"It’s kind of this generation’s Sweeney Todd in a weird kind of way.” 

click to enlarge Pollard theater in Guthrie, Okla. Photo by Lauren Hamilton - LAUREN HAMILTON
  • Lauren Hamilton
  • Pollard theater in Guthrie, Okla. Photo by Lauren Hamilton

When the final curtain came down on Pollard Theatre Company’s production of American Idiot, artistic director W. Jerome Stevenson came to the conclusion that the company should never second-guess its audience.

As it turned out, Green Day singer-guitarist Billie Joe Armstrong’s Broadway adaptation of the rock act’s 2004 concept album didn’t alienate the Pollard’s older patrons — all ages came ready to experience “Jesus of Suburbia.”

“I’ll never judge them again,” Stevenson said. “I’ll never assume that I know more than they do — these are sharp people.”

So, for Pollard Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary, the adventurous company located at 20 W. Harrison Ave. in Guthrie will mount a season in which classics share space with genre-defying new musicals.

Stevenson worked closely with Pollard’s artistic development committee to assemble the lineup, which begins Aug. 19 with A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia. Originally produced off-Broadway in 1995, Sylvia recently completed a Broadway run starring Matthew Broderick and Annaleigh Ashford.

“We knew we wanted to open with something charming and sweet and good-natured,” Stevenson said. “But we also didn’t want it to be something that was so done. And with its history with Sarah Jessica Parker (in 1995) and Annaleigh Ashford on Broadway, it’s also a production with a strong female role.”

The Pollard follows Sylvia with something far less sweet and good-natured, but with multiple strong female roles. Heathers: The Musical, premiering Oct. 7, brings the 1988 cult comedy to the stage with original music and lyrics by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy.

Stevenson said that the production definitely will appeal to nostalgic Gen X’ers who fondly remember the scabrously funny Winona Ryder/Christian Slater dark comedy, but the production also will resonate because of its still-current subject matter.

“It’s a regional premiere for us,” he said. “It’s funny and dark, but it’s also really prophetic. It really speaks to all those fears people have about high school and how it can affect you, how it can damage you if left unchecked. Also, it works great in October, because while it’s a dark comedy, it’s really kind of a horror show. It’s kind of this generation’s Sweeney Todd in a weird kind of way.”
A Pollard season would feel incomplete without its wildly popular annual production of A Territorial Christmas Carol, Nov. 25-Dec. 23, which is to the Pollard as The Nutcracker is to ballet companies.

After a short break, the company returns Feb. 10-March 4 with American playwright August Wilson’s Fences, which won a 1987 Pulitzer Prize for drama and that year’s Tony Award for best play.

Set in Pittsburgh in the early 1950s, Fences examines issues of race relations, prison, war and the lingering effects of segregation. Also, HBO is currently producing a film version of Fences with a script adapted by Tony Kushner and Denzel Washington. Stevenson said he wanted Oklahoma audiences to see the production onstage before it hits the screen.

“It’s a powerful and striking play,” he said. “It’s certainly a show I love for multiple reasons, and now we’ve got a large enough talent pool that it’s possible.”

Pollard comes back from Wilson’s drama on April 14 with a crowd pleaser, Mel Brooks’ The Producers, which Stevenson promised will feature some interesting casting decisions to mix things up for character Max Bialystock.

Then comes the proverbial “split-lift” of the 30th anniversary season as Pollard closes out with Bring It On: The Musical, an adaptation of the 2000 cheerleading comedy featuring music by Hamilton mastermind Lin-Manuel Miranda.

“I have this rule about musicals and plays in general. I’ll give it about 10 pages and I’ll give it about two songs. If it hasn’t connected for me by then, it’s not for me — or it’s not for me right now,” Stevenson said. “Well, they had me engaged immediately because it’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tom Kitt, who did American Idiot. It’s kind of the antithesis of Heathers. Where Heathers is this gritty and, in a lot of ways, frightening look at high school, Bring It On is a much more John Hughes-y play where it’s all going to work out, the pretty girl is going to choose the loner kid and they’re all going to learn a valuable lesson in the end. How fun is that?”

Visit thepollard.org for more information.

Print Headline: Eclectic legacy, The Pollard Theatre Company plans a wild ride for its 30th anniversary season.

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