Review: Come From Away

Cast of Come From Away                                                                                   Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
February 5, 2020

Human creativity never ceases to amaze. You might not think the tragic events of September 11, 2001, would provide fodder for a musical, but two Canadians found stories from that time and created the best-natured show to come down the pike in a long time, the delightful Come From Away.

When all aircraft were ordered to land immediately on September 11, 2001, Gander, Newfoundland, became a refuge for 38 planes carrying some 7,000 passengers to a town of only 9,000. This small Canadian burg became an emergency aeronautical center because in the early days of commercial flight, Gander had one of the largest airports in the world. Before the era of jet travel, transatlantic flights stopped there to refuel on the way to the States. But on that fateful day, the resourceful Canadians suddenly had to feed, water, house, clothe, and take care of air passengers of numerous nationalities, languages, religions, creeds, and even species.

On the tenth anniversary of the event, the Canadian married writing team of Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book/music/lyrics) visited Gander and interviewed residents and returning passengers. The stories and inspiration they garnered led to Come From Away, so the characters in this musical documentary are real people.

The show opened to much acclaim on Broadway in 2017, where it’s still playing. Presented by OKC Broadway now at the Thelma Gaylord, this is the touring version of that production.

The director Christopher Ashley has taken a less-is-more approach to the show, and he nails it. First, the scenic design by Beowulf Boritt consists tall tree trunks flanking the stage and a stonework-like backdrop. Add several chairs of various kinds and a couple of tables and the cast has everything they need to recreate numerous locations, both aerial and terrestrial, all subtly enhanced by Howell Binkley’s lighting design. This isn’t a dancing musical, but Kelly Devine stages the musical numbers appropriately for the story and naturally for a cast who aren’t the usual buff, athletic dancers seen in musicals.

The show features an unusual ensemble cast as Gander denizens and “plane people.” Kevin Carolan as the mayor of Gander and Marika Aubrey as an American Airlines pilot more-or-less act as our guides through the show. All the actors give strong performances creating various characters.

The creators have composed a serviceable score, often driving and exuberant. A top-notch combo of eight musicians accompanies the show. They have an extended curtain call that had the audience clapping along and dancing at the reviewed performance.

Come From Away makes a couple of points relatable to us all. A strong sense of humor sustained the Canadians and their unexpected refugees through disturbing, often confusing circumstances. This show is not a musical comedy, but it has more genuine humor than many musicals that go low for the cheap or inane laugh.

Next, it reminds us about the ingenuity and resilience of our fellow human beings in the worst of circumstances. And this is often done without training, preparation, or even much notice. The people of Gander went to extraordinary lengths to improvise solutions to urgent, tragic events. This should come as no surprise. Something similar happened here on and after April 19, 1995.

In recent years, the world has seen many other tragedies besides September 11 and April 19. This musical shows how people find a way to do what needs to be done in the face of manmade or, even, natural disasters. It may even give you a little hope.

Come From Away by Irene Sankoff and David Hein (book/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 February 9
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.

Review: The Cat in the Hat

The cast of The Cat in the Hat                                                                         Photo by K. Talley Photography

By Larry Laneer
January 27, 2020

You never can tell what you’ll get when you go to the theater. What may look good on paper can flop onstage. A case in point is Lyric Theatre’s The Cat in the Hat, adapted from the popular children’s book by Dr. Seuss and now at the Plaza. It would seem you couldn’t go wrong with Dr. Seuss, but under certain circumstances, you can. This show is a surprising disappointment, considering the tremendous success Lyric had last season with the children-oriented Curious George: The Golden Meatball.

The problem is although it’s fun for young readers to read, The Cat in the Hat does not cut it as material for the stage. The thin storyline doesn’t come to much of a point, unless it’s “pick up your playthings.” And at the end of this production, the cast raises doubts in the minds of children about whether they should withhold important information from parents.

Speaking of parents, most of them around me at the reviewed performance sat mainly stone- faced. A man who looked as if he could be someone’s great-grandfather slept through most of the show. The production runs just under 45 minutes, and I didn’t see much restlessness, but who knows what would have happened if it lasted much longer.

Katie Mitchell did the stage adaption, which was produced originally by the National Theatre of Great Britain. Lyric is doing the show as a co-production with Adventure Theatre in Washington, D.C., where it was designed and originated. Scenic designer Matthew Buttrey and lighting designer Alberto Segarra (with assistance from Fabian J. Garcia, a Lyric regular) have given the production a colorful look that recreates Dr. Seuss’s style down to some detail. Sound designer Evan Cook (with assistance from Bryson Ezell, another Lyric regular) makes sound effects ranging from realistic to cartoonish. Notice the splash when the fish dives back into her bowl. Danielle Preston’s costumes blend in with the rest of the design.

Oddly, the production employs a recorded score that seems to include no original music. The music is incidental; this is not a musical, although it includes a little dancing. Some of the music is so familiar it seems out of place here, Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther theme and the “Final Jeopardy” music from television’s Jeopardy, for example You even hear a few bars of the ominous minor second from Jaws.

Directed by Adam Immerwahr, the youthful cast presses on gamely acting and manipulating puppets. Josiah Brooks plays the eponymous cat in the hat. Eli Bradley plays Boy and Kalyn Glover is his sister, Sally. As Fish, Lexi Windsor brings some experience and solidity to the cast. Operating puppets, Katelyn Curtain plays Thing 1/Kitten 1, and at the reviewed performance, Jonah White was Thing 2/Kitten 2 (Kaleb Michael Bruza usually plays these roles). Regular listeners to NPR’s All Things Considered will recognize the recorded voice of Ari Shapiro as the Narrator.

Be sure to stay afterward for questions and answers. Cast members introduce themselves and tell their colleges and hometowns and take questions from the audience. One youth asked how long they rehearsed the show (five hours per rehearsal for two weeks). A lad asked how they “make the lights go on and off real fast,” which let the cast explain the strobe effect and introduce the light crew seated behind and above the audience. A girl asked if Thing 1 and Thing 2 are boys or girls (Thing 1, a boy; Thing 2, a girl). Another girl asked about the “sticks” she could see onstage. A cast member explained sheepishly the sticks are used to manipulate “rod puppets” and are painted a color to camouflage them, so they blend in with the scenery. It didn’t work for at least one viewer. Alas, just like much of the show.

The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Seuss, adapted by Katie Mitchell
Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma
10:00 a.m. Thursdays, 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. Fridays, 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. Saturdays, 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. Sundays, through February 9
Plaza Theatre
1725 NW 16th St.

Review: Miss Saigon

Anthony Festa and Emily Bautista in Miss Saigon                                  Photo by Matthew Murphy

By Larry Laneer
January 16, 2020

It takes a real tragedy to make you feel good at the theater. And the more they pour on the spectacle, the better it gets. A case in point is the musical Miss Saigon, the Vietnam War story that’s based on Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, an earlier operatic drama about havoc wreaked by Americans in Asia. Both the opera and the musical today raise whole new controversies.

Now at the Thelma Gaylord as part of the OKC Broadway touring series, this production is the road version of the 2017-2018 Broadway revival, directed by Laurence Connor. Set in Saigon and other locations between 1975 and 1978, Miss Saigon closely follows the Madama Butterfly story line. An American soldier (Chris) meets a young Vietnamese woman (Kim) and love ensues, although they may not have the same understanding about the true nature of the relationship.

With a score by Claude-Michel Schönberg and lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr., Alain Boublil, and Michael Mahler, this musical is operatic. The sung-through score soars from aria to—oh, sorry—song to song, while a large cast fights through war and its aftermath. The original London and Broadway productions of this 1989 show famously featured a realistic helicopter flying onstage. When the first touring version of the show played here in 2004, the aircraft was depicted in an inadequate video. Stagecraft has made advances since then, and this production includes a pretty good onstage helicopter.

The production design by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley features large set pieces that move fluidly through many scene changes. Projections by Luke Halls, chiaroscuro lighting by Bruno Poet, Andreane Neofitou’s costumes, and Mick Potter’s sound design combine to create a spectacle worthy of grand opera. A few times, this production even sounds like it’s being sung in a foreign language. Miss Saigon isn’t a dancing show, but Bob Avian’s musical staging features some acrobatic moves in the first act.

The first-rate cast gives strong performances throughout the show. Anthony Festa (Chris) and Emily Bautista (Kim) have convincing chemistry, strong singing voices, and solid acting chops.  J. Daughtry goes from jerk to humanitarian as the soldier John. Jinwoo Jung as Thuy (and Thuy’s ghost!) and Ellie Fishman as Ellen are fine in featured roles. As The Engineer, Red Concepción is excellent as the smarmy opportunist. Actually, the character illustrates achingly  the desperation many people find themselves in during times of strife. Conceptión’s second act “The American Dream” rings ruefully true. At the reviewed performance, young Ryker Huetter as Tam got the loudest curtain call; I bet this happens no matter who plays the role.

Recently, some commentators have raised legitimate objections about the opera and musical regarding racism and denigration of Asian women. You will get no disagreement about that from me. But I saw the show with a friend who lived in Saigon until 1979, and she was then only a few years younger than Kim is in the show. My friend said she did not see the musical as racist or denigrating. In fact, she said Miss Saigon depicts precisely life in the city and the desperate measures some young women like Kim had to take at the time.

Like art works throughout history, Miss Saigon shows war to be what it is:  Hell for everyone, not just the soldiers and those in the theater of war. Will humanity ever learn its lesson? I’m not optimistic.

Miss Saigon by Claude-Michel Schönberg (music) and Richard Maltby, Jr.,
Alain Boublil, and Michael Mahler
OKC Broadway
7:30 p.m. Thursday, January 16, 8:00 p.m. Friday, January 17, 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, January 18, 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Sunday, January 19
Thelma Gaylord Performing Arts Theatre
201 N. Walker Ave.

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.

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.