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BWW Review: Pride and Culture are on display with Lyric's DISTANT THUNDER

Lyric Theatre presents World Premiere Native musical Distant Thunder

BWW Review: Pride and Culture are on display with Lyric's DISTANT THUNDER

Lyric Theatre's latest in their new works series was a long-time coming. For the past two years, Distant Thunder felt more like a distant dream. In 2020, the world premiere musical was put on hold as part of the global shutdown of the performing arts in the wake of COVID-19. Producing Artistic Director Michael Baron promised to revisit the show in safer times, and the show finally got a chance to debut at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. Playwright/actor/singer Shaun Taylor-Corbett was inspired by true life experiences when he learned of his own Native heritage while visiting the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana. Together with his mother, famed choreographer and director Lynne Taylor-Corbett, he's created a moving musical that celebrates and highlights the beauty of Native culture. Lynne directs while Shaun stars in this modern day version of the Oral Tradition.

Shaun Taylor-Corbett gives a strong performance as Darrell Waters, a young lawyer who returns to his home after many years. There he discovers a community, memories, and a culture he never knew. Taylor-Corbett has co-written the catchy pop tunes that accompany each scene. Chris Wiseman co-writes and the tunes add a richness to the story.

The multifaceted cast is made up of brilliant performers who bring their all to each role. Ryan Duncan is Sam Silver, Spencer Battiest is Tonto, Xander Chauncey is Jim, Jonathan Lynch is Smudge, and Chelsea Zeno is Shareen. April Ortiz is Betty, Brent Florendo Sitwalla-Pum is Old Man, and Jeff Barehand is White Feather. Matoaka Little Eagle is Grandma Jingle Dress, Karsten Tate is Roberta, and Katie McCollum is Aiyana. Johnlee Lookinglass is Sherriff Running Buck, and Angela Gomez is Dorothy Dark Eyes.

The Native dancers are striking and authentic, with elaborate traditional costumes. The dancers are Graham Primeaux, Crickett Shields, and Skylar Nucosee. Standout performances are given by Chava Florendo as Featured Ensemble and traditional Native song, and Aiden Rogers as Young Darrell.

Zeno is perfectly cast as Shareen, bringing energy and depth to her character. Her vocals are inspirational and powerful. Xander Chauncey is sympathetic as Jim Running Crow, and his moments with Zeno bring an emotional subplot to the overarching themes. Angela Gomez is simply stunning as Dorothy, and her characterization of the role makes her relatable and redeemable.

The Taylor-Corbett team is smart to incorporate strong Native women figures in this story. Not only are Native stories under-represented on the stage, but the roles for Native women are even scarcer. It's a better story for the femme-presenting characters who are represented here. Native cultures are largely matriarchal; the mothers and wives run the community, cooking for everyone and raising the next generation. It wouldn't be a true Native story without the strong female presence, and it's a welcome and accurate interpretation of Native communities. Dorothy Dark Eyes is solely responsible for maintaining the language education on the Reservation, and it's her school that is threatened by the economic opportunity that Darrell brings to the community.

More than a tale of self-discovery, Distant Thunder tells the story of a community and how that community shapes us into our adult selves. The story celebrates Native culture, including gorgeous Native festival wear, singing, dancing, and several moments of Native language, both spoken and sung. It's truly a cultural celebration and every Oklahoman should be proud to witness it. Native culture is Oklahoma culture, and we should all feel proud of the rich heritage that surrounds us in our great state.

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma returns to indoor performances with their Spring and Summer seasons. For more info visit lyrictheatreokc.com.


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