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.
405-524-9312

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.
405-594-8300

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.
405-594-8300

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
405-282-2800

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.
405-594-8300

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
1-800-838-3006

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.
405-524-9312

Reflections on the Theatre Crude Fringe Festival

By Larry Laneer
October 7, 2019

When the couple Jenny Brand and Adam Brand moved to Oklahoma from Minneapolis three years ago, they came with fringe festival experience. They saw the need for a fringe festival in Oklahoma City and took it upon themselves to make one happen. Their fringe experience explains why the Theatre Crude Fringe Festival was so well run during the past two weeks.

We were long overdue for a fringe festival. Antecedents of fringe theater go back to 1947. The form really took off in North America in the 1960s and 1970s.

Theatre Crude Fringe Festival had a quality mixture of 10 different acts, both produced locally and from out of town. I saw eight of them. I don’t know of any theatrical production around here that ran as punctually as the Theatre Crude Fringe Festival. We were not forced to sit through droning curtain speeches and pre-show sales pitches to captive audiences. Performances started precisely on the curtain time. Some of the productions looked like they were done on a budget of $1.98, but that’s in the fringe tradition. For the performances, an event center on the first floor of the Old Surety Life Insurance Company building on North Lincoln Boulevard was transformed into a functional, comfortable black box theater.

I saw three productions the second week. The dystopian drama 3/4 Empty, written and performed by Justice von Maur and Jonathan Jarmon, recalled Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns: a post-electric play. A catastrophe has happened. It may be a revolution or invasion. We never learned exactly what it was, but something caused a big societal upheaval. References were made to “the election,” an occupying force, torture, and someone who “used art as a tool and a weapon.”  I think the authors were suggesting a future under Trump or a Trump-like despot.

3/4 Empty was the most fully realized play of the festival. Von Maur and Jarmon wore identical dark blue coveralls, and the play took place in a wooden frame supported by four posts. As the play opened, papers and other debris littered the stage floor. This could be an early draft of a longer work by von Maur and Jarmon.

In an act called Jamie Campbell: Professional Idiot, the eponymous Jamie Campbell did 55 minutes of stand-up comedy, barely stopping to take a breath. He gave a game performance before a small audience.

Surprisingly, the biggest disappointment of the festival was the enticingly titled The Ultra-Conservative Theatre Summit, a production of Next Stage. Rodney Brazil wrote the play, and it was directed by Holly McNatt. Producers were Brazil, Todd Clark, and Rebecca McCauley. The cast included Clark, McCauley, Tiffany Tuggle, and Kaleb Bruza. These are some of our top theatrical artists.

The play took shots at some easy targets favored or loathed by ultra-conservatives: gender fluidity and identity, removal of offending statues, corporate hegemony, and a vague scene involving a prison group therapy session. Not many of these attempts hit the bullseye. The play ended with the cast singing a verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.” I couldn’t tell if the irony was intentional, but these ultra-conservatives were singing a song by a composer who was accused of being a Communist sympathizer.

The Brands and their crew of about 20 volunteers gave us a strong start to our very own fringe festival. They should be encouraged by theatergoers and performing artists to bring it back next year. Writers and performers who want to try edgier, more provocative material will have an excellent venue for it. Everyone should start preparing now.

Review: Theatre Crude Fringe Festival

By Larry Laneer
September 30, 2019

Finally, we have our very own fringe festival! The Theatre Crude Fringe Festival is underway at the Capitol View Event Center (new to me). The venue is designed for weddings and other social events, but the creators of the festival have turned it into a comfortable, serviceable black box theater that seats about 50.

I guess a convention of fringe festivals, or, at least, of this one, is the festival does not provide printed programs at the performance site. You can check the festival web site and get some information, but it’s sometimes hard to figure out details about the plays, such as what you are watching and who is performing it. Thus, the information below is the best I could find. Here are some selections from the first week.

Before Presence begins, three people, who turn out to be cast members, sit in chairs on stage fiddling with cell phones. (At the same time, I looked around and saw most people in the audience fiddling with cell phones. That’s creepy right there.) The play depicts what must be a rehab facility for technology addicts. “I’m nothing without my followers,” one Instagram addict says. They are guided through the 12-step-like program by the eerie, disembodied voice of the Founder of Presence (think a duller HAL). A late scene includes some deft use of live video.

An outfit called 19th Century Hound (get it?) is credited as the play’s creator. Performers are Ronn Burton, Alex Prather, Mary Buss, and Ashley J. Mandanas.

A satire on the absurdity of electronic-device-dominated life, the play hews alarmingly close to the truth. Some people substitute virtual reality for, well, reality. It’s tempting to make fun of or call them idiots. Just turn off the damn device! But that would be like telling other addicts simply to put down the bottle or throw away the cigarettes. It doesn’t work that way. The play may leave some viewers unsettled. It should.

For something completely different, We Stan Together is by millennials, for millennials, and of millennials, with pop culture references galore. The creators, Lauren Brickman and Caitlin Bitzegaio, riff good-naturedly on chance encounters with various celebrities (from A List to D List), television and movies of their era, boy bands (including one from Oklahoma City), and television theme songs, among other trivia.

Brickman and Bitzegaio created this work at New York City’s prestigious Upright Citizens Brigade, so they have a wealth of material for name-dropping. The “stan” of the title is not a misprint. They give the definition in the play, or you can look it up on the internet, something the creators of this play and the characters in Presence would do as second nature.

Now, for something really different, we see Cyrano A-Go-Go, written and performed by Brad McEntire. As a high school sophomore in Carrollton, Texas, McEntire was required to write a play report for a drama class. He stumbled across Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and became smitten with the play. In fact, as McEntire details it over about 70 minutes, the play becomes a guiding light and inspiration for the rest of his life.

McEntire gives a history of the play, going into detail about the opening performance on December 28, 1897, and the two-hour ovation following the final curtain. He performs a few scenes and points out that Cyrano is a dream role for character actors, such as himself. The play has never gone out of style and is still performed today.

Perpetual Motion Dance revived its Water Won’t Wait, a set of dances interspersed with a video of dances. The company doesn’t provide a program, so I don’t know who the dancers are or what music they are dancing to. All the dances appear more or less aquatic related. In the opening scene, a long white cloth covering the dancers resembles the rising and falling of ocean waves. Sound contributes much to the depiction of water. A lot of the movement takes place on the floor, and the dancers and audience are on the same level, so if you’re not sitting on the front row, your view is restricted severely.

An entertainment titled The Gravel Road Show Presents Oklahoma, USA! is by far the most provocative and edgy work I’ve seen so far at the festival. It is the creation of Dr. Kato M. T. Buss (whose name sounds like a character in a fringe festival) and students at the University of Central Oklahoma. Some people, and not only people in Oklahoma, would consider this play highly offensive and inappropriate. Not me, mind you. Say, people who get their information from Fox. The multi-racial cast mashes up Macbeth, Julius Caesar, and current events in a cabaret-style show that includes parodies of songs from a famous Broadway musical. It’s about as subtle as a tornado. That’s all I’ll say here, because to be fair to the production, you have to see the songs and action in the context of Road Show.

Theatre Crude Fringe Festival continues through October 6. Expect more dispatches later.

Theatre Crude Fringe Festival
through October 6
Performance times and dates:  https://www.theatrecrude.org/
Capitol View Event Center
5201 N. Lincoln Blvd.
$15 or less

Review: Fiddler on the Roof

Cast of Fiddler on the Roof                                                                                               Photo by Joan Marcus

By Larry Laneer
September 26, 2019

Some scholars say Fiddler on the Roof is as close to perfection as anyone has come in musical theater. The timelessness of this 1964 musical comes through in the production now playing at the Thelma Gaylord, presented by OKC Broadway. I hope the show causes you to think.

Directed by Bartlett Sher and choreographed by Hofesh Shechter, this is the touring version of a production that played to some acclaim on Broadway three years ago. Sher is one of our leading theatrical directors. I don’t think any of his previous productions have played here.

With book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, and lyrics by Sheldon Harnick, Fiddler boasts one of the great scores with such standards as “Tradition,” “Matchmaker, Matchmaker,” “To Life,” “Sunrise, Sunset,” and my favorite, “Miracle of Miracles.”

Set early in the last century, the show focuses on Tevye, a poor Jewish milkman in the Russian shtetl Anatevka, a place where tradition is everything. But modernity begins creeping into the village—socially, politically, and even mechanically. By the end of the show, the czar will expel the Jews of Anatevka from the district where they’ve lived for generations.

Tevye is one of musical theater’s signature characters, and actors playing him take their place in a long line (the great Zero Mostel created the role in the original Broadway production). In this production, the Israeli actor Yehezkel Lazarov gives a pleasing, if not commanding, performance as Tevye. He won over the opening-night audience. As Tevye’s wife, Maite Uzal does give a commanding performance, but that’s written into the role.

Running nearly three hours, the show features solid singing and acting by the cast of more than 30. Playing the daughters, Ruthy Froch (as Hodel) and Noa Luz Barenblat (as Chava) stand out among equals. Nic Casaula as Perchik, the budding revolutionary, and Nick Siccone as Motel, the tailor, give appealing performances.

The designers also did the Broadway version. Catherine Zuber’s sharp costumes are understated and authentic-looking in rich earth tones. The set design by Michael Yeargan consists of a backdrop and flat wings depicting gray, painted bricks. In fact, much of the set looks painted. Other set pieces and props fly in or roll on stage to flesh out the show’s many scene changes.

A fine ten-piece pit band, including brass and reeds, accompanies the show. The klezmer-style clarinet playing of Andrew Clark is outstanding.

Sher cleverly frames the story in the present. At the beginning and end of the show, a man in modern dress reads a book, the Sholom Aleichem stories on which Fiddler is based. In the final scene, as they pack their meager belongings, several Anatevka denizens say they will go to America. As we know, America welcomed these huddled masses, if not unconditionally, at least, they weren’t turned away at the border. Today, people flee their countries under abject circumstances or even death threats to come to America. How are we treating them now? Think about that next time you go to the polls.

Fiddler on the Roof by Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music), and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics)
7:30 p.m. 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 September 29
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.
405-594-8300