Are We There Yet?, presented by Tulsa Repertory Musicals, is the kind of title that lends itself to snide and easy jokes. The kind of title that critics titter over, scribble a little note to themselves and say, "Ah yes, here's my lead: 'This musical will have you asking the same question.' Ha!"
Except that I enjoyed the play. So, here I am. Without a lead.
I guess I'll just get right to it.
Are We There Yet? is a musical comedy about family. It eschews central characters or a main plot for a series of vignettes. In this way, the play allows us brief glimpses into the lives of many different characters who are, in one way or another, experiencing familial turmoil. It concludes with a musical number that assures us that, however we define "family" for ourselves, it's something worth having, no matter how rich a source of strife it can sometimes be.
It also asserts that people get too caught up in the rat race of life and that, instead of asking "Are we there yet?", people ought to slow down and enjoy the ride.
Four actors divide all the roles among themselves (resulting, coincidentally, in some impressive off-stage quick-changes; hats off to costume designer Danny Cook). Some scenes feature all four actors, others require only two and some scenes are monologues. Some scenes are musical and others are simply spoken. Some are comedic and some are sober.
In other words, it's a play of many moods and rhythms, and it avoids the common trap of musical comedy: a bland and blathering monotony.
In the program, producer Kathy Call says, "Everyone in the audience will recognize two or three situations from their own life in this production."
Similarly, everyone in the audience will encounter a few scenes with which they don't identify. But directors Dan and Kathy Call keep the production moving at a steady clip. It seemed to me as though few scenes lasted more than five minutes. (I didn't have a stopwatch on me or anything, but you know what I mean.) And the lightning-fast scene changes never have the audience members sitting in the dark long enough for their minds to wander.
But enough of this technical stuff.
What's the play like? Is it, y'know, funny?
Oh, yes. Examples?
Well, the musical features a reasonable range of musical styles, and one of the scenes is a rap. (I know. When I read about it in the program, I rolled my eyes too. But wait!) Randy Lee Chronister plays a baby, complete with bonnet, basinet and diaper, who raps his general complaints about infancy. Chronister makes it work with a demeanor that is somehow dead-pan, self-deprecating and withering all at once.
There's another song later in the act, "'Cause I'm a Mommy," which features Heather Richetto-Rumley as a "type-A Super Mommy." Like "Baby Rap," it's one of those scenes so daring and bold that it induces either cheers or cringes from the audience. It demands not only a singer who can belt its brassy melody, but also fulfill the character's claims to MILF-hood. She comes through, and will have the audience laughing and cheering every night of the performance.
Richetto-Rumley is definitely a Mother I'd Like to see in a Future production.
The second act was much weaker than the first, but I conclude it's the script's fault and not the actors'. When you think about it, where else would you load your weakest material? You make sure the first act is solid so your audience stays through intermission, offer up a decent opener for Act Two, then dump your filler. After that's out of the way, you finish strong.
I would have preferred that the writers (James Hindman, Ray Roderick and Cheryl Stern, along with composer John Glaudini) worked on the second act a little harder, but they arranged what they had in the best possible order. Besides, the act's weakness, compared to the first, didn't seem to faze the actors a bit.
On the contrary. Chronister offers some fine work in this show. Each of the actors plays so many different characters, but I found Chronister's range especially excellent. He has a different center of gravity for each character, which helps so much to set them all apart from one another.
Plus, his "Inheriting Laura" is just plain powerful stuff. It's a great example of the power of subtlety. It's so easy, as a writer, to take a topic like mental illness and beat you over the head with it. I appreciate that this play's writers took a more subtle route, and that Chronister picked up on this subtlety. Richetto-Rumley's "Audrey, Jr." is another example of this.
I also enjoyed Mike Pryor's "Bernie's Buffet." He's asked to play a character several decades his senior, but rather than balk at the challenge, he seems to be reveling in the opportunity. Pryor's speech patterns, which tend to stay the same from one character to the next in this production, change dramatically for this role.
He's less believable as the young suitor in "Dad's First Prom," but it's still the funniest scene in the play.
Cathy Rose is consistent throughout the production, and at her best in "I Know She's Out There."
This is the point in the review where I would usually say, "Okay, musical comedy, it was fun BUT." And then I get in a little dig about the script being fluff and why can't we do more important theater. But I don't get to do that this time around because the play does a solid job of examining non-traditional families.
I guess I could criticize the directors for a white-washed cast, but I don't know who auditioned, so I can't even really do that. GOSH!
The play even levels an entire song against the perils of rampant consumerism (and unlike the nearly flawless film Wall-E, which had a similar theme, this musical doesn't muck up its own message with a cavalcade of expensive electronic toys and disposable dinnerware).
I mean, it's like this production is daring me to criticize it.
"I got all this stuff you love," it calls out to me.
I stammer, "B-but, you're a musical comedy!"
It crosses its arms and levels a challenging gaze at me.
I could sit here and pick holes in it, I guess. But what's the point? I really liked it. There's a lot of great work in it all around (by the way, I forgot to mention the solid choreography by Sarah Joyce-Dyer). Singing and dancing. Jokes. Positive, uplifting messages.
Are We There Yet? plays July 16-18 in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the Tulsa Performing Arts Center, 110 E. 2nd St. For show times, tickets or more information call 596-7111 or visit www.tulsapac.com.
But hey, if this play's not for you, there's still plenty to do this week. The Tulsa Artists' Coalition Gallery (tacgallery.org) will be exhibiting the work of local-area printmakers. The exhibit, "Suite Oklahoma II," was organized by Adrienne Day.
TACTA will present a Tulsa Theatre Showcase July 18-22. Call 746-5065 for more information, or visit www.hellertheatre.com or www.theatretulsa.org.
For youth theater, check out Broken Arrow Community Playhouse's The Wild, Wild, Wildest West, a musical comedy. Go to www.bacptheatre.com for more info on that one.
Share this article: