad” performances. And they nail it. The inferior acting fits the clichéd characters: the obnoxious jerk, the ditzy blonde, the bookish nerd, the country bumpkin. We’ve all seen most of these actors several times and know they are capable of giving “good” performances.

The show is inspired by gore cinema, but Blount limits the sanguinity mainly to some thin streams of stage blood sprayed on the first row of the audience. Granted, this show is bloodier than your average musical. Some directors might stage this play as a Grand Guignol. If this production were done that way, however, PTC stagehands would mop up the stage blood and dump it into the Guthrie sewer system, and it would eventually end up in the aquifer. Thus, a show that could be blood red is actually “green.”

Heidi Hoffer’s set design has been reincarnated from the 2014 production. Let’s just say strange things happen with the set. Objects move mysteriously by themselves.

The production employs the recorded voice of the great actor and long-time PTC company member James Ong. This is eerie in itself. Ong died in 2018. But it’s wonderful to hear his distinctive voice again.

So, theatergoers, let’s not dismiss Evil Dead: The Musical out of hand. You may never again see anything quite like it.

Evil Dead: The Musical by George Reinblatt, Frank Cipolla, Christopher Bond, Melissa Morris, and Rob Daleman
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through November 2,
8:00 p.m. Thursday, October 31
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison, Ave., Guthrie

Review: Hello, Dolly!

Cast of Hello, Dolly!                                                                         Photo by Julieta Cervantes

By Larry Laneer
October 16, 2019

Theatergoers may wonder if the classic musical Hello, Dolly! is relevant in today’s strident times. Is it anything more than two-and-a-half hours of escapism? Probably not, but if you’re looking for a respite from wars and investigations, you could do worse than this show.

With music and lyrics by the legendary Jerry Herman and book by Michael Stewart, Hello, Dolly! represents an ideal example of the mid-20th-century book musical. It’s hard to believe, but this 1964 musical could be a new show to a couple of generations of theatergoers. That’s  reason enough for OKC Broadway to present it now at the Thelma Gaylord.

This is the touring version of the 2017 Broadway revival, which starred Bette Midler in the title role until she was replaced by Bernadette Peters. It’s easy to see how director Jerry Zaks has staged the show to feature Dolly even more than usual. Alas, no Midler or Peters here, but we do have Carolee Carmello as Dolly Gallagher Levi in an affecting, sincere performance that ranges from poignant to sassy. In addition to a fine singing voice, Carmello has the chops for comic acting required for the role. The audience gave her entrance applause on opening night, and she lived up to expectations.

 The cast in this production consistently sings Herman’s tuneful and lyrical songs with nearly perfect clarity. John Bolton as Horace Vandergelder gets the curmudgeonly part down, but you feel his Vandergelder is an old softie at heart. Bolton does “Penny in My Pocket” in front of the curtain to open the second act, and the song has a certain sweetness. It’s Herman’s version of a patter song.

Daniel Beeman as Cornelius Hackl has a beautiful singing voice, as does his female counterpart, Analisa Leaming as Irene Molloy. Sean Burns (as Barnaby) and Chelsea Cree Groen (Minnie Fay) give equally fine performances.

It’s easy to forget that Hello, Dolly! with one of the great scores in musical theater is also a dancing show. Warren Carlyle’s choreography looks up-to-date while being faithful to both the show’s 1885 setting and its mid-20th-century nascence. The dancers execute the choreography with expert precision. Carylye’s dances range from feathery (“Before The Parade Passes By”) to acrobatic (“The Waiters’ Gallop” stopped the show on opening night).

Santo Loquasto designed both scenery and costumes. The scenic design’s backdrops have the rich look of late-19th-century postcards and match his tasteful period costumes. The neon costumes of “Put on Your Sunday Clothes” seem to come from way beyond Yonkers, New York, where the show is partly set, but don’t ask me where.

The songs and dance wouldn’t come off right without a solid pit orchestra, and this production features a band of close to 20 musicians with string, reed, and brass sections. This is a good size orchestra for a touring show.

In this production, you have a quality performance of a worthy musical. The show may not send you trippingly out of the theater, but you should feel entertained.

Hello, Dolly! by Jerry Herman (music/lyrics) and Michael Stewart (book)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Sunday, through October 20
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.

Review: The Tempest

W. Jerome Stevenson in The Tempest                                      Photo by Kathryn McGill

By Larry Laneer
October 14, 2019

Oklahoma Shakespeare is presenting The Tempest in a production that makes you feel you should root for it but lacks much that’s likeable. If I hadn’t seen this play done before with more appeal, I would have thought the fault lies with Shakespeare himself.

Granted, director Tyler Woods has taken a slightly unconventional approach to the play, and goodness knows theatergoers like shows that take risks. But this production never gels into a clear, cohesive whole. It is difficult to keep up with the storyline and who some of the characters are and their relationships with each other.

In a nod to western expansion by Europeans in the 17th century, Woods includes elements from the West Indies and Irish isles, which explains why Ariel is a voodoo princess and Caliban speaks with an Irish brogue. You may not understand the presence of these affectations watching the play, which was first performed in 1611. I wouldn’t have. They are discussed in a helpful dramaturg’s note by Hailey Stephan in the program. Stephan also provides an informative video display and binder of dramaturg’s notes in the lobby.

The production features some notable acting—or overacting. None other than W. Jerome Stevenson is a commanding Prospero, who rules his enchanted isle with a magical staff Moses would envy. Miranda Summar (as Prospero’s daughter, also named Miranda) and Nick Hone (Ferdinand) make a sweet couple. In a mohawk with devil’s horns growing out of his head, Tom Orr amps up Caliban until you think he’s about to pop. Playing the part as a wild-eyed voodoo princess, Mariah Warren will be the scariest Ariel you may see for a while. The West Indies accent Warren speaks in (“de” for “the,” “dem” for “them,” and so on) muddles too much of her dialog. It isn’t clear why Woods has cast females in some male roles.

As with recent Oklahoma Shakespeare productions at the Paseo venue, this one looks sharp. If the actors want to chew some scenery, Ryan Fischer’s scenic design provides a smorgasbord of more fully realized detail than you usually see in Elizabethan-style theater. Emily Herrera has designed appealing, if conventional, 17th-century-style costumes, although they aren’t much help in differentiating the Neapolitans from the Milanese.

In addition to playing Gonzalo (and guitar), Stephen Hilton composed music and designed sound for the show. He employs both recorded and live music, mainly contemporary sounding. The sound design contributes largely to two of the best scenes. Woods stages the opening scene of a ship in a storm (the “tempest”), including the vessel’s figurehead and sails, with an artistic simplicity that creates high expectations for the rest of the play. Later, Ariel scares some reprobates by conjuring dogs and hounds that send them into a frenzy. Sound and some hand-held red lights are spare and highly effective.

It takes quite a bit of effort on audience members’ parts to keep up with what is going on in this production. This need not be. Oklahoma Shakespeare has proven before it can stage clear, convincing shows at their Paseo space. A case in point is the company’s Twelfth Night earlier this year.

The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Oklahoma Shakespeare
8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. Sundays, through October 26
Oklahoma Shakespeare on the Paseo
2920 Paseo

Review: The Rocky Horror Show

Eric Ulloa as Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter in The Rocky Horror Show  Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
October 10, 2019

Lyric Theatre says it will put on a new production of the musical The Rocky Horror Show every three years. We now have the latest version at the Plaza Theatre, the company’s fifth staging of the show since 2008. The production provides an excellent opportunity for Lyric to rethink its plans. Rethinking plans is good.

This inane musical with book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien achieved cult status in the last century through the 1975 film adaptation, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Today, theatrical productions all over the country, including, unfortunately, Lyric, have adapted some conventions of the movie to the stage show. Someone comes out before the show and coaches the audience on the movie’s shout outs: yell “asshole” when you hear Brad’s name and “slut” when you hear Janet’s and other sanitized naughtiness. Lyric’s production seems to have slightly deemphasized that silliness now. That’s good, because these movie practices do not work with the stage show.

Because directors are dealing with inferior material in Rocky, they have trouble making it look fresh. They can make it look different. But fresh, not so much. And director J. Robert Moore (who played Frank ‘N’ Furter in Lyric’s 2016 production) does make the production look different, beginning with the red curtain across the Plaza stage. In a day when many shows eschew the curtain, it’s a welcome sight. Then, you have Frank ‘N’ Furter’s entrance, which will look familiar to theatergoers who are regulars at Lyric. I don’t think they’ve done the entrance this way before, but it’s surprising they haven’t. Oh, and Moore adds a snippet from Cats near the end, among other movie and theater references.

As Frank ‘N’ Furter, Eric Ulloa makes a tall, overbearing mad scientist in drag. Antonio Rodriguez’s Brad is more sweet than dorky (no problem with that), and Emily J. Pace as Janet is appropriately uptight.

In the second act, Janna Linae Schmid as Columbia does a frenetic solo in which she evokes Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Hillary Clinton, and Jimi Hendrix in the course of about four minutes. It’s the highlight of the show. Matthew Alvin Brown plays Dr. Scott as Dr. Strangelove. His costume reveal late in the show is a clever sight gag. It’s nice to see Brett Young (surprisingly, making his Lyric debut) doing an appropriately reserved Narrator. The buff Haulston Mann returns from the 2016 production as Rocky with a tan that looks spray-painted on. Elvie Ellis is fine as Riff Raff, as is Kat Metcalfe as Magenta.

The production underutilizes the excellent choreographer Hui Cha Poos. The show just doesn’t have that much choreography, although you will see a Poos kickline, something completely unexpected from her.

Armando Ortiz’s costumes are over the top, but Rocky can stand the highest level of garishness in costumes. Jon Young has designed a serviceable set. Twelve posters advertising real horror and sci-fi movies such as the show spoofs adorn the walls of the theater, including Queen of Outer Space (starring Zsa Zsa Gabor!) and the obscure The Day of the Triffids (with Howard Keel, who was in the original Oklahoma!).

If Lyric wants to present a new Rocky Horror every three years, that’s their business. But I wonder if this project has run its course. Five productions in 11 years is a lot of Rocky. If Lyric would like to do an old show in the same vein, how about a new look at Little Shop of Horrors in 2022 at the Plaza? It’s something to think about (and Little Shop is a much better show).

The Rocky Horror Show by Richard O’Brien (book, music, and lyrics)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. and 11:59 p.m Fridays-Saturdays,
5:00 p.m. Sundays, through November 2

Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.