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Originally published on October 11, 2015


photo -  Warren McIntyre (Russell McCook) takes Bernice (Celeste Rose) for a spin around the dance floor in this scene from “Bernice Bobs Her Hair.” [Photo by K.O. Rinearson]

BERNICE shows promise in world premiere in Oklahoma City

BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR, a lively musical receiving its world premiere at Lyric at the Plaza this month, invites patrons to step back into a bygone era, one that explores such mundane ideas as teenage popularity and changing fashion trends.

Based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald, this new musical by Adam Gwon and Julia Jordan is set in St. Paul, Minn., in 1912. Gwon’s music, performed by an onstage combo of six instrumentalists, often evokes the sounds of a palm court orchestra.

When Fitzgerald’s story was published in 1920, the idea of women bobbing their hair was progressive, perhaps even scandalous. Today, however, such concerns seem frivolous at best.

We know at the outset that Bernice will cut her hair, something Fitzgerald discloses in his title. So creating a 90-minute musical about a girl who threatens to bob her hair may test the patience of some audience members.

Fortunately, the accomplished cast is sufficiently diverting, a lively bunch whose characters interact with utmost propriety as their burgeoning sexuality bubbles chastely underneath. Michael Baron’s swiftly paced direction is a welcome asset.

Sarah Quinn Taylor (Marjorie), Celeste Rose (Bernice) and Russell McCook (Warren) make an attractive romantic trio, with cousins Marjorie and Bernice both seeking the attention and affections of Warren, the town’s most eligible bachelor.

This, despite the notion that his well-used pickup line (“Has anyone ever told you that you have an awfully kissable mouth?”) actually works on unsuspecting young girls. Fortunately, McCook exudes the necessary charm to make such a notion plausible.

The authors describe Marjorie as a great beauty, and Taylor is certainly that. But she also possesses a regal bearing that illustrates exactly why her character is so popular. Unfortunately, Marjorie’s efforts to make Bernice more popular end up backfiring.

Bernice loves the attention she gets as a result, and Rose allows us to observe her character’s transformation in much the same way that a coiled ribbon unfurls. All three possess strong voices that put Gwon and Jordan’s lyrics across with musical conviction.

The leads receive fine backing from the ensemble, while Vince Leseney and Mandy Jiran, as Marjorie’s parents, underscore their characters’ foibles with considerable humor. The production does offer an unexpected plot twist in the final moments, so I won’t spoil the surprise.

BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR is derivative at times; the idea of young women bobbing their hair recalls THOROUGHLY MODERN MILLIE while Rose’s transformation brings to mind “Popular” from WICKED. And parts of “Who Does She Think She Is” scan perilously close to Andrew Lippa’s “My New Philosophy.”

As with any work in progress, the authors were still tweaking their script on opening night. They actually made a few lyric changes after the performance, the result of audience suggestions that came out of a post-curtain talkback session.

BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR is a promising musical that could fill a niche for theater companies seeking a lighthearted show. Best of all, the machinations that drive young romantic relationships are just as relevant today as they were in Fitzgerald’s time.

– Rick Rogers, for The Oklahoman

Photo caption: Warren McIntyre (Russell McCook) takes Bernice (Celeste Rose) for a spin around the dance floor in this scene from BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR. Photo by K.O. Rinearson

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