A few months ago JoAnn Muchmore, director at the Poncan Theater, told me about the professional theater group at the Pollard Theater in Guthrie so earlier this month when I went to the Pollard's web site and saw that they were putting on the musical "Rent" this month, I decided to get tickets because along with "Oklahoma" and "West Side Story" it is one of my favorite musicals. My wife saw "Rent" in Toronto in 1996 when it first opened and we both saw it together at the Nederland Theater in the early 2000's in New York City so we knew what to expect. I was looking forward to seeing how the version put on at the Pollard would measure up against the original cast version. One thing for sure, we knew that at $20 a ticket seeing the show at the Pollard was a no-lose proposition since tickets in New York had been over $175 each.
[Click on each photo to enlarge it.]We attended the matinee performance Sunday a week ago and we were blown away. Midway through the performance I realized that the ensemble group was not just good, not just excellent, but they were superb putting on a world-class performance. The production put on at the Pollard was as good or better as the production we saw with the original cast in New York City. There are seven major roles in the play and there was not a weak performance in the group. Especially notable were James Michael Avance as "Angel" in his breathtaking dance performance of "Today for You, Tomorrow for me," Alex Hall as "Maureen Johnson" in her performance art piece of "Over the Moon," Lane Fields as "Mark Cohen" in his singing of "What You Own" and his dancing in the "Tango Maureen," and W. Jerome Stevenson as "Thomas Collins" in his solo during the reprise of "I'll Cover You" at Angel's funeral. We walked out of the theater into Oklahoma's late afternoon sunlight expecting to see the lights of broadway.
We sat on the front row, stage left when we saw the show on October 18 and we knew that we had to see the show again so we got tickets for both Saturday's performance on the 24th and tickets to see the Sunday matinee again on the 25th and came back to Guthrie to spend the weekend in a Bed and Breakfast two blocks from the theater. We were not disappointed. On Saturday night we had tickets on the front row again and were sitting stage right and saw a completely different show. Rent is a very complex musical, the lyrics are very intricate and hard to take in and there is so much happening on stage that the change of perspective made seeing the show a second time a different theatrical experience. On Sunday we got tickets in the back of the theater so we see the entire stage and take in the whole show.
After the show on Sunday we got the surprise of our lives. After the two previous shows, my wife and I had stayed behind at the stage door and talked to each of the actors in the play about their performance and told them how good we thought they were. A couple of the actors told us that they had seen us on the front row in the Sunday and Saturday performances and that they could see how much we were enjoying their performances. So during intermission on Sunday, the stage manager sent word to us that the cast wanted us to come backstage after the show. We didn't know what to expect, but the group led us up on stage after the theater was emptied and took a group photo of us with the cast of the show and gave us an autographed poster of the show that had been signed by all the cast members. What a memorable experience.
There is a Ponca City connection to "Rent." Anthony Rapp originated the role of "Mark" in "Rent" and was the only member of the cast to be part of the show during its limited three-week Workshop production at the New York Theatre Workshop in 1994, during it's off-broadway phase, during the broadway production at the Nederland Theater, and as a member of the cast of the film version of the play. After the untimely death of Jonathon Larson, the composer and playwright of the show, Rapp became the unofficial spokesperson for the musical.
During the interim between the Workshop production of "Rent" in 1994 and the off-broadway production in 1996, Rapp was a resident of Ponca City during several months in 1995 playing the role of "Tony" in the movie "Twister" while the movie was being filmed in Northern Oklahoma. Most of the cast and crew lived in Ponca City during the filming of the movie and I have been told that the director of "Twister" lived in the guest house behind my home during the filming. Rapp writes about Ponca City in his biography "Without You" but I can't say that he was altogether complimentary in his assessment of the filming experience. "Twister turned out to be just a paycheck gig, with no creative fulfillment, whatsoever," writes Rapp. "I was essentially an extra, on the 'bad guy's' team."
But that connection leads us to an Academy Award winner who lived in Ponca City for several months during the same period. Philip Seymour Hoffman who went on to win an Academy Award for Best Actor for his portrayal of Truman Capote in the film "Capote" had a substantial role in "Twister" and if you go back and watch the movie you will see his over-the-top performance as a member of the tornado chase team. Hoffman called "Twister" the weirdest movie he ever made and says "That's not to slight Twister. But it is a weird movie. They're chasing tornados." Hoffman adds that he gained a lot of weight during the filming of "Twister" because he had just discovered "that the blockbuster budget extended to the on-set catering, which was free and plentiful."
I've already interviewed a few Ponca City residents about their involvement in the film production but I would be interested in talking to anyone reading this who remembers the 1996 filming. Please send me an email to email@example.com if you have any stories about any of the cast members especially Helen Hunt, Bill Paxton, Anthony Rapp, or Philip Seymour Hoffman so I can add what you have to say to an article I've been working on about the production of the film.
Be sure and go to Guthrie this week and seeing a terrific production of "Rent." It has three more performances to run before it closes on Halloween night.
Top: The Pollard Theater in Guthrie Oklahoma.
Center: My wife and I join the cast of "Rent" on the stage of the Pollard Theater and receive a signed poster from the complete cast.
Bottom: A scene from the movie "Twister" filmed in North Central Oklahoma in 1995 with "Rent" cast member Anthony Rapp and Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman.