It is a Brilliant Thing

After his mother attempts suicide, a little boy decides to write a list covering every brilliant thing in life.  This list follows the boy as he grows into a man and experiences the highs and lows of life.  This is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan and it kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre’s 29th season:  Connect.

MacMillan has written a pretty potent script “based on true and untrue stories” and it has a little bit of something for everyone.  It’s funny.  It’s poignant.  It’s thoughtful.  It’s relevant.  The play centers around the theme of suicide and provides a hopeful message:  things will get better.  This message is laid out with facts, stories, and audience participation.  I thought the audience participation element was positively inspired because this is a story that we are all part of as all of us have felt down in life and needed a little picking up.

An interesting thing about casts is that the smaller they are, the stronger they have to be.  When dealing with a one person show, not only does the actor’s talent have to be of phenomenal quality but he or she needs an almost symbiotic relationship with an equally talented director in order to find, develop, and relate the innumerable beats of the story.  Fortunately this show illustrates just such a relationship as the impeccable direction of Susan Clement-Toberer combined with the acting chops of Hughston Walkinshaw result in a night of theatre that is somber, moving, light, funny, and strong.

Ms Clement-Toberer’s staging is of superior quality as she breaks down the barriers between actor and audience.  Walkinshaw performs in the round and is centimeters away from the audience. Never is there a static moment as Walkinshaw constantly moves around the room and engages the audience, bringing them deeper into the world of this tale.

So natural and extemporaneous is Walkinshaw that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting.  It’s almost as if he’s telling his own life story.  But it is an arduous and triumphant performance as Walkinshaw has to constantly be on his toes and be aware of every moment as he may have to fill in the blanks or gently move things along during the audience participation moments.

Walkinshaw’s interpretations are so spot on and precise.  At one moment, he is an innocent little boy facing death for the first time when his beloved dog is put to sleep.  In a flash, he’s a college student finding love for the first time.  In the blink of an eye, he’s a jaded adult facing his own battle with depression which causes his marriage to crumble while he deals with the hideous reality of suicide in his own family.  Yet, through it all, he maintains his grip on hope with the ever growing list of brilliant things.

Shea Saladee softly lights the performance space with a series of vintage chandeliers.  Craig Marsh’s sounds take the form of music which plays an important emotional role in this show.  And the final number will be the “happiest sad song” you ever heard.  Amy Reiner’s properties of bits of the list truly enhance the spontaneous nature of the unnamed character’s writings.

This is theatre at its purest.  At its most intimate.  At its most beautiful.  At its peak.  It’s a masterful opening for the Blue Barn and you will regret it if you miss this one.

Every Brilliant Thing plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm (The Oct 8 show will be at 2pm.).  Tickets cost $35 for adults and $30 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Advertisements

Circle Theatre Holding Auditions for “Miracle on 34th Street”

Circle Theatre will hold auditions for the second production of its 2017-2018 season, Miracle on 34th Street. The production will run December 8-17, Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m and Sundays at 3 p.m. Audtions, rehearsals, and production will be held at Hanscom Park United Methodist Church (4444 Frances St, Omaha, NE). Rehearsals will begin the last week of October. The production will be directed by Circle Theatre Associate Artistic Director, Angela M. Dashner. For more information, please contact Circle Theatre at circle.theatreomaha@gmail.com

Please note that the role of Kris Kringle has been pre-cast.

It’s Alive!!!!!!

Shelterbelt Theatre is pleased to present Resurrection:  The Best of ShelterSkelter at 3225 California Street, October 6-29, 2017.  The show is directed by Kaitlyn McClincy, Jayma Smay, and Elizabeth Thompson.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 9pm and Sunday at 6pm (except for Oct 29 at 2pm).  Tickets are $12 for Thursday shows and $20 Fri-Sun ($15 for students, seniors (65+), and TAG members).  Tickets are on sale at www.shelterbelt.org (click box office) or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org or 402-341-2757.

Our audience asked for it and Shelterbelt brought ShelterSkelter back to life–the eerie, the funny, the dark and spooky!  We opened the Skelter crypt and dug up some of our favorite blasts from the past, featuring some of your favorite playwrights.  Come in costume!  We’ll post pix on our Facebook page and each week’s winner (most likes) will advance to the finals.  Top finalist wins 2 Shelterbelt season tickets!  Whatever you do, don’t miss this limited edition Skelter in honor of our 25th Anniversary season.  We don’t know when it’ll appear again in this dimension!

ShelterSkelter, Shelterbelt’s celebration of all things Halloween, began in 1996 and continued for 18 seasons before going on hiatus.  Each year, scripts were sent from near and far, and a lengthy process began.  “In 2014, we took a break from Shelterskelter to focus more on our local playwrights and full-length plays,” said Executive Director, Roxanne Wach.  “As a part of our 25th anniversary season, we’ve resurrected ShelterSkelter.”

This incarnation of ShelterSkelter includes some of the best plays from past seasons, featuring work by Rob Baker, Joe Basque, Ben Beck, Molly Campbell, Julia Hinson, Jeremy Johnson, Daena Schweiger, Scott Working, and Aaron Zavitz.

The cast features Craig Bond, Katy Boone, Kevin Goshorn, Eric Grant-Leanna, Whitney Hansen, Meganne Horrocks Storm, Matt Karasek, Debbie Krambeck, and Sarah Smeltzer.  Stage Manager is Taylor Vann.  Assistant Stage Manager/Board Operator is Lisa Marie Hathaway.  Lighting design is by Joshua Mullady, with sound design by Shannon Smay, and costumes by Bridget Mueting.

Jeffrey Ballard, collage prints, and Jonathan Wilhoft, skeletal photography, are the featured artists in the gallery.

Shelterbelt Theatre is Omaha’s home for new plays.  This frightful evening opens Shelterbelt’s 25th Season, Original Lives Here, featuring scripts celebrating our local playwrights past and present.  Shelterbelt Theatre is a 2015 and 2016 recipient of the international 50/50 Applause Award by the International Centre for Women Playwrights, which honors theatres that produce a season with an equal or greater number of plays written by female playwrights. (www.womenplaywrights.org)

The Night Can be Deadly

BLUEBARN THEATRE’s IMMERSIVE THEATRE SERIES returns with 

Walk the Night: Death Marked Love (based on Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet)

BLUEBARN‘s Immersive series returns with the ghosts of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers, doomed to walk the night until the foul crimes done against them in their days of nature are purged away.

It begins with an invitation.  After buying your ticket, you are emailed a link with driving instructions and a downloadable audio invitation–a radio play to accompany you on your drive to Fontenelle’s Neale Woods, 1/2 north of Omaha.  The mysterious on the other end tells you: You will be attending an event at the summer home of his former enemy, a manor turned into a memorial after tragic events some 100 years ago.  When there, you will make a choice–or perhaps the choice will make you.  It will be the first among many; a choice as instinctive as one between Red and Blue, that will serve as your guide to witness grieving parents retrace the mournful last steps of their children.

Walk the Night founder Spencer Williams adapts & directs with assistance from Walk the Night company members Caulene Hudson and Aaron Ellis; choreography by Stephanie Huettner (TBD Dance Collective), costumes by Jenny Pool, lights by Josh Mullady, site design by Jesse Groff, production management by Homero Vela; original soundtrack by Andrew Heringer, Philip Kolbo, and Joe Mendick (performed live by Kolbo, Mendick and ensemble members); location partner Fontenelle Forest.

Performance dates:

October 5 – 28, 2017 

Shows run Thursday-Sunday at 7 pm; Double shows on Fridays & Saturdays

$25 for adults/$45 for unlimited access (Discounts for students, TRUBLU members & groups of 5 or more)

Location: Neale Woods Nature Center, 14323 Edith Marie Avenue in Omaha, ½ mile north of Hummel Park.

About the BLUEBARN Theatre

The BLUEBARN Theatre has been bringing professionally-produced plays to area audiences since 1989. Since its inception, BLUEBARN has produced over 100 plays and has established itself as Omaha’s professional contemporary theatre company.  Striving to bring artistically significant scripts and professional production values to Omaha and the surrounding region, BLUEBARN is known for high-quality entertainment and the fearless pursuit of stories that challenge both theatre artists and patrons

To provoke thought, emotion, action, and change through daring and innovative theatre

This Shop is Worthy of a Visit

Seymour Krelborn has one dream:  to get out of Skid Row.  One day fate seems to offer him a shot at that dream when he buys a strange, exotic plant which he exhibits in the window of the florist shop where he works.  Suddenly Seymour has fame, money, and the girl.  And all it took was a little blood.  Find out the rest of Seymour’s story in Little Shop of Horrors  by Howard Ashman with music and lyrics by Alan Menken. It is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

Ashman’s script is a bit of genius.  He took a cult horror film and managed to turn it into a hit musical due largely to his tongue in cheek approach to the material and the snappy score of Alan Menken.  The tongue in cheek approach was certainly the way to go as it helps disguise the fact that this is a pretty bleak tale.  Nearly all of the characters are unlikable and it does not have a happy arc.  In spite of that, you can’t help but have a great time due to the comedy and memorable songs.

D Laureen Pickle’s direction is a strong bit of work as she has led her cast to some fine characterizations and knows how to balance the serious moments with the over the top moments.

The cast was quite clearly enjoying themselves which really adds to the fun of the show.  Some notable supporting performances were supplied by Carrie Beth Stickrod, Samantha Shatley, and Brenda Smrdel as a trio of chiseling Skid Row do woppers who also serve as the play’s musical narrators; James Verderamo as a sadistic dentist; and Christopher Scott as Mr. Mushnik, the greedy and abrasive owner of the florist shop.

When I envision Seymour Krelborn, Kyle Avery is the image that springs to mind.  Avery was a pitch perfect Seymour as his lean and lanky physique were well suited to the nebbish Seymour.  Rest assured that Avery’s acting and singing chops were also more than up to the challenge of the role.  Adopting an adenoidal, Brooklyn tinged voice, Avery well presented Seymour as a shy, nerdy man who merely wants a few nice things out of life, but whose innocence leave him susceptible to manipulation by others.  Avery gives Seymour an inherent decency that makes his struggles with his conscience quite believable when he starts to go down a darker path due to the machinations of his plant, Audrey II.

Avery possesses a strong and sweet tenor voice that he modulates well emotionally with heartbreaking numbers such as “Skid Row” and “Suddenly, Seymour”.

Jen Dillon is delightful as Audrey.  Ms Dillon utilizes a breathy, Brooklyn voice to communicate the uneducated nature of Audrey, but, boy, does she have a heart of gold.  She is a really nice girl who just happened to be born on the wrong side of the tracks and you really pity her as she seems resigned to being poor and being involved with rotten men.  She also has a lovely soprano with which she can either belt out a tune such as her sequences in “Skid Row” or melt your heart like butter in “Somewhere That’s Green”.

Andrew Miner gives an incredibly animated performance as Audrey II.  What makes it even more amazing is that it’s all done by the power of his voice as Audrey II is nothing more than a series of puppets (kudos to the puppet designer by the way).  Miner gives Audrey II a delicious aura of evil and a malicious mean streak.  His powerful upper baritone singing voice also aid in communicating Audrey II’s nastiness with tunes such as “Feed Me (Git It)” and “Suppertime”.

D Laureen Pickle’s set design really looks like a skid row with its dilapidated, abandoned buildings and garbage strewn streets.  Lindsey Pape has designed a series of pluperfect costumes from Seymour’s nerdy outfit of baseball cap, sweater, and glasses to the disheveled clothes of the Skid Row inhabitants to the do wop outfits of the Skid Row trio.  Chris Ebke and his band provided a wonderful afternoon’s entertainment performing the catchy tunes.  I also want to note the puppetry of Brian Henning which made Audrey II seem like a living entity.

Energy seemed to lag a bit in today’s production and projection was all over the map.  I also thought there was room to go a bit bigger in some of the show’s more over the top moments.  But these are easily remedied items which will make a hot show scalding.

It may not be a happy tale, but, by golly, it’s a fun time.  Take a visit to this shop.  Just remember, don’t feed the plants.

Little Shop of Horrors plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Oct 1.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  For tickets contact the theatre at 402-291-1554 Mon-Sat from 10am to 3pm.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

When Darkness Falls

Three con men are trying to get hold of a doll stuffed with $50K worth of heroin.  They believe the doll to be in the possession of a photographer and his blind wife and believe the wife will be an easy touch.  But they’re about to discover how blind that assumption is.  This is Frederick Knotts’ Wait Until Dark and it is currently playing at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre.

Knotts has a real gift for crime drama.  His scripts tend to build slowly to create delicious tension as the plot works its way up brick by brick and then having the hammer drop when the tension is at its peak.  This play is no exception to that rule, but it also has a terrific thrust and parry as the three con men trade off control of the situation with the blind woman until the final, epic confrontation where only one will win.

Jean Meachum’s direction is quite admirable.  Due to the con game, this play is quite talky, but Ms Meachum prevents the play from being static by having the actors constantly moving about the stage, physically representing the ever present tension of the situation.  She has also guided her thespians to solid performances and I loved the staging of the piece, especially the fact that the three con men tend to always be in the room with their blind target as their facial expressions and actions show how easy they think their victory will be.

Strong supporting performances are given by Ryan Drew as “Sgt. Carlino” and Libby Matthews as Gloria.  Drew is so natural and extemporaneous as the not so mentally swift con man who constantly wipes off his fingerprints.  Ms Matthews is perfectly bratty as the obnoxious child who lives upstairs, but proves she’s got a good heart when real danger threatens.

Colonsay Selby gives a stunning performance as the blind Suzy Hendrix.  Ms Selby excellently conveys Suzy’s blindness with a thousand yard stare and never making eye contact with the other cast members.  She also does it physically as her movements show that she is familiar with her apartment, but not overly so.

Ms Selby’s acting is also top quality as she well communicates the helplessness Suzy feels as she is still not used to her blindness, but also summons the grit, courage, and brains needed to survive this dangerous game with these 3 criminals.

David Shewell brings intelligence and smoothness to his portrayal of “Mike Talman”.  This is a man who knows how to get what he wants from his marks and prides himself that he doesn’t need to resort to violence to get it.  Shewell’s velvety rich baritone makes it easy to see how women (his usual targets) are taken in by him.  But Shewell also gives a kernel of decency to his con man as he relents from using his obvious physical advantage over Suzy when she is at his mercy.

Joe Caronia is downright terrifying as “Mr. Roat”.  Caronia’s “Roat” brims with confidence and you always have the sense that he is one step ahead of everybody else which allows him to take control of any situation.  But what’s so spooky about him is how soft-spoken he is.  All of his quiet words are tinged with an edge of menace that should put anyone he speaks to on guard.  Justifiably so, as Caronia is such an awesome physical specimen that there is little doubt that his “Roat” could inflict great damage when the whim strikes.  I also enjoyed Caronia’s versatility as he plays a couple of characters as part of the con who are night and day different from the menacing “Roat”.

The program lacked a credit for set design, but it was a splendid construct which had the look and feel of a basement apartment.  The props of Sarah Oldham and Ernie Snyder really made the set seem like a real home.

There were a few line bobbles in the night’s performance and pacing and cue pickups needed stepping up to add to the play’s crucial tension.  That being said, it didn’t put a damper on this thriller especially in the electrifying finale.

Wait Until Dark is an exciting nailbiter and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Get a box of popcorn and ready your spine for tingling.

Wait Until Dark plays at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre through Oct 1.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children.  For tickets, contact the theatre at 816-637-3728 or visit www.sobtheatre.org.  Parental discretion is advised for this show.  The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre is located at 114 N Marietta St in Excelsior Springs, MO.

Take A Chance on It . . .

Sophie is getting married and she’s inviting her dad.  The trouble is that she doesn’t know who he is.  Using her mother’s diary, she has discovered three possible candidates, but will she be able to discover which one, if any, is her pop before her big day?  This is the story of Mamma Mia! written by Catherine Johnson with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Mamma Mia! is one of those shows that’s short on story, but long on fun.  It’s a crowd pleasing, raucous romp where the tale is meant to take a back seat to the music.  But I promise you that you’ll be singing along and bopping to the ABBA tunes interpreted by Jim Boggess and his superior orchestra long before the night is through.  The show is strengthened remarkably by the direction of Jeff Horger who kept the energy and joy flowing through his cast and maximized a few serious moments along the way.  It also doesn’t hurt that Horger’s cast includes a slew of some of the finest talent in local musical theatre.

Frankly, I thought the work of the ensemble was worth the price of admission on its own.  If you took away the rest of the cast and just had to watch the shenanigans, antics, and singing of the chorus, it would still be a great time.  They are that good.  It’s some of the best harmonizing I’ve heard in a show and be on the lookout for Marcus Benzel as Dionysus.  Without uttering a single word, he tells a fantastic story through facial expressions and body language.

There are so many strong performances in the supporting cast that it’s hard to know where to begin.  For starters, there’s the work of Brendan Brown and Justin Eller who show some impressive comedic chops with their roles of Eddie and Pepper, the “help” at the Villa Donna.  Angela Jenson-Frey and Emily Peklo sparkle as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna, and her former singing partners.  Ms Jenson-Frey is tremendous as the shallow and snobby, but good-hearted, Tanya and Ms Peklo is a hoot as the tomboyish Rosie.  Both ladies also have fabulous altos which they put to good use in “Dancing Queen” as well as in solo moments, specifically “Does Your Mother Know?” for Ms Jenson-Frey and “Take A Chance on Me” for Ms Peklo.

Jacob Roman and Mike Palmreuter entertain as 2 potential candidates for Sophie’s father.  Palmreuter plays Bill, a travel writer with a major phobia for commitment while Roman plays Harry, a successful British banker whose headbanging leaves something to be desired.  Roman has a particularly lovely tenor which soars in “One Last Summer”.

Victoria Luther gives a winning performance with her take on Sophie.  Ms Luther brings a real sweetness and honesty to the role.  There’s really nothing terribly sneaky about her plan to invite her possible fathers to her wedding.  Once she meets them, she’s actually mostly up front about why she invited them.  Ms Luther can also belt a tune as her soprano kept batting musical pitches in numbers such as “Honey, Honey”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Slipping Through My Fingers”.

Sarah Ebke is a force as Donna, Sophie’s mother.  Ms Ebke’s Donna is an independent woman used to standing on her own two feet as she raised a daughter plus single-handedly ran a hotel.  But she’s also a very dedicated mother and a very sensitive soul.  Ms Ebke’s magnificent alto got many of the night’s best numbers including “Mamma Mia”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “One of Us”.

Adam Hogston has, arguably, the most well developed character in the form of Sam.  Hogston’s Sam is clearly still in love with Donna and Hogston displays a mighty emotional range and haunting emotional vulnerability as he wrestles with the multifaceted feelings wrought by his love from his nervousness about seeing Donna again to talking about the dissolution of his marriage with Sophie.  Hogston’s tenor will really touch hearts especially with his melancholic rendition of “S.O.S.”.

Jim Othuse opts for a simpler set with a hotel that evokes images of a Spanish villa and a dock with a view of the sea.  His lighting was also right on the mark with their changes with the emotional beats of the play.  Darin Kuehler’s properties added just the right touch, especially the pictures and items in Donna’s room.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are varied and strong from the beachwear, to the ABBAesque costumes seen at the curtain call and Sophie’s bachelorette party, to the hideous leisure suits worn by the potential papas at the start of Act II.  Melanie Walter’s choreography is a wonder.  Her dancers are satin smooth and I was especially impressed with the comedic swimwear number that kicked off Act II plus the curtain call number.

Mamma Mia! delivers exactly what it promises and that’s a rip roaring good time.  The songs are memorable and the dancing is entrancing.  A nearly full house seemed to agree with my assessment and another Playhouse hit seems to be on the horizon.  Oh, and I can already see the T.A.G. nomination for Best Ensemble for that curtain call.

Mamma Mia! plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.