POSTED ON MAY 2, 2012:
Tulsa's Newest Passover Tradition
World premiere musical comedy comes to town
This week, a world premiere event takes place right here in T-town, so if you're in the audience, you're going to be among the first people on the planet to see Guess Who's Coming to Seder? presented by Tulsa Project Theatre (TPT).
The show, directed by Ted Swindley, author of Tulsa favorites Always ... Patsy Cline and the Honky Tonk Angels trilogy, comes to Tulsa from the mind of Randi Michaels Block, and is brought to life by a host of familiar Tulsa faces, along with newcomer Heidi Potter.
Recently transplanted from Utah, Potter is new not to theater, but to the Tulsa theater scene. Luckily for her, when she was looking for a show, she found one in which she gets to originate a character.
"It's a little bit of pressure, but I think it's more exciting," she said. "It's pressure because I want it to be what Randi wants it to be. But it's really exciting because I've never originated a role before."
Arriving six months ago from out west when her husband transferred here, Potter set about looking for a troupe. She found TPT.
"I wanted to get involved with theatre here. I didn't know anything about this show, but I did some research on it. I looked up the author and some of the work she's done and I was really impressed," she said. "And Ted Swindley is the director, and I was always really impressed with him."
She showed up to the auditions, and before she knew it, she had snagged the lead role in a comedy about a Jewish woman hosting her very first Seder -- a traditional Jewish event tied to Passover.
The main plot point in Guess Who's Coming to Seder? is that Sarah Friedman (Potter's character) comes from a Jewish background, but doesn't really know how to host a Seder, isn't entirely sure what she's doing and doesn't even pronounce the Hebrew words correctly.
Lest we misinterpret this as a Where's Charley?-esque farce, Block recently elucidated on the show's themes, beyond its farcical façade.
"It's not really a story about a Seder," Block said. "It's Sarah's reverence and respect for her Jewish ancestors that makes her so nervous in the beginning of the show."
She went on to discuss the heart of the whole thing, summing it up neatly.
The soul of the show is truly a celebration of life as we see everyone at the Seder table open their hearts and move toward a healthier and more joyous way of living their lives," she said.
Still, though, you've got a hostess whose trepidation is well-deserved.
"Sarah is very open about it throughout the whole thing," Potter said. "She'll say things like, 'OK, I don't really know what I'm doing.'"
But her guests, predictably, know even less.
"They're like, 'What are we doing? Are you trying to convert us?' They're all even more confused than she is. They ask really off-the-wall, goofy questions throughout. They're very irreverent. They make jokes, but Sarah keeps bringing them back in as the night goes on," she said.
Sarah knows more than they do, though, if for no other reason than that she's Jewish and none of her guests are. Instead, she's gathered a group that includes an uptight Methodist lawyer, a couple of atheists, a would-be Buddhist and a stripper-cum-born-again-Christian, to name a few.
As one might imagine, wackiness ensues.
So why would a would-be good New York Jew have this bizarre cast in her living room for a sacred dinner?
"It's a Seder tradition to invite friends and strangers into your home," Potter explained, making note that as the cast's resident Mormon (oh yeah, you say to yourself -- she's from Utah), she's learned a lot about Judaism in the past several weeks. "She's an only child, so she doesn't really have her own family. And the only Jewish people she knows are doing their own Seder."
Joining Potter are Tulsa favorites Claire Kifer, Bob Hendrick, Carmen Boyd and Melanie Fry, who plays Violet Trudell, a woman with a tenuous connection to Sarah and, for that matter, to Judaism.
"She's a wannabe Buddhist and a free spirit, and she just says whatever she's thinking. She's got a big secret that she discloses during her solo," Fry said.
A veteran of the Tulsa scene and character actor nonpareil, Fry gushed about Block's work, as well as the fun she's had preparing for the show.
"Randi has written ballads, rock-n-roll, gospel, I mean, she covers all the bases with people's songs. She's even got a Hebrew prayer in there that's just beautiful," she said.
Volunteering that she's had no theatrical training that wasn't on-the-job, Fry talked about the diverse nature of the cast and how this show differs from her recent theatrical outings.
Like Potter, Fry also noted the rare opportunity of originating a role, but she downplayed the pressure Potter mentioned.
"It's like any other role," she said dryly. "You construct a character, and you add layers and if something doesn't work, you take this out and put that in."
"Anyway, any character you play has always got a lot of you in it, I mean, unless you're playing Margaret Thatcher," Fry said.
Playwright Block recently spoke about the difficulties of casting a new show, especially one you yourself have written, though she had nothing but good things to say about this production.
"When you've lived with nine crazy characters in your head for so long, you get to know them personally, so finding actors who have similar voices, looks and personalities is always a challenge," she said.
However, it doesn't seem to have caused her much heartache, nor instilled any disappointment, sounding satisfied and even full of gleeful anticipation.
"I'm very excited to see it fully produced at The Tulsa Project Theatre. I love working with my director Ted Swindley and our cast and creative team are terrific," she said.
"Guess Who's Coming To Seder? is a universal story about life, love and the pursuit of happiness. Be prepared for a lot of laughter, a bit of insight, a few tears and lots of surprises!
For the cast's part, they have welcomed all players, from the veteran Fry (who, let's be honest, everyone wants to work with) to the new kid.
"The first day, the director said, 'This is Heidi, she's new to the theater here, so let's welcome her,' and they did. I was happy to be the newbie that showed up," Potter said. "It's such a blast. I adore the cast. I'm loving everyone -- stage manager, writer, director, everyone. It's really fun that there's so much talent."
Speaking on behalf of that talent Potter mentioned, Fry makes a pronouncement:
"I think people are going to be really surprised when they come see it. I think the audience will really enjoy the show," she said.
Guess Who's Coming to Seder? is presented by Tulsa Project Theatre at the Tulsa Convention Center's Assembly Hall. Performances run May 4-6 and May 10-13. Curtain is at 7:30pm with 2pm matinees on Sundays. Tickets are $20, $25, and $30 and are available at the door or through tulsaprojecttheatre.com.
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