When in the course of human events, February comes to the calendar — verily it is time for the annual performance of the Oklahoma City Gridiron Club. And now, the annual roast of politics and culture is under way at Lyric on the Plaza (1727 NW 16). This year’s story, “Washington is Cooking our Goose! Or How Many Nuts are in a Occu-Pie” is both funny and efficient.
The show opens Wednesday night (February 22) at 7:30 p.m. It makes for a fine evening of good songs, great gags and superb singeing (but not burning) commentary in the Gridiron tradition.
Leading the Gridiron ensemble this year are Eggman, a popular local radio host, as Roy (Clark, that is) and educator Barry Jon as Buck (Owens). They sing opening songs in both acts to set the stage for the roasting and parodies to follow. Eggman also takes a solo turn as a popular country singer involved in a widely-reported legal clash with a powerful hospital; Jon turns up in a nice tune as the surging Santorum (Rick), who hopes to get support in the March 6 primary.
Throughout the proceedings, the cornfield of Hee Haw fame is populated with a variety of wise-cracking Okies, country folk who might at times seem clueless, but at other moments seem to reside among wise sages observing the passing political scene. Scattered around the cornfield are past Club presidents and stars, including Jim Palmer, Ellie Sutter, Sue Hale, Joe Mays, Darrell Morrow (returning as Al Gore).
In the opening Federal Act, Kim Mizar-Stem channels Dolly Parton, parading as “winner” of a certain award from a certain state office holder (hint: a certain email should never have been written, let alone sent from a certain tax-financed email account). Kim, in her second turn as the Gridiron Club president, returns in the second (State) act as Governor Mary Fallin. That lady can sing, now!
Bart Vleugels is back with his masterful interpretation of President Barack Obama, joined by “Michelle” (his real-life bride, radio journalist Cynthia Rosmaryn). They instruct us, “Don’t worry, be happy,” and Obama returns to join Fallin for a rousing closer.
Gridiron cast veterans Jon Denton and John Greiner are delightful in a range of parts. Denton reprises his David Boren part, and keeps things on the OU wavelength as Bob Stoops. Greiner, as OSU’s Mike Gundy, is Denton’s foil in a football sketch, and joins Pat McGuigan of The City Sentinel for a humorous take on the water wars. (Jim Couch and Chief Greg Pyle better see this one.)
In a federal song, McGuigan has fun with “Where, oh Where Are you Tonight?” He is joined by Greiner (Herman Cain), OETA’s incomparable Bill Perry (Rick Perry), KOSU’s Michael Cross (Donald Trump), and e-Capitol’s Erin Boekman (Michelle Bachmann)
Perry is also hilarious as “Junior,” a political consultant with a curious take on presidential campaigns; Cross returns to one of his popular characterizations, as state Rep. Randy Terrill, and has a wild turn as Newt Gingrich. (Cross’s flexibility is shown by what is probably a Gridiron first, in portrayal of two different presidential hopefuls.) Boekman joins Vleugels and newcomer Cindy Reich in another tuneful assault on local TV weather types.
Arguably the most versatile Gridiron performer is Andrew Harris of News9, who turns up as Ron Paul, a “weather tie” and several other parts. Billie Rodely takes the stage as Hillary Clinton — unleashing a powerful story-in-song about battling terrorists and minding the store at Foggy Bottom – and in other skits. Carol Cole-Frowe, a leader in the Society of Professional Journalists’ state chapter, is a society lady, CNN reporter and commentator throughout.
Bob Hale is a dead ringer for Barry Manilow (well, almost) in a great gag about Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, and in several other bits Hale excels. Hale joins Eggman for a “Floyd the Barber” sketch that is all-too-close-to-the-truth.
Dana Meister, a retired local educator and this year’s Gridiron choreographer, gives a sharp and witty interpretation of Minnie Pearl, also returning as a society lady from “Ed-MOND” and as one of the Occupy Nichols Hills crowd. Speaking of Occupy, Sue Perry brings down the house with her bawdy and righteous re-interpretation of a popular (?) local television spot.
Judy Murphy is seemingly ubiquitous as Nancy Pelosi, in edgy jabs at the former U.S. House Speaker spread throughout the show. Murphy, as former state Sen. Debbe Leftwich, also collaborates with Cross, as Terrill, for a perfect send-up of the Tammy Wynette/George Jones classic, D-I-V-O-R-C-E.
Jackie Short, local attorney and writer, is a cornfielder, society lady and, in both acts’ finales, takes on the cameo of that perky Hee Haw gal who told the crowd to hurry back or, at the end, said “That’s All!”
Cross directs the State Act; Harris guides the madness in the opening Federal Act. Off-stage support for the show came from Megan and Kianoosh Moeini – whose baby girl is due to arrive in early March. Venerable John Ferguson, another Gridironer, is not in the show but serves the cause as an usher and greeter.
Larry Pierce returns as director of the Gridiron Band, providing jazz-infused musical accompaniment perfectly suited to the Lyric performance space. Lyric’s in-house technical crew give the all-volunteer performers a professional polish and classy support.
The whole thing is a joyous exercise of the Free Speech clause of the First Amendment, and of explicit U.S. constitutional guarantees for liberty in the “free press.” There’s something special about a country where the state’s chief executive sits before an assembly of reporters poking fun (however gently) at her governance.
Long may this continue!
After the Wednesday (February 22, Washington’s Birthday and Ash Wednesday) opening night, remaining performances are set for the evenings of Friday, February 24 and Saturday, February 25. Again, the frivolity unfolds at 7:30 p.m. – the Lyric Theatre at the Plaza, 1727 NW 16 in MidTown Oklahoma City.
For seats (all with good viewing lines, and priced $30 plus a service charge), visit TicketStorm.com to purchase online NOW. Or, you take your chances with a “walk-up.” While Wednesday and Friday sales were reported by Club officials as “brisk” but not sold out, many good seats remained for the Saturday show, as of this writing (Wednesday morning).
All proceeds from Gridiron performances benefit scholarships for Oklahomans preparing for careers in print, broadcast or online journalism.
Note: “Publius” is a traditional pseudonym in journalism, including in “The Federalist Papers” of the late 1780s, when American Founding Fathers John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison used the pen name to make their case for the U.S. Constitution. Portions of this essay also appeared in The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City.