Review: ‘Oedipus ROX!’ at Maryland Ensemble Theatre

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Take one-part glam rock, one-part Mad Max: Beyond Thunder Dome, and one-part A Clockwork Orange, and you have Oedipus ROX! at the Maryland Ensemble Theatre. Oedipus ROX! is a modern Rock musical adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex, and is cleverly directed by Tad Janes.

Thom Huenger composed the score and Sarah Shulman wrote the book and both wrote the lyrics. This new version rocks and overall, it’s successful and very enjoyable. The book and lyrics are extremely ‘punny,’ then subtle at times, but wonderfully ribald and in-your-face, and always over-the-top. It’s a new work that needs some work, but there is much here to enjoy and to admire.

Jack Evans (Eddie/Oedipus). Photo by Joe Williams.
Jack Evans (Eddie/Oedipus). Photo by Joe Williams.

The set by Cecelia Lee is sparse and uses glittery fabrics which gives the impression that they are columns. Half the stage’s fabric is blue and the other pink. The back walls are painted scrim which allows the chorus members to “whisper” to Oedipus at times – it was very effective. There is, unfortunately, a pillar that holds the ceiling up in the center of the stage. Cleverly, it was wrapped in the same fabric to indicate a column, and it was used as an area to place the king’s throne, or for someone to hide behind. 

Sound Designer Callan Holderbaum did a bag-up job and Musical Directors Robert Martin (Synthesizer) and Thom Huenger (Guitar) led a great group of musicians: Mike Kearney (Bass), John Maestri (Drums), Pete Meyers (Reeds), RayLee Peterson (Piano), and they did an excellent job of not overpowering the individual voices of the talented cast.

Having been a sound designer myself, I feel that one of the greatest compliments you can give a sound designer is that you didn’t notice the sound. That means everything was as it should be and the audience is able to hear everything. This was accomplished here.

Isabel Buarte’s Hair and Makeup Design and Costume Designer Stephanie Hyder, provided us with a mashup collage of costume and make-up styles. Some of the actors and chorus members had glitter makeup around their eyes (which cleverly indicated royalty), and others didn’t. Some were dressed in costumes to indicate the time period they were in, while others were dressed in lots of glitter that showed off the glam rock style of the show. The leads all had complex costumes – some with glam rock tones, while Jocasta appeared to be straight out of Beyond Thunder Dome

Choreographer Melissa Gregory and Bailey Sterling had some really nice moments, specifically when Creon went to visit the Oracle at Delphi. But there were other moments the chorus was simply doing ‘jazz squares’ behind the leads. Kudos to Tabeth White’s lighting design, especially her eloquent lighting in the final moments of the show. The show had a real concert feel and White’s colorful design added to the outrageous look of the show.

Musically, this show is stunning. The band is one of the best I’ve heard, and the chorus’ harmonies were tight. I liked the use of the Greek Chorus, and really enjoyed chorus member Bailey Sterling’a beautiful vocals.

The cast of 'Oedipus Rox! Photo by Madeline Reinhold.
The cast of ‘Oedipus ROX!’ Photo by Madeline Reinhold.

Jack Evans was fantastic as the alcohol-guzzling and womanizing Oedipus. His rock voice was perfect for the role and he rocked the house with “Oedipus Complex.” But he is also a fine actor – displaying a roller coaster of emotions. This is not a likeable guy, and he’s hard to take, but here – he really knows how to sell a song. Evans was born to play this role.

Julie Herber was a domineering and castrating Jocasta, and she delivered a heart-wrenching rendition of “Jocasta’s Final Lament.”

Eric Jones’ Creon showed his vocal chops in the beautifully sung “This is My Time Not Yours” with Evans, and his gorgeous tenor rang out during “The Life I am Living,” sung with Evans and Herber.

Doomed! performed by The Oracle (Thomas Scholtes) and the ensemble, was a showstopper.

I really admired Carson Elizabeth Gregory’s performance as Antigone (Oedipus and Jocasta’s daughter). Her power-vocals during “Digging” in the second act was the most moving moment in the show for me.

Jack Evans (left) (Oedipus/Eddie) and Julie Herber (Jocasta). Photo by Madeline Reinhold.
Jack Evans (left) (Oedipus/Eddie) and Julie Herber (Jocasta). Photo by Madeline Reinhold.

Maryland Ensemble Theatre has created something new, unique, and eminently enjoyable. There is so much terrific singing in this production, so I urge you to see the show so you can be treated to the vocal delights of this talented cast: Jack Evans, Julie Herber, Caitlyn Joy, Bailey Sterling, Miriam Bowden, Karen Heyser-Paone, Matthew Lee, Carson Elizabeth Gregory, Eric Jones, Thomas Scholtes, and Daniel Valentin-Morales.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Oedipus ROX! plays through May 1, 2016 at Maryland Ensemble Theatre – 31 West Patrick Street, in Frederick, MD. For tickets, call the box office at (301) 694-4744 or purchase them online.