POSTED ON JULY 27, 2011:
Cookie Cutter Paradise
A light-hearted stroll through the entanglements of suburbia
Summer theatre is a lot like summer novels: light, easy and fun. Last weekend's Suburb: The Musical, presented jointly by Heller and Clark theaters, offered a cool respite from the sweltering heat outside.
The first musical collaboration between the two city-owned and operated community theater companies, Suburb is a hilarious and irreverent look at life in the outskirts.
Written by two guys raised in New Jersey Suburbs, David Javerbaum (head writer and supervising producer of Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) and Robert Cohen, Suburb revolves around a young couple, Allison (April Lay) and Stuart (Mvnte July), pregnant with their first child and contemplating a move out of the city. Allison resists the idea -- "No friggin' way" are her exact words -- while Stuart is enamored by it.
The play opens with a khaki-clad chorus urging the audience out of town, offering directions to Suburb, a generic bedroom community an hour outside of some unnamed city.
There, the young couple meets Rhoda (Susan Dergoul), an enthusiastic realtor with an over-the-top personality, who shows them what possibilities lie waiting for them in suburbia: laundry, lawn-mowing, home-improvement projects, backyard barbecues, Girl Scouts and, of course, the mall.
But that's not all that happens in Suburb. There's also a housewife "picking up a pie totally high," a neighbor "blowing up squirrels on the Fourth of July" and plenty of angsty teenagers "sitting in my room, wishing I could die."
In Suburb, cops don't do anything but dole out traffic tickets and show their guns to kindergarten classes.
Though, at first, she's disgusted by the goings on in Suburb, Allison, following a contemplative trip to the mall, begins to rethink the idea. She and Stuart could either buy a bigger apartment in the city, or they could be more practical and buy a house in Suburb. Taking a short time to lament growing up, reminiscing of her younger years (which were only about a year ago), Allison looks ahead to her new life in Suburb -- and just prays she doesn't end up an unfulfilled housewife like her mother.
The musical is superbly written, and no suburban stereotype is safe from its cheeky digs. At the same time, it semi-seriously considers the exodus of young professionals from the cities to the suburbs as a sort of rite of passage. The suburb becomes this symbol of a better -- albeit more boring -- life.
And maybe, just maybe, it's possible to maintain one's identity and individuality and also live an hour outside of metropolis. Heck, it might even be possible to raise happy, healthy children in the city. (But Allison and Stuart aren't going to find out.)
Heller and Clark's production of the play is commendable. Because of its summer youth camps, the Henthorne Performing Arts Center couldn't accommodate a large set, so director Sally Adams and set designer John Cruncleton made good use of cardboard cut-outs -- a lawnmower and leaves of grass, a charcoal grill and flames, car hoods, a front door -- to serve as the set. The cast filled in the blanks using a healthy amount of talent and imagination.
Lay, who makes her theatre debut with Suburb, offered a genuine and slightly understated performance as Allison. Her first-act solo, "Not Me," is one of the play's highlights. Lay's voice is deep and raspy, not one you'd expect to hear in musical theater -- but a pleasant surprise, mind you -- rather, it's one you could imagine listening to on the radio. And her solo is somewhat reminiscent of an acoustic concert.
July, though he doesn't quite look old enough to be having a baby, makes up for a lack in years with an abundance of talent. His voice, too, almost surprises the audience, as it rings out deep and clear and gorgeous.
Dergoul could have stolen the show, with her zany character's quick one-liners, sarcastic undertones and comical expressions, but her experience as an actor let her know exactly when to restrain in order to let others shine.
And it was obvious from the get-go that everyone on stage, including musical director Joyce Shank, was having a great time, which is what made it so fun for the audience to watch.
Other cast and chorus members include David Zeliff, Jack Allen, Emma Francois, Kelley Childers Friedberg, Kathleen Guedry, Melissa Harris, Paul Henry, Mary Keaney, George Romero and Wes Vrooman.
Suburb continues this weekend, July 29-30 at 7:30pm and July 31 at 2pm, at 4825 S. Quaker Ave. Tickets are $10 and available by calling 918-746-5065.
Made to order
Tulsa Project Theatre is giving audiences exactly what they want with its SummerStage performance. And how does TPT know what its audience wants? It asked, of course.
TPT solicited suggestions from the community as to what its singers should perform during Broadway Your Way, a revue of show tunes presented this weekend, July 28-30 at 8pm and July 31 at 2pm, at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center's John H. Williams Theatre.
The responses were varied, and so the performance will be as well, including songs from Chicago, Guys and Dolls, Dreamgirls, Rent and Singing in the Rain, as well as Sondheim and Rodgers and Hammerstein medleys.
The cast includes Machele Miller Dill, Kyle Dougan, Christian Elser, Jonathan Gilland, Claire Kifer, Liz Masters and Jenna Tamisiea.
Tickets are $35 and available at myticketoffice.com.
Retold fairy tales
Also this weekend, Actor's and Children's Theatre presents Aesop's Fables, a musical by Ed Graczyk and directed by company founder Billie Sue Thompson.
Loosely based on Aesop's Fables, the rock musical revolves around Sir Wilfred Wolf, who claims he has been wrongfully typed by Aesop as the bad guy. He attempts to overturn other fables as well, drawing new morals from them.
"The talent this group of kids displays will be a pleasant surprise to their audiences," Thompson said.
Show dates are Saturday, July 30, at 7pm and Sunday, July 31, at 2pm. at the A.C.T Theatre, 1532 S. Harvard Ave. Tickets are $5 and available, along with other information, at actorsandchildrenstheatre.com.
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