Left Tulsa theatre for the weekend and saw my first live production of King Lear. I guess I think it's the best play ever written, though the difficulty of confining the theatre's most profound statement on the tragedy of life to a single stage is legendary. Shakespeare Dallas' production was wonderful, powerful and compelling, led by a brilliant performance of Fred Curchack as Lear. Creative and brave (who else would dare find the humor in Lear's madness!) Curchack created a Lear that was uniquely his own. Always a joy to see Fred's work.
Clark Youth Theatre has a nice video trailer of their current production, Catch Me If You Can. Kudos to them on the video, and everyone get out to see them. (Full disclosure, I'm a big supporter, as if you didn't know).
Theatre Tulsa has made it a large part of their mission to bring the big name Broadway musicals to our stage. Legally Blonde, Les Mis and Chicago in the last couple of years, Hedwig and the Angry Inch and Chorus Line coming up. Currently, Miss Saigon just finished playing at the Williams in the PAC. Big names indeed. In fact, Miss Saigon has been named by some authorities as the greatest musical of all time.
Well, it’s not that. The greatest musical of all time should probably have some memorable melodies, and I’m going out on a limb here to predict that, as dramatic and as glorious as the music can be at times, you’re not going to leave the theatre humming any of these songs. The lyrics, for better or worse (and more on that later) often veer towards the simplistic.
Yet this is the 12th longest running show in Broadway history, and has something like 3 billion performances in London’s West End. Somebody likes this show, and probably more than 2 or 3 somebodies. What’s all the hubbub?
Miss Saigon is an attempt to capture the tragedy, the brutality, and the hypocrisy of the Vietnam War, and to retell that sad story on a personal scale—a story not about countries and politics, but about people. And instead of telling it from an American point of view, like pretty much every other movie and play on the war, it tells it from the point of view of ordinary Vietnamese men and women, ordinary men and women caught up in a catastrophe they have no control over. This is the secret strength of Miss Saigon. This is the still center at the heart of the spectacle.
The war and its aftermath overwhelm the characters and their desires; they don’t control events, they are consumed by them. Miss Saigon is best played out on a large stage, where the spectacle has the needed space to create the whirlpool that pulls the characters down despite their frantic efforts to swim against it. Conversely, the simple lyrics work best when sung as expressions of honest (and life-sized) emotions—the words of ordinary people struggling with confusion, pain, love and loss in a world that has, literally, gone mad.
Theatre Tulsa is to be commended for 1) having a business plan that targets multiple sections of the Tulsa community, and 2) having the balls (or the ovaries) to select a show that stretches their capabilities to the limit, and then expanding their capabilities in an effort to do that show justice (bringing in outside people, upping their scenic production, etc.). May their future endeavors in this regard be even more richly rewarded.
The Pop Up Players put on an impressively polished show last night at the Nightingale. This group is composed largely from Clark Theatre veterans, under the (nominally) adult supervision of George Romero. Too many participants to name (which makes the overall consistent quality even more impressive), but the leadership of Quinn Blakely and Jack Allen has to be noted, as does the incredibly off-kilter, absurdist slant of Jack's writing. The Calamaties provide their own, off-kilter brand of post-post-alt-rock punctuating and supporting the comedy throughout the evening. (I should point out that the band pictured is not the Calamaties, but Dance! Dance! Lance Vance and the Fancy Pants. Yeah, I know).
The show runs tonight as well as next weekend. As might be expected when this group bursts outside the confines of a youth theatre, the material often veers towards the "adult", if that's the word for bits like "He shot my dick" (not the actual title, but it might as well be). But keeping that in mind, it's a pretty entertaining evening.
If you know me at all, there's a good chance you have heard me talk about my teacher, actor and performance artist Fred Curchack. His one man shows (now one man/one woman as he often works with his wife Laura Jorgensen) are incredible. Every single one I've seen (around 10 now) rank among the most creative, moving, and challenging pieces I've had the pleasure to experience. He's currently playing Lear in a full production in Dallas. The best description of King Lear I've ever heard is: "It's not so much a play as it is a force of Nature."
I can't wait.
Rhonda and I drove over to Fayetteville yesterday to see Amadeus done by TheatreSquared, and to talk with Courtneay Sanders. Our conversation with Courtneay, covering Playhouse Tulsa, her favorite shows in London, and what it's like to teach theatre at a Christian university will be in the next issue of Stage Life 918, coming out Sept. 14. But a couple of sentences here about the show and the above video.
Video first. It's a little different. It's reactions from people coming out of the theatre after seeing the show, And the word "wonderful" is used an unfortunate number of times. Still, it's doing something a little out of the ordinary, it probably didn't take as long to edit as a trailer would so it could come out asap after opening night, and I don't think I've seen any theatre in Tulsa do anything like it. Touches like this combined with the top notch experience of lobby, show program, and production elements make TheatreSquared an exemplary Equity regional company. Of course, it doesn't hurt that they are partnered with the University of Arkansas and got a million dollar grant from the Walton Foundation.
As far as the show goes, I'm not really going to review it, as it's not a Tulsa production. But briefly, Courtneay was an energetic and humorous Constanze, a much coarser character than in the movie. And Sean Patrick Reilly as Salieri, who commands the stage throughout and has most of the lines, was close to brilliant, a man torn between his love of Mozart's music and his hatred of the "creature" due to jealousy and how Mozart has corrupted his concept of God (though the challenge of a huge line load perhaps kept him from achieving a fully convincing 30 year gap between the older and younger Salieri). The staging, the set and lighting design (by Shawn Irish), and the interesting contrast between the large and active cast while most of lines are spoken by Salieri, combined to produce a fascinating theatrical spectacle, while the script was much more challenging in terms of ideas and themes than the movie. I always come from the movie thinking about the main characters' relationship, but I left the play thinking about the relationship between Salieri and his God. Good show.
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