“Oprahfication” at the New York Musical Theatre Festival at The Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Closed on Thursday July 24, 2014)

July 22, 2014 | NY Musical Theatre | Tags:
Book and Lyrics by Rachel Dunham
Music by Shanon D. Whitelock
Directed by Dirk Hoult
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Oprahfication (ˌəʊprəfɪˈkeɪʃən) noun (informal) – the perceived increase in people’s desire to discuss their emotions or personal problems, attributed to the influence of confessional television programmes. Word origin: from Oprah (Winfrey) (born 1954), US actress and pioneer of this genre. – From “Collins English Dictionary”

What happens when a powerful actor with an equally powerful voice portrays one of America’s most powerful (and wealthiest) women ever? Let’s call it “Oprahfication!” Currently running at the New York Musical Festival, “Oprahfication” highlights Oprah Winfrey’s 25th Anniversary Episode through the eyes and heart of actor and singer Rachel Dunham. Ms. Dunham – who watched Oprah live and recorded in the 20th Anniversary DVD Collection – celebrates the years Oprah dominated daytime television and presents the “ultimate interview.”

Under Dirk Hoult’s careful direction and supported by Shanon D. Whitelock’s music, Rachel Dunham pays tribute to all that was, is, and ever shall be ‘Oprah’ in fourteen show-stopping songs inspired by Gospel, Motown, doo-wop, rock ballads, love ballads, and lullabies. Through parody, satire, and humor, Ms. Dunham’s songs pay tribute to Oprah Winfrey: each is a well-penned love letter. “All Things Are Possible,” “Dreams Come True,” “I’m Fine,” “Fat, Black, and Woman,” and “Hand in Hand” are particularly effective. And the “Network Sequence” is sheer, manic, over-the-top joy. Ms. Dunham has a powerhouse of a voice with a full range of vocals which she controls with precision and care.

Ms. Dunham tackles Oprah’s legacy leaving – as does Oprah herself – no stone unturned. When her scheduled interviewee fails to show up, Ms. Dunham has Opera do the obvious but risky alternative: she interviews herself! The “Episode” is filled with affirmations, audience interaction, rumor-control about the Oprah, Stedman Graham and Gayle King Triangle, and references to stellar guests and uber-stellar giveaways. Ms. Dunham’s book and lyrics exhibit her uncanny ability to distance herself from the icon she portrays while providing perspective, humor, and sensitivity toward her subject of interest. In a remarkable feat of acting and singing, Rachel Dunham shows the deepest affection for the Queen of daytime television.

I waited around a bit after the performance to get Oprah’s – I mean Rachel’s – autograph but like any megastar she had slipped out the back entrance. I wonder if it was into a stretch limousine.