Gypsy Rose Lee is the most famous and beloved strippers of all time. The adjective beloved is certainly an unusual one to apply to a strip tease artist, but it is that aspect of her personality that has made her so memorable. According to her memoirs it is the incredible talent, ambition and love of life that her mother, Rose imparted to her daughter that gave that girl, Louise, the force of Gypsy Rose Lee.
“Gypsy” written by Arthur Laurents and Jule Styne with Stephen Sondheim lyrics is currently being presented at the Freede LittleTheatre at the Civic Center Music Hall by the Oklahoma City Theatre Company. Director, Chad Anderson did not have to look far afield to find a woman with the heart and the strength to play Momma Rose. Deborah Draheim is the Managing Director of OKCTC, and she was meant to play this role and she sets the stage on fire.
“Gypsy” is the story of the early years of Gypsy Rose Lee. As a child she toured in vaudeville with her younger sister, Baby June as the star of the act. The two girls were driven by their mother, Rose, a stage mother who came to personify the best and the worst of the stage mother phenomenon. Realizing that time had passed her by, she imposed her own dreams of stardom upon her daughters. Clearly, Rose had the ambition and the talent, but this stage mother who set the standard for all stage mothers who follow also had the heart and joy that sustains that love and respect of her daughter.
Not only does Draheim belt out her songs with soul and sensation, the role of Louise is expertly played by Stefanie Warnick. Warnick displays a commanding enough presence to complement Draheim nicely. The role of younger daughter, Dainty June is beautifully handled by Chelsea Larson. Rose is always desperate to find work, and relies heavily on manager Herbie to book their act. Herbie sticks around and does his best out of his great love for Rose. In spite of the fact that vaudeville is dying as the movie industry expands, Herbie manages to keep things going for an amazingly long time. Matt Berger has the strength and presence to keep up with Draheim, and these four actors together create an unforgettable team.
The younger Louise is exceptionally well played by Shannon Hoyle and Baby June is very nicely portrayed by another Chelsea, Chelsea Yeager. The younger actors have the voices and the energy to allow the older actors to pick up the characters seamlessly.
Nevertheless, the three strippers the family encounters as they find themselves reduced to burlesque nearly steal the show. Jennifer Helterbrand as Mazeppa, Bonner Church as Tessie Tura and Clarissa Feldt as Electra are outstanding and add an enchanting and very amusing performance.
Other notable performers are from Johnny Payne, John Q. Wilson, Grantly Brooks, Joey Herbert and Paul Mitchell. The remaining ensemble members are outstanding and create and overall production that works well.
Anderson does an excellent job of directing the great cast and the efforts of Musical Director Jeanise Morton and the orchestra make the show excellent in every way. Choreographer Andrea Rogers handles the various level of talent these young vaudeville players might have exceptionally well.
Technically the show is quite well done, however, Chris Fitzer as Scenic and Sound Designer could have used a little help. When a large musical cast requires individual microphones for 25 souls, a separate sound technician would be invaluable and would have given the show a professional boost. This would ensure fewer ‘glitches’ and more importantly provide a more consistent sound level for audience comfort.
“Gypsy” can be seen through March 25, 2012 at the Freede Little Theatre in the Civic Center Music Hall in downtown Oklahoma City. For ticket information contact 405-297-2264 or visit www.okctc.org. The voice of Draheim is worthy of the story, and the story enraptures the audience.
Donna Mackie, a major player in Oklahoma City theatrical circles is the widow of Harvey Mackie, Director of Drama for the Mount Vernon Players of Washington D.C. Harvey Mackie, a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adapted and dramatized “The Hound of The Baskervilles” a favorite for fans of Sherlock Holmes. This production was a ‘huge hit’ and Donna Macke has kindly allowed the presentation at the Jewel Box Theatre.
Director, Linda McDonald has ‘tied up a few loose ends’ and Mackie’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskerville’s” is now an amazingly ideal script for the Jewel Box Theatre space. This version maintains the integrity found in Doyle’s original Sherlock Holmes stories with one deviation only: Homes does not wear the signature deerstalker.
Starring Don Taylor as Sherlock Holmes and James Gordon Jr. as Dr. John Watson, McDonald has clearly chosen two actors with an affinity for Sherlock Holmes and an understanding of the period and times; Devonshire, England in the 1890’s.
James Tyra as family retainer Mr. Barrymore and Jamie Brewster as Mrs. Barrymore are an excellent team and their characters demonstrate absolutely the typical attitudes we imagine a good English mid-Victorian servant to be. Yet they are in no way stereotypical.
Aaron Chartier is Sir Henry Baskerville, the young heir to the Baskerville estate. Chartier’s presentation displays his growth as an actor as he develops a formidable presence for Oklahoma audiences.
David Burkhart as Dr. James Mortimer the young country practitioner develops a very nice rapport with all of the other actors.
The role of John Stapleton, the somewhat sinister new comer to Grimpen Village, Devonshire is masterfully portrayed by a relative new comer to Oklahoma City audiences, Tad Thurston. Lana Henson plays Beryl Stapleton, long suffering ‘sister’ of Mr. Stapleton. Her interpretation is a lovely blend of rebellion and honesty in spite of the frailties commonly found in Victorian women.
Amandanell Bold is the pretty and independent Mrs. Laura Lyons. Her performance is a wonderful example of a strong woman able to rise above the restrictions of Victorian society with dignity.
It is clear that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle admired women far more than was considered fashionable which may explain why Sherlock Holmes sometimes seems conflicted about them. McDonald and her cast understand that aspect quite well, which makes this production stand out on an even greater level.
Further, the entire troupe of actors has an appreciation for the Sherlock Holmes adventures that resounds with the audience. Taylor and Gordon have now added another layer in our vision of Holmes and Watson as they journey forever through our imagination.
McDonald’s direction is enhanced with the lovely and intelligent set built by Richard Howells under Technical Director David Hester. Lighting Designer James Gordon with Erin Langer light the stage effectively. Mimi Lynch, Costumes, Keith Burgess, Props and Abi Hann, Sound, add accuracy as well as atmosphere to the production. Assistant Director Jessa Schinske is responsible for giving McDonald the freedom and assistance to mount a terrific show.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Baskervilles” runs through March 25, 2012 at the Jewel Box Theatre, 3700 N. Walker in Oklahoma City under the sponsorship of the First Christian Church at that location. For ticket information contact 405-521-1786 or visit jewelboxtheatre.org.
The Poteet Theatre located in a smallish space in the basement of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church has established a reputation for executing complicated productions with perfect simplicity. Few directors have the vision to imagine musicals with impressively large casts and period costumes staged in such a seemingly restrictive space, yet the Poteet Theatre routinely supports their directors in mounting these productions.
“The Color Purple” is the current Poteet theatre show and is possibly one of the most ambitious projects to present. Featuring a massive cast duplicating many ensemble cast members in additional minor roles, the total number of cast members comes to a whopping 82 souls. Director Jay Prock manages and stages this cast naturally and strategically with flawless results.
“The Color Purple” is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning novel of the same name by Alice Walker. Playwright Marsha Norman is responsible for the excellent script as a musical. While the novel is familiar to many, the movie featuring Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg and Danny Glover is known to us all. In paring down a book with complicated and somewhat controversial themes to a 2-hour movie or musical, authors must rely on the sensitivity of the director and cast to restore the nuances that may be lost through comprehensive interpretation. While Norman’s script and the music and lyrics by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray do an excellent job of translating Alice Walker’s novel, the ultimate responsibility rests with Jay Prock as Director and Kevin Smith, Musical Director and, of course, a brilliant cast. They do not disappoint. In this production the essential hard-hitting, tragic yet uplifting message is clear. To mention all the superb cast members is impossible; yet they all contribute precisely, intuitively and masterfully.
The leading cast members in this work are outstanding in every case. The role of Celie is played by Tiffany Mann. “The Color Purple” is her story and she tells it beautifully in song and emotion. Mann’s performance includes the nuances that make the story universal. “The Color Purple” is a story of oppression and the struggle of a poor black woman in the deep south of the early 20th century. Mann’s performance allows the audience to realize and identify with man’s inhumanity to man with clarity. Mann is a talented actress, a superbly talented singer and she is, apparently, an empath.
Complementing Mann’s performance with extraordinary skill are Regina J. Banks as Shug Avery and Isaiah Bailey as Mister. Superb performances are also given by Tinasha LaRaye as Nettie, Kelli Gates as Sofia and Elvie Ellis as Harpo.
Backing up these six leading performers are 76 equally refreshing talents standing apart for their individual excellence and standing together in absolute unity spiritually, expressively, humanely.
Jay Prock’s direction of “The Color Purple” the musical about love can be seen at the Poteet Theatre at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church at 222 N.W. 15th Street in Oklahoma City. For tickets call 405-609-1023 or visit poteettheatre.com. Show times are 8pm Thursday through Saturday with 3pm Sunday matinees through April 1, 2012. Don’t miss this one.
Carpenter Square Theatre is currently presenting “Aliens with Extraordinary Skills”, a delightful romantic comedy by Saviana Stanescu. The ‘sweet young thing’ of the show is an immigrant from the former Soviet Union who has entered the United States on a work visa as a professional clown. Nadia, and her fellow performer, Borat, face the perils of ‘making it’ in New York City with the threat of deportation looming over their heads.
Director Rhonda Clark uses a superb cast, led by Gwendolyn Evans. Evans is an extremely talented actress and her portrayal of the confused and desperate Nadia, searching for her place in life as well as the U.S.A. is exactly right. The essence of comedy is tragedy and Evans has the perfect balance and timing that makes the audience love her.
Fellow clown, Borat, faces his own challenges as the under-the-radar cab driver man visitors and residents routinely encounter. John Steele plays the part of the slightly less desperate and fatalistic cabbie quite nicely.
Lupita is the independent, salt of the earth exotic dancer who becomes Nadia’s landlady and the object of Borat’s affections. Paula Dawson gives a performance that is unpretentious and utterly uninhibited. The contrast in personality coupled with the close friendship that develops between Lupita and Nadia gives the play a nice foundation and Dawson plays beautifully opposite Evans.
Thomas MacDonald is Bob, the young man who, having ingratiated himself with Lupita finds himself falling in love with Nadia. His transitions are believable and his characterization is a wonderful combination of barely endurable and endearing.
Nadia is haunted throughout the show by the fear that immigration officials will catch up to her and she will be unceremoniously deported. She frequently imagines two INS agents’ threatening her and the audience is treated to the visualization of these cruel officials during the scene’s which take place in Nadia’s mind. The two INS agents are played by Sidney Greathouse and Angela Curtis. These ladies give us the long and the short of the uncaring bureaucrat enamored by their own power. Both actors have great comic timing and have also fully mastered the art of ‘cackling’ in the time honored manner of our favorite witch. It is a pleasure to see these two Oklahoma City troupers on stage together.
With Evans, Dawson, Steele and MacDonald, Clark uses a cast of relative new-comers to the Oklahoma City metropolitan area making their Carpenter Square Theatre debut. Hopefully we will see them frequently on many stages as well as returns to Carpenter Square in the future. Gwendolyn Evans will soon be seen in “Legally Blonde” the upcoming production at the Pollard Theatre.
“Aliens with Extraordinary Skills” is a production where Clark reveals her directorial expertise not only in her handling of a great cast but in her fine use of technical ability. Her costumes are perfect and along with Nick Backes, she creates a beautiful set. Lighting Designer Scott Hynes accents the mood beautifully.
Carpenter Square’s new location at 800 West Main boasts a nice bar open before the curtain and during intermission. The CST Lobby Gallery features George Oswalt, an excellent artistic choice for the production.
“Aliens with Extraordinary Skills” plays weekends through March 17, 2012 with an 8pm curtain. Carpenter Square Theatre is located conveniently at 800 W. Main and the box office can and should be contacted at 405-232-6500. Also visit online at www.carpentersquare.com.