UCO gears up for Grease at Mitchell Hall Theatre

Published September 19, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Grease is the word! UCO’s Fall 2019 season is starting up with the quintessential American musical. Their production of Grease: The Musical takes us back to high school with the greasers, the pink ladies, and all the antics of Rydell High! It’s a wild ride and tons of fun. And of course, the music and poodle skirts! They’re classic Americana and classic Grease.

Early on in rehearsals, I spoke with two of the Grease cast members about their preparation and rehearsal process. Seth Paden and Sam Brinkley answered my burning questions about their upcoming roles in the show. See below for their Q&A:

AP: Tell us about Grease! What has been most exciting about preparing for this role? What has been most challenging?

Sam Brinkley: Grease is awesome! We are one week into rehearsals and it’s already looking super strong. I think the hardest thing about preparing for Grease is that it’s so well known. Everyone already has a preconceived idea of every character so there isn’t much room for personal originality without it being a bust. Everyone comes to see Rizzo, played like Rizzo, so if you put too much of your own spin on it, you risk a lot. Also, everyone and their mother knows these songs and these famous lines. You have to be perfect and well prepared because if you aren’t quoting everything word for word, you aren’t fooling anyone.

AP: Grease is infamous and not without controversy. Do you think it is a story of empowerment, and if so, whose?

Brinkley: You know, I think the controversy really comes in how the movie was portrayed. It’s all about how you play it. I think the way that our director, Steven Smeltzer, is playing it is very empowering to Sandy. Rather than what it seems to be in the movie, with Sandy abandoning all of her morals and personality to impress a guy, Steven directs our Sandy, Morgan Rothwell, to make sure to play it as she is making the choice herself to let loose and try different things to discover who she is as a person, rather than restricting herself to the confines of 1950’s moral code. As a cast, we are very adamant about this. It’s very important to make sure that the leading Woman doesn’t give up her self-worth for a man, especially in today’s social climate. The show is all about figuring out who you are and not being afraid to be that way. And that’s the way we intend to perform it.

AP: Let’s talk about the “boys dance too” movement. What has dancing and acting done for you? Do you think that there is still a stigma involved with being a male in the arts? If so, let’s break that, shall we!?

Brinkley: The boys dance too movement means a TON to me. Although I am not an incredible dancer myself, it is SO important for so many of my very close friends. Unfortunately, even though our country has come a long way, we still have a ways to go to erase this stigma of it being not okay for men to express themselves in the arts. When you think about it, it’s pretty dumb. Most of those people are admiring celebrities to do art in front of millions of people every day.  I mean, you see men like Bruno Mars or Justin Timberlake singing and dancing the hell off of every concert stage and everyone going crazy! What’s the difference between that and my friends and me going to ballet class?

AP: Tell us about playing Sonny! What are you most excited for about this role?

Seth Paden: I’m most excited about who he is to The Greasers. He’s an asshole, but hilarious and somewhat endearing. He’s a hot mess. And I find that my hot-mess nature is able to dig into being a hot mess on stage, and I love it! Sonny is always there to say the wrong thing or get an eye roll from The Greasers, and I relate to that for my real life! Of course, I try not to be as much of an ass as Sonny, but it’s fun to channel the hot mess-part of me into roles like Sonny.

AP: Grease is known as The American Musical. What do you think makes it so iconic?

Paden: I think this musical is iconic because it is a coming-of-age story from the 1950s, which was a time when America was “perfect”. It wasn’t really perfect but so many people look at the fifties as a “Leave it to Beaver” type situation. Also, it’s one of the first coming-of-age stories about high schoolers in musical theatre. I’m sure there’s been one before it, but it is about “The American Teenager” in the most “American Era”.

AP: Recently in the news, there’s been an outcry of “boys dance too” and overall support for male dancers and performers. What has being involved in the arts meant to you?

Paden: I’ll just say straight up, dancing is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. The strength it takes, the DISCIPLINE it takes, is ridiculous. And anyone who speaks poorly of it is simply uneducated and scared of anything different than what’s “expected” of a man. This show in particular is so HARD! With every one of Steven Smeltzer’s shows that I’ve seen, the choreography is always bananas. Now, being in one of his shows, I’ve had to practice extra as much as I can to keep up. It’s hard and rewarding and I’m getting stronger because of it.

Not everyone has to spend as much time dancing. I’m new to dancing in this way. So many of these students are incredible dancers, but with Smeltzer’s intricate choreography, it’s so much to learn and retain! In the end it’s going to look amazing! If I counted right, in total there are 15 numbers with choreo in it! So, A TON of dancing! Dancers are some of the strongest, with mental discipline and pure strength. People who say otherwise are simply wrong.

Grease stars Dylan Herrin as Danny Zuko, Morgan Rothwell as Sandy, DJ Fortner as Kenickie, Chelsea Thiessen as Rizzo, Graeme Morrison as Doody, and Kalyn Glover as Frenchy. Ben Hardin is Roger, Hailey Hatfield is Jan, and Seth Paden is Sonny. Sarah Royse is Marty, Jackson Lease is Eugene Florczyk, Tyler Treat is Patty Simcox, Daniel Johnson is Vince Fontaine, Jaci Reed is Miss Lynch, D’Shaud Howard is Teen Angel, Jessica Cajina is Cha-Cha DiGregorio, and Logan Vohs is Johnny Casino.

The ensemble members are Cameron Blakely, Sam Brinkley, Erica Burkett, Jessica Cajina, Cara Chesney, Maya Cook, Sam Cox, Easton Edwards, Makenzie Ford, Kynzi Gumm, Jordan Harris, McKenna Haygarth, Maddi Hill, D’Shaud Howard, MC Mackey, Mica Martinez, Hayley Martini, Nicole Phillips, Darnell Reedom, Joshua Thompson, Logan Vohs, Robby Voigt, Wyatt Walker, and Josh Wilson.

Stillwater’s Town and Gown Theatre presents Sweeney Todd

Published September 16, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Town and Gown Theatre in Stillwater is opening its 69th season with Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The folklore story behind Sweeney Todd is as memorable as it is gruesome. When Sweeney returns to Victorian London, he’s on a mission of revenge against those who wronged him, particularly an evil judge who banished him to Australia. Framed and disgraced, he sets his plan for vengeance into motion when he opens a barber shop just above Mrs. Lovett’s pie bakery. Barber shops and pie bakeries in London sound about as dashing and innocuous as you can get, but this story defines the very notion of barbaric and macabre. Sweeney Todd is nothing short of devious, demonic, and of course, delicious.

The Tony Award winning play was written by Hugh Wheeler and features unforgettable music by Stephen Sondheim. The 2007 movie by the creepy and fantastic Tim Burton starred Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd and the late Alan Rickman as The Judge. Says production director Gavin Drew, “Sweeney Todd holds the place in my heart as the perfectly written musical. It has a bit of everything; it’s scary and chilling, it’s dramatic and funny. It has been enjoyed by adult audiences all over the world, and I believe it’s time we breathe a second life into it. With our new staging of this horror classic, we re-evaluated the core of this show and found that revenge is a dish best served… in a delicious pie.”

Sweeney Todd stars Jeffrey Ambrosini as the Demon Barber Sweeney Todd. It also stars Elizabeth Ziegler as Mrs. Lovett, Scott Martin as The Judge, John Mark Day as The Beadle, and Bunny Stanphill as Pirelli. Gavin Guthrie is Tobias, Abigail Brock is Joanna, and Dakota Norman is Anthony. Maddy Billings is The Beggar Woman.

Ziegler, Martin, Day and Norman were recently seen at Town & Gown in their production of The Drowsy Chaperone. Ziegler also starred as Annie Oakley in Annie Get Your Gun, alongside Brock. Martin and Day were also seen in T&G’s Frost/Nixon. Stanphill is recognizable to T&G audiences for her roles in Death Trap, It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play, and Steel Magnolias. Gavin Guthrie has been seen at Town and Gown in Into the Woods and at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma in Curious George: The Golden Meatball, Newsies, and Titanic. Billings has also been seen in Annie Get Your Gun and Steel Magnolias. Ambrosini is making his Town and Gown Theatre debut.

Let’s do the time warp again with Lyric’s Rocky Horror Show

Published September 16, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Cult classic The Rocky Horror Show makes a long-awaited return to Lyric’s Plaza Theatre! Shiver with anticipation no more. Lyric Theatre only does this show every 3 years, and luckily, it’s on in 2019! Rocky Horror has a following like no other, with an ability to raise the freak flags in even the demurest fans. Case in point: yours truly is planning to wear a corset and purple eyelashes to the show on opening weekend!

Rocky Horror is nearly nonsensical in the looseness of the plot. However, there’s a true perfection in it that can’t be found in any other theatrical experience. The Rocky Horror Show just fills a particular void, and that’s what makes it so popular. It’s a release from daily life and gives us a chance to truly embrace, accept, and daresay even love, ourselves and each other. Surprisingly, the 1974 stage play came first, a year before the iconic movie. Though he starred in both the London and Broadway productions, the movie in particular served to canonize Tim Curry as the sweet transvestite we all know and love, Dr. Frank-N-Furter. With book, music, and lyrics by Richard O’Brien (aka Riff-Raff in the original production and film), The Rocky Horror Show invites patrons on a strange journey. It takes you into the world of science fiction, B movies, and all the over-the-top campiness of the 1970s.

The titular character, Rocky Horror, is a lab-created Frankenstein type muscle-man, clad with blond hair, a tan, and the world’s most iconic pair of gold short shorts. Haulston Mann returns to play Rocky, as he did in Lyric’s 2016 production.

He was gracious enough to take time out of rehearsal and role prep to answer a fun Q&A for me below:

AP: Tell us about playing Rocky Horror! What’s most exciting about returning to Lyric Theatre for this role?

Mann: To me this show is as close to a clown show as I’ve been in since studying clowning in college. It has a cast of heightened characters in absurd situations, and it’s rooted in being present and working off the audience. You never know what callbacks they’re going to throw at you on any given night, and breaking the fourth wall and interacting with them makes each performance special and fun in its own way. I often tell people that my first run as Rocky was some of the most fun I’ve ever had on stage, and that’s because everyone in the theatre- actors, audience, musicians, is in communion with one another.  It makes it hard for folks to passively sit back and zone out. I think that’s exactly the experience theatre should provide now that we’re in the age of Netflix.

AP: The Rocky Horror Show is iconic, with a loyal following that has spanned generations. What do you hope long-time, and brand new, fans of Rocky Horror will get to experience during this production?

Mann: My favorite thing about The Rocky Horror Show is that it was shown all over the nation, even in some of the smallest towns. And those screenings were places where EVERYONE was welcomed. It didn’t matter your sexual preference, identity, whatever. A screening of RHPS was a place where you could go and be YOU. I hope that long-time fans can tie those memories of being accepted to our production, and that the Virgins can also find that same spirit of acceptance.

AP: How old were you when you first watched Rocky Horror? What was your initial take on it? And has your opinion changed since?

Mann: I saw it when I was about 16 at a friend’s house. I’d just discovered theatre and I thought that it looked so fun, even though I didn’t know what the hell was happening towards the end. But I never thought that I’d perform in it! Musicals were never really my focus, so I was actually very grateful to earn the experience of getting to perform as Rocky at Lyric in 2016! It’s now one of the only musicals I audition for regularly!

AP: Most importantly! Are you ready to be (almost) naked on stage!? What is that like? Scary? Exciting? All of the above!?

Mann: Honestly, when I’m on stage and in character, it’s no different than any other costume. Once it’s go time, I don’t let myself think about it. The difference is the prep and maintenance work I do before and during the show. Thankfully, Lyric gave me several months’ notice when they made the offer, so I had plenty of time to structure a cut program to get a physique worthy of donning the golden undies.

I’ll be posting progress pictures of my cut on Instagram @haulstonmann if anyone wants to see the transformation. Folks can also check out some more of my work on haulstonmann.com.

The Rocky Horror Show also stars Eric Ulloa as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Emily Pace as Janet, Antonio Rodriguez as Brad, Elvie Ellis as Riff-Raff, and Janna Linae Schmid as Columbia. Kat Metcalfe is Magenta/usherette, Matthew Alvin Brown is Eddie/Dr. Scott, Brett Young serves as Narrator, and Kylan L. Durant, Marcus Canada, Brooke Melton, and Alexis Lanzo are Phantoms.

Lyric’s Rocky Horror is directed by J. Robert Moore and choreographed by Hui Cha Poos. Brian Hamilton serves as music director. Lighting design is by Fabian J. Garcia, set design by Jon Young, costume design by Armando Ortiz, and sound design by J. Grover Holloway. Laurena Sherrill is production stage manager.

Lyric Theatre’s Frost/Nixon hits close to home

Published September 8, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon is based on the 1977 televised interviews between British talk-show host David Frost and the resigned and disgraced President Richard Nixon. When the Watergate scandal happened, the country became divided. The president resigned and was immediately pardoned, leaving the American people with none of the answers or justice they deserved. Americans lost faith in the political system. They became hardened by the idea that the very office they held in highest regard was nothing but a corrupt business. The lives and trust of the American people were just the pawns to be bargained with, the voiceless casualties of the rich and powerful. Sound familiar? Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma presents this play at another critical time in U.S. history. Critical because it’s important to have these conversations, and critical because the feelings now are the same as they were then. The parallels are eye-opening.

D. Lance Marsh steps gracefully into the role of Nixon. His physical transformation into playing the president is striking. He looks just like the man, both in demeanor and in his onstage presence. It’s breathtaking before he even begins to speak. Marsh tackles the role of this complicated figure, one who is still synonymous with political scandal and large-scale failure. There’s no ranting and raving or archetypal proclamations. Marsh makes Nixon the one thing that most people can’t see him as: human. He has doubts, like we all do. He has insecurities, like we all do. And he’s deeply affected by the hurt he’s caused the American people. He’s also paranoid, a drunk, and an egomaniac. Marsh embodies it all, and yet he’s relatable. He’s understandable. He’s broken. He’s everything a president should and shouldn’t be- flawed, and real.

Matthew Alvin Brown is the interviewer David Frost. It all hinges on his bold idea to ask the ex-president for an interview. Nobody takes Frost seriously. His show in Australia has been canceled, he’s known around the media world for being a play-boy and a big spender. He’s a laughing stock. Give this character to Brown, however, and he’ll turn the tides on you. Take a desperate, disgraced public figure, and Brown makes him the underdog you root for. Brown’s Frost is smart. He’s in over his head, but he knows television. He knows viewers, and what the American people want to see. He’s an outsider, British to say the least, and not in the slightest bit a hard-hitting political journalist. But, he’s not to be written off so easily. Brown proves his character’s worth, and the depth of his intelligence. It’s a fascinating detail that the character (and real person) is named David. He does indeed slay giants. The subtle brilliance of Brown’s acting skills is apparent. His performance creates an empathetic character with deep humanity and honesty.

Each man has assembled his team of advisors in preparation for the interviews. In Frost’s corner is Jim Reston- Nixon biographer and author, portrayed by Gregory DeCandia. Also on Frost’s team is John Birt, played by David H. Dobson, and Bob Zelnick, played by Jonathan Beck Reed. DeCandia possesses a youthful anger that resonates with the current feelings of political upheaval. He carries his hatred and feelings of injustice as he narrates the story to the audience, a true voice of the people. Dobson and Reed prove to be trustworthy and hard-working, despite their doubts that Frost can become a worthwhile opponent of Nixon.

Perhaps the most pivotal member of Frost’s team is his girlfriend Caroline Cushing, portrayed coolly by Emily J. Pace. Pace is impressively strong and modern, with a head on her shoulders and a no-nonsense demeanor. She balances the panicky Frost in his moments of self-doubt.

In Nixon’s corner is Andi Dema as Jack Brennan, Rodney Brazil as Manolo Sanchez, and Ronn Burton as Swifty Lazar. Dema also alternates with DeCandia as narrator, this time speaking for those still in the Nixon camp. Devoted through and through, Jack Brennan is Nixon’s chief of staff and his most vocal advocate. A military man, Brennan believes in protocol and serves his president without falter. Dema makes an imposing loyalist, gruff but not without heart. Burton is sleazy and slimy as Swifty, a man after money and fame. He’s full-bodied and dead-on accurate with his portrayal. With the physical characteristics and voice that Burton employs, another striking resemblance is created on stage.

Kaylila Pasha is briefly seen as the demure Evonne Goolagong, an Australian tennis player who Frost interviewed before he struck a deal with Nixon. Pasha is also seen as a camerawoman during the onstage filming of the interviews. She’s apt and sharp. Let’s see more of her in future productions.

Nearly the entire show is filmed and projected on a large screen above the stage. This unique quality opens up a world of possibilities for the performers. They continue to act in scenes backstage, showing intimate moments and conversations. One scene even continues into the lobby and the bar of the Lyric’s plaza theatre. This is brilliant direction by Michael Baron, and it elevates this timely choice of a play. It serves as a constant reminder of the timeframe, when television ruled and the story shown over the air was only ever a fraction of the truth. Lighting design by Fabian J. Garcia creates a narrative all on its own, and Jeffrey Meek’s costumes are as always perfectly suited for the era.

Brown speaks for all of us when he stares, unblinkingly, into the face of the most corrupt U.S. administration the world had seen to that point, and demands answers. His gaze is reflected in the studio cameras and projected on the screen above. Marsh matches the intensity of that gaze, and he apologizes. It’s felt deeply, with a current of relief running through the audience and hitting in the heart. It could be, in this moment anyway, that we’ve finally received an apology. This apology, spoken from an ex-president in 1977 to an audience in 2019, stands as a reasonable facsimile for an entirely different apology. It’s one we may never get, but nonetheless deserve.

Sometimes the spectacle of theatre starts to become a bit blurry; a beautiful blur, but all the same. Sitting down to a serious piece that elevates the fine quality of acting we have in Oklahoma City brings me back- to earth after flying so high, and to the heart of why I love storytelling and theatre so much it hurts. This is a fine production with superb talent. And it couldn’t come at a better time.

Lyric Theatre Depicts Real Life Drama with Premiere of Frost/Nixon

Published August 22, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Lyric Theatre is back at their Plaza District Theatre with the explosive Frost/Nixon. The 2006 play by Peter Morgan depicts a real-life, televised interview that occurred between two disgraced public figures. In 1977, David Frost landed an interview with the recently resigned President Richard Nixon. All eyes were on the two men as they both tried to resurrect their fallen careers. The play was turned into a movie in 2008 by Ron Howard and starred the original actors, Frank Langella as Nixon and Michael Sheen as Frost. Now, at yet another time of political turmoil, Frost/Nixon is set to grace the Lyric’s Plaza Stage in this Oklahoma City premiere. And it promises to ignite audiences as much now as the original interview did then. Frost/Nixon depicts an interesting dynamic between the media, which reports the news, and the political figures who create that news.

Naturally, I had to take the chance to discuss this unique, and often volatile, relationship between “politics and the press” with the show’s stars. Matthew Alvin Brown is David Frost and D. Lance Marsh is President Nixon. They both answered an exclusive Q&A for me below.

Hold onto your hats, it gets fun!

Matthew Alvin Brown/David Frost:

AP: Tell us about playing David Frost! How are you preparing for this role?

MAB: I’ve been reading a lot of books about this whole event. David Frost’s account of that moment in history has been particularly helpful, of course, but it’s been interesting to read other people’s accounts as well. It’s been helpful to study the original interviews as they are available to watch online. So. Lots of that. 

AP: Frost/Nixon depicts real events that were broadcast over national television. What are you hoping those younger audience members will learn about this media sensation that occurred before social media?

MAB: I’m not sure. Media is such a different animal than it was then. My hope is that by accentuating the gravity of these original National broadcasts, younger audiences will see patterns that have developed throughout history and connect them to the immediate danger that our country is facing under this current administration.

AP: This show features politics and the press, and in many ways, politics versus the press. Do you think that aspect is still relevant today, and why?

MAB: I think it’s more relevant today than ever before. The leader of the free world relentlessly barks to his lemmings that the press is the enemy of the people. So. Yeah. I think it’s super and sadly relevant.

AP: Do you think news media is still important, or should we be silenced?

MAB: Again, I think the media is more important than ever before. We have to speak truth to power…or else…!!!

D. Lance Marsh/Richard Nixon:

AP: Tell us about your role. How does it feel to be playing the most historically disgraced president, especially at this time of political upheaval?

DLM: Well, it’s a very, very interesting time to be playing this role, obviously.  I don’t want to make too much of the current parallels in the political world of today, but I will say that Michael Baron deserves a lot of credit for programming this show when he did. It hits at a time when we are all talking about issues that seem to weave in and out of the play, about our leaders (past and present), about the potency and power of the media and their duties to a free society, and the misuses of power that can come to men who sit in the Oval Office. Michael asked me to play this part 18 months ago. So, he was thinking about this moment a long time before the phrase “Mueller report” became a household word.

You ask me how it feels to be playing Nixon now… it feels important.  It feels like we are making a play that, rather than come at the audience with answers, it churns up questions. And in a democracy, can we ever ask too many questions?

AP: In many ways, the Nixon era defined the idea of a political scandal. It’s very current in popular culture today, with shows like Scandal and even Hamilton. What other political scandals are interesting to you?

DLM: I suppose that if you are a culturally and politically aware citizen (which I aim to be, although probably fall pitifully short most of the time) then you are shaped by the scandals and major political moments of your adolescence, when many of us discover that the childhood sense of “right and wrong” applies to something bigger than ourselves.  I’m turning 53 during the rehearsals for Frost/Nixon, so for me, I came to political awareness during the Reagan years. Iran/Contra and Oliver North and Nicaragua and shady deals with Iran to keep the prisoners until after the election with Jimmy Carter were the whetstone of my youthful outrage. I remember marching to protest the invasion of Grenada when I was in high school.

AP: In preparing to play President Nixon, how have you found that you’re similar? How are you different? What do you think he was like as a person?

DLM: Nixon is a real batch of contradictions. He’s very smart, but he makes terrible choices. He describes himself in the play as “hurt and suspicious” and that seems right, and those insecurities seem to drive him towards the cliff. But he also was a dreamer, and a true believer in America, or at least the America that he could see. He’s a loving father and a doting husband, and arguably the most skilled foreign policy operator in the White House in the last 50 years. But also, a crook. He laid the groundwork for the end of the Cold War, and also brought sourness and distrust to the domestic political realm that we are still feeling reverberations from today.

I think (hope, pray) that I have more quietness of spirit than him, and that I’m more trusting than he was. I do think we share some things: I’m driven like him, and want to do big things like him. And I guess there is a part of me that, like this Nixon in the play, fears that I’m a little man. I understand where his sense of inferiority comes from, I guess, and how that drives him.

I’m not sure I would have liked him, if I had met him.

But this is a problem for the actor. You can’t play a man in whom you don’t find something that you can love. So I am looking for that thing that is lovable in him. I’m writing this the night before we start rehearsals, so perhaps I will find other things as we play. But I think right now, the place where I start loving him is his ability to be bewildered by himself, and still keep trying to figure himself out. His ability to see, and articulate, his own flaws. The Nixon in the play is very aware of his weaknesses (perhaps too aware of them) and there is a soft spot in my heart for anyone who is not so set in his ways that he can keep questioning himself, even after everything that he goes through in life.

* * *

Frost/Nixon also stars Rodney Brazil as Manolo Sanchez, Ronn Burton as Swifty Lazar and Mike Wallace, David H. Dobson as John Birt, and Jonathan Beck Reed as Bob Zelnick. Emily J. Pace is Caroline Cushing, Gregory DeCandia is Jim Reston, Andi Dema is Jack Brennan, and Kaylila Pasha is Evonne Goolagong.

Lighting design is by Stephen King, set design by Dawn Drake, and costumes as always are elaborately designed by Resident Costume Deisgner Jeffrey Meek. Laurena Sherrill is stage manager.

CityRep provokes thought and communication with Every Brilliant Thing

Published August 17, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre (CityRep) uses their stage to provide thought-provoking, moving theatre as well as community outreach through art. This is a unique dynamic that Founding Artistic Director Donald Jordan prides himself on most. Says Jordan, “CityRep has a history of story offerings that are a part of our service. We’ve previously done the shows Next To Normal, Night Mother, The Laramie Project, and The Normal Heart.” In that same vein is the season opener Every Brilliant Thing. An Oklahoma professional premiere, Jordan says “If you like cutting-edge theatre, this is the play for you. It changes perspectives. It creates a profound sense of community engagement.”

Written by Duncan Macmillan with Jonny Donahoe, Every Brilliant Thing is a one-man show starring CityRep artist and Oklahoma City native Jon Haque. The story follows a young man from the time he’s 7 years old, then as a teenager, and on through the next 30 years of his life; a life plagued with heartbreak. As a 7-year-old, the character at the center of the story tries to cure his mother’s deep depression by making a list of all the things in life worth living for. That list grows as he grows, and it’s this list he is sharing with the audience. It has been called “hilarious and heart-wrenching”, and been hailed as a play that “strikes a balance between sobering loss and cathartic laughter”. And it’s sure to open a dialogue for all who get to witness it.

Every Brilliant Thing is directed by CityRep affiliated artist Linda Kay Leonard. Of the play and Haque’s upcoming performance, Leonard says “This play is at times very funny, and at times very poignant. It will take audiences on an emotional journey, as long as they fall in love with Jon. A one-man show is never a walk in the park, but Jon has the flexibility that’s required to move through it. He will be a facilitator for the story and the audience. When I first met Jon, he was an exciting young performer. He was energetic and unbridled. Now he’s layered, textured. He’s the best of his generation.”

Each performance of Every Brilliant Thing actually begins in the lobby, with the actor greeting audience members as they enter the theatre. Haque will speak with audience members and inform them that audience participation is integral to the show. Leonard notes, “Every Brilliant Thing breaks all conventions of theatre. It’s so unique, and it’s a different show every night, because the audience is different every night. They’ve never come to a rehearsal. We look forward to a non-traditional experience and the chance for our audiences to have a real human experience in such a communal way. It teaches audiences about mindfulness. In today’s world, communication is so one-sided. We aren’t required to respond to everything. We can look at our phones and just turn off what we see, without responding at all. With theatre, it is such a collaborative art form. And this play is about communication. That’s something we can do in live theatre that we can’t in other art forms. In theatre, you can’t ignore your audience. We all learn something from each other during this show.”

Jordan agrees, saying “The first time I saw Every Brilliant Thing, it was just electric to me. It’s all these things; performance art, improv, live theatre- all poured into a blender and mixed up together. I immediately thought, we’ve got to do this play. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, remarkable, joyous, and profoundly moving. It’s a truly great piece of theatre.”

Every Brilliant Thing is presented in community partnership with the Green Shoe Foundation, a non-profit organization committed to improving and impacting individual lives and communities through self-discovery, awareness, education, programs and resources. Green Shoe and CityRep will team up to provide talkbacks after select performances as well as having resources available in the lobby, in keeping with their shared mission of community service. More information about Green Shoe can be found at greenshoe.org.

Driving Force: The Pollard opens season 33 with Driving Miss Daisy

Published August 8, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

The Pollard Theatre in Guthrie opens their highly anticipated Season 33 with Driving Miss Daisy. Featuring a legendary cast, Driving Miss Daisy is directed by Pollard artistic director W. Jerome Stevenson. Brenda Williams and Albert Bostick are reprising their roles as Daisy Werthan and Hoke Colburn, with company member James A. Hughes as Boolie Werthan. The 1987 play by Alfred Uhry won a Pulitzer Prize before becoming an Oscar-winning movie in 1989, starring Jessica Tandy and Morgan Freeman. It later enjoyed success with a revival on Broadway in 2010.

In 1948 Atlanta, 72-year-old Daisy crashes her car, so her son Boolie takes the initiative and hires her a driver. Hoke Colburn drives Miss Daisy for the next 25 years, and their friendship grows as the world changes around them. The play explores themes of societal expectations, race relations, and unlikely friendships. The play and the movie have delighted millions for years and bring to the forefront the too important, and often under represented, topics that changed and shaped history.

This story of friendship and race relations in the Southern U.S. during the Civil Rights Movement holds great weight and relevance today. The Pollard chooses to bring it back at a vital time for the current political landscape. Says director Stevenson, “Driving Miss Daisy has so many levels of relevance. Race is obviously a critical component, but it also addresses our fears about aging and becoming caretaker of aging parents. The cast and I discussed our own personal experiences in these areas and knew that many of our audience members would recognize them all. The collaboration with this company has opened up this play in ways that I think audiences will truly appreciate.”

Humor is how we relate to each other, a strong foundation on which the best friendships are built. Williams and Bostick will not disappoint, and this play will uplift and enlighten audiences as it has done for decades.

Adding an extra touch of special to the play is the Pollard’s collaboration with local artist and musician Louise Goldberg. Goldberg is composing original music for this production. Stevenson adds, “I am always grateful for the privilege of working with Louise. She brings a personal perspective to this project that is invaluable. Not only does she contribute her mastery of music but an innate sense of theatricality that elevates the narrative in a way that will definitely resonate with audiences.”

Stevenson also serves as lighting and scenery designer. Timothy Stewart designs properties, Michael James is costume designer, and Jared Blount is sound and projection designer.

A charming story, iconic Oklahoma artists, original music, and the resonating themes of friendship and longevity are setting up the Pollard’s 33rd season to be their best yet. The Pollard first produced this play in 1991. This new production 28 years later will prove that heart-warming, deep, and funny stories, like great friendships, only get better with time.

Taking Her Shot: UCO alum Erin Clemons returns to OKC with Hamilton tour

Published August 6, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

Nothing is more abuzz in Oklahoma City right now than the national tour of Hamilton: An American Musical. Promised by OKC Broadway and the Civic Center way back in January 2017, Hamilton finally landed in OKC July 30th and runs 8 shows a week until August 18th. Hamilton is a modern-music telling of one of America’s long unsung founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton. As described, the story “of America then, by America now”, is a spectacle of dance, singing, rap and hip hop, and at the heart is a man who wrote his way into American history and right back out again. He was never a president, but he walked alongside them, rivaling every one of his peers with his wit and sharp-tongued writing.

Before Lin-Manuel Miranda’s brain child hit Broadway in late 2015 and swept the Tony’s in 2016, most Americans probably didn’t know much about Hamilton, or many of his contemporaries. The show features many names you know but people you don’t, like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who were once lost to time and the drone of a high school history teacher. Before Hamilton, they were all just people who did something grand a long time ago, and wore some funny wigs. Hamilton brings you to the battles that these American revolutionaries fought, both personally and on those famous battle fields on which our country is built. Hamilton is a love letter to all the things Miranda grew up with; hip-hop music, American politicians (Miranda’s father is a notable political figure in New York), musical theatre, and the immigrant story that runs deep through the veins of the United States. Based on the imposing biography of A. Ham written by Ron Chernow, Hamilton is directed by Thomas Kail and choreographed by Andy Blankenbuehler with musical direction by Alex Lacamoire, geniuses all.

Making this tour stop extra special is Oklahoma’s own Erin Clemons, who stars as Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton, known in the show as she was in life as Eliza. Clemons took some time out of her demanding show schedule to answer a Q&A for me below:

AP: Welcome home!! How does it feel to finally be able to share this story of America’s “ten-dollar founding father” with Oklahoma City audiences?

Erin Clemons: Thank you! It feels great! It’s a lot of fun to be back in the theatre where I saw my first musical and doing a show I care so much about!

AP: Though Hamilton is about the immigrants and politicians who built America, it’s safe to say it’s also very much the story of Eliza Hamilton and the women of the American Revolution. What do you think is so important about HER story?

Clemons: What’s important about Eliza’s story is that without her we may not even be performing a piece about Alexander Hamilton. She had a huge hand in expanding and making his legacy known to the world. He couldn’t have been who he was without her and her family. He married into a very privileged and loving family from what I’ve read and I think that very much nurtured and created who he became.

AP: How has your training and experience in Oklahoma prepared you for touring with a traveling company? How is it challenging, or rewarding, to come to new cities so often?

Clemons: I went to school at The University of Central Oklahoma where I received a Bachelor of Music in Music Theatre. Greg White, the director of the program, let me audition late after I didn’t get into the programs at OU or OCU. I had no idea at the time that UCO had such great staff and I ended up exactly where I needed to be. My experience there was invaluable. They taught me the power of collaboration, what it means to have a life as an artist, regardless of perceived success, how to learn something within a small timeframe and most importantly, how to treat the people you work with with love and kindness.

It’s fun to explore new cities but because this is my third tour, the newness of some cities has worn off! Haha! I do enjoy getting a break from the hectic pace of NYC and getting to see my family more! One of the best things about the tour is getting a feeling for the people who live in every city and how they feel about the show!

Kismet’s Hunchback of Notre Dame stands tall

Published August 4, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

The Oklahoma regional premiere of The Hunchback of Notre Dame is a hidden gem in OKC community theatre. Director Angela Polk amasses a large cast of players who possess infinite energy and talent. This version of the musical, though not based strictly on the 1996 Disney film, does feature the music from it, written by the incomparable Alan Menken. This Hunchback is darker, a bit closer to the original Victor Hugo novel. This stage musical features, in stark color, the seedy truths of 15th century Paris. It’s tragic and weighty, a surprisingly haunting show for this bright, cheerful theatre. Themes of religious zealotry, execution, isolation, exclusion, classism, racism, murder, bribery, rape, illness, and misfortune of all kinds run rampant throughout. It’s subtle enough to graze just over the heads of the youngest patrons, but parents and adult patrons feel the weight and charge of the message.

Zachary Wright is the hunchback Quasimodo, one of the most misunderstood heroes in all of literature. Abandoned at birth by the death of his parents and entrapped by his uncle, Quasimodo lives enslaved amongst the bells of the Notre Dame cathedral. His deformities are depicted with makeup and costuming.

A brilliant, powerful scene is set in the character’s introductory musical number. Wright scrapes makeup across his face, twisting his normal, pleasant features into scarily accurate deformities as the makeup becomes his mask. Wright then dons the rest of his costume, strapping padding across his shoulders, then the final green tunic, and suddenly he’s not “normal” looking anymore. Wright also bends forward awkwardly, snarls his hands, and drags his feet as he walks. Wright’s transition is positively frightening and heartbreaking all at once.

In his own world amongst the bells, Quasimodo talks to his “friends”, the stone fixtures and gargoyles that keep him company as he rings the bells. Quasimodo sings beautifully in his mind, and Wright does this feature justice. Wright has a lovely singing voice, which changes to the uneven gait of Quasimodo’s speaking voice, causing further heartbreak. Quasimodo is also deaf from life under the bells. Wright as this beautiful character gives a heart-wrenching, full-body performance.

Rob Glaubitz is the uncle and religious leader Dom Claude Frollo. Glaubitz towers tall and booms his lines in a deep, guttural cadence. Glaubitz’s Frollo is startling, evil and sick with a snake-like smile and alarming twinkle in his eye. Glaubitz’s singing voice is so deep and menacing, yet crystal clear. It chills to the bones- a feat on an August night.

The young Gypsy woman who turns the world upside down is Esmeralda, portrayed demurely by Cheyanne Marie. She’s a charmer with a sweet singing voice and an enchanting gaze. She turns strong and silent when needed, a survivor through and through. All the drama of this story hinges on Esmeralda. Everyone is getting along in a way they’ve accepted until she shows up, and Marie makes an entrance that is only rivaled by her exit. The most archaic of the characters blame her for their problems, of course, it’s always the woman’s fault, and nobody deserves that indignation less. Esmeralda, like Quasimodo, has a heart of gold.

The ambiguously heroic Phoebus is played by Blayne Childers, a fresh face with a winsome demeanor. Phoebus is a Cathedral Guard of Notre Dame, and presumably Frollo’s man. Childers is valiant and faithful as Phoebus. He too is enraptured by Esmeralda, and his love for her depicts a different kind of love than Quasimodo has for her. These two men fight for Esmeralda in every way they know how by defying the powers against them and never giving up on her. Neither deserves her, but both try in vain.

Seth Paden is Clopin, the Gypsy King and leader of the Feast of Fools. Paden is slightly sinister yet jovial, a strutting, cackling, wild court jester who brings the fun and mayhem to Paris. Paden offers a sigh of relief for the heavy doom of the show, enticing and reminding the audience that all is not how it seems in the world, then or now.

The memorable, poignant music of Disney is carried well here. The powerful choir is led by Music Director Laura Himes, and the vocals lend themselves to doom and joy, hope, tragedy, and acceptance. Deep lyrics are not missed, despite the ever-present microphone and sound issues that plague the show. All actors and choir members work around it with poise, a slight hiccup that’s beyond their control but adds to the immediacy of live theatre.

The Hunchback of Notre Dame is the counterintuitive fairy tale. The damsels make their own way despite any distress, and there are no princes riding in to save the day. While heartbreaking, it still leaves you hopeful and dreaming of what life could be, and how it might be… someday.

Lyric Theatre makes headlines with Newsies

Published July 14, 2019 | By Adrienne Proctor

The Lyric’s Summer at the Civic series is unstoppable! The second of 3 large-scale musicals this season is the galvanizing Disney classic Newsies. Based on the newsboy strike of 1899 in New York City, Newsies follows Jack Kelly and his band of Manhattan-based newspaper peddlers. When the villainous Joseph Pulitzer raises the prices he charges his newsboys and girls (fondly called Girlsies), the paper-pushers unionize and strike. With the help of a young journalist, and their colorful outlook, the Newsies inspire and delight, and leave you rooting for their success.

Sean Watkinson is the reluctant leader Jack Kelly, a role that was canonized by Christian Bale in the 1992 film. Jack Kelly is a frustrating and challenging character. His thick New York City dialect is hard to understand, and the character makes a lot of irritating choices. Watkinson, however, is clear as a bell, and even sings with that strong accent, and not a single word is lost. Watkinson gives Jack Kelly a bit of humanity, which is an important feature. After all, these are scared, starving children, working for destitute wages so they can feed themselves and their families. Watkinson gently reminds us of that in his many tender moments.

Mattie Tucker Joyner is the young journalist Katherine Plumber. She’s a gem of a character, a role model for young girls everywhere. Katherine is a personal favorite character of this writer. Her commitment to speaking the truth, even while terrified, and using the mighty written word as her sword is representation in its finest form. Joyner has a lovely voice and presence on stage. The anthem number “Watch What Happens” is a time for her to shine, and she does so brightly. Joyner’s chemistry with Watkinson is absolutely to die for, and who doesn’t love those Disney kisses. There’s no chance of forgetting that this story of empowerment is also a romance.

W. Jerome Stevenson is Pulitzer, and his velvety voice and booming presence make him the perfect Disney villain. Stevenson makes an imposing figure on the stage, and it’s not without qualms when Jack Kelly stands up to him. Stevenson commands the stage with grace and charm, making him an approachable bad guy.

Jimmy Mavrikes is Davey, who signs up to sell papers (referred to as “papes” by the Newsies) alongside his younger brother Les, played by Callen Stewart. Davey and Les are the only pair who seem to have a steady family, with out-of work parents at home relying on their sons to support them. Mavrikes’s singing voice is perfection, with a flawless range of harmonies. Mavrikes and Stewart make a perfect pair, a real team that prove to be the cool ones under pressure.

M. Denise Lee as Medda Larkin is a powerhouse voice and a true ally for the newsies. The vaudeville theatre owner and entertainer in her own right has the ear and the trust of the most powerful men in the city. Lee is a controlled singer, light on her feet, and quick to come to the aid of Jack and his newsboys. Lee’s solo song “That’s Rich” is a highlight of the show. The only downside to this vibrant character is that we don’t see more scenes with her.

Sam Brinkley is Crutchie, Jack’s best friend and one of the heroes of the underdog story. Brinkley keeps a knowing smirk on his face and never loses his hope and faith in Jack. Brinkley is loveable and captivating as Crutchie, a genuine good guy who’s as pure in heart as he is loyal.

Though each cast member has their stand-out numbers and scenes, the best part about this show is the ensemble dancing. Newsies is perhaps known best for the complicated dance numbers, and this cast does not disappoint. There’s tavern tapping, toe-touches, leaps, synchronized spins, back flips, and of course, newspapers, flying high and fast throughout the duration of the show. You’d think at some point during this constant energy production that the cast would start to show signs of fatigue, but if they feel it they sure don’t show it. Another stand out detail of the choreography, nimbly designed by Amy-Reynolds Reed, is the inclusion of several Girlsies in the dance routines. This subtle yet intentional addition is yet another detail that makes this Lyric production stand out from the crowd.

The large ensemble cast works so hard and never has a minute to breathe. The always excellent direction by Ashley Wells has once again proven that Lyric Theatre is the best around, and makes for the most memorable night out on the town in OKC!