"They don't give Pulitzer Prizes for jerking off. Because if they did, I'd have a lot more Pulitzer Prizes." Shoot, I've obviously been doing it all wrong.
Playhouse Tulsa has a couple of shows in the works, the first of which is To Kill A Mockingbird, opening in the Williams in early February. Adrian Alexander, who I'm very familiar with due to his frequent appearances on the Heller stage, is cast as perhaps the noblest character in American literature, Atticus Finch. We did a quickie phone interview the other day, which included a question about the Atticus Finch who's NOT the noblest character in American literature, the one in "Go Set A Watchman", the controversial sequel to Mockingbird. Here's how the interview went.
Frank: Have you ever been involved in a previous production of “Mockingbird?”
Adrian: No, in fact I didn’t even know there was a stage version before Playhouse announced that they were doing it. I saw the audition notice and got excited about the idea. “Gee, that would be fun.”
Frank: When was the first time you read the book?
Adrian: Oh, must have been college. So around 1970, 72.
Frank: Not in high school?
Adrian: In Waxahachie, Texas in the mid 60’s? No, it would have been too controversial. That part of the country was still very segregated at that time. I had seen the movie at some point before, it must have been on TV. I don’t think the movie even played in Waxahachie in the 60’s.
Frank: Did you read the sequel, Go Set a Watchman?
Adrian: I did! In fact I was excited about it as soon as I heard. It prompted me to dig out Mockingbird and read it again before I read Watchman. I thought it was very interesting that on social media, people I knew, thoughtful people, scholars, were saying they would refuse to read the sequel. It was basically, “I have my version of Atticus Finch, and I don’t want it messed with.” We don’t want our icons disturbed. But I was very curious. I thought it fascinating to see Scout as a young woman, coming back to that culture. But they are two very different books, and Watchman isn’t the book that Mockingbird is. But I was glad to have the opportunity to see a different Atticus.
Frank: Does it affect how you’re playing the role?
Adrian: Not really. The script is true to the first book, and we’re all familiar with that. It’s not fair to the audience to have the Watchman Atticus suddenly rise up. I’m definitely not interested in muddying the waters. Atticus is who we think he is—and he’s a compelling character in his own right. He’s an icon.
Frank: This is the first time you’ve worked with Playhouse, right?
Adrian: I knew about them from their reputation. And of course, Courtneay is part of what I call the “Arkansas mafia.” Michelle Dill, Jenny Guy are from there as well. My first connection with Courtneay was through Barb Murn. She told me about a staged reading that one of Courtneay’s students, Samuel Hunt, was having for a play he’d written. That there was a good role for me and it would be fun. Delightful play really. I met Courtneay at the reading, and was impressed. When I heard about the auditions for Mockingbird, I immediately looked into it. She put some sides in a Dropbox, I decided to work on the one from Atticus. Though I would have been happy getting cast in any of those roles. Atticus was just the best side to memorize.
Frank: I know you’ve only been in rehearsal a week, but could you talk a little about some of the new people you’re working with.
Adrian: Well, to begin with there’s Courtneay. I’m tremendously impressed with how she runs rehearsals.
Frank: Have you gotten an impression of some of the other actors?
Adrian: I’m very much looking forward to working with Elle Kalcik, who plays Scout. She’s a student of Billie Sue’s. Even during the photo shoot, you could tell she has a lot of intelligence, poise. She brings a lot of energy to rehearsals. Perfectly cast.
David Anthony is our Tom Robinson, and I’m very impressed with his work. I believe he’s a student at ORU. And Jennifer Thomas, our Calpurnia. I’d actually already heard of her through both Michelle Dill, who worked with her on “Dreamgirls,” and Rebecca Ungerman, who I think directed her in The Color Purple. They both spoke very highly of her.
Theatre Tulsa continues a very challenging slate of plays this season with its current production of A Chorus Line at the PAC. It’s an entertaining evening of theatre. TT has assembled a talented cast and director Sara Phoenix has done a good job of showcasing their strengths.
The history of A Chorus Line is one of those legendary stories that makes Broadway sound like an enchanted kingdom where everyone’s dreams come true. It started with a series of dance workshops, just a bunch of chorus line “gypsies”( New York dancers always looking for the next musical to audition for), and miraculously developed into a brilliant show that won every Tony in sight and became the longest running musical ever on Broadway (since surpassed but still #6 on the list). Not only that, it took the lives of these unsung ‘working class’ artists and made them the center of the story. Unsung became sung. Some of these dancers went from unknown chorus members to Tony award-winners starring in a show based on their own lives. And it happened almost overnight. It’s just the kind of thing that happens every day on Broadway. Well, in your dreams.
What gives the show authenticity is the fact that the stories it tells, of the lives of the 17 dancers trying out for 8 parts, give its audiences a glimpse into the reality of a dancer’s life, and the precariousness of a career based on fast-fading looks and talent that can disappear with a single injury. The glimpses it offers of the pain that lies behind the forced audition-smiles of the dancers feel honest, in no small part because they’re based, at least to some extent, on the real life experiences of the original cast.
The casting challenge of A Chorus Line isn’t just that it requires an actor to sing, dance, and act, i.e. to be the so-called triple threat. It requires seventeen triple threats. The current cast contains a fair number of these, though 17 is a little bit of a stretch. I think it’s fair to attribute some of that to the fact that up until a couple of years ago, there weren’t very many musicals being done by local companies. Dancers in particular weren’t valued or involved in local theatre. We had dancers in dance companies, and actors in community theatres, and never the twain would meet. The big upswing in the number of musicals by companies such as Tulsa Project Theatre, Theatre Tulsa, and others will hopefully encourage local artists to expand their talents and to stay in town once they do.
The show Friday night had lots of standout moments. Aarika Trabona’s two solos, including “What I Did for Love,” were stellar, she has a truly beautiful voice and Tulsa is lucky she’s moved here after 4 years in the biz in New York. I haven’t seen Roderick Hudson onstage in a while, and he impressed me both with a charismatic stage presence that’s grown tremendously since I saw him last, and the seemingly effortless way he handled his solo, an jazz tinged piece I can’t find in the program, but that required him to shift from spoken word to full voice singing and everything in between. Very nicely done.
The high point solo, as I imagine it is for most productions, was Kaley Durland’s “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” more affectionately known as “Tits and Ass.” Durland absolutely nailed this paean to silicone, and pulled off the best moment of the night.
Returning to this idea of triple threats, several cast members stood out in being able to handle all three with verve and confidence. In particular, I thought Andi Powers, Trevor Mastin, and Kristin Harding gave solid performances and helped anchor the ensemble.
I could go on, but really everyone brought something to the table, and there were no weak members of the cast. Limitations? Well, you'd have a hard time getting 17 triple threats to come out to one audition in Tulsa. Dance was what usually came up short. Not that the cast couldn’t dance the numbers—Sara Phoenix and choreographer Jennifer Alden made sure that what was onstage looked sharp. But for a show about dancers, it was oddly static at times. A couple of numbers ranked fairly low in difficulty, which usually meant they looked polished but ‘safe’. It may be the nature of our oldest, most well-known theatre company to prefer polished over risky for their mainstage productions, but my personal favorite dance number was the opening, the ‘early’ audition when energy trumped perfection and every dancer executed the moves in a more individualistic way. Of course, real chorus lines have to be almost mechanical in execution, so I get why the choice was made. It doesn’t change the fact that I would have rather seen something a little riskier.
Still, another entertaining, engaging evening of local theatre, continuing proof that nothing beats live entertainment. And I shouldn’t end this review without mentioning that my wife and I got in for $20 apiece because of Theatre Tulsa’s 3 ticket package for the last shows of their season. No service charges and a bargain price, and just as easy to get reservations as spending twice as much money going through the PAC’s website. Wish I’d seen it earlier so as to clue in my loyal readers to the bargain, but a word to the other theatre companies—Do this! (Well, that’s two words, but you know what I mean)
The political gurus were all talking about “staking out positions” on the issues, and “appealing to the evangelical lane” or “going after the moderate voters.” No one except Jeb Bush and John Kasich were doing that, and we know how that’s going. The political gurus thought this election was like the last dozen or so elections, with voters weighing the issues and finding the candidate who agreed with them.
No, that’s dead. That’s past. No, last night the masks came off. All those guys in suits dropped the pretense that this was about issues, and instead started snapping and circling and going for the throat. Who’s gonna be the alpha dog? That’s what this pile up comes down to. Which dog’s left standing, chewing on an ear, while the others whimper away, crippled and bleeding.
Because that’s what Republican voters want this year. They don’t want issues; they want blood. They’ve been convinced by Fox News, and Rush, and the Republican ‘leadership’ that the country needs cleansing, that Democrats want to destroy the country, that Satan’s minions have taken over the “evil government” (we actually heard that phrase last night, the only time anyone paid any attention to poor Ben). But the ‘leadership’ miscalculated. They didn’t think anyone would take them literally. Surely people would realize this was just a new tactic in an old game. Surely the voters knew that. Right? Obama as Satan was just a metaphor, just something to get the base motivated, get back into the White House. Surely no one would actually believe that Democrats were trying to destroy the country!? Right!?!? Because if people started believing that, for the love of God, if people started believing that--
The workshops will be an excellent way to prepare for Heller Theatre's 6th annual Heller Shorts Festival. The Festival will once again select the top plays entered and produce them in July 2016 at the Nightingale Theatre. The class will cover basics of short form drama and offer the opportunity to hear your work spoken aloud as it progresses. Previous experience is not necessary for either the class or for entering the Festival--beginners are encouraged to get involved. Further information on the Festival will be provided in this space as it becomes available, or go to http://hellertheatreco.org/ to check on the latest goings on for Heller Theatre.
Arts Alliance Tulsa
Green Room OK
Tulsa Little Theatre
Tulsa Weekly Roundup
Am. Theatre Co.
BA Community Playhouse
Clark Youth Theatre
G Rated Theatre
Midwestern Theater Co.
Muskogee Little Theatre
Owasso Comm. Theatre
Sand Springs Comm. Th.
Sapulpa Comm. Theatre
Tulsa Latino Theatre
Tulsa Project Theatre
Tulsa Rep. Musicals
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