‘Oliver!,’ ‘Rock of Ages’: Stage productions with Oklahoma flavor

I wouldn’t consider myself a theatre geek. Instead, I’m somebody who enjoys anything that happens on a stage: plays, musicals, dance, orchestra, concerts, you name it. I’m a musician, and I’ve been the lead in two plays. I suspect I enjoy attention.

When I was a teen, way back when, my friends and I all listened to the “Chess” cast recording, which was basically the second act of ABBA. Seriously. The music was written by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus.

It was beloved by fans, but the show didn’t succeed in America. There is talk of “Chess” coming back to Broadway next year after a revival in Britain this year. Long story short: that would be awesome, and I think it would do much better this go-round if the adaptations are done well. There is plenty of East-West fodder between Russia and the United States, no?

In my one and only true Broadway experience, I got to see RENT at the Nederlander Theatre in 1997 — and in a bit of foreshadowing, I’m seeing it again in Oklahoma City this upcoming week at the Civic Center Music Hall for its 20th anniversary.

As with Chess, I loved the music of RENT.

But in the past week alone, I added a couple more stage experiences to my collection — a performance of Oliver! at the Sooner Theatre in Norman and Rock of Ages at Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City. Both were a lot of fun.

Oliver!, the Lionel Bart classic based on Charles Dickens’ “Oliver Twist” was played to a largely empty theater due to a bigger production in town: Oklahoma vs. Texas Tech football. What made this production particularly enjoyable was the local flavor.

(The photo below was taken about 10 minutes before the opening scene. It filled up to about 30 percent by the start of the show.)

oliver

Young Oliver was played by local fifth-grader Callen Stewart, and he was terrific. However, for me, David Mays stole the show as Fagin and understudy Madison Breedlove shined as Nancy. They were fantastic, as was the small but boisterous crowd — even if some of us were checking their phones periodically to catch World Series scores.

Yeah, that was me.

That was me on Wednesday night, too, as we saw “Rock of Ages” in northwest Oklahoma City at the always charming Lyric Theatre. I had seen the movie and didn’t like it aside from Tom Cruise’s sublime performance as Stacee Jaxx.

However, the stage performance was quite a different story. It started off pretty slowly for me. Lonny, played by Gregory Decandia, opened with David Lee Roth’s “Just Like Paradise,” and much of his time was spent early breaking the fourth wall to set up the story.

What the audience figures out quickly is that this is the charm of the production. We’re all part of it.

The story of “Rock of Ages” is about a pair of aspiring performers, Drew and Sherrie, whose romance blossoms under the roof of a local bar called the Bourbon Room. Between Lonny and Dennis Dupree, owner of the Bourbon Room, we’re made to feel like regulars. Side note: Dennis was played by Vince Leseny, but his voice sounded exactly and uncannily just like comedian Kyle Kinane’s.

I kept thinking to myself, “Does Kyle have a side gig?” Even his vocal mannerisms were the same.

We see it all from the moment Drew refers to Sherrie as “a friend” to the moment she unwisely takes up with Stacee Jaxx in the bathroom. If you remember Cruise in the movie, Jaxx is an over-confident lead-singer type who thinks he can get every girl with the snap of a finger.

And he usually can.

Sherrie is played by the young, sweet Julianne Hough in the movie, but Lauren Urso shined as the perky blonde on stage. However, for my money, nobody outshined OCU student and Albuquerque native Derrick Medrano as Drew.

I don’t know if Director Ashley Wells knows just how well she nailed the casting, but she couldn’t have picked a better male lead for this production. Medrano looked like every aspiring 1980s rock-n-roll lead singer that I ever saw and had the vocal chops to handle everything from Dee Snider to Steve Perry with soulful aplomb.

rock-of-ages

All in all, this entire cast and production were terrific, and there were small touches evident throughout the theatre — from bras hanging atop the theatre railing to the merchants outside the main theater in costume, holding their lit lighters high in the air.

Just a reminder of how much talent resides right here in Oklahoma.

 

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