Arts and Entertainment

OutCast sings, dances, explores WWI

Gail Liston, a Greenbank resident, performs with the cast in the British musical “Oh, What a Lovely War” during a Monday dress rehearsal. The OutCast Productions show begins Friday. - Justin Burnett / The Record
Gail Liston, a Greenbank resident, performs with the cast in the British musical “Oh, What a Lovely War” during a Monday dress rehearsal. The OutCast Productions show begins Friday.
— image credit: Justin Burnett / The Record

Millions died. The more fortunate made millions. And the bloody legacies of a few were cemented in time.

It’s known as the Great War, a conflict in which men saw their end in muddy trenches and across fields strewn with barbwire. They died from bullets, poison gas and sickness, and often, it was to the sound of cheery melodies and upbeat tunes.

From these complex and soul-weighing concepts comes the latest showcase of Langley’s OutCast Productions, the 1960s written British musical “Oh, What a Lovely War.”

Led by director K. Sandy O’Brien, this fast paced voyage promises to deliver the realities of World War I in a bandage stained with the comic stylings of music hall, vaudeville and Commedia Dell’Arte.

Described as fast paced, silly and colorful, the production fits OutCast’s model for producing “edgy” features that make people think.

“If people say, ‘hmmm,’ we’ve succeeded,” O’Brien said.

A complicated script made up largely of song, O’Brien said she’s been wanting to direct “Oh, What a Lovely War” for 30 years and has finally gotten her chance.

“This is a hard show to do,” she said. “It’s so removed for the cast. 1918 is like, once upon a time.”

The production features a wide range of characters, from greedy war profiteers and mellow pacifists to infamous war leaders such as British Field Marshal Douglas Haig.

Played by Langley resident Paul Mathews, Haig led some of the bloodiest campaigns of the war and has been remembered in history by some as the “Butcher of the Somme” and “Butcher Haig.”

Some writers/historians have credited Haig, an English earl, with being the supreme example of unqualified military leaders who owed their positions to class rather than skill in warcraft.

With an aristocracy in command, “the lower class went to war and it was lambs to the slaughter,” O’Brien said.

In some ways, Mathews said Haig is just another role. Yet, in others, the character has presented an unexpected challenge. Mathews said he’s struggled inwardly to reign in a personal desire to be the “good guy.”

“That’s just not the kind of part this is,” Mathews said.

All cast members are playing a hefty handful of different roles, some of which are 180-degree opposites of each other, according to Gail Liston, a Greenbank resident.

Some of Liston’s characters include a military general, a war profiteer and a pacifist. Quickly transitioning from one to the other can be tricky and is somewhat unusual, she said.

“It keeps us on our toes,” she said.

Presentation will also be different. The piece features a cast of costumed clowns who sing and dance out the story before a constant digital projection of war facts and images.

“It’s different from anything else we’ve done,” said Ned Farley, a managing partner of OutCast Productions.

A story that visually transitions from a cast of clowns to military figures — signifying a loss of innocence — that is both stylized and funny, musical and “vaudevillish,” makes for a performance that should not be missed.

Evening shows begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday and continue June 30, July 6, 7, 13, 14 with 2 p.m. matinees on July 1 and July 8. All shows will be held in the Fine Arts Building at the Island County Fair Grounds in Langley.

Tickets cost $18 for adults, $14 for seniors and students and are available for purchase online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/251337.

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