POSTED ON FEBRUARY 20, 2013:
Happy Guys, Confused Guys, Strange Guys
Lots to do opening weekend of arts festival
This week, Tulsa Opera takes a small step outside of the opera world and dips its collective toe into the waters of musical theatre.
The Most Happy Fella, which debuts on Saturday, is really close to being a full-fledged opera, except that it's in English, no one wears that big, horned helmet, and nobody gets stabbed and then sings instead of dying.
Also, it's basically a mid-20th century version of someone going to a dating website and uploading a picture of himself eight years and 80 pounds ago.
In fact, it was written by Frank Loesser, known to anyone who has ever done any high school theatre as the composer of Guys and Dolls.
Cast member Curt Olds sat down with Urban Tulsa Weekly recently to talk about the production, remarking on the nature of TO's foray into musical theatre as opposed to opera.
"I am primarily an opera singer, but I do Broadway musicals as well -- in New York and throughout the country," Olds said. "So when opera companies choose to do a musical like The Most Happy Fella, they search out a lot of performers like myself who sort of dabble in both worlds."
These dual-threat actors bring with them a different set of experiences in terms of getting a show up on its feet, which makes sense, really: there are operas that all the big opera singers know and can perform. La Boheme, La Traviata, The Barber of Seville, and on and on.
But adding to the canon means there's material out there that not everyone has done. And a lot of opera-only singers haven't done musical theatre at all, hence the "opera-only" designation.
"A lot of opera companies who are venturing into the music theatre world don't usually do musicals, and musicals take a little more rehearsal," Olds said. "They're really two separate businesses."
That said, Olds was quick to point to the structure of shows like The Most Happy Fella and the pedigree that makes them fit well in the hands of the Tulsa Opera.
"There are so many that are musicals that are really legitimate operas," he said. "They're the operas of our time. The Most Happy Fella is almost fully sung. There's very little dialogue, and it hits the operatic form of trios and duets and arias. You can see the form shining through it, and that's what the composer wanted. He didn't want it to be Guys and Dolls."
Olds came to town to play Herman, which is a comic-relief role, and these are the kinds of roles he often finds himself playing in certain circumstances.
"In opera companies doing musical theatre, I'm usually in a role like that -- a comic relief role," he said. "With musical theatre companies, I will fill a different place. I always use the example of Oklahoma. Musical theatre companies tend to cast me as Curly, and opera companies tend to cast me more in the Will Parker category."
Man, that's a tough problem to have. Versatility is such a curse.
Anyway, all this talk of doing different shows with different companies raises the question of just how much rehearsal goes into these productions, and the scary answer is "not much," though with good reason.
"For the most part, we know the show when we get into town," Olds said. "Especially with opera companies, you come in with your A-game on the first rehearsal. Then we go through a process of about three or three and a half weeks of rehearsal, and then we have a tech week, and then we're here to perform."
However, he did specifically say that there's more to it than just figuring out where people stand in the different scenes.
"You can have people that have done the show before and people who haven't, but you still have to find the train of thought to the piece, like how you're going to approach it, so it's more than just the logistics of blocking the show," he said. "That way, there's a sense of realness to it, and it's not just pre-fabricated, which can happen sometimes."
This led him to sing the praises of The Most Happy Fella director, Dottie Danner.
"This production is going to be pretty fresh. We have a wonderful director, and she's really on us to really create in the moment and give the audience something fresh and new," he said.
The crew that's breathing life into the show isn't exactly strangers, Olds said. Even though many of the players are in from out of town specifically for The Most Happy Fella, nearly everybody in this cast has done a show somewhere with someone else in the show.
"It's so incestuous in this world," he said. "I walked into the first rehearsal, and I've worked with most of these people. And not just the cast. I've worked with the director before, the assistant director, even the stage manager."
The Most Happy Fella plays Saturday, Feb. 23 and Friday, March 1 at 7:30pm, and on Sunday, March 3 at 2:30pm. All three performances are in the Chapman Music Hall at the Tulsa PAC, 110 E. 2nd St. Tickets start at $54 and are available through tulsaopera.com, myticketoffice.com, or by phone at 918-596-7111.
Finding True North
Playwright August Wilson wrote a 10-play cycle, each one chronicling an event or series of events from each decade of the 20th century. Set in the 1990s, Radio Golf was the last of the series, and the last from Wilson's pen before he died in 2005.
The nickel tour from Theatre North director Rodney Clark sets up a tale of identity lost and found.
"It's about a young black realtor who's running for mayor in Pittsburgh," Clark said. "He gets exposed to some things in the community. He has an idea to redevelop the community. I'd say the overall premise of the show is along the lines of remembering where you came from. It's hard to turn your back on your community based on financial goals."
With a five-member cast, this latest effort from Theatre North leans toward a few serious issues having to do with community and identity, not to mention what's right, and who decides.
"It's a kind of an intergenerational show, and there are certainly some haves and have-nots in this cast of characters," Clark said. "The main character wants to make his community better, but he has to face some of the older, wiser members of his community. These are people who don't necessarily want some big financial product. They just want lights and a football field."
And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what Clark means by intergenerational.
"It's sometimes Generation X versus the Baby Boomers in terms of where we want to go and what we want to leave behind," he said. Wilson's play explores the good and bad of both points of view.
This is driven home by the simplicity of the set, as the play takes place in an office. As a result, the production can't rely on flashy sets and lighting design to makes its point.
"The bulk of the play doesn't come from the set or the scenery, but from the acting and what the author has to say through the play," Clark said.
Radio Golf is presented by Theatre North and will play in the Charles E. Norman Theater downstairs at the Tulsa PAC. The show runs Saturday, Feb. 23, and March 1 and 2 at 8pm, with a 3pm matinee on Sunday, Feb. 24. Tickets through myticketoffice.com or 918-596-7771.
The Youth Show Us How It's Done
Doing Shakespeare is almost always impressive. Doing Shakespeare when you're in your teens is damn near inconceivable, and yet here comes Clark Theatre, once again shouldering a difficult burden and rising to the challenge.
Love's Labours Lost, this comedy sports a cast made up entirely of kids from local high schools (there are a few home-schooled kids, as well), and like any good Shakespearean play, there's a play-within-the-play. So hey, two shows for the price of one.
Performances are at the Henthorne PAC, Feb. 22-23, and March 1-2 at 7:30pm, and Feb. 24 and March 2 at 2pm. Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for seniors and students at the door. Saturday night's show will be followed by a talk-back session with the cast and director. The Henthorne PAC is located at 4825 S. Quaker Ave.
Timeless Dance, Literally
As part of Living Arts New Genre Arts Festival, Tulsa will get to see the Jordan Fuchs Company this week. A modern dance troupe, JFC brings explorations of form, along with a willingness to experiment, and experimentation is what often brings the magic.
JFC will be performing Strange Planet, a piece that simultaneously takes place in the past, present, and future. People expect this sort of thing from Pulp Fiction, but not from a dance company, which makes me think we might be in for something special.
At any rate, Strange Planet explores our society's bent toward isolation and the likely result: a world that disintegrates around the dancers as they weave the tale. Live music adds another dimension to the piece.
Strange Planet lands at the PAC in the Liddy Doenges Theater on Friday, Feb. 22 at 8pm. Tickets are $20 ($15 for Living Arts members), and can only be obtained in person after making a reservation. To do so, visit tulsapac.com/events or call 918-596-7109 weekdays between 10am and 5:30pm.
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