Review: Freaky Friday

Celeste Rose in Freaky Friday                                                                              Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
June 27, 2018

The musical Freaky Friday hews to the tradition of good-natured little shows you can’t help but like, if only a little bit. It’s a Disney product, so it sports a reliable quality level without being awe-inspiring. That said, the show definitely has more substance than some of the Mouse’s musicals adapted from animated films.

With music by Tom Kitt, lyrics by Brian Yorkey, and book by Bridget Carpenter, the show was inspired by the 1972 youth novel Freaky Friday by Mary Rodgers (daughter of Oklahoma! composer Richard Rodgers) and two Disney films of the same title. But the musical shares with the novel and films only the premise of a mother and her teenage daughter switching bodies for a day. Other than that, it’s a quite different story.

The Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma production now at the Thelma Gaylord is one of the first few stagings since the show opened in 2016. No one can accuse Lyric of not doing the show justice. In fact, the company may be making this musical look better than it really is.

Michael Baron directs, and he keeps the action moving, abetted by his artistic designers. Katie Sullivan’s emblematic, op-art scenic design includes several rolling set pieces that allow a smooth flow through many scene changes. (The first act has 18 musical numbers. Granted, one is about two seconds long.) But Helen Kuukka’s lighting design amps up the look and feel of the show. She employs a modern palette and some projections. The scenery and lighting verge on being stand-alone works of art themselves. Take away the cast and the music, and you’d still have an evening’s entertainment (I think).

But the production would be a much lesser show without actors of the caliber of Jennifer Teel (as the mother) and Celeste Rose (as the daughter). Equally accomplished actors and singers, Teel and Rose make the body switch exceptionally convincing. They also switch attitudes, mannerisms, vocal inflections, and body language and maintain them for almost two-and-a-half hours.

The supporting cast is fine. Maggie Spicer plays the assistant in a wedding planning business with delightful insecurity. The reliable Mateja Govich is the mother’s fiancé, a plot change from the novel and films. The young Noah Waggoner gives an extraordinarily sensitive—and brash—performance as the daughter’s little brother. As one of the teenage daughter’s antagonists, Madison Hamilton, in a strong performance, reflects how the musical has been brought into the present.

The updated story involves parental death, mean girls, bullying, and body image issues, among others. But it also has such usual high-school show elements as (perceived) maternal nagging, a boy crush, and a frog dissection in biology class. Late in the first act, the daughter (in the mother’s body) dashes her little brother’s hopes and aspirations in the song “Parents Lie.” It’s amusing and wince-inducing.

But whatever the show and the Lyric staging are, they are thoroughly modern. The production ends with the entire cast taking a selfie.

Freaky Friday by Tom Kitt (music), Brian Yorkey (lyrics), and Bridget Carpenter (book)
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8:00 p.m. Friday, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturday,
2:00 p.m. Sunday, through July 1
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.


Review: Always . . . Patsy Cline

Kara Chapman in Always . . . Patsy Cline                                         Photo by Joshua McGowen

By Larry Laneer
June 10, 2018

You can’t completely dismiss an evening of artfully crafted songs performed by top-notch musicians. And that’s what you get in Pollard Theatre Company’s Always . . . Patsy Cline. Why Pollard wanted to revive this production after staging it in 2015 remains a mystery. Opening night had a full, if not sold-out house, and Pollard reports this show sold well three years ago. Maybe that’s the answer. The show sells tickets. Or to put it less capitalistically, audiences want to see this show.

Kara Chapman returns to play Patsy Cline, and Jodi Nestander reprises her role as friend Louise Seger. Created by Ted Swindley, the show is based on a true story. Louise, an avid Patsy fan, meets the singer early in her career, and they become lifelong friends. The title refers to how Patsy would sign her many letters to Louise.

Timothy Stewart has staged the production again with costumes and scenery by Michael James. James’s scenic design consists of several panels of dark wood slats, giving the set an appealing, uncluttered look. His costumes reflect Patsy’s success and transition from “country gal” (her term) to country/pop star. In her first scene, Patsy wears a red dress with long white fringe. She evolves to more stylish suits and dresses. Louise wears jeans tucked into her red cowboy boots with a matching red belt and fringed western shirt.

Chapman and Nestander have grown into their roles. Chapman’s credible rendition of Patsy’s songs and between-song banter bears confident authenticity.

But the show is as much about Louise and devoted fandom as it is a dramatized biography of Patsy. Nestander has broadened and deepened her performance. She goes up to the edge of being over the top. Her Louise is down-to-earth, but a little of her goes a long way. It would be nice to see Nestander stretch out the tragic scene a little more. (Patsy died at age 30 in a 1963 plane crash that also killed country singers Hawkshaw Hawkins and Cowboy Copas.)

But Louise’s scenes exist to segue from one Patsy song to another. The singer did not write her own music, but she selected work of some of the leading songsmiths in the last century, including Cole Porter, Willie Nelson, and Neil Sedaka. Avid Patsy fans may not hear every favorite, but they will get a variety of songs from throughout the singer’s short career. The first act opens with “Honky Tonk Merry Go Round” and ends with “Love Sick Blues.” The second act begins with “Sweet Dreams” and winds up with “Bill Bailey” (audience sing along encouraged.) Several songs get recognition applause. A sharp four-piece band in black cowboy hats accompanies the show (electronic keyboard, bass, drums, and fiddle doubling guitar).

Always . . . Patsy Cline has been staged here several times. This is at least the fourth production I’ve reviewed. Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre did a different Patsy Cline show earlier this season. Enough already with the Patsy Cline shows. Theater companies should shelve Always . . . Patsy Cline for a few years. But it rates revival in the future.

Always . . . Patsy Cline by Ted Swindley
Pollard Theatre Company
8:00 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, through June 30
2:00 p.m. Sunday, June 17 and 24

8:00 p.m. Thursday, June 21 and 28
Pollard Theatre
120 W. Harrison Ave., Guthrie

Review: An American in Paris

Allison Walsh and McGee Maddox (l-r)                             Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
June 7, 2018

An American in Paris features ballet and a little tap dancing, which makes the show light on its feet. Such weightlessness can be good choreographically and bad dramatically. But late in the second act, this musical gains enough heft to leave the audience pretty much satisfied.

“Inspired by” the 1951 motion picture (starring Gene Kelly), the show is technically a jukebox musical. But, oh, what a jukebox! George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin wrote all the music. From “I Got Rhythm” to “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” the Gershwins created nary a weak song or false note. The playwright Craig Lucas wrote the book for the show, which opened on Broadway in 2015. This is the touring version, presented at the Thelma Gaylord in the OKC Broadway series. It’s directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, who won a Tony award for his dances.

The choreography consists almost completely of ballet, giving the show a distinctive look from today’s musical theater. (The cast biographies show much ballet experience.) But in the second act, Wheeldon brings out men in white tie and tails and women sporting spangling, feathery costumes tap dancing to “I’ll Build a Stairway to Paradise.”

Set in 1945 Paris, still in post-war shock, the show concerns Lise, who goes from being a French shop girl to prima ballerina while being wooed by two American ex-G.I.s and a Frenchman who are friends but don’t know, for a while, they’re romantic rivals.

More than about any other modern musical, this show requires true triple threats—and proficient in ballet, mind you—in the lead roles of Jerry Mulligan and Lise Dassin. McGee Maddox (whose name sounds like a character in a musical) displays the dancing, singing, and acting chops for the male lead. In fact, Maddox plays Jerry so well he makes it look easier than it surely must be. As Lise, Allison Walsh does everything Maddox does; she just does it with a credible French accent (her program bio does not indicate Walsh is French).

The rest of the cast do top-notch jobs. Matthew Scott plays Adam Hochberg, the other ex-G.I. (played by Oscar Levant in the film), a composer who struggles to complete a concerto while cracking wise. Ben Michael is Henri Baurel, Lise’s French wooer, who aspires to be a crooner playing Radio City Music Hall. Kirsten Scott nails the role of Milo Davenport, an American philanthropist angling for both a husband and modern art. The large ensemble of triple threats give fine performances. A thirteen-piece pit orchestra, large for a touring company, accompanies the show and is led by David Andrews Rogers, who often conducts for Lyric Theatre.

The production consists of a complicated combination of parts, which are always in motion. Bob Crowley designed the set and costumes, and they fit together like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. An outfit called 59 Productions created animated projections, a prominent visual element of the show, sometimes to the point of almost overwhelming the cast. You see many references to mid-twentieth century art: a Picasso-like painting depicted in 3D; costumes for the long “An American in Paris” dance at the end look inspired by Mondrian.

In many ways, An American in Paris is an odd musical. The songs, setting, and period costumes reside in early to middle last century. Some innuendo about Henri’s sexuality and reflections on the Holocaust are current. Depicting the earlier period via a modern technological spectacle bridges the gap between the two in an unusual, but mostly pleasing, way.

An American in Paris by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin (music and lyrics) and
Craig Lucas (book)
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 7
8:00 p.m. Friday-Saturday, June 8-9
2:00 p.m. Saturday-Sunday, June 9-10
7:00 p.m. Sunday, June 10
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre, Civic Center Music Hall
201 N. Walker Ave.


Review: A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Rick Nelson and Andi Dema (l-r)                                    Photo by April Porterfield

By Larry Laneer
June 3, 2018

Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park has opened its summer season with a tedious, butt-numbing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The company is promoting the show as “family friendly.” If that means bring the children, it may not be a promising idea. Almost three hours of this muggy, sticky production could turn off youthful minds to Shakespeare, if not theater generally, forever.

It needn’t be this way. Dream lends itself to wide and creative interpretations by directors. It’s hard to say what director D. Lance Marsh is trying to do here. The costumes (by Elisa Bierschenk) look to be from an indeterminate time and place but not the present, with notable exceptions (those tee shirts and boxer shorts in the second act). It doesn’t look like ancient Athens, where Shakespeare set the play. Or any other Athens for that matter (Ohio? Georgia?). Flowers sprout from Puck’s head, while Oberon has grown several horns on his. Marsh throws in a few anachronisms, seemingly as an afterthought: one of the “rude mechanicals” wears modern eyeglasses; in an early scene, a fairy reads “Fairy Beat” magazine; Peter Quince pulls out a cellphone to check if the moon will shine the night of Theseus’s nuptials, among others.

Although they do the expected fine acting jobs, even seasoned professionals Rick Nelson (Theseus/Oberon) and Alissa Mortimer (Hyppolita/Titania) can’t lift the overall production. One problem is Nelson and Mortimer are mere humans. They need the extraordinary powers of the King and Queen of the Fairies to work the magic needed here. Wil Rogers’s hammy Nick Bottom bookends Andi Dema’s over-the-top Puck. The young actors who play the love quadrangle—Carley Dickey (Hermia), Harrison Langford (Lysander), Rachel Necessary (Helena), and Preston Chapman (Demetrius)—give performances filled with youthful exuberance. Mark Johnson makes kind of a sweet Peter Quince.

It doesn’t help that the moat around the Water Stage is horribly polluted. Trash and some kind of scum are floating on the water. I saw those giant gold fish or whatever they are nibbling at the pond scum. It looked tasty to the fish and watching them feed was more interesting than what was happening on stage at the time. Okay, here’s one good thing: I didn’t detect a foul odor from the moat (as has been the case in other summer seasons).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be sassier and saucier than the unfocused production OSP is putting on here. So, nobody’s perfect. The company is just starting on its 34th season. They have more theater to come.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare
Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park
8:00 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, through June 23 (no performance June 9)
Water Stage Myriad Gardens
301 W. Reno Ave.