On stage: The biggest moments of the 2012 Tulsa arts scene
BY JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer
Thursday, January 03, 2013
1/03/13 at 5:19 AM
Trying to sum up a year's worth of activity in the performing arts in Tulsa has always been a challenge, but 2012 was a particularly rich year for memorable moments.
It was a year when audiences were able to hear certain pieces of music for the first time - even if said music had been written 100 years ago. It was a year when Shakespeare was presented in myriad forms and with wildly diverging results.
It was a year when dead men walked and where it took 39 steps to reach something really special. It was a year one could stand face-to-face with a giant and look into the mind of an icon.
It was a year that included the opening of the Guthrie Green and the Hardesty Arts Center to bring even more life to the Brady Arts District. And it was the year the city paid a final tribute to the remarkable life and legacy of Tulsa Ballet co-founder Moscelyne Larkin, who died in April.
As much as I managed to see and hear in 2012, I know I wasn't able to take everything in that was out there this past year. But of what I did see, these are the shows I will long remember.
LISTEN TO THE MUSIC
In March, the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra presented the Symphony No. 3 by Mahler - the first time this work had ever been performed. Yet the performance, led by conductor Daniel Hege, sounded as if the 200 people on stage had been playing this music all their lives. Powerful music sublimely performed.
In June, the OK Mozart International Festival in Bartlesville brought its season to a close with the world premiere of Oklahoma composer Callen Clarke's "Life Symphony." An ambitious, expansive, uplifting work that mixed music of great complexity with tunes of child-like simplicity, all tied together by the agile violin of Kyle Dillingham.
In December, the Signature Symphony took one of the most performed works in the repertoire - Handel's "Messiah" - and made it sound new. A small orchestra, a compact chorus, some fine soloists whose vocal embellishments deepened the emotional resonance of the words they sang, made this one of the best performances of "Messiah" I've ever heard.
February was the month for Shakespeare, with four separate shows that in some way featured the Bard of Stratford-on-Avon.
Two of these were among the best shows of the year. "Romeo and Juliet," created by choreographer Edwaard Liang for Tulsa Ballet, perfectly embodied this tale of star-crossed lovers in movement, with an economy and artistry that delivered all the thrilling beauty of ballet and all the emotional power of drama.
Another premiere was "William and Judith," a play by Cody Daigle that Playhouse Tulsa presented as part of its "Storm Repertory" along with its production of "The Tempest." This fantasia on the creation of Shakespeare's final play was a stunner, a story about family and art and how the demands of one can destroy the other.
As for that fourth Shakespeare production in February, the less said about the now-defunct Actors Company of Tulsa's staging of "Othello," the better.
In October, Theatre Tulsa and Odeum Theatre Company joined forces to present "Hamlet," with two distinct casts - one of adults, the other of teens. Director Whitson Hanna and company unearthed surprising moments of humor that made the tragedy of the story all the more powerful. The adult cast was led by a sterling performance by David Lawrence - a Hamlet haunted by more than a single ghost.
In December, Tulsa Ballet brought back the character of Mother Ginger and re-engineered the opening of its version of "The Nutcracker" to great effect. But more impressive were two one-act ballets.
One was Wayne McGregor's "PreSentient," part of company's September mixed-bill, an exhilarating work built of phrases of almost random movement that coalesce into precise, unified patterns before spinning out again into wild, aleatory strings - at once familiar and alien, like observing life at a microscopic level, with all its intense, frantic yet purposeful activity.
The other was Adam Hougland's "The Rite of Spring," part of the April mixed-bill, and to our minds the best ballet of the year. A stark, industrial dystopian setting, choreography that was almost brutal in its animalistic intensity, and heart-stopping performances by Sofia Menteguiaga and Alexandra Bergman was the Chosen One. Unforgettable.
THE WORLD'S A STAGE
This was the year Tulsa got to experience "Jersey Boys," the Tony Award-winning musical based on the career of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. And in June, Tulsa got to see a company that was in many ways superior to the cast that was playing on Broadway, as the touring company actors, led by Joseph Leo Bwarie as Valli, brought a deeper humanity to the characters.
Equally impressive was the touring production of "The 39 Steps," the hilarious adaptation of the 1935 Hitchcock film, with four actors playing all the roles. It was at once a faithful version of the film's story, complete with action scenes like a chase atop a speeding train and a knowing spoof of the "magic of theatre." Too bad it was only here for two days in November.
On the local level, nothing topped Playhouse Tulsa's "The Unmentionables," Bruce Norris' coruscating black comedy about delusional do-gooders and crafty opportunists in Africa. This show, presented in May, was the deserving winner of the Tulsa Awards for Theatre Excellence first prize.
However, American Theatre Company's October production of "Any Day Now" came close. Nat Cassidy's play might best be described as "Long Day's Journey into Night of the Living Dead," as an already dysfunctional family finds itself in the midst of an eschatological crisis when a dead family member comes back to life.
OFF THE WALLS
Gilcrease Museum gave Tulsa audiences the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of two American icons. In February, it hosted "Woody at 100: The Woody Guthrie Centennial Celebration 1912-2012," which was the kick-off event of the year-long celebration of the life and work of the Okemah native. The exhibit also served as a preview for the Woody Guthrie Archives, which will open in the Brady Arts District in 2013, as much of the items on display were drawn from that collection.
Then, in June, the museum played host to "The Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon," an exhibit that helped bring a human dimension to the nation's first president, revealing the complexity of the man behind the face on the dollar bill.
In July, Philbrook Museum of Art, through its partnership with the Vitra Design Museum, gave audiences a glimpse into the collective mind of the Campana brothers, two Brazilian designers whose work, in the exhibit "Antibodies," combined innovative creations with stinging social comment.
AND THE BEST OF THE YEAR IS...
"Dead Man Walking," Tulsa Opera's extraordinary production of the opera by Jake Hegge and Terence McNally. Brutal and tender, uncompromising yet accessible, beautiful and horrifying, it was easily the best production this company has presented in more than a decade and an experience those who saw it will never forget. Superb performances by Kirsten Chavez and Michael Mayes, sensitive direction by Johnathon Pape and music conducted by Jerome Shannon that was cinematic in every sense.
2727 S. Rockford Road
- Dutch and Flemish Prints in the Age of Rembrandt, through Jan. 20
- Models & Muses: Max Weber and the Figure, through Feb. 3
1400 N. Gilcrease Museum Road
- Edgar Payne: The Scenic Journey
- National Geographic Greatest Photographs of the American West, through Feb. 3
- Prominent Figures of the West from the T.B. Walker Collection of Portraits by Henry H. Cross, through March 31
TULSA HISTORICAL SOCIETY
2445 S. Peoria Ave.
- Dream Exhibit: A Tale of Wonder, Wisdom & Wishes, through Jan. 12
- Life of a House: A History of the Travis Mansion, ongoing
TULSA AIR AND SPACE MUSEUM
3624 N. 74th East Ave. tulsaworld.com/tasm
Original Print Headline: 2012 Filled With Big Moments
- Outreach to Space hands-on exhibit, through March 31
James D. Watts Jr 918-581-8478
David Lawrence and Samantha Woodruff rehearse their parts in "Hamlet" at the Tulsa Performing Arts Center in October. MATT BARNARD / Tulsa World file
Britney Walker-Merritte as "Auntie MiMi" scolds "Dave" played by Chris Crawford during dress rehearsal of the play "The Unmentionables." KT KING / Tulsa World file