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Beginning new year with praise for last year's theater

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Lyric Theatre presented the year's best musical in "Woody Sez: The Words, Music & Spirit of Woody Guthrie."

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This account of the life and music of Okemah folk icon Woody Guthrie was "devised" by David M. Lutken with Nick Corley, who directed the production at the Plaza Theatre. The show was excellent in concept and execution, with Lutken playing the Okie songsmith. This unamplified production was a pure joy to hear.

Lyric also confirmed the excellence of its Plaza Theatre as a venue for drama with a production of Robert Harling's weeper "Steel Magnolias." The nifty Plaza is as congenial as any theater in town for musicals "? both amplified and unamplified "? comedies and dramas.

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre also made the case for un-ampli¬fied musicals in intimate spaces with "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" (with music and lyrics by William Finn, who has been unjustifiably neglected by area theater companies) at the Civic Center Music Hall's CitySpace.

The Mel Brooks/Thomas Meehan musical "The Producers" finally had its Oklahoma City premiere, thanks to a nice production by Lyric. The cast included Broadway veterans Lewis J. Stadlen and Lee Roy Reams as Max Bialystock and Roger De Bris, but had nothing over local actors Matthew Alvin Brown and Vince Leseney as Carmen Ghia and Franz Liebkind.
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Outstanding performances by three actresses highlighted city theater in 2009. It's a toss-up between, in chronological order, Angie Duke, playing 92-year-old mother A in Edward Albee's "Three Tall Women" for Oklahoma City Theatre Company, and Cristela Carrizales, playing Helen in Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig" for Ghostlight Theatre Club.

Duke and Carrizales carried the show in their productions, while Lilli Bassett had a much stronger cast to work with in Carpenter Square Theatre's "The Little Dog Laughed" by Douglas Carter Beane. These three excellent actresses gave remarkable performances, clearly tops for the year.

Carpenter Square's aforementioned, star-crossed production of the dark comedy "The Little Dog Laughed," directed by Rodney Brazil. Shortly before opening, the show had to move from CST's usual Arena Theatre home to the Freede Little Theatre, due to air-conditioning problems. Brazil made it work, and the play probably fared better.

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Oklahoma Shakespeare in the Park achieved its silver anniversary and staged its third season at the pleasant Myriad Gardens Water Stage. OSP seasons can be wildly uneven; to wit, its "Hamlet," notably well-directed by Steve Knight, was funnier than its "As You Like It."

In another production of the Bard, the University of Oklahoma School of Drama staged an electro-pop/hip-hop version of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" that left part of the audience bouncing in their seats, part scowling at the stage and part just plain bewildered. It was the funniest production of a Shakespeare comedy I've ever seen. Granted, as much of the humor came from director Joel Ferrell as came from Shakespeare, but the point of comedies is to be funny, isn't it? "?Larry Laneer

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