Review: Cast carries 'Guess Who's Coming to Seder?'
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Monday, May 07, 2012
5/07/12 at 3:45 AM
Any time a dining room table is the main element of a set design, one can be certain that the progression from soup to nuts is not going to be a simple one.
And when the guest list ranges from uptight suburbanites to born-again strippers, all of whom have more issues than the National Geographic, gathering to participate in an evening that is more religious ritual than repast - let's just say more than the brisket is going to get carved up.
Tulsa Project Theatre on Friday night opened its production of Randi Michaels Block's new musical "Guess Who's Coming To Seder?"
It's a comedy about a young woman hosting a Passover meal for her friends.
The problem is, Sarah (Heidi Potts) has never been what one might call "devout" when it comes to the Jewish faith. However, the recent death of her parents, and the continual pressure from John Paul (Chris Middlebrook), the man she's been living with for six years, to commit to marriage have made Sarah realize a need for some kind of connection to her religious past.
The guests for this celebration include the Trudells - Todd the lawyer (Justin Boyd), Susan, his oh-so-proper wife (Carmen Garrison Boyd) and Violet (Melanie Fry), Todd's shoot-from-the-lip mother - a wannabe rock star named Ricky (Jonathan Walker Gilland) and his streetwise paramour Kelly (Jenny Guy), a happily lecherous good ol' boy named Darrell (Bob Hendrick) and the sparkly showgirl from Vegas not surprisingly named Kitty (Claire Kifer).
A great deal of wine gets consumed and before long a good many secrets and dreams get revealed, as each character tries to come to terms with whatever sort of person he or she is.
Block's story is skeletal - a simple framework on which to hang some genially irreverent gibes about various religions and a dozen songs that allow each character to speak his or her mind.
Fortunately, Block's songs are quite good, ranging from rock ("Don't You Know Who I Think I Am") to comedic choral numbers ("Oy Vey"), from quiet ballads ("Taking Chances") to an all-out gospel shouter ("All in the Name of Salvation").
Best of all, they are performed by an exceptional cast, that gives these songs and the characters who sing them a whole lot of raucous, and occasionally raunchy, gusto. Garrison Boyd does a wonderful job of peeling away the layers of conformity as her character lashes out about life in "Connecticut," while Kifer exhibits a powerhouse of a voice in "All in the Name of Salvation."
And they are equally good in quieter moments, such as the ensemble number "The Prayer," when a recitation of one of the Passover prayers leads into a round of musical soul-searching that is easily the best thing in the show.
"Guess Who's Coming to Seder?" has been performed in workshop and staged reading productions; Tulsa Project Theatre's production is the first time the show has been fully staged, but it still feels like a work in progress.
Director Ted Swindley and choreographer Heather Hall Newman have staged the action and dance numbers as smoothly as possible around the long table that dominates the stage in Assembly Hall, and Swindley has drawn from his actors characterizations that give some sense of depth to Block's thinly sketched people and their problems.
The problem is that there is no real reason - dramatically speaking - for Sarah to host this Passover dinner, to have these people in her house. Everyone gathers, everyone spills their thoughts in song, everyone finds new ways to be happy, everybody has another glass of wine. It's a comedy, in other words, in which nothing goes wrong, in which none of the characters have anything to lose.
As it is now, "Guess Who's Coming to Seder?" is an enjoyable, energetic and entertaining show with a good dose of humor and a lot of cleverly crafted, superbly sung songs. With a stronger, more focused story, it could really be something special.
"Guess Who's Coming to Seder?" continues with performances at 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday in Assembly Hall, Tulsa Convention Center, 100 Civic Center. Tickets are $20-$30; call 877-885-7222 or go to tulsaworld.com/tpttix.
Original Print Headline: Cast elevates musical that has no storyline
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
Chris Middlebrook as John Paul O'Connell (left), Jenny Guy as Kelly Rock and Jonathan Walker Gilland as Ricky Rock perform during Tulsa Project Theatre's performance of "Guess Who's Coming to Seder?" MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World
Jenny Guy (left) as Kelly Rock and Heidi Potter as Sarah Friedman perform. MIKE SIMONS / Tulsa World