Political Comedy, Parody Perfection, and good music: Gridiron 2014

Scriptwriters for the fresh 2014 edition of Oklahoma City Gridiron Show have great fun at the expense of political leaders in both parties, including President Barack Obama and Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. 

As a pair of sardonic journalists (Jay and Kay), Bob Hale and David Fritze (Oklahoma Watch) are perfectly cast as the evening’s narrators. And, they sing pretty well too. Despite their persona as “Men in Black” types, they delight in slapping excesses of the National Security Agency. 

A newcomer to the show, Alex Zabel, is stellar in the role of the nation’s chief executive. He shines every moment on stage, but you should not miss his “sharp-dressed man” rendition a la Z.Z. Top.

Clytie Bunyan, a Gridiron veteran who has been away for awhile, gets back in the swing as First Lady Michelle – advocating healthy foods while quietly enjoying an occasional junk food snack.

Radio journalist Eggman is without peer, and delivers as both a health care consumer early in the Federal Act, and as New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie in a hilarious turn at the end of Act I. 

A quartet of talented ladies – Jackie Short, Cindy Reich, Dana Meister and the evergreen Jane Hall – provide harmony and dancing back-up at key moments. One of the group’s appearances make Hillary Clinton (the ever-reliable Billie Rodely) even funnier; another gives apt assistance to CapitolBeatOK’s Pat McGuigan in his return to the stage, as Secretary of State John Kerry. 

Speaking of Clinton, OETA’s Bill Perry is back as Hillary’s husband, helpfully offering to return to the White House as intern coordinator. Perry is also a cheerful laborer in the local theatrical vineyards, CityRep’s Don Jordan. 

Jacklyn Cosgrove is pretty perfect as President Obama’s “interpreter” and a Russian “maid” supporting Judy Murphy’s turn as “Olga” – an admirer of Vladimir Putin.

Hall carries a couple of tunes off beautifully, including a gentle jab at the Sooner State’s gun-loving culture, including a mention of our favorite range, H&H. 
At intermission, it was a delight to note the return of “Gridnac the Magnificent” (inspired by a recurring Johnny Carson/Ed McMahon routine of yesteryear) to the Lyric Stage. The witty humor bits delivered from Bill Perry and the Eggman were loads of fun.
In Act II, Meister takes control of the stage as the unforgettable Edmond Lady, Cosgrove brings to life the troubles of a pol named Caudill, and Murphy joins McGuigan to remember the legal travails of a pair of state legislators. 

Cindy Reich has one of the best Act I songs as HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, but soars even higher as Fallin in Act II. Robert Burch is deft in a cameo as city mayoral candidate Ed Shadid; past president Barry Jon is spot-on reprising his interpretation of Mayor Mick. 

Technical master Andrew Harris pops up often in this fractured political fairy tale, and amps the energy level up as beloved retired weatherman Gary England. 

Reprising their cheerful engagement in parody for a worthy cause are seasoned veterans John Greiner (delightful in a cameo as Coach Mike Gundy), Robert Lange (Burns Hargis, and other parts), Ellie Sutter (a show co-author and steady supporting performer), Joe Mays (Meister’s straight-man), Jim Palmer (in several cameos and as the off-stage voice), Carol Cole-Frowe (Kathy Taylor and frequent cameos), Sue Hale (our favorite artist-journalist) and Darrell Morrow (in good spirits as the First Dude, Wade Christensen). 

UCO Prof. Terry Clark joins the cast as Dewey Bartlett, and is Tom Coburn when the congressional delegation comes onstage in the First Act. 
Theatrical legend Terry Runnels, who joined the Gridiron last year, is director of the show, and has several roles, perhaps most memorably as a veteran stage performer searching high and low for Stage Center. One crowd favorite will be the tribute he leads, on-stage, to a beloved, soon departed, theatrical venue.

The Hobby Lobby Chorus, which appeared to the acclaim of last year’s audiences, is back … but with a difference. No hints on this one: You’ll have to see it, to get it. 

Larry Pierce and the Gridiron Band do their part to keep the performers on-key and on-time, and the Lyric Plaza venue again delivers as a good home for the show.

The technical aspects of the show are satisfying, with good lighting and sound. Runnels’ minimalist approach to staging works as the cast drives a non-stop narrative through both acts. Lots of laughs and insightful jabs at politicians and their foibles – guaranteed.

The show is “Driving Blind with Earplugs … Or: Enquiring Minds Don’t Want to Know.” Performances are at Lyric Plaza Theatre, 1726 N.W. 16 St., Oklahoma City, OK, 7:30 p.m. the evenings of Wednesday Feb. 26, Friday, Feb. 28 and Saturday, March 1. 

Don’t go to the theater to buy your tickets, go online: Or, for phone orders, please call TicketStorm at 1-866-966-1777. For group ticket sales (ten or more), please call 405-830-5964.

However, if you wish to take your chances with a walk-up, the box office at Lyric Plaza will open around 7 p.m. each night of performance.

As always, net proceeds from the show benefit the scholarship program organized by this collection of working journalists from The Oklahoman, The City Sentinel / CapitolBeatOK, OETA, Oklahoma Watch, News9 and other media organizations.

Oklahoma Watch is “presenting sponsor” for this year’s show. Other show sponors include Jones Public Relations and this newspaper.

As this humble scribe watched from a secret location in the rafters at Lyric this amusing Gridiron story – which “singes” but never quite burns the political and cultural elite – there came to mind a few of the greats of Oklahoma journalism past:

Bob Lee, the legendary Oklahoman columnist who recently went on to that Newsroom in the Sky, Carter Bradley and Ralph Sewell (rock-solid Gridiron presences for decades) and the great Ed Dykus, a jurist who joined the cast each year to have fun at the late Henry Bellmon’s expense. Just this week, we lost another one: Broadcast journalist Jan Lovell died on Wednesday morning, Feb. 26. We remember them, and so many more hard-working writers and observers who are no longer in this vale of tears.

It is comforting to imagine these great souls watching their descendants in the Fourth Estate of Oklahoma, continuing traditions of independence and careful reporting in the public interest – and having a bit of fun along the way.

Well Done, Gridiron!
NOTE: Publius is the pseudonym of an Oklahoma City journalist. Publius (“The public”) was the penname used for James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay in newspaper commentaries advocating approval of the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights – including explicit protections for freedom of speech, and of the press, at the dawn of American history.