2018 Theater in Review

By Larry Laneer
December 11, 2018

As 2018 comes to an end, it’s time to recognize outstanding achievements in theater. It was a fairly fine year for musicals but weak, weak, weak for plays. A new feature of Theater in Review begins this year. Each category (may) include work recognized as “Highly Commended.” It’s 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. Only categories with outstanding work are included. Thus, some categories may not appear this year (Best Lighting Design of a Play, for example). From ­­­­56 theatrical productions viewed in 2018:

Best Musical: Fun Home (Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma). This show had it all: quality book and score, creative design, remarkable performances, spot-on staging. It was the highlight of the theatrical year.
Highly Commended: When We’re Gone (Lyric).

Best Play: Greater Tuna (Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre). Theatergoers may be surprised at this selection, an old play that’s been done before. But director Steve Emerson and experienced pros Jonathan Beck Reed and Donald Jordan found some depth in a play that’s often not much more than a party skit, which is how it started. The show didn’t have much competition, but that doesn’t lessen its accomplishment.

Best Touring Musical: The Color Purple (OKC Broadway). In this rarely cited category, the show gave theatergoers a chance to see the touring version of John Doyle’s production that won the 2016 Tony Award for best musical revival.

Best Direction of a Musical: Michael Baron (Fun Home). With a story that jumps around in time and place and one character played by three different actors, this musical gave Baron a chance to show his skill and creativity.
Highly Commended: Lyn Cramer (Mamma Mia!, Lyric).

Best Direction of a Play: Tyler Woods (The Revolutionists, Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park). Woods led four actresses in outstanding performances in a handsome, well-conceived production.
Highly Commended: Steve Emerson (Greater Tuna).

Best Choreography of a Musical: Matthew Sipress (Hello, Dolly!, Lyric). With choreography faithful to the show’s origins (in 1964), Sipress had the cast in almost constant motion, or rather, motions.
Highly Commended: Matthew Sipress (Fun Home).

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play: Amanda Lee (The Revolutionists). Lee swung from ditz to screech owl in a commanding performance that showed greater depth as the play went on.
Highly Commended: Brenda Williams (An Act of God, Pollard Theatre Company).

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play:  Stephen Lang (Beyond Glory, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre). This one-man show could have been jingoistic but wasn’t. Lang adapted stories of a variety of Medal of Honor recipients and told them with feeling and depth.
Highly Commended: Jonathan Beck Reed (Greater Tuna).

Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical:  Katja Rivera Yanko (Dogfight, University of Oklahoma Weitzenhoffer School of Musical Theatre). In a heart-felt performance, Yanko nailed her character’s harrowing vulnerability and ultimate strength. And her performance reminds us that some of the best, edgiest work is done in our fine collegiate theater departments.

Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical: Mateja Govich (Fun Home). Govich gave a riveting performance as Bruce, the troubled father in this musical drama.

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical:  Taylor Yancey (Fun Home). The young Yancey handled some of the most intense scenes ever staged at the Plaza Theatre like a seasoned professional.
Highly Commended: Sandra Mae Frank (Fun Home).

Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play: Alexis Ward (The Revolutionists). As the voice of reason amid chaos, Ward was a surprisingly solid anchor in the play.
Highly Commended: Madison Hill (The Revolutionists).

Best Scenic Design of a Musical: Dawn Drake (Fun Home). Lyric got cartoonist Alison Bechdel’s permission to base the scenic design on her images. Drake’s design was creative and reflected the essence of the story.

Best Scenic Design of a Play: Richard Carl Johns (The Revolutionists). Johns’s bold scenic design gave the production in Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park’s Paseo space a seedy charm.

Best Lighting Design of a Musical: Helena Kuukka (Mamma Mia!). The show’s vibrant costumes and scenery looked brilliant under Kuukka’s lighting.

Best Costume Design of a Musical: Jeffrey Meek (Mamma Mia!). In a Lyric summer season bursting with color, Meek made other colorful shows look drab with this one.
Highly Commended: Jeffrey Meek (Fun Home).

Best Costume Design of a Play:  Elisa Bierschenk (The Revolutionists). Bierschenk’s costumes teemed with equal parts detail and whimsy.


Review: A Christmas Carol

Dirk Lumbard in A Christmas Carol                                                              Photo by KO Rinearson

By Larry Laneer
December 3, 2018

How does Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma keep its production of A Christmas Carol so fresh year after year? This is the show’s eighth year, the third time for the current staging after the initial production’s five-year run.

 One thing is—and this is where many theater companies go wrong—they begin with quality material. Some of Charles Dickens’s dialog and humor sound as if they could have been written last week. The deft adaptation by Lyric’s producing artistic director Michael Baron, who also directs the show, respects the original story and language. Dickens covers a lot of universal themes in a short time, all of which are still relevant. You will see Want and Ignorance (played to fine effect by child-sized puppets in this production) in the news today, the latter every time Donald Trump opens his mouth.

Next, Baron employs a top-notch cast, which doesn’t change much each year. Thus, the actors can plumb the characters’ depth and experiment with many performance subtleties. Dirk Lumbard is back for the third year as Scrooge, and he is fleshing out the role. His first utterance is a rumbling growl. His Scrooge has a palpable mean streak, so his transformation at the end spans a greater gamut.

Thomas E. Cunningham as Marley’s ghost (in a fright wig), Fezziwig (a carrot top), and Old Joe (stringy gray) shows a remarkable range of characters. Old Joe is a bit part in only one scene, but Cunningham wrings every possible nuance out of the character.

Matthew Alvin Brown and Brenda Williams serve as narrators and in other roles. Brown, who sometimes walks up to the precipice of mugging, makes a socially awkward Topper. In the scene with Cunningham’s Old Joe, Williams plays a delicious character who steals the shirt off Scrooge’s corpse to sell for a pence or two.

Other performances equal the above. Mateja Govich thunders in as the Ghost of Christmas Present looking like if Poseidon and Liberace had a baby. As Scrooge’s nephew, Fred, Andi Dema gives a heart-felt performance. Natalya Fisher does somersaults as the airborne Ghost of Christmas Past. Susan Riley and Lexi Windsor play the solicitors who draw Scrooge’s ire, among other roles. Jennifer Lynn Teel is Mrs. Fred, and Kizzie Ledbetter and Charlie Monnot are the Cratchits. Most of these actors have been with the production for years and give the show its solid foundation. The production also has several child actors, the “Holly Cast” and the “Ivy Cast.” The former played the reviewed production and did a fine job.

But the production’s artistic design takes the show up a notch. Kimberly Powers’s scenic design, Weston Wilkerson’s lighting, and Josh Schmidt’s sound design are so fully and carefully integrated, it’s hard to talk about them separately. Powers’s period-authentic red bricks with woodwork in an appealing green are a scaffold for Wilkerson’s thoroughly modern lighting. Schmidt’s sound creates tension with a pulsing ostinato and booms with horror-film rawness.

Before the show begins, the cast enters down both aisles of the Plaza Theatre chatting up the audience, an annoying gimmick by Baron (and many other directors). But it does give you a chance for a close look at Jeffrey Meek’s sumptuous costumes, which take the production up another level. Note the mink muff (or, one hopes, fake-mink muff) Windsor carries as a solicitor.

Appropriately for a Lyric production, the show includes several yuletide songs. The orchestration of the recorded accompaniment is completely modern and percussion heavy. That’s fine. In future productions, will Baron rethink the orchestration and consider live musicians?

When the cast sings at the end of the show “Joy to the world, the Lord is come,” it sounds as if they’re referring to Scrooge. He has made his transformation, and Lord Scrooge reigns as a benevolent peer. Then the fake snow falls in the Plaza as the audience heads for the exits.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, adapted by Michael Baron
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, 8:00 p.m. Fridays,
2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. Saturdays, 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sundays, through
December 24,

Special performances 7:30 p.m Tuesday, December 18, and Monday, December 24
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.
Tickets start at $25