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.