Rebecca Ungerman is a lot of things -- songtress, Tulsa's own queen of jazz, writer, producer -- but she's also kind of insane. But in a totally good way.
In the past couple of years, she's stretched her wings and taken hold of the production reins with her very own Spinning Plates Productions -- more than just the cabarets we might expect from a singer. Her latest effort really brings the whole insane thing home.
She will present her own Rebecca Ungerman in Queen Cleofis Comes Home on June 15 in the Norman Theater. And while reading the SummerStage press materials might bring one to the conclusion that Queen Cleofis was a real person, she totally wasn't.
"I cobbled this silly story together," Ungerman said. "Queen Cleofis is a crazy, 60-something jazz singer who left the stage 30 years ago because every review she ever got was terrible. Rolling Stone called her version of 'Dust in the Wind' 'rancid crap.' That was one of her better reviews. For some reason, the people of Poland embraced her much like Germany did Hasselhoff."
How anyone could think that a mambo version of the Kansas ballad isn't anything other than sick and wrong and amazing probably needs to check themselves before they wreck themselves, but since the Rolling Stone review is as fictional as Cleofis, we'll give the magazine a pass.
"She's a figment of my imagination. This is just a fun character who's been growing inside my mind for quite some time. And this idea of doing great music in a really wrong, wrong way until it becomes right again," she said.
She doesn't want to give much of her setlist away, but she has to give away at least something in order to explain just what she's talking about in terms of music done in a "wrong, wrong way." So in addition to "Dust in the Wind," there's also a jazz waltz version of the Commodores' "Easy (Like Sunday Morning)," and an off-the-record look at the whole setlist reveals an evening of similar musical shenanigans, taking '80s pop drivel and turning it into inspirational ballads, among other atrocities.
Steven Schrag and Mikal Hunt round out the cast, singing with and giving advice to the titular lunatic.
"These arrangements are probably 80 percent my idea, but none of them could have come to fruition without Steven's genius," Ungerman said of her pianist and music director Schrag. "It just worked. It's still fun, and it's just great."
The same night, and leading into Ungerman's show, will be Why Cyn Sings Jazz, starring Oklahoma City transplant Cynthia Simmons.
"I've never done a SummerStage show. I wanted to get into it, and I like to perform. And Rebecca suggested it's time, and she said she'd produce it," Simmons said.
The show itself is biographical, and since she didn't start singing jazz in her toddler years, Simmons said that the first half of the show doesn't have much jazz in it.
"When I sing around town, I often hear, 'Cynthia, why do you sing jazz?' And this answers that question. It goes back to when I was a little girl when I started singing," Simmons said. "I talk about singing and how I started singing gospel and all the different kinds of music I've sung, and how I ended up through many twists and turns singing jazz and why I enjoy it."
Her setlist will feature some gospel music from her early singing days, a snippet or two of Schoolhouse Rock, even Stevie Wonder.
"Jazz is in the second half. This is telling the journey," Simmons said. "My Patti Austin is jazz, and so is my Patti LaBelle."
Both shows will last about an hour and a half.
"There's a nice break in between," Ungerman said. "I think they're wonderful bits of entertainment. And since the second show starts at 9pm, you're out of the theater just after the Lion King traffic is gone."
Spinning Plates Productions presents Why Cyn Sings Jazz at 7pm and Rebecca Ungerman in Queen Cleofis Comes Home at 9pm. Both shows are in the Norman Theater.
Taking the Lord to Court
Two navy buddies and their enduring friendship take a hit in Old Red on the Head, one of several SummerStage offerings from Theatre Pops this year.
It’s So Nice to Have You Back Where You Belong. Light Opera Oklahoma opens Hello, Dolly! this week at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center.
OURTESY/LIGHT OPERA OKLAHOMA
Paired with Jesus for the Defense, both shows run in the Liddy Doenges Theater June 13-16. The plays come from the pen of R. Dobie Langenkamp (father of Heather Langenkamp of the first Nightmare on Elm Street film), a local playwright with a colorful history, according to director Randy Whalen.
"Dobie was born here in the '30s," Whalen said. "He went to Stanford and graduated magna cum laude. Then he went to law school and worked in the Carter and Clinton administrations. He's been a law professor, a lawyer, an oil man, all kinds of things. In his later years, he's decided he wants to write some plays."
Whalen is excited about this production, with which TP opens SummerStage (later this summer, the troupe will present Tinkerbell's Greatest Hits).
"It's like Our Town if it was directed by Quentin Tarantino," Whalen said of Jesus for the Defense. "It's a cool little story."
Old Red on the Head / Jesus for the Defense plays June 13-15 at 8pm and June 16 at 2pm.
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