Saturday evening proved to be a nice surprise. I attended Orasi Productions' "Shades of Gray," a self-described "comedic cabaret musical."
I was a little wary at first of a show that, according to releases, "explores social norms and the boundaries of what we consider tact." But, with the exception of the "Prologue," "Finale" and most of the second act, the show did just about that.
There's really no plot or story to "Shades of Gray"-- it's a series of musical vignettes, most of them quite funny, that exploit human quirks and vices, making them appear as ridiculous as they actually are.
The show opens with a "Prologue" that I felt, much like the "S.O.G." painted on the set, was quite unnecessary. Half the cast, dressed in white, debated in song with the other half, dressed in black, over whether musical theatre should invoke gay, happy thoughts or if it should reflect the depressing reality of our mundane lives.
When we were greeted by overly giddy actors engaged in a cheesy song and dance, I thought for sure the unusually crowded theater would be empty by intermission. Do these people have any idea where they are, I wondered? You can't do this in the Nightingale.
Then, someone said "fuck" and I knew everything would be okay.
Still, when the lights went down and the actors changed from their respective white and black costumes into gray ensembles, informing the audience, in song, that we were about to see a "musical revue with a big, broad theme," I thought, Really? Is this necessary? If you really feel the need to tell us what the show is about before we see it, how well are you going to be able to get your point across?
But, like I said, I was pleasantly surprised. Joshua Oaks, one of the company's co-founders, who helped it migrate here from Norman, directs the show. The cast, which consists mostly of University of Tulsa students-- Pete Brennan, Jonathan Gilland, Jeremy Jones, Karlena Riggs and Samantha Woodruff and Machele Miller Dill, an instructor at TU, sang quite well; and the songs, written by Brent Black and, with the exception of four original tunes, set to music from other well-known musicals such as Little Shop of Horrors and Bye, Bye Birdie, were funny and engrossing.
My favorite was probably "This Coming Thursday," which consisted of a young man urging his old flame to sleep with him on Valentine's Day "for old time's sake."
There is also plenty to be said for "My Magical Place," in which a guy coming down off of a very recent high relates his various drug-induced experiences; "Grand Theft Auto III," a ballad of a PS3-obsessed pseudo-loser's quest for a girl who loves "GTA" as much as he does; and "Talk to Her," in which two timid would-be lovers exchange glances across a restaurant but need a little shove from a good friend to get the romance going.
"Brand New Face," while a little obvious (it's about the American obsession with looking perfect at any cost) made its point, as did "My Starbuck's Guy." I'm sure you can figure that one out as well.
"Bad to You" and "My Favorite Thing" were also hits with the audience, unapologetic in their portrayal of the ways in which we abuse sex and relationships.
But everything I loved about the first act was lost in the second. I'm not sure the actors ran out of steam, but it appeared that the show's writer did. The humor was all but gone.
During the ballads "The Songwriter's Duet" and "It's Still Me," I found myself wondering if this was supposed to be the moment in which we were presented with some big moral of the story. If so, it flopped.
I also wondered if maybe Black was just too afraid to make a joke about a girl in a wheelchair ("It's Still Me"). I found myself waiting, but the funny part never game. Not too long after that, he joked about anal sex in "Inmates," so it's interesting that he would find some things off limits.
If he was trying to make a point, to insert something meaningful into what had been a really funny show, he failed. If you have to force the moral onto your audience, you're not doing it right. If he just wanted to incorporate some seriousness into the show, he should have spread it around a bit. As it was, the second act was a drag, and I found myself longing for one more smartly-written, humorous tune before the night was up. I didn't get it.
"Shades of Gray" plays three more times this weekend: Jan. 16-18 at 8pm at the Nightingale Theater, 1416 E. 4th St. Tickets are $10 or $15 for cabaret seating. Your $15 will also get you a bag of popcorn and a beer. For more, nightingaletheater.com.
Loose Leaf Co., a new studio and gallery space at 328 E. 1st St., occupied by that ever-popular collaborative Live4This and six other local artists and photographers (including UTW's own Jeremy Charles and Gavin Elliott), opens with its first exhibition Fri., Jan. 16.
On display will be the work of local tattoo and graffiti artist David "Hek" Rogers.
Aaron Whisner, who, with Dasrhan Phillips, makes up the artists of Live4This (two other artists also work with the pair on design and Web projects), said that it's been his dream for a while to open an art gallery, and it'll be his responsibility to manage and run the thing.
And though the artists working there have been doing so for about four months, he's still got some work to do before the space is ready for a public viewing.
Whisner said he hopes to exhibit work every month or so, and has exhibits lined up through March. The artists working in the gallery will have "first dibs" on dates during which they may use the gallery space to exhibit.
Rogers will exhibit new works at Loose Leaf through Feb. 13. He'll open his exhibit with a reception Jan. 16 from 7 to 10pm. Gallery hours are 12-3pm daily or by appointment.
For more, looseleafco.com.
On Sat., Jan. 17, Playhouse Theatre, a new company founded by Chris Crawford, opens An Infinite Ache, starring Crawford and Courtney Sanders, about a couple about to end a mediocre first date. According to releases, "their goodnight kiss expands into the imagined possibilities of a shared life-- sex, childbearing, marital bickering, tragedy and second chances."
The play opens at 7pm in the Liddy Doenges Theatre of the Tulsa PAC. Afterwards, audience members can visit with the cast and learn more about the new company. Tickets are $15. For more, tulsapac.com.
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