The most important review of a play must come from audience reaction. Due to popular demand “Passing Strange” has been held over until February 9. Can’t top that! Anyone who has not yet seen in or who is ready to see it again call 405.282.2800 for reservations. Clearly a show not to be missed!!!
At first glance “Passing Strange” is a story of a young black man coming of age in the troubled rocky decade following the ‘60’s. Everything changed but no one was quite sure what our culture had become or how we were placed within that culture. Once seen and absorbed is clearly “Passing Strange” is dynamically a universal story of a young person with strong creative ideals coming to terms with life’s limitations upon art and life’s inspiration to art. Everyone regardless of sex, creed or color goes through a version of this transition and everyone has their own hindrances, background and assets to overcome and overwhelm.
For the true artist, surviving the transition and remaining true to one’s art form is the challenge. W. Jerome Stevenson is a true artist. The narrator of “Passing Strange” is a survivor. The show also stars Gerrin Mitchell as the true artist in the making. It takes an artist to make an artist. Mitchell is a consummate artist.
DeLanie Brewer as the mother has the outstanding ability and grace needed to express her emotions in dialogue and song. Matthew Alvin Brown, Tyrone Stanley, Jennifer Teel and Rhianna Mack make the story come alive for the audience with enthusiasm, charm and an abundance of talent. Band members Stefani Fortney, Elyse Angelo, Louise Goldberg and Jason Hunt provide far more than great music for “Passing Strange”. This band has perfect interaction with the characters as well.
The costumes of Michael James are right on target for this show and the lighting and scenic design are wonderfully unobtrusive. Scenic Designer is James A. Hughes. Sound incorporates the unique talents of Stevenson and Angelo. This choice gives band and cast members defined interaction. Band member Goldberg, as Musical Director brings warmth, subtlety and power to ‘rock on’ as she leads cast, band and crew with a blend of strength and poignancy.
Stevenson has been the Pollard’s Artistic Director for some time. His talent as a director has always shaped wonderful productions and now, in “Passing Strange” he exhibits his star quality as actor and musician. He also shows us the unusual capacity many directors do not have: the ability to receive direction as well as give it. The mark of Director Timothy Stewart is imprinted on the production creating the universality and diversity that highlights the show. Shaded by the natural choreography of Christopher Castleberry, Stewart has a masterpiece on his hands.
The book, “Passing Strange” is by Stew and the Music by Stew and Heidi Rodewald is autobiographical in nature. Stevenson and Mitchell embody the individualism of Stew with great power and vision. “Passing Strange” does contain some language and adult situations. It is, however, a show for everyone because a little Theatre/Shock/Reality has a lot of soul.
“Passing Strange” can be seen at the Pollard Theatre through June 26, 2011. Located at 111 W. Harrison in downtown Guthrie or everywhere in cyberspace at wwwthepollard.org. The box office is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesday through Saturday and the number is 405.282.2800.
“The Sound of Music” is an absolute perfect classic and one cannot help but expect to attend comparing the wonderful movie with Julie Andrews to any live performance. Jenny Rottmayer in the role of Maria Rainer is quite capable of enchanting the audience into forgetting to make that comparison from the very first scene. Her voice is crisp and pure and her interpretation of the young woman meant for motherhood, song and joy rather than reflection within the confines of a nunnery is genuine and convincing.
The music of Rodgers and Hammerstein tells the story from the book by Howard Lindsay & Russel Crouse suggested by the true story of “The Trapp Family Singers.” It is the story of a young postulant nearly ready to take her final vows at Nonnberg Abbey. She is sent as a governess to the home of Captain von Trapp, a strict widower with seven children to care for. As the story unfolds in the beautiful Austrian mountains, von Trapp must choose to bow to Nazi rule or face a bitter consequence. The joyful governess who brings the gift of music back into his home and to his children shows him the way.
The role of Captain Georg von Trapp is taken by Rob May. May’s interpretation opposite Rottmayer is ideal initially, although he lacks a defined transition as he develops a loving relationship with his children through Maria’s example. With a little tightening up in his timing, the character will develop more clearly, and his metamorphosis will become more apparent.
Paula Parkhurst as The Mother Abbess carries the maternal duties of a Mother Superior quite well and her voice is perfect for her rendition ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’. Excellent voices are also apparent in the roles of Elsa Shraeder by LaraBeth Bliss and Joel Swanson as Rolf Gruber. Bliss is very poised and assured and her voice reflects her character. John Cargal as Max Detweiler, friend and shameless promoter, is delightful. The von Trapp housekeeper, Frau Schmidt is well done by Susan James. Franz, the butler, is also executed exactly right by Paul Tomlin.
The remaining supporting cast of adults does a wonderful job, and the cast of children are outstanding. The Trapp children have voices magnificent enough to win the Salzburg Festival Music Award. Therefore, the children cast in the roles must be able to perform at that standard. This cast does. The role of Liesl, the eldest von Trapp daughter, is superbly done by Caitlin Rose. Her voice blends beautifully with all the other cast members and her voice is quite clear. The lovely duet between Rose and Swanson (Rolf) is excellent. Later the same ‘Sixteen Going on Seventeen’ reprise between Rose and Rottmayer is especially heart wrenching. Piper Bush as the youngest daughter, Gretl is especially charming, and Bush is an absolute trouper! Abigail Lowery as Louisa, Maya Dean as Brigitta, and Tori James as Marta perform their von Trapp daughter roles sincerely and with pure tones. The two boys of the family, Friedrich, played by Jonathan Young and Kurt, played by Brandon Sayers are very well done lending a nice effect to the children’s performance.
“The Sound of Music” is impeccably directed by Charles Tweed for Jewel Box Under the Stars. As with any outdoor performance sound can be a problem, particularly with Oklahoma breezes. Seating is best acoustically from about the eighth row and back. Do bring a stadium seat or cushion. Consider that June 10th is opening night, because every night through June 18 will have all the freshness and excitement of opening night!
“The Sound of Music” runs through June 18, 2011 at the Jewel Box Amphitheatre located at First Christian Church (corner of 36th & Walker) in Oklahoma City. Call the box office at 521-1786 weekday afternoons for reservations. Show times are Friday and Saturday evenings at 8:30 pm.