Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre remembers and celebrates one of their founding members MICHAEL JONES, who passed away a year ago.

By: Mar. 01, 2021

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated

Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre remembers and celebrates one of their founding members Michael Jones, who passed away a year ago.

An Emmy winner and recipient of the Oklahoma Governor's Arts Award, Michael was a co-founder and Artistic Associate at OKC Rep. He directed OKC Rep's productions of I Am A Teacher, Driving Miss Daisy, Brighton Beach Memoirs, Tuesdays With Morrie, Bad Dates, Our Town, The Fantasticks, A Tuna Christmas, The Santaland Diaries, Biloxi Blues, Next to Normal, Red, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, and Peter and the Starcatcher. As an actor, OKC Rep audiences remembered him as "Man 2" in I Love You, You're Perfect, Now Change, "Bernie Buchsbaum" in Little Me, "Howard Liszt" in Meshuggah-Nuns, "Man 2" in Dirty Blonde, "Ben Hecht" in Moonlight and Magnolias, "The Old Actor" in The Fantasticks, "Mr. Simon" in The Miser, "Vice-Principal Douglas Panch" in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, "Beverly Weston" in August: Osage County, "Col. Pickering" in My Fair Lady, "Ben Weeks" in The Normal Heart, "Antonio" in Much Ado About Nothing, "Grandpa Joad" in The Grapes of Wrath, "Erroneous" in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and a member of the company of The Laramie Project.

While Michael was a pillar of the OKC theatre community, he also worked all over the country. He worked as an actor in major regional theaters across the country like Paper Mill Playhouse, American Musical Theatre of San Jose, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, 5th Avenue Theatre in Seattle, Theater Under the Stars, in Houston, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. He served as the Artistic Director of Portland Civic Theatre, and directed at theaters across the US such as Asolo Repertory Theatre, Wildwood Festival of the Arts, Seattle Civic Light Opera, Portland Repertory Theatre, and Portland Opera, among others.

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated

Michael touched the lives and hearts of so many he worked with. The OKC theatre community remembers Michael Jones:

Donald Jordan:
Michael left an extraordinary artistic and personal legacy. He was a uniquely talented, intellectually gifted and quietly courageous man. His creative excellence as an award-winning actor, director and a producer demonstrated his talents and versatility. He battled significant health issues, yet continued to share his gifts with the world. Like so many of us, he found his family, his home and his avenue of service to the world in the theatre, where his memory will long endure in our hearts. "Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Jonathan Beck Reed:
When I heard the voicemail message from Donald Jordan to simply "call me (him) back"...I knew. I could sense the overwhelming sadness in his voice, and, I felt an emotional numbness that left me hollow. This day...."THIS" day that we who knew Michael Best had long dreaded would one day come...finally came. And, it was just as sad, and heartbreaking, and surreal as we had all imagined it would be. Michael had been in failing health for some time. Several years, in fact. He had valiantly struggled with a number of medical and emotional issues that had robbed him of his once bright light, and, reduced his physical and mental state to that of someone much, much older than his age of 61. But, every so often, in his final years, that mischievous twinkle would survive the struggle and find the form of a cherished remembrance from our long, shared history. One favorite story Michael had often liked to tell anyone who would listen, was how he had been my first stage kiss. That was all!!! He just wanted people to KNOW that we kissed. Not why or how. He liked to leave that to their sordid imaginations. It was true, in fact. We had kissed, and, he, in fact, was my first (onstage). But, hardly scandalous. We were performing in a Lyric Theater stage production of Androcles and the Lion...a broad, musical, Comedia Del Art'e version of the classic fable. I played an old, miserly Shylock type named Pantalone, and, Michael played the bumbling, pompous, Captain of the Guard. He was BRILLIANT!!! Truly brilliant in the part!!! His size, style, and comedic timing were textbook and enviable. He OWNED his moments and defined certain roles he inhabited. The Captain was one such part!!! After seeing Michaels proud, prancing, bloviating braggart of a buffoonish Captain, it was impossible to imagine anyone else playing the part. It was as if written to suit his specific talents. At a high point in the piece, all of the characters are running through doors, in a farcical chase, in pursuit, or avoidance of each other for different reasons, when, Michaels character moves to kiss the ingenue of whom the Captain was enamored. Well, the feeling was far from mutual, and, as he moved toward her with eyes closed and lips eager, she abruptly evades his advance and he winds up kissing me, who was standing directly behind her!!! It may have resulted in one of the biggest laughs either of us has ever received. It rippled to a roar which was deafening and wonderful. I never quite understood why that particular story was so important to Michael, but it was. He wore it like a badge of honor. We had certainly shared many, many, more experiences over a lifetime of friendship. But, that one, more than any other, he proudly told over and over again with great relish. I had known of Michael most of my life, but, we first "officially" met when introduced by a mutual friend while both attending what was then Central State University (now UCO). We were in the Drama Department and became instant and inseparable friends. Although, we only attended the University for one semester before transferring to Oklahoma City University, that time allowed us the opportunity to grow close and share much. It laid the foundation for what would become a long and lasting friendship that survived until that cryptic and quick message from Don to "call me (him) back". I miss my friend. And, I wish that all those who only knew Michael over these past 10 years, could have known the brilliant and singular talent that he was for the 40 years before that. He was a Star onstage! With that broad and naughty Cheshire Cat grin, and mischievous twinkle, he captivated audiences with his tremendous tenor and his outrageous humor! He was a master showman that audiences instantly loved from the moment his found his light, to the final curtain when they cheered all the way up to their feet. He was both loved and beloved, and, I wish that people who didn't know him then, knew that about him now. He was special. And now he's gone. And though my heart aches for the loss of our dear friend. I feel so blessed to have known him over all of these many years, and to have forged a friendship filled with so many wonderful memories of this remarkable and talented man.

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated
Jonathan Beck Reed, Michael Jones, and Christopher Harrod.
Androcles and the Lion. Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma(1983)

Stacey Logan:
I first met Michael working in summer stock in my hometown of Oklahoma City nearly forty years ago. He was intelligent, opinionated, irreverent, loyal, hard-working, and fun. Years later, while working in NYC, I found myself in a creative stupor. Michael suggested I return to OKC to do a one-woman play at CityRep, where he was the Artistic Associate Director. Michael directed the play and gave me the creative challenge I needed. We went on to do many shows together at CityRep, including the brilliant musical Next to Normal. His direction of the piece was spot-on and intense. Michael knew a lot about bipolar disorder, and it showed on the stage. He was a dear and trusted friend.

Steve Emerson:
I worked with Michael Jones on more than a dozen shows, as a director and as an actor. He was a perfectionist, which can be difficult in the theatre, that most collaborative of the arts. But for Michael it meant that the best idea in the room should win, no matter who came up with it. From the Artistic Director to the Janitor, everyone could and should contribute. This was no less true for casting a play than for any other aspect of the production. There came a day when Michael and I were both being considered for the same role in OKC Rep's production of Much Ado About Nothing. I was cast and he was not. After opening night of the play Michael came to me and shook my hand and said "You played it better than I ever could have. They made the right decision. Congratulations". That was my friend Michael Jones. He could be contrary and persnickety, but he was also kind and magnanimous and genuine. I miss him more than I can say.

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated
The OKC REP "Gang" Steve Emerson, Jonathan Beck Reed, Donald Jordan, and Michael Jones.

Harry Parker:
I met Michael Jones when we were both high school students in the Oklahoma City area, and were both students in a summer Musical Theatre Workshop at the Oklahoma Theater Center downtown. The couple of years I attended that Workshop in high school I met and worked with a great group of future theatre professionals. Michael impressed all of us with his great energy, fantastic tenor voice, and hilarious comic timing. One of the scenes/songs the leaders of the Workshop cast me in my first year was the trio from Man Of LaMancha, "I'm Only Thinking of Him." At the first music rehearsal it became immediately clear that I didn't have the range to sing the role of the priest that had been assigned to me. The instructors all looked at each other and said, in unison, "Michael Jones." He did a great job in that song, and with everything else that was assigned to him. As for me, I figured it out pretty quickly and became a director instead! From 1979-1985 I was the Assistant to Lyle Dye, the Artistic Director at Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma. Michael was in the ensemble there and played many leading roles at Lyric during those years. His performances as Nicely-Nicely Johnson in Guys And Dolls featured him stopping the show every night with "Sit Down, You're Rocking the Boat." He was also hilariously funny as Hysterium in A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum, and Herman in Sweet Charity, among many other notable roles. He was professional, always prepared, inventive and fun, and just a pleasure to be around. Audiences adored him. One of my favorite memories was his spectacular comic performance as an over-the-top braggart solider, The Captain, in a professional children's theatre show I directed for Lyric, Aurand Harris' version of Androcles and the Lion. Michael was a complete riot in that show. Many years later, long after Michael and I had both left Oklahoma and then he had returned, I had the opportunity to work with him once more thanks to Oklahoma City Repertory Theatre, and Donald Jordan. In 2014, I was invited back by City Rep to direct a show in Oklahoma City once again, the first time I had directed in my home state since in some 25 years. Michael Jones played Grandpa Joad in the CityRep production of The Grapes Of Wrath, and it was a distinct joy to work with him once again. The years had slowed Michael down considerably, but he was still an actor of great talent, technique and charm, and he commanded the stage as he always had, if at a slower tempo this time around. I will always cherish getting to work him one last time. There was only one Michael Jones. His love of life, his passion for creativity and his unquenchable good humor made him a beacon of light in a dark world.

Matthew Alvin Brown:
Michael Jones directed me in a few wonderful shows and I am lucky to have worked with him in any capacity. Some of my favorite memories are watching his brilliant work as an actor in The Normal Heart. That show was incredibly intense and important and Michael Jones' work was beautiful in the role of Ben Weeks. Michael was a titan of theatre and we are all better for having shared a moment or two with him. Many years ago, I wrote and recorded a concept rock album. Michael Jones made a point to tell me, on many occasions, how much he liked my lyrics. That always meant so much to me, because he wasn't the target audience for that rock album at all...and I have no idea how he even heard any of my songs. But I will always remember how complimentary he was of my words. Lots of people don't REALLY listen to lyrics. But he did. And that meant a lot to me.

Barbara Fox DeMaio:
I met Michael when he was an undergrad and I was a masters student at Oklahoma City University. We both studied voice with Florence Birdwell. He was one of a small group of people who actually believed that I was going to fulfill my dream of becoming an opera singer. Always eager to learn something new, he traveled with me when we were in college to North Texas State so that I could coach the aria "Depuis le jour" since at the time there were no coaches for languages at Oklahoma City University. He told me more than once that if he never heard that aria again it would be too soon, always smiling when he said it. He also came to stay with me when he first moved to New York. The first time he saw me without makeup he said "Barbara what happened to your face!" After that, he called me "Barbara the incredible disappearing face" for a while. His sense of humor, his humanity, these are the things that I will remember. I didn't work with Michael on a professional basis, but he was my dearest friend and I am so sorry that he is gone.

Whitney Hendricks:
Michael's presence in the room, whether at a production meeting, rehearsal, or performance, was calm and steady. His dedication and passion to OKC Rep, and to creating poignant and engaging art, was constantly and genuinely felt by all he worked with. In addition to his work in the theatre, he was also sincerely interested in the lives, well being, and passions of his theatre family and always took the time to check in with others to make sure they were personally doing okay. He is truly missed.

Molly Johnson:
I put off thinking about memories of Michael as it has kept the realness of his passing at bay. But now, in the quiet moments of life at home, snapshots of shared times at OCU, Lyric, and CityRep come to mind. Almost all of them involve Michael's legendary fierce wit and devilish sense of humor. As I said to some dear friends recently, there are those of us who think we are funny, and then there's Michael. On and off stage, he was brilliantly gifted in the art of comedy. It took great determination to share the stage with him and not break character. Meanwhile, he was virtually unflappable, no matter how much one tried. I still relish the time I orchestrated a backstage prank while he was onstage in a big production number. Our antics got him tickled and he fought the entire number not to guffaw. Completely unprofessional on my part, but oh, so satisfying! We shared a lifetime of shows and humor; the sound of his wonderful laugh rings in my memory. One of my most special memories, however, is neither big, nor showy, nor funny. It is about the quiet action of a gentle, loving friend. We were in a show for which a large cast party had been planned. I was in a low place and was not going to go. Michael knew about lows. He begged me to go and made me a promise that if I went, he would stay by my side the whole time. I went; he kept his word. I know he would have had more fun had I stayed home, but he chose to make me and my presence the star of the evening. His simple, kind action that night was more helpful than he ever knew. Thank you, sweet friend.

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated
A collage of Michael Jones' work at through the years.

Charlotte Franklin:
Michael was a proven professional. Whenever I had the opportunity to share the stage with him I always felt secure. He is greatly missed.

Daniel Leeman Smith:
Michel was a true gem, and so very important to me! He was one of the first directors to cast me when I was freshman in undergrad. I was a hot mess and a bit of an asshole, which he loved to remind me of all the time, and would then tell me how proud he was of the young man that I had grown into. When Don brought me into the fold at CityRep, Michael was a loving advocate and cheerleader for me. I served as his assistant director on several shows and we grew very close. One of my favorite memories was when he and I were auditioning actors for the OCU and CityRep co-production of Peter and the Starcatcher (a Disney property mind you) a few years ago. A girl came in to audition for the role of Molly Aster and she sang "Tits and Ass" from A Chorus Line. Michael and I were both wide-eyed and we white knuckled the table through the audition. When the girl left the room we burst into laughter, cackling and giggling like a couple of mean girls. We shared a look and asked at the exact same time WTF had just happened! The girl has some chutzpah, but that was definitely not the right song for that show! Michael, I will miss your love, your sass, and your artistry my friend. Thanks for the second chance! Rest well.

Ronn Burton:
I worked as Michael's assistant director on Red at OKC Rep, where I also earned my Equity card. Michael's quiet, focused passion infused every aspect of that intimate and mighty production of that powerful play. I will always be grateful for the hours I shared with Michael and that company, bringing to life John Logan's exploration of what it means to share your artistry with the world. Michael's artistry is missed.

Elaine Pfleiderer:
We were doing Show Boat at Lyric Theater. A woman in the cast made a verbal faux pas and instead of asking "Captain Andy, is that your daughter?" she said "Captain Hook, is that your daughter?" and we all vibrated with suppressed laughter. The next night, she did it again. The third night, ever sensitive to the comedic Rule of Three, Michael delivered the perfect silent punch line. He had the hook from a hanger coming out of his coat sleeve and was waving it around on the back row of the crowd. Once again, we vibrated with suppressed laughter. I can still see him - flashes of brilliant performances spanning so many years. I can still see him - laughing and joking and saying just the right thing at the right moment or blurting a screamingly funny ad lib in the clear. He will never be gone as long as I can still see him waving that damn hook just below the audience's sight line - a private joke carefully prepared for a small group of weary actors, suddenly vibrating to renewed life with suppressed laughter.

Emily Gray:
I first met Michael when we appeared in a production of Moliere's The Miser together and then later I had the privilege of being directed by him in Noel Coward's Hay Fever, both for Oklahoma City Rep. What a delight and what a treat. Michael knew the classics and knew the seriousness of farce like no one else. His detail when approaching the work of Coward was nothing short of brilliant. Michael was hilarious in his own right and never shied away from a big idea in comedy or tragedy but he knew how to carefully craft each tiny moment as a director. He skillfully guided each of us in our parts. At the first read through for Hay Fever he asked me to do Myra with a very specific vocal quality and he was dead on! It was perfect. I always trusted Michael's vision, really never doubted that he knew how to bring the play or character to life. A rare find indeed. I also cherished our cozy chats. He is greatly missed.

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated
Michael Jones, with OKC Rep co-founders and fellow OCU alums Marcellus Hankins, and Donald Jordan. The Miser. OKC Rep.

Ben Richardson:
When I think of Michael Jones, a couple of things really pop up in my head. One, that he was a very talented and patient director and actor, and Two, that he was authentic to his very core. To be very honest, I wouldn't be where I am today without Michael Jones having been in my life. How? Well, that memory is one that is vividly etched inside me... Michael was directing Brighton Beach Memoirs for City Rep, and I was cast to play Stanley Jerome, Eugene's older brother. I had beat out many other people for the role, and to be honest I felt like I was on top of the world. I had just turned 21 years-old, and was in the show that would ruin all other theatre experiences for me (in a good way). It was during this show that I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt I wanted to be an actor for the rest of my life. One day after rehearsal, Michael asked me what I wanted to do (in regards to life). Did I want to go to school, and if so, what did I want to study, etc. I replied without hesitation that I wanted to be an actor full-time. That's what I wanted to do with my life. There was just one problem...I had really screwed up teeth. I had been acting for a year and a half at the time, and up until this point no one had ever mentioned anything about it. That was about to change. I could see him thinking, but I didn't know why, then he turned to me in that way that Michael would, and said, "Do you plan on getting braces soon?" I was taken aback. I had never thought of this before. After all, I mean I had gotten the role I was currently in, and several before it, right? Did it really matter that much? I told him I hadn't really thought about it, and asked if it really mattered that much. It was here, he could have taken the easy route and said it's no big deal, or something of the like, but instead he kindly said, "Well, you don't have to, but if you're going to seriously pursue acting, you're going to need straight teeth...Unless, you want to be cast as British roles the rest of your life." This struck a chord with me, since I had just finished a role in Oliver! where I played a British person. There was nothing wrong with that, but did I want to play that kind of role the rest of my life? I told him that I would think about it and look into what it would take to get them (braces). He finished by saying that he didn't want to take the fun out of theatre or acting for me, but that he wanted me to have real expectations about what others would be looking for and expecting if I really wanted to be a full-time actor, and basically that he didn't want me to find out the hard way from someone that might be pretty harsh about it. We never spoke about that subject again, ever. But, what he doesn't know is because of that one honest and caring conversation, I started saving up money. Two years later I would get braces, and at 25 I would get them off with straight teeth, so that I could pursue my passion and dream of being a full-time actor. Today, 100% of my income does now come from creative endeavors (acting, directing, producing, writing, etc) And if he wouldn't have been honest with me in the kind way that he was, I know I would not be where I am today. So, thank you Michael. Thank you for your kindness. Your honesty. And being so authentic. You will be missed my friend.

Michele McNalley Wilson:
It does not do justice to a person to only remember flashes of brilliance. Although there were many, to be sure, there was also the fragile, compassionate, gentle, and tender side of him that served as a substrate for his beautiful nuanced direction and his deep understanding of the human condition. He first became my friend during a student production of Company. It was one of my first roles ever but Michael, already a seasoned veteran, understood that I needed gentle leadership and direction and led me through it with grace. Throughout the years that followed, we would come and go from each other's presence. It was not the kind of friendship that involved weekly phone calls to check in or postcards from the road. It did not have to be. Michael was present at my favorite Thanksgiving of all time: his mother had recently passed away and he was not close with his family. His roommates at the time, Larry and Don and I, had decided to have a sort of "orphans" Thanksgiving. Michael insisted there be Jello salad, as his mother always made Jello salad for Thanksgiving.. There was no internet at the time so making Jello salad for the first time was a daunting prospect but after a 2am trip to Albertson's where we all decided that a turkey breast would be a better choice as no one liked dark meat, I made 2 different jello salads. He never said if he liked them, he just had a serving of one on his plate and that was that. I've never been able to look at Jello that same way. We were members of the generation that lived through the onset of AIDS. Many of our classmates died. It was a defining moment as many nursed their friends through their last hours, including Michael. Until he met Oreo: Michael was working in Oregon at the Humane Society when someone dropped off a Springer spaniel puppy complete with trousseau. His name was Oreo. They would spend the next 13 or so years together and while not a typical dog owner, Michael formed a bond with Oreo, which was surprising and wonderful at the same time. At some point in this history, Michael decided to move back to Oklahoma. I moved back to Oklahoma after the death of my husband and was delighted to learn that Michael had also moved back to OKC and was directing and performing. It was not until years later that I understood what had happened to my friend. We had several candid conversations about his illness. It was extraordinarily hard to treat and was often accompanied by debilitating migraines. His demeanor softened; his mind was still sharp, his gift of insight keen: the direction of his productions for City Rep bore the trademark grace notes and nuance that made him so great. I'm sure we all have a favorite but mine was Brighton Beach Memoirs. My most enduring memory of him is a delicate handkerchief that he gave me as an opening might present along with the note: "for my dainty miss". It would take another book to explain what that meant at the precise moment that it arrived but suffice it to say that his insight, as usual, was spot on. My life is so much richer for him letting me be a part of his. Sleep tight, Buddy. Until we meet again.

Michael Scott Gordon:
I'd just like to say something about Michael from the perspective of an audience member. I was working the daytime construction crew in the 1980s for Lyric when they produced Guys & Dolls. Don Richards starred as Sky Masterson, Jonathan Beck Reed was playing Nathan Detroit, and Michael played Nicely, Nicely. It was a great cast with stand out performances all around. But Michael was PERFECT! On opening night (and at least 2 other occasions I went to see the show) he stopped the show with minutes of applause after his rendition of "Sit Down You're Rocking The Boat." This is not an exaggeration. He absolutely told the story of the song as if he had actually dreamed these things. It was not an actor singing a good song. It was Nicely, Nicely sharing his heart. His instrument was so finely tuned that you could not see an actor at all. It was, and remains the absolute best performance of Nicely, Nicely I have ever seen. (And I've seen about 6 other productions.) No one ever even came close to matching what Michael did with that role and with that song. Michael was such a character back then. On & off stage! What a beautiful man. He is greatly missed.

Feature: A Year Gone … OKC Rep's Beloved Michael Jones Remembered and Celebrated
Donald Jordan as Rusty Charlie, Michael Jones as Nicely-Nicely, John Steele as Benny Southstreet. Guys and Dolls. Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma (1983)


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