Grapevine — If you haven’t discovered Ohlook! Performing Arts in Grapevine, this summer is a good time to do so. As in previous summers, the musical theater-focused outfit, tucked away in a nondescript strip mall off Northwest Highway, presents a series of musicals, many of them new(er), including in 11 p.m. late-night slots.
The first of the late nights this season is the regional premiere of Tonya and Nancy: A Rock Opera, with book and lyrics by Elizabeth Searle and music by Michael Teoli. As you might guess from the title, it deals with the most famous of American ice skating stories. (Other late-night shows this summer are The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Hedwig and the Angry Inch.)
TheaterJones talked to founder Jill Lord, about Ohlook!, its mission, how she finds new musicals and scored rights to pilot versions of shows whose rights haven’t been widely released yet — including one of only three productions of Frozen, Jr. happening this summer. Jill was an opera singer, performing around the country, when she met the man who would soon become her husband, Matthew Lord, also an opera singer and now best known as co-founder of the Three Redneck Tenors, which performs around the country.
The interview with Jill is below a quick review of Tonya & Nancy; and Ohlook’s summer line-up appears after the interview.
Running for two more weekends, the current show features Kristin Payne Smith as Tonya Harding and Lacey Jane Dangerstone as Nancy Kerrigan. It gives equal time to each of their lives and ambitions, with Samantha Padilla hilariously playing their mothers, thanks to simple wig, costume and posture changes (plus a nifty trick in which she plays both in one song, “This Is It,” near the end of the 100-minute, intermissionless musical). Justin Rowe is Harding’s shady boyfriend Jeff Gillooly, and the goons who attacked Kerrigan, Shawn Eckhardt and Shane Stant, are played by, respectively, Jason Solis and Maxwell Skaggs.
The onstage rock band is led by music director Kelley Poché Rodriguez on keyboards, Russell Mirabelli and Davis Holden on guitars, Eric Putnam on bass and Jaime Zolfaghari on drums. Because of Ohlook’s tiny space, the balance of music with the actors is problematic, with the band overpowering the actors. (That is often a problem with musicals in this space.)
Directed by Jill Lord, Tonya & Nancy is appropriately campy and over-the-top. As expected in a rock opera, the music is guitar-heavy, and most of the performers jibe with the style. Dangerstone nails it in the post-attack song “Why Me?” and my favorite number is Gillooly’s song “When You Wake Up Sleeping in Your Car in Estacada.” The two leads sing beautifully, and chorus numbers are mostly strong, with Breanne Jackson and Mallory Roelke as ensemble standouts.
Because of the small space and the awkward placement of stage entrances, stagings at Ohlook can be clunky, and so it is with this piece. But, the spirit of a campy retelling of a true story—one that most of the actors in this production are too young to remember (heck, they weren’t born yet)—is high. It’s perfect for late-night theater fun. And it’s BYOB, so do so. Audience interactions at Ohlook are part of the fun.
Now, the interview with Jill Lord:
TheaterJones: Ohlook seems to have its finger on the pulse of new composers. You were on the Benj Pasek/Justin Paul trip early in their career and in 2014, years before Dear Evan Hansen, brought them in to conduct a workshop at the theater. You recently did Joe Iconis and Joe Tracz’s Be More Chill, which is now getting a lot of buzz; and have done a number of musicals that haven’t been produced in DFW, including one of the first American productions of the controversial Jerry Springer the Opera; as well as campy rock musicals such as Evil Dead, Silence! (a parody of The Silence of the Lambs), and the Lizzie Borden musical.
Jill Lord: I really just love new musicals and I love doing new shows that not everyone is doing! Classics are great, and we all need to throw them in to a season to help pay the rent, but I would be so bored if that’s all we did. Every fall we do a New Works Showcase with our masterclass kids and it’s so much fun scouring the Internet trying to find new things and new composers.
I also try to get to NYC to the Fringe or the NYMF (New York Musical Festival) when I can. NYMF is where I saw Tonya and Nancy. I tried to get them to let me do the show right after I saw it but they were making some changes and didn’t want to license it yet, so when we were planning our summer season this year, I thought I’d reach out again and fortunately this time they said yes! I think it’s important to champion new works and new writers/composers. We did Pasek and Paul’s Edges right after they wrote it as they were graduating from Michigan and a few years later when I actually met them, Justin immediately was like, “you were one of the first theaters to do Edges.”
This summer we are doing three regional premieres! Tonya & Nancy, 35MM (Ryan Scott Oliver) and Polkadots (Melvin Tunstall) I just love introducing new works to audiences! Since my daughter lives in NYC now [Emma Lord; the other daughter Grace will move there for college this fall]; I’m getting the opportunity to meet and hear a lot of new composers through her gigs, so that’s been really awesome!
How was Ohlook chosen to do a pilot of Frozen, Jr? What does that mean? Are other theaters doing it?
Our masterclass kids have been going to the Junior Theater Festival for the past eight years; it’s a festival produced by iTheatrics and MTI (licensing) that happens in Atlanta. Through the festival and our friends at iTheatrics we’ve been able to make some great connections and have a lot of great opportunities. iTheatrics creates the Jr., Kids and School Editions of shows for almost all the license houses. For iTheatrics we’ve piloted Rock of Ages School Edition and Sister Act Jr. and because of that Disney Theatricals watched us perform at the festival and then asked us to pilot Freaky Friday, the 90-minute Disney Channel version, and now Frozen, Jr. and Frozen Kids this summer. For piloting they send us materials (in various stages of readiness depending on the show) and we do our best to rehearse and put together a production. Frozen is pretty together and is in the final stages of development, I know that two of our other friends from JTF are also doing a pilot of it this summer, Jeter Backyard Theater in Pennsylvania and Bravo Theater in Illinois. There might be others but usually it’s just a few theaters that are testing out these shows before they’re ready for full licensing.
The Tonya Harding story has been popular lately, with the movie I, Tonya and Nate Eppler’s play The Ice Treatment. Why are writers revisiting this story now?
I met with the writer in New York and she said she has always been just a little obsessed with the story. I know she was writing it before she knew about the movie, so it’s just kind of a weird coincidence that all of these happened at the same time. She is trying to make it to the final weekend of our performances. I haven’t read The Ice Treatment, but now I think I’ll have to order it!
Tell me about the rock opera...is it campy? Serious?
Oh it’s definitely campy. Or at least our take on it is. How can an “opera” about ice skating be anything but? Ha ha! When I saw the NYMF version I thought they played a lot of it too straight so as I was watching it I was thinking, “Oh, they should have done it like this, or that, blah, blah….” Of course I tend to do that with almost everything I watch. I feel like I’m either re-directing everything in my head or watching thinking, that’s so cool I’m going to steal that!
Is the music challenging?
Some of the music is very challenging. Nancy’s music is very “operatic” in parts and written for a true soprano. I think the writers have taken a bit of a stretch calling it an “opera” since there is dialogue as well (it is not completely sung through) but it also just adds to the comedy to think of it in an operatic fashion!
Is Ohlook pay-to-play? I see tuition amounts on some of the shows’ audition info on your website.
The only pay-to-play is for our kids productions. And I think that’s a normal model for most theaters. Casa Mañana has an educational element of their theater where kids pay to take classes and do shows. For us, once you graduate high school you are considered part of the adult company and we’ve never had an adult pay. People pay for dance lessons and singing lessons, I don’t think it’s any different to pay for acting/theater lessons.
We put most of the tuition back into the shows anyway. We are a non-profit so no one is making bank off of that tuition! lol For example, our MT Camp this year, kids pay to come to the camp and the end result of that camp is the Frozen pilot production. In addition to the production however, the students also get 4.5 hours of class every day and a workshop with David Gaschen (former Phantom on Broadway) and next week they get a workshop with Corey Cott, so I feel like the students definitely get their money’s worth.
Would I love to be able to offer it all for free? Absolutely! Just trying to find that big donor(s) that can make that all happen! If you know of some, let me know!
What are you plans for Ohlook! in 5 years? 10?
I always have lots of thoughts and plans. Not quite sure right now what the future holds for Ohlook! Someday I would love to have an Equity theater or at least be able to pay actors to do new and interesting theater!
OHLOOK’S 2018 SUMMER SEASON
(7:30pm Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Sundays)
35MM | July 22-July 8
Music & Lyrics by Ryan Scott Oliver; Inspired by the Photographs of Matthew Murphy
Cabaret | July 13-29
Music by John Kander, Lyrics by Fred Ebb, Book by Joe Masteroff
Parade | Aug. 3-12
Music & Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown; Book by Alfred Uhry
(11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and BYOB)
Tonya & Nancy: The Rock Opera | Through June 30
Libretto & Concept by Elizabeth Searle; Music by Michael Teoli
The Rocky Horror Show | July 6 - 21
Book, Music & Lyrics by Richard O'Brien
Hedwig and the Angry Inch | July 27 - Aug. 11
Book by John Cameron Mitchell; Music & Lyrics by Stephen Trask
Frozen, Jr. and Frozen, Kids | July 2-7
Music & Lyrics by George Lopez & Kristen Anderson-Lopez; Book by Jennifer Lee
Performances are mornings, and take place at Grapevine's Historic Palace Theater
Polkadots: The Cool Kids Musical | July 7-28
Book by Douglas Lyon and Melvin Tunstall, III; Music by Greg Borowsky
Performances: Saturday Mornings in July
» Learn more about the shows and tickets at Ohlook's website.