By JAMES D. WATTS JR. World Scene Writer on Jan 2, 2012, at 2:23 AM Updated on 1/02/12 at 10:14 AM
Time is measured a bit differently in the performing arts, as a “year” traditionally begins in September and concludes around the end of May.
That makes doing one of these “year in review” pieces a little problematic because the end of the calendar year represents the midpoint of the performance season.
So, instead, let’s use this space to recall what were – in our estimation – the most memorable shows of the last 12 months.
Our favorite concerts of the year ranged from the “afternoon of great dance music” by the Imani Winds in October to the Tulsa Oratorio Chorus’ performance of the Rachmaninoff Vespers in March, from the Tulsa Symphony Orchestra’s performing the score of the film “Pirates of the Caribbean” to a pair of Signature Symphony concerts featuring stellar performances by award-winning pianists – Shijun Wang playing Mendelssohn in January and Daniil Trifonov’s take on Tchaikovsky in October.
Two of our favorite moments from the past year were the Tulsa Symphony’s production in April of the Symphony No. 9 by Beethoven, conducted by Gerhardt Zimmermann and featuring as soloists the leading performers of Tulsa Opera’s “Norma,” and the Signature Symphony’s world premiere of Joseph Rivers’ Symphony No. 2, “Oklahoma Peoples in Trial and Triumph,” in November.
But the highlight of the year was the world premiere of Callen Clarke’s soaring, expansive and very Oklahoma work, “Wiley Post: Tone Poem for Violin and Orchestra,” performed by violinist Kyle Dillingham and the Amici New York orchestra as part of June’s OK Mozart International Festival in Bartlesville.
Tulsa’s world of dance continues to grow, thanks to the formation of a number of new local groups, as well as through the internationally acclaimed groups, such as Alonzo King LINES Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet.
However, the standout dance performance had to be Tulsa Ballet’s October mixed-bill program that featured William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated” and Jiri Kylian’s “Six Dances.” These two demanding pieces inspired Tulsa Ballet’s dancers to give performances that did not so much push the envelope as shred it into confetti, as they attacked these works with a ferocity and fearlessness that was something to see.
Tulsa Opera’s productions of “Don Giovanni” in February and the company premiere of “Norma” in May featured some excellent performances – Christopher Feigum in the title role, Wayne Tigges as Leporello and Pamela Armstrong as Donna Anna in the former, Brenda Harris in the title role, Edyta Kulczak as Adalgisa and Harold Wilson as Oroveso in the latter.
October’s “The Barber of Seville,” featuring a stellar quartet of Corey McKern, Sarah Coburn, David Portillo and Peter Strummer, was easily the best of the bunch, with a cast that was universally strong and direction by Tara Faircloth that neatly balanced high and low comedy.
Celebrity Attractions’ brought the national tour of the Tony Award-winning musical “Memphis” to town, which had a cast and a commitment to this show that the Broadway version I saw earlier this year could not match.
On the local front, John Cruncleton’s “Blue Whale of Catoosa” at the Nightingale in September was easily the most unusual – and in some ways, the most ambitious – show of the year, a sprawling phantasmagoria of space opera and mythology, set to some really catchy songs and anchored by a fine performance by Annie Ellicott.
Tulsa Project Theatre’s “Seussical,” presented in December as the company’s first show in the Convention Center’s Assembly Hall, was “family-friendly” in the truest sense of the word: full of action and color and silliness for the young, staged and performed with intelligence and panache for the adults.
But the stand-out musical of the year was “The Light in the Piazza,” part of LOOK Musical Theatre’s summer season. Some superb performances by Joshua Powell, Joanie Brittingham, Christina Hager and especially Andrea Leap, made this Adam Guettel musical of Elizabeth Spencer’s novella an even richer musical and emotional experience.
Tulsa theater companies had a great deal to be proud of in 2011, from American Theatre Company’s “Souvenir” in February and “Speech and Debate” in March, Theatre Tulsa’s “The Pitmen Painters” in July, Playhouse Tulsa’s “Moonlight & Magnolias” in July, Heller’s “Gross Indecency: The Three Trials of Oscar Wilde” in May and “Becky’s New Car” in October; Theatre Pops’ June production of “Loose Knits” and its November staging of “The Guys.”
Two companies – Actors Company of Tulsa and the University of Tulsa Department of Theatre – independently staged the two parts of Tony Kushner’s epic “Angels in America,” while Theatre North gave actress Whitney Davis the room to create the 16 different characters in the play “No Child …”
In fact, there was so much from which to choose that, in the end, there has to be two selections: Odeum Theatre’s February production of Neil LaBute’s “Reasons to be Pretty,” a coruscating dark comedy about modern romance, and Playhouse Tulsa’s “Shining City,” part of its “Irish Repertory” in March, a ghost story about lost love and lost faith that had a literally chilling conclusion.
BEST OF SHOWS
Out of all these different things seen over the course of the last 12 months, one evening at the theater stands out as unquestionably the best thing I saw all year.
That would be “Verdi at Terezin: The Defiant Requiem,” created by former Tulsa Philharmonic music director Murry Sidlin and performed in April by the Signature Symphony.
Sidlin was inspired to put together this multi-media work after happening upon a mention of how prisoners at the Terezin performed Verdi’s Requiem 16 times, led by a fellow prisoner named Rafael Schaechter.
Combining a full orchestra and chorus, four vocal soloists, two actors and videos of interviews with Terezin survivors, “The Defiant Requiem” was an overwhelming experience from first moment to last.
As we wrote at the time, “Even the final moments, in which the 200 or so people on stage slowly exited to the sound of concertmaster Maureen O’Boyle’s mournful violin, seemed the only possible way to conclude this performance. The dark emptiness of that stage, which just moments before was full of people making a great and joyous noise, was eloquent in its silence.”