"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Grilling on the gridron...a review

It's been several years since I've attended the Oklahoma City Gridiron Show, so last night's performance in the new Lyric Theater in the revitalizing NW 16th Plaza neighborhood was a treat indeed.

The club started in 1929 and journalists of every "creed, color and quirk" (to quote Gay Talese in The Kingdom  and the Power) have since been spoofing, satirizing, slamming national, state and local pols and issues, raising money for journalism scholarships for college students.

Ancient proverb: "Friend, breathe this bit of aroma; Something always happens in Oklahoma."

This year's show "What Swine Flu? Take the Money and Oink!" or "Looking for the Gov... Where's Waldo?" may not have been the most sarcastic title ever, but "pork" was a constant theme, and the songs and jokes and characters were as entertaining and witty as ever.

My favorites? Bill Perry always could be mistaken for  Bill Clinton, this time advising Tiger "Bobby Jon" Woods on improving his stroke, and as local radio ego Mark Shannon. Billie Rodely is her usual smirking self as Hillary in character and song. Besides, she always greets me with a smile and a "Hi professor," and a hug. Other "old timers" who stand out are the head authors, Ellie Sutter and Bob Hale. I always enjoy Jim Campbell, Jon Denton, Sue Hale, Jim Palmer, and John Greiner--all who play a multitude of roles. These are journalists who are my age, or close, and have been honored workhorses in Oklahoma journalism, and the gridiron club for years.  Greiner, a giant of covering the Capitol, and always a gentleman  offered to buy me a drink.  No, I'm not leaving out Patrick McGuigan who can sing  with the best of anyone, and who, even as a staunch conservative, can play both sides of the spectrum. And you have to salute Darrell Morrow who has staying power . His portrayal of Sheriff Whetsel was good. His role as Henry Bellmon, complete with halo, brought out spontaneous applause...for Bellmon, as intended and deserved.

In addition to those people, who I've come to know and respect over the years, I found the Gridiron invigorated by "new blood," some newer than others--including at least four former students.
I discovered Beth Gollob--who will be Gridiron prez next year--can  sing and dance as well as she can write. And long-time friend Carol Cole-Frowe seems always involved, whether rocking as a supreme court justice, or singing in the chorus.

Then there was favorite Ashley Barcum, whose article on the City Rescue Mission earned an A+ from me, and Frosty Troy reprinted a few years ago, and has been a guest on our back  porch. She was perfect as Sarah Palin, from the dress to the "You betcha!" Her persistence helped get me there this year, and probably got me introduced with dignitaries, as the "director of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame at UCO." Thanks Ash.

The surprise of the evening for me was Michael Cross, UCO broadcasting graduate who earned A's in my writing and editing courses. I didn't know he was in gridiron, and it was his rookie year. He rocks. Literally. You should have seen him singing a takeoff on Madonna's "Crazy for You::" "I've gone crazy, crazy on you," slamming Randy Terrell --in the audience--for his English-only bill and Sally Kern.  Sue Hale told me Cross was also the one who managed to get the whole masked  Gridiron crew, for the first time, choreographed and coordinated doing the Zombie Dance--a favorite of the crowd following a Michael Jackson segment.

Oh, Jackson...played by by Andrew Harris, was uncanny. And Jon Haque played Bernie Madoff and Jim Inhoff with lyrics and dancing that "knocked your socks off." I don't know them, but wish I did. Another was guest bluesman Bill "Watermelon Slim" Homans, who sang a perfect Johnny Cash, "I've got a sore throat I'm not feeling fine....I'm short on time. I've got the swine."

Favorite song, for me was written by Ashley Barcum,  I learned later. Set to the Police "Don't stand so close to me," It was a spoof on the teaching lobby: "Our teachers the subject of budget fantasy.....Loose talk in the state house. To cut they'll try and try...."

Two other stars were Bart Vleugels and Cynthia Rozmaryn-Vleugels. Cnythia, who I've come to know because she teaches part-time for us at UCO in journalism and is an accomplished broadcast journalist, was MC as Gridiron president this year. Her husband, a newly naturalized citizen, starred as President Obama, complete with big ears and a perfect voice rendition. He had the choppy, speech down so much into character that he couldn't stop talking like the president  as he introduced Supreme Court Justice Marian Opala to the crowd, talking about being a naturalized citizen. Opala deservedly got a standing ovation. Another who starred was Susan LaVictoire as Sally Kern, pairing the "Crazy" song with Michael Cross. 

Gov. and Mrs. Brad Henry were in the audience, spoofed for always being late, and recognized on stage for this being their last time to suffer the Gridiron barbs. So was gubernatorial candidate Attorney General Drew Edmondson, with two of my former students--sisters from Marlow--on his staff. One member of the old-timer cast whispered to me at intermission that the show was a little heavy on the "right wing" side of things. And nationally that was true. But I told him, that's OK, the Dems are the party in power and they deserve most of it. I'd like to have seen a little more spoof of the GOP voting against everything--perhaps something built around "Just say 'No.'" But the Tea-Party spoof song was pretty good, including tea bags hanging from their hats. But that's show biz.  At the state and local level it was balanced, equal barbs for equal folks. Someone worried about certain pols being in the audience during a couple of biting segments. I thought about Will Rogers, and thought, "If they can't take the heat, and the humor, they're in the wrong business." The Gridiron club's loyalty is to the voter, journalism, and future journalists. And having fun.

This club puts in long hours--old timers like Don Schmidt, and new members as well getting ready for this show, raising money for a profession we all believe is critical to the freedoms and country and state we love, regardless of political views.

I don't know all the members who starred, especially who played the Edmondite in one scene, but she was perhaps my favorite. Affected speech, affected clothes, affected importance, affected and out of touch, and the crowd roared. Truth is humorous and healthy for freedom, and the closing "Oklahoma," crowd and actors singling and clapping two different versions--one serious and one a little irreverent, shut the house down..


  1. Sorry for the typos folks...I think they're all corrected, and thanks to Pat for pointing them out.

  2. Dr. Clark,
    You are a treasure. We do it "for the children"!
    Yes, some of us "fossils" of journalism still hold the belief that we can make a difference in some young lives.
    It was wonderful seeing you...and I applaud the choices this year for the J-hall.
    I wish I knew you "when"

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