There are many unsolved mysteries in the cosmos. There are unknown secrets of Tulsa. One of them is just how old the Tulsa Gridiron show is.
Director Rebecca Ungerman has her estimate:
"This is the first annual, 80th annual Tulsa Gridiron," she laughed. "Nobody's really sure, and we took a few years off. It's been going on basically 80 years, but this could be the 78th or 82nd. And next year may be the second annual, 80th annual Tulsa Gridiron." While that knowledge may forever remain undiscovered, everything else about the show seems to be working well.
For the uninitiated, Tulsa Gridiron's annual show is a musical revue spoof of Tulsa politics, as well as state and national goings-on, pop culture, and current events. And the writers' collective motto seems to be that nothing is sacred. This year, they'll skewer Mayor Bartlett with a sendup of him, fresh off a viewing of Lincoln, dreaming of freeing the police and fire workers. And don't think that the recent TU scandals will be overlooked.
In fact, not much escapes the scathing eye on Tulsa that is "The First Annual 80th Annual Tulsa Gridiron: Vision Trouble, or Help! We've Fallen Off the Fiscal Cliff and We Can't Get Up."
"This is the show that pokes fun at everybody," Ungerman said. "Both sides of the aisle politically, state, local, national, and pop culture. We make fun of Barack, we make fun of Mitt, we make fun of Dewey, we make fun of Blake."
Perhaps one of the more enjoyable things about that for Ungerman and her cast of 30 is that many of the people at whom they're taking shots are seated in front of them as it's happening.
"We really get everybody in our audience," Ungerman said. "The politicians want to come and see what we're saying about them. Most of them enjoy laughing at themselves, but they all want to see what we're saying."
Mayor Bartlett plans to attend, and Ungerman said that former mayors Kathy Taylor and Bill LaFortune will be in attendance, as well.
"It's anybody who has a sense of humor," she said of the makeup of the Gridiron audience, whether they are officeholders or not. "We care about being equally offensive to the right and the left, even though we're accused of being a leftist, communist show.
But we have people on the writing team who are very firmly of both sides of the aisle."
How possibly offensive does it get? Ungerman spent fully one third of an interview spouting off lyrics from the parodied songs in "The First Annual 80th Annual Tulsa Gridiron: Vision Trouble, or Help! We've Fallen Off the Fiscal Cliff and We Can't Get Up," but her favorite was thrown into the mix early.
"We're doing some flashback numbers this year, and we're doing the first thing I wrote that I think of as a weird and random piece," she explained. "It's about the illegitimate child of Strom Thurmond. So when I wrote that, I got to rhyme 'bastard mulatto' with 'firm vibrato.' It's one of my favorite lines I've ever written. And where else are you going to do that, right?"
Ungerman and company lean on a solid band in order to sing their ditties, and she is quick to praise the musicians.
"Terry Cooper is the music director," she said. "We have the most amazing band every year, no matter who's in it. The band came together for the first time a few nights ago, and it was freaking amazing. There was not one minute in that first band rehearsal where we had to say 'Stop,' which blew me away."
Despite her love for the band, Ungerman saves her most lavish praise for the writers and cast.
"Our head writer is Randy Krehbiel of the Tulsa World," she said. "He's so funny. He knows everything about politics, and he knows nothing about pop culture. He doesn't know from a Kardashian. I know everything about pop culture and nothing about politics, so we're a good team."
Regarding her cast of 30 (who are actors, lawyers, reds, blues, and everything in between), Ungerman hesitates to speak about individuals for fear of missing someone.
"This cast is amazing. I feel like I'm not singling out anybody, but just because there are so many of them. People should just come to the show," she said.
She does mention the MC for the evening, former television meteorologist Julie Chin.
"She's our pocket interlocutor," she said, "and she even gets in on the singing action, too."
And this is new territory for Chin.
"I have not done this before," she said. "Rebecca got in touch with me and asked me to be the MC. I've seen it before, but I'd never been in it. Then she went and wrote a number for me."
As for whether anyone knew she could sing, Chin is modest.
"I'm not sure you'd really consider it singing," she said, although Ungerman most certainly does. "We used to sing at commercial breaks at the news. Maybe people who sit next to me at church. But I haven't sung on a stage since high school. I did all that theatre stuff then. But I'm really not that good of a singer."
When she breaks into her number spoofing the spokesperson work she does these days, we'll know the answer, it would seem.
One fun thing about Gridiron is that, for years, it's had a family-affair feel to it. This year is no different, as brother-sister team Carson and Caitlin Cash join forces as part of the sprawling crew.
"This is my second year," Caitlin said. "I got in it through Carson, who got into it through my aunt and uncle, who have done it for years."
Her brother beat her to the show by one year, pulled in by the same relatives.
"My aunt and uncle were in it, and they saw what I did in high school and said I should come join it, so I did," Carson said. "I love just being as funny as I can and being in as many songs as I can."
While neither Cash has a writing credit for a Gridiron yet, they are making their marks by the characters they play.
"Last year, I said, 'I can do a Kim Kardashian,'" Caitlin said. "So that's how I got that part." This year, she'll play a drunken Amanda Bynes, among others.
Carson, on the other hand, has played Justin Bieber for three straight years.
"Now they look for crazy stuff Bieber does throughout the year so they can write for it," he said. "I'm also Pauly D from Jersey Shore, and I'm a couple of local politicians. And I'm Prince Harry."
With all this in the air -- the huge cast, the band, the writing of 30 songs, the balancing act between funny and offensive -- Ungerman keeps one thing in mind.
"It's spoofery, and spoofery is an art form that we don't get to do very often," she said. And she's right. It's easy to mean-spiritedly mock someone. But parody is another thing entirely.
"The First Annual 80th Annual Tulsa Gridiron: Vision Trouble, or Help! We've Fallen Off the Fiscal Cliff and We Can't Get Up" plays this Friday and Saturday, Jan. 25 and 26 at 8pm in the Liddy Doenges Theater downtown at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center. Tickets are available through tulsapac.com or by phone at 918-596-7111.
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