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Performing Arts

‘Strange’ and ‘Normal’

Music! Drama! Comedy! That’s the year in theater.

Larry Laneer December 28th, 2011

Looking back, theatergoers will note 2011 turned out to be an unusually good year for musicals.

At a time when some theater companies hunker down with old musicals and tired comedies, Guthrie’s Pollard brought us a rousing, bluesy “Passing Strange.” During the show, I kept thinking, “This is fresh!” It featured an excellent ensemble cast (led by W. Jerome Stevenson and Gerrin Mitchell), sharp staging (Timothy Stewart) and smart choreography (Christopher Castleberry).

If “Passing Strange” had audiences on their feet dancing, Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre’s “Next to Normal” (pictured) knocked them right back into their seats. Remarkable performances by Stacey Logan as a woman whose family is devastated by her mental illness, and Lane Fields as her husband were some of the year’s most outstanding. Amanda Foust’s scenic design and Art Whaley’s lighting gave the production a chilling look that reflected the show’s subject matter. What a treat it was to see a serious musical for a change.

While breaking no new theatrical ground, three other musicals were noteworthy. Pollard’s delightful staging of “Drood” teemed with highly stylized acting — make that overacting — in a 19th-century music-hall setting. The up-and-coming Reduxion Theatre Company presented “Hair” in a production that at first looked like a historical pageant with music, but caught fire in Act 2. Presenting shows in its congenial Broadway Theater, Reduxion should be on your radar.

Treading some well-worn ground, Lyric’s “Always ... Patsy Cline” charmed with a jukebox full of tunes and performances by Julie Johnson as the songstress and the great Brenda Williams as her friend, Louise. Williams could play her opposite a doormat as Cline, and the show wouldn’t lose a thing.

Alas, no comedies were memorable, but the dramas had some darkly comedic moments. Directed by Michelle De Long at Actors Warehouse Studio, David Rabe’s “Hurlyburly” may have escaped your notice. With Jason Leyva as Eddie; experienced hands Ben Hall, Eric Starkey and Mike Waugh; and newcomer Maria Bernadette Hurdle, the production was gritty and provocative. Almost four hours on those implements of torture they call “chairs” at Actors Warehouse were hellacious bliss.

In Pollard’s staging of the modern, suburban tragedy “Rabbit Hole,” Michael Edsel and Jodi Nestander gave strong performances as a couple dealing with the accidental death of their young son.

More outstanding acting was seen in City Rep’s “Biloxi Blues,” one of Neil Simon’s best plays. Drew Michael Feldman played Eugene with Ben Hall as the drill sergeant and young Emilio Velasco as Epstein, another green recruit.

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12.28.2011 at 05:46 Reply

I agree. This was an amazing year for theater. I can't wait to see what else may come our way.