GUTHRIE — Nestled among the other beautiful old red brick buildings in downtown Guthrie, the Pollard Theatre is bigger than it looks from the outside, its wide stage, expansive ceilings and backstage maze of dressing suites, a workshop and green room stretching much farther than they seem at first glance.
“It’s been all kinds of things. It was a furniture store, then it was a vaudevillian house and then they brought the first talkies here,” Artistic Director W. Jerome Stevenson said, pointing out the 1920s murals that adorn the auditorium and the original tin ceiling in the lobby.
“It just seems like it’s going to be this little place and all the sudden you’re like ‘What building am I in?’”
Like its historic home, Stevenson hopes the Pollard’s programming offers more than theatergoers might expect from a small-town company. For its 28th season, simply titled “28,” the Pollard Theatre Company will perform four widely differing musicals, a new period play and a beloved local adaptation of a Christmas classic.
“We have to be as diverse as the audience, and the audience is diverse,” he said. “I love it when people come up and say ‘Hey, I read that you’re doing this; not my cup of tea. But I can’t wait to see this.’ That means that the system is working.”
The theater will open its 2014-15 season with a pair of divergent musicals: The company will perform the quirky 2005 Tony winner “The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee” Friday through Sept. 13. University of Oklahoma faculty member Shawn Churchman will direct.
Then, the Pollard will celebrate the spooky season Oct. 10 through Nov. 1 with the central Oklahoma premiere of “Evil Dead: The Musical,” the stage adaptation of Sam Raimi’s cult classic film.
Two of the Pollard’s company members, Jared Blount and Jennifer Rosson, will make their directorial debut with the campy, creepy production.
“‘Spelling Bee’ is just really fun and clever and intimate and youthful,” Stevenson said, grinning. “Then, ‘Evil Dead,’ nobody expected anybody to do that around here, let alone us. So, we thought, ‘That sounds like fun, we get to throw blood on the audience, and that’ll be cool!’”
“We will have a splatter zone,” marketing director Joshua McGowen promised with a smile.
It just wouldn’t be Christmas in the territorial capital (and later first state capital) without Pollard’s “A Territorial Christmas Carol,” planned this year for Nov. 28 through Dec. 21. Stevenson, who will direct the Oklahoma adaptation of Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic, said the Pollard has performed the play all but one of its 28 years.
“Obviously, it’s a perennial favorite for our audiences, but it’s nice because people tell us they start their holidays with it.”
McGowen said he plans to reprise his roles as the younger version of Ebenezer Scrooge and the lead character’s Christmas-loving nephew Fred.
“Jerome always has us approach it as if it’s the first time that we’re doing it again, so we have a fresh idea and a whole new look,” he said.
As an actor, Stevenson will take on an interesting and intimdating lead role in the period drama “The Mountaintop.” He will play Martin Luther King Jr. in writer Katori Hall’s reimagining of the last night in the life of the civil rights icon.
“So many people have so many ideas about Dr. King. And some of those things that are presented hurt people’s feelings or make them feel like he’s less of a hero. But the more I read it, the more I was like, ‘No, he’s more of a hero because he’s real.’ Because he’s real, that means that the threat to him is real, and that means he deals with it like we deal with it,” he said. “King continued to go from place to place to place with people saying, ‘There are people looking to kill you here. There are people looking to kill you there.’”
The Pollard will stage the 2010 Olivier Award winner for best new play as a co-production with Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre and Oklahoma City’s Poteet Theatre. The Feb. 6-28 run will be split between the Civic Center’s Freede Little Theatre and the Pollard Theatre.
The Pollard also will close its 28th season with two divergent musicals. Stevenson will direct the family-friendly fractured fairy tale “Shrek: The Musical,” the stage adaptation of the Oscar-
winning animated film, April 24 through May 23.
“I really like the movie because I think more than anything else DreamWorks has this real kind of fun ability of saying, ‘OK, we want to make an animated feature but we don’t want the parents who have to take their kids to see it to go to sleep.’ So they really kind of play both levels,” he said.
“Also, the show is so universal. It seems fantastical because of the nature of the thing. But it’s really about being accepted and being comfortable with who you are.”
The hotly anticipated season finale will come June 19 through July 11 with “Company,” Stephen Sondheim and George Furth’s influential 1970 musical musing on
“The buzz between all the actors in the area and in Oklahoma City is just ‘Company,’ ‘Company,’ ‘Company,’” McGowen said with a grin.
Stevenson said the company has long wanted to stage the concept musical about a hardline bachelor who spends his 35th birthday surrounded by his married friends, but it doesn’t have the wide appeal of other Sondheim musicals like “West Side Story” or “Sweeney Todd.”
“It’s not well-known. It’s not ‘My Fair Lady,’ it’s not ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,’ it’s not thoughtless. I don’t mean that there’s no thought in those plays, I just mean that you can watch them and enjoy them without thinking about them too much,” Stevenson said.
“It’s one of those shows that I think you can draw performers to because it’s such a rich piece of Sondheim musical, which nobody gets a chance to do and everybody wants to do.”
The Pollard Theatre Company’s 2014-15 season
‘The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee’
‘Evil Dead: The Musical’
‘A Territorial Christmas Carol’
‘Shrek: The Musical’