Pride and culture are on display with Lyric’s DISTANT THUNDER

The latest in their new series of Lyric Theater works has been long overdue. For two years, distant thunder was more like a distant dream. In 2020, the world’s premier musical was put on hold as part of the global performing arts shutdown as a result of COVID-19. Production Artistic Director Michael Baron promised to revisit the show in safer times, and the show eventually got a chance to debut at the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. Playwright/actor/singer Shaun Taylor-Corbett was inspired by real life experiences when he discovered his own Native heritage during a visit to the Blackfeet Nation in Browning, Montana. Along with his mother, renowned choreographer and director Lynne Taylor-Corbett, he has created a moving musical that celebrates and showcases the beauty of Indigenous culture. Lynne directs while Shaun performs in this modern take on the oral tradition.

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

The multi-faceted cast is made up of brilliant performers who give their all for 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.

Zeno is cast perfectly as Shareen, bringing energy and depth to her character. Her voice is inspiring and powerful. Xander Chauncey is likable 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 approachable and redeemable.

The Taylor-Corbett team is smart about incorporating strong Indigenous female figures into this story. Not only are Indigenous stories underrepresented on stage, but roles for Indigenous women are even rarer. It’s a better story for the female characters that are portrayed here. Indigenous cultures are largely matriarchal; mothers and wives lead the community, cooking for everyone and raising the next generation. It wouldn’t be a true Indigenous story without the strong female presence, and it’s a welcome and accurate take on Indigenous communities. Dorothy Dark Eyes is solely responsible for maintaining language education on the reservation, and it is her school that is threatened by the economic opportunity Darrell brings to the community.

More than a story of self-discovery, distant thunder tells the story of a community and how that community shapes us as adults. The story celebrates Aboriginal culture, including beautiful Aboriginal festive clothing, songs, dances, and several moments of Aboriginal language, both spoken and sung. It is truly a cultural celebration and every Oklahoman should be proud to witness it. Native culture is Oklahoma culture, and we should all be proud of the rich heritage that surrounds us in our great state.

Lyric Theater of Oklahoma is returning to indoor shows with its spring and summer seasons. For more information, visit lyrictheatreokc.com.

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