An Independent Man in Independence, MO: The Silver Heart Inn

024

It was a scorching summer’s day to start another of my little road trips.  But a little AC and some tunes made for a very quick and pleasant drive.

I was off to Independence, MO where I would be staying at the Silver Heart Inn, owned and operated by Perry and Melanie Johnson, as well as reviewing The Crucible for the Barn Players.

I only made one miscalculation for the trip.  With only an overnight stay planned, I had to be selective in the activities I chose to do.  I decided to visit the Truman Presidential Museum and Library and figured an hour would be enough time to get through it.

It was not enough time.

I did manage to get through Truman’s presidential years, but did not make it through the section detailing his personal life.  Rest assured, I will rectify this error if and when my travels bring me through this area again.

Truman was a very interesting President.  He was a common man who came from a period where you didn’t have to be wealthy to run for the Presidency.  He was a simple farmer who had deep ties to labor.  He wasn’t a good speaker.  He was put into power by a political machine, yet he was a incredibly honest man who vowed to get things done the right way.  Despite holding the prejudices of his time and place, Truman helped launch the Civil Rights movement after observing the horrible treatment of black people after World War II.  He made the decision to drop the atomic bomb.  Truman also had the biggest upset in political history when he was reelected to the Presidency in his own right when it was believed he would be crushed by his opponent, Thomas Dewey.  This was due to his Whistlestop Campaign where he rode a train through numerous communities to share his message, sometimes speaking at a dozen stops a day.

What I found most interesting about Truman was that he seemed to have no aspirations to be President.  It was his everyman quality (especially his ties to farming and labor) that secured his nomination for the Vice Presidency.  In reality, the Democrats were really looking for the next President as it was obvious FDR would not be long for the world.  In fact, he died shortly after he was reelected to his fourth term.

I also had great respect for Truman’s decency.  When his term of office expired, he was not a wealthy man and could have earned fat fees doing public speaking tours, but he refused to trade on the office of President.  Instead, he founded the Presidential Library which was the first in our country and I look forward to completing my tour of the museum some future day.

About 3pm, I headed to Silver Heart Inn to check in.  I pulled into the parking area, sidestepped a few chickens wandering about the property, and headed to the back door entrance where I was quickly greeted and led to my room.

I had been expecting to stay in the Roy Gamble Room, but was upgraded to the Napolian Stone Room instead.  It was one of the smaller rooms I had stayed in, but I enjoyed the rich brown of the walls, the soft and comfortable queen bed, and the gas fireplace.  I made my normal explorations and then killed a couple of hours reading Face to Face by Ellery Queen and brushing up on Silver Heart Inn’s history.

The Silver Heart Inn was built 1856 by local businessman, Napolian Stone.  The house used to be twice its original size and originally built in a T formation.  That changed when Judge George Jennings, the house’s owner in 1923 had the house split in half and moved to the same side of the street.  This was done as Jennings recognized that Noland Street (where the home is located) was becoming Independence’s main thoroughfare.  The inn, itself, was the back wing of the house.  The front wing fell into disrepair and was destroyed in the 1960s.

At 5pm, I headed off for an early dinner.  I once again dined at Corner Café, which you may remember from my trip to Liberty, MO about a year ago.

The restaurant was packed so I took advantage of my solo status to dine at the counter.  I ordered the Turkey Melt, one of the house specials, with a side of loaded French Fries.  Within five minutes of my hour, a plate of piping hot food appeared which I relished as I continued to read my novel.

Once fed, I drove to Mission, KS to enjoy another stellar production by the Barn Players.  It was one of the finest dramas I had ever watched and I could not wait to get back to the inn to start writing.  You can read the review here.

After I finished writing, I curled up in my bed for a restful night’s slumber.

When I awoke the next morning, I drew a hot bath and enjoyed a long soak before wandering downstairs in search of breakfast.

Breakfast was a rather pleasant, if quiet, affair.  I continued reading my mystery as I enjoyed a dish of yogurt, blueberries, granola, and cream for an appetizer followed by the main entrée of turkey sausage (I think) and an Eggs Benedict omelet served with goblets of water and orange juice.  After this tasty affair, I settled up my bill and headed off to worship services at St Mark’s before heading for home.

I definitely would recommend a stay at Silver Heart Inn if you find yourself in the Independence area.  It’s quiet and comfortable and you’ll get yourself a tasty meal (and some other perks offered by the inn if you’re so inclined).  You’ll just be minutes away from the Truman Museum and can’t pick up a little history if you wish.

Until the next time, happy travels.

In the Garden of Evil

One girl’s lie to avoid trouble for dabbling in a voodoo ceremony unleashes a swathe of evil upon the city of Salem.  Under the hysteria of witchcraft, secret hatreds and jealousies are vented through baseless accusations sending innocent victims to the gallows.  Will a farmer burdened by his own secret sin be able to halt the onslaught?  Find out in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible currently playing at the Barn Players.

I have been involved with theatre for nearly 22 years.  I’ve acted, directed, stage managed, worked on crew, run lights and sounds, and reviewed shows.  Having experienced all of these different aspects of theatre has helped me to develop a sixth sense about plays and I’ve usually got a good feel for the quality of a show as I head into it.  As I walked into the theatre for tonight’s production of The Crucible, I had a feeling that this was going to be a pretty good show.  However, I must admit that my sixth sense was wrong.

This show wasn’t “pretty good”.  It was beyond amazing!!  It may very well be the very best drama I’ve ever seen staged.

Few writers could pen a tragedy as well as Arthur Miller due to his understanding of the human condition.  In The Crucible, he presents humanity at its basest and its stupidest.  It’s hard to fathom people being depraved enough to lie about their neighbors in order to steal their property or to satisfy a hidden grudge.  But it’s even harder to realize that supposedly intellectual judges could fail to see through such a farrago of nonsense and deception and forget that justice means innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around.

The Barn Players was fortunate to have David Martin helming this show because his direction was transcendent.  He brought Miller’s story to life in its full glory.  He not only understood the story’s darkness, but he also found the glimmers of hope and humor buried in the tale and brought them to light as well.  His staging was impeccable and made full use of the entire theatre.  You couldn’t punch a hole in the quality of his cast’s acting.  He also did double duty on sound design which was so apropos from the creepy, haunting music heading into the first scene to the relentless drumbeat to close out the show.

This is one of those shows where I’d like to do a write up on every single actor, but, for the sake of brevity, let me assure you that there wasn’t a weak link in the lot.  Each and every one was fully immersed in the story which only brought the audience deeper and deeper into it.  But I want to especially note the work of Charles Christesson who brought intelligence, levity, and heartbreak into the character of Giles Corey; Scott Shaw’s Rev. Samuel Parris, the “man of God” more concerned with power and reputation than faith; and Emma Cook’s portrayal of Mary Warren, a servant stretched to the edge of sanity due to being the rope in a spiritual tug of war between John Proctor and Abigail Williams.

I was particularly impressed with what Michael Juncker dug out of the role of Deputy Governor Danforth.  He plays Danforth as a man of strong, if misguided, character.  He truly believes in the cause of justice and honestly believes he is doing his part to rid Salem of witchcraft.  Yet his appalling cluelessness is sickening as he can’t see through the histrionics of the accusers, puts the letter of the law above its spirit, and claims to be doing the will of God, yet ignores the undisputed expert on witchcraft and true man of faith, John Hale.

Jessica Franz’s take on Elizabeth Proctor is as strong as it is tragic.  Ms Franz well communicates the sickliness of the recovering Elizabeth and ably portrays the duality of warmth and iciness in the character.  Elizabeth wants to love and trust her husband, but has difficulty doing so due to an infidelity on his part.  When her warmth finally wins out, it makes her horror at dooming John Proctor due to a lie she concocts to protect his honor all the more believable and heartrending.

I loved Phil Howard’s take on Rev. John Hale.  Howard’s Hale is a good man.  He is a decent man.  Sadly, when all is said and done, he is also a broken man.  Howard presents Hale as a truly devout man dedicated to God and ending the scourge of witchcraft.  But he is also an intelligent and just man who is dedicated to discovering the truth more than anything.   Howard’s anguish is palpable when he realizes the truth behind the Salem witch trials and tries to mitigate the damage by persuading accused witches to give false confessions which will preserve their lives, but excommunicate them.

Abigail Williams truly is a witch, but not in the magical sense.  In Lauren Hambleton’s capable hands, you will experience one of the greatest villains I have seen on stage.  Ms Hambleton’s Abigail is unspeakably disgusting and diabolically clever.  What begins as a simple lie to avoid punishment for participating in a voodoo ceremony evolves into a cunning plan to rid herself of her perceived rival in Elizabeth Proctor for the love of John Proctor, with whom she had an affair, and a chance to revenge herself on the “hypocrites” (though some truly are) of the town.  Evil just oozes from Ms Hambleton’s pores and I really appeciated the smarts she brought to Abigail who enhances her lies through information she gleans from Rev. Hale’s questions and books.

Andy Penn’s work as John Proctor is a tour de force performance.  Penn brilliantly essays the walking paradox that is Proctor.  He is a good man, but is bowed by the guilt of his infidelity with Abigail Williams.  He believes in God, but hates the hypocrisy of his church.  He is willing to make a false confession to save his life partially because he doesn’t want to have his death be a lie about him being a saint.  Penn provides a clinic in acting as he finds beats within beats within beats as he creates a man you will admire for his strength and pity for his weakness.

Steven Ansel James has prepared a wonderful bare bones set with its extended stage, docks, and chalk drawings of trees, heretical words, and occult symbols.  Chuck Cline’s lights gorgeously animate all of the emotional moments of the show.  Jenny Knecht’s costumes perfectly reflected the Puritan time period.

At one point, Rev. Hale wonders if the devil has come to Salem.  The sad truth is that he did because the people of Salem opened the doors and invited him in by succumbing to their own evil desires.  But even in all the darkness and mayhem, Arthur Miller still manages to show where there is a kernel of faith, hope, and decency, the devil can still be overcome.

This play is storytelling at its zenith.  If you want to see compelling, powerful, thought provoking drama, then you need to buy a ticket and see The Crucible.  It’s the best thing going in theatre this summer.

The Crucible plays at the Barn Players through July 30.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $18 ($15 for seniors 65+ & $12 for students with ID and groups of 10 or more).  There will be an Industry Night performance on July 24 at 7:30pm.  All tickets for this performance will be $12 at the door.  For tickets, visit the Barn Players at www.thebarnplayers.org or call 913-432-9100.  The Barn Players is located at 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

Rock Twist and Shout

It’s rock numbers done with a big band flair.  It’s big band numbers done rock style.  It’s Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist and it is rocking out at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If there is anyone out there who harbors any doubts about the talent of Billy McGuigan, they will surely be dispelled after watching this show.  Putting it simply, this man is a musical and performing savant.  There isn’t a genre of music he can’t play.  He has stage presence for which directors would kill.  He has a charming affability which makes you feel like an old friend spending an evening at his house.

Even I, who has had the pleasure of listening to Billy’s shows pretty regularly over the past 15 years, was completely blown away by this production.  It has something for everyone.  Do you like rock?  Well, you’ll get to hear the Beatles, the Who, the Beach Boys, Elvis, and Billy Joel.  Is adult contemporary/jazz your bag?  You’ll hear some Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr.  And each song has a unique arrangement that will make it seem like you’re hearing it for the first time all over again.

From the opening number of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”, Billy had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.  His pure tenor soared throughout the night as he sang renditions of “Yesterday”, “Luck be a Lady”, “God Only Knows”, “Time Won’t Let Me”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Pinball Wizard” and a cover of “Here, There, and Everywhere” supported only by bass and percussion that was so moving that I started to tear up a bit.

Billy was just as adept keeping the audience’s attention between numbers with a low key storytelling style as he shared stories behind the numbers, regaled us with some humorous anecdotes, and told a couple of tender tales about his career and life.

Every good front man needs an excellent band and McGuigan’s band brought it and then some.  Steve Gomez’s bass hummed all night long and his musical direction was so precise and on target.  Andrew Janak stunned on the tenor saxophone and I tip my hat to him for arranging all of these sensational numbers.  Max Meyer’s lead guitar work was the feat of a prodigy.  Tomm Roland’s drum work never missed a beat.  Omaha legend, Doyle Tipler, never fell flat with his trumpeting.  Patrick Brown shined on the alto sax and Patrick Peters’ trombone playing couldn’t have been any tighter.  Tara Vaughan’s piano playing is always a treat for the ears and her rich alto got its own moment to shine with a medley of “Downtown” and “To Sir, With Love”.  Backup vocals were supplied by the multitalented trio of Matthew and Ryan McGuigan and Jessica Errett who dazzled in their own featured songs, “634-5789” and “We’re Going to a Go-Go”.  And I’d like to give special notice to Steve Wheeldon whose lighting was so atmospheric and enhanced every song.

To be frank, when I first heard about Billy’s new show I thought he had taken on a real challenge for himself by putting new twists on old classics.  But he proved why he is Omaha’s premiere entertainer with this brand new show that will undoubtedly be another roaring success.  My only disappointment was that there wasn’t another hour to this show.  Or two.  Perhaps five.  Well, you get the idea.  This show only has a limited run, so get your tickets fast and prepare yourselves for an amazing time.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Playhouse from July 12-23.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40 or $35 for groups of 12 or more.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

OCP’s Alternative Programming Series Opens with ‘1776’ & ‘Cry-Baby’

Omaha, Neb. – Two upcoming staged readings will be held at the Omaha Community Playhouse as part of the 2017-2018 Alternative Programming series. 1776 will be held on Monday, July 17 and Cry-Baby will be held on Monday, July 31, both at 7:30 p.m. in OCP’s Howard Drew Theatre. The showings are free and open to the public with the opportunity for donation. No tickets or reservations are necessary.

1776

It’s the summer of 1776, and the nation is ready to declare independence… if only our founding fathers can agree to do it! 1776 follows John Adams of Massachusetts, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia as they attempt to convince the members of the Second Continental Congress to vote for independence from the shackles of the British monarchy by signing the Declaration of Independence.

In an effort to provide more performance opportunities for women actors and to look at familiar works of theatre through a different lens, this staged reading is fully cast with women playing all roles.

Event:                                   Staged reading of 1776

Show date:                         Monday, July 17, 2017, 7:30 p.m.

Credits:                                Book by Peter Stone
Music and Lyrics by Sherman Edwards
Based on a concept by Sherman Edwards
(1969 Tony Award winner for Best Musical)
Director:                              Ashley Laverty

Music Director:                 Jeff Horger

 

1776 Cast

Colleen Kilcoyne as John Adams

Jennifer Castello as Benjamin Franklin

Samantha Grimes as Thomas Jefferson

Jennifer Ettinger as Richard Henry Lee, Dr. Josiah Bartlett, and Continental Congress Member

Julianna Cooper as Martha Jefferson and Joseph Hewes

Crystal Hartford as Abigail Adams and Samuel Chase

Caitlin Mabon as Edward Rutledge

Emma Johnson as Courier

Breanna Carodine as John Dickinson

Kim Alger as John Hancock

Cecilia Poon as Stephen Hopkins

Brenda Smrdel as Roger Sherman

Kate Simmons as Robert Livingston

Robyn Helwig as James Wilson

Suzanne Withem as Charles Thomason

Katy Boone as Andrew McNair

Jana Coburn as Lewis Morris

Peggy A. Holloway as Caesar Rodney

Jessie Kellerman as Col. Thomas McKean

Phyllis Bonds as Rev. Jonathan Witherspoon and Continental Congress Member

Suzanne Rose as Dr. Lyman Hall and Continental Congress Member

 

Cry-Baby

It’s 1954. Everyone likes Ike, nobody likes communism and Wade “Cry-Baby” Walker is the coolest boy in Baltimore. He’s a bad boy with a good cause – truth, justice and the pursuit of rock and roll. Cry-Baby and the square rich girl, Allison, are star-crossed lovers at the center of this world. Based on the cult classic, 1990 John Waters film, Cry-Baby features a delightfully demented book from the writers of Hairspray and a rockabilly score from the co-founder of Fountains of Wayne and the executive producer of “The Daily Show.”

 

Event:                                   Staged reading of Cry-Baby

Show date:                         Monday, July 31, 2017, 7:30 p.m.

Credits:                                Book by Thomas Meehan & Mark O’Donnell
Music and Lyrics by Adam Schlesinger and David Javerbaum
Based on the Universal Pictures film written and directed by John Waters
Director:                              Andrew Saladino

Music Director:                 Jeff Horger

Cry-Baby Cast:

Nick LeMay as Wade ‘Cry-Baby’ Walker

Julianna Cooper as Allison Vernon-Williams

Kim Alger as Mrs. Vernon-Williams

Timothy Vallier as Baldwin Blandish

Mackenzie Dehmer as Lenora Frigid

Crystal Hartford as Pepper Walker

Sydney Readman as Wanda Woodward

Aubrey Fleming as Mona ‘Hatchet-Face’ Malnorowski

Brendan Brown as Dupree W. Dupree

Mike Shelton as Judge Stone/Father O’Brien/Officer

Justin Eller as Whiffle #1

Ben Adams as Whiffle #2

Sean Johnson as Whiffle #3

Whitney Hansen, Katy Boone, Breanna Carodine, and Jessie Kellerman as Ensemble

Location:             Omaha Community Playhouse, Howard Drew Theatre

6915 Cass Street | Omaha, NE 68132

Tickets:                The showings are free and open to the public with the opportunity for donation. No tickets or reservations are necessary.

For more information on OCP alternative programs, contact Jeff Horger at jhorger@omahaplayhouse.com or (402) 553-4890, ext. 164.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Shelterbelt to Premiere ‘Neighbors, Lovers and All the Others’

Shelterbelt Theatre is pleased to present the premiere of Neighbors, Lovers and All the Others by Marie Amthor Schuett at 3225 California Street from July 14 to August 6, 2017.  The show is directed by Elizabeth Thompson.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm (except for August 6 which will be at 2pm).  Ticket prices are $12 for Thursday shows, $20 for Fri-Sun shows ($15 for students, seniors 65+, TAG members).  Tickets are on sale at www.shelterbelt.org (click box office) or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org or 402-341-2757.  On Saturday, July 15, the theatre will host a post-show talkback with playwright, Marie Amthor Schuett, and other members of the cast and creative team.

Loyal lives a life of blue kimonos, Judy Garland, and Pavarotti.  Facing a serious bout of composer’s block, he finds inspiration in an unlikely source–his handsome neighbor–who seriously needs curtains.  When lives intertwine, Loyal finds there is more to his neighbor than the window into his world originally revealed.

The cast features Randall T. Stevens, Connie Lee, Katie Nguyen, and Brandon Williams.  Creative staff includes Jayma Smay (Stage Manager), Kevin Goshorn (Assistant Director), Joshua Mullady (Set & Lighting Design), Lora Kaup (Costume Design), Shannon Smay (Sound Design), and Robyn Helwig (Props).

“This play was inspired by the music of the brilliant singer/songwriter, Rufus Wainwright, my lifelong crush on Judy Garland, the work of F. Scott Fitzgerald and Tennessee Williams, and a summer I spent in the Rocky Mountains a few years ago.  It was the epitome of the Gatsbian–self-indulgent, luxurious, and free.  I wanted to capture the essence of that summer and experience in a play,” Schuett explained.

She continues, “Neighbors is a very different piece for me.  I posed this play as a personal challenge to myself once I realized it had the potential to be different from my other work.  What would happen if I altered the play’s physics of time and space to tell the story in a different way?”

“Who doesn’t want a few hours of jazz, opera, romance, drama, lots of laughs, and spritzers on a warm summer’s evening?” adds Thompson.  “I am excited for people to se Marie’s versatility in this piece.”

Shelterbelt produced Amthor Schuett’s award-winning play, The Other Sewing Circle, in January 2015 to sold out houses.  “For fans of Marie’s work, get ready to see a sexier side of her storytelling.  One of Marie’s many talents as a playwright is her ability to establish believable, and juicy, relationships between her characters rather quickly so as an audience we are able to comfortably go on this ride from the start,” Thompson continues.

Thompson, who is also Shelterbelt’s Artistic Director, helped choose the script for production.  “It has to begin with the story; is it something that we want to see?  What does this story have to say or contribute that feels fresh and different?  Do I like or relate to the characters?  Neighbors held all of this for me and as we have begun working on it so many other little gems have popped out and been fleshed out by the design and acting team.”

Schuett agrees, “Randall, Connie, Brandon, and Katie are a fearless bunch who bring everything they have to the table every rehearsal.  It’s hard not to fall completely in love with them as these characters.”

Jaim Hackbart is the featured artist in the gallery.

Shelterbelt Theatre is Omaha’s home for new plays.  The play concludes Shelterbelt’s 24th season, By Local/Buy Local, featuring scripts celebrating our local playwrights.  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)

This Quartet is Worth Far More than a Million

On December 4, 1956, the first supergroup of rock and roll appeared at Sun Records.  On that day, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins all happened to be at Sun Records at the same time and had an impromptu jam session recorded by Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips.  Inspired by that day, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote a little show about what might have gone on in the studio.  They called it Million Dollar Quartet and it is playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

To be honest, I was expecting a jukebox musical when I sat down to review this show, but Escott and Mutrux actually wrote a nifty little story that segues nicely into the evening’s showstopping numbers.  It’s fun, actually delves a bit into the characters of Phillips and the Million Dollar Quartet, and is even a little sad and haunting at certain points.  This strong tale is strengthened by the legendary hits as performed by a powerhouse cast who hit all the right notes musically and acting-wise.

Paul Kerr has directed a real winner with this production.  He sets a snappy pace, wonderfully stages the show, and pulls some exceptionally strong performances out of his actors.  Kerr has a good grip on the true depth of this story and hits all of its emotional beats with maximum impact.

Kerr’s cast is stellar from top to bottom.  Each fully understands his or her character and each also happens to be a darn good singer and instrumentalist.

I’d like to give special notice to the unsung heroes of this show:  Sean Powell and Darren Johnston.  Powell does double duty as the show’s musical director and in the small role of Jay Perkins.  As musical director, Powell’s work is superb as he and the cast don’t miss a trick in any of the night’s numbers.  He also does well in the role of Jay, Carl Perkins’ older brother.  Powell brings a real presence to the role and brings a natural flamboyance to it, not to mention some dynamite strumming on and skillful acrobatics with his stand up bass.  Johnston fuels all of the numbers with a deadly accurate backbeat as the session drummer, Fluke.

While all of the actors are great, Billy Rude may be the one to keep your eye on with his frenzied performance as Jerry Lee Lewis.  Rude’s Lewis has a natural gift for rubbing people the wrong way and has a self-confidence bordering on arrogance as he struggles to achieve stardom as Sun Record’s newest artist.  Rude’s ability with the piano borders on the superhuman as I had difficulty following his fingers as they blitzed across the keys.  He didn’t just play the singer known as “The Killer”, he became him as he perfectly emulated his over the top piano playing right down to kicking away the piano bench and having that hairstyle that gets just as wild as his performances in “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’”.

Sean Riley brings a surprising amount of pathos to the role of Carl Perkins.  Perkins was the first breakout star of Sun Records, but has hit a bit of a slump and is feeling overlooked by Sam Phillips.  Riley brings a bit of bitter frustration to the role as he is a bit of a curmudgeon who is only really close with Johnny Cash.  Lewis irritates him and he harbors a lot of resentment and jealousy towards Elvis who not only supplanted him on the charts, but became better known for Perkins’ hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” more than Perkins himself.  Riley is also a master guitarist and singer who flies high in “Matchbox” and his sections in “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”.

You may think Johnny Cash has been reborn when you see Christopher Essex’s take on the Man in Black.  He bears a remarkable physical similarity to the singer, effortlessly duplicates his unique style of guitar playing, and has a similar bass voice.  Essex ably plays Cash as a gentle man of faith wrestling with the problem of telling Phillips he’s leaving the label.  He also shines in classic Cash numbers such as “I Walk the Line” and “Down By the Riverside”.

I really liked Courtney Crouse’s take on Elvis Presley.  He managed to show Elvis’ congeniality which people often forget about.  By displaying this side of Elvis’ personality, he shows us that the King was actually too nice for the cutthroat world of show business as he is often pushed around by Colonel Parker and his new record label, RCA.  But Crouse also reminds us that Elvis was a versatile performer almost without peer as he rocks out with “Hound Dog” then just as easily goes Gospel with “Peace in the Valley”.

After Bradley Farmer, as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, belted out “Fever” with that sultry alto, I needed to go soak my head in a bucket of ice water to cool off.  Ms Farmer gets a lot of mileage out of this small role who ends up serving as the confidante of nearly every character in the show.  Ms Farmer adds that extra something to the show whether it be singing or dancing to the numerous numbers or boosting the beat with her tambourine.

Last and certainly not least is Eddie Urish’s beautiful turn as Sam Phillips.  As the narrator of this tale, Urish presents Phillips as the grizzled record producer who built tiny Sun Records into a starmaking factory by recognizing rock and roll for the revolution it was and seeing the talent in future stars that other labels wouldn’t glance twice at.  I loved the loyalty that Urish gives to Phillips because it made his pain at watching the Quartet dissolve around him all the more believable and moving.

Todd Davison’s set is phenomenal as it has the perfect flavor of the former auto parts store now turned into a hitmaking machine.  Reymundo Montoya’s properties complete the picture of Davison’s set.  Shon Causer’s lighting adds a je ne sais quoi to the story as it changes from the brightness of the jam session to the dark blue of Phillips’ narration.

Believe me when I say you’re going to get more than a million bucks worth of entertainment out of this show.  The story is strong.  The performances are terrific.  The music is legendary.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride of this show.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 9.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 28 and July 7-8; 2pm on June 25, 27, 30 and July 5 and 9.  Tickets cost $29 for the Main Floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

‘Ladies’ Leave ‘Em Laughing in the Aisles

Meet Leo Cark and Jack Gable.  They are 2 struggling Shakespearian actors of dubious talent and meager means.  When they stumble onto a chance to steal 2/3 of a multimillion dollar fortune by posing as the long lost relatives of a dying woman, they throw caution to the wind and put their acting skills to the test.  And it is a mighty difficult test as the missing relatives happen to be women.  This is Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

A big part of the magic of theatre is that if you change a few elements of a production it becomes brand new all over again.  Just a few months ago I reviewed this show for the Omaha Community Playhouse.  With that performance still fresh in my memory, I got to see an exciting, rib tickling new take on it due to a simple change of director and cast and crew.  This is why one can see the same show over and over and over again and it is still something unique and original.

Brandon McShaffrey truly knows what makes for good farce.  His direction of tonight’s show was genius as he not only knew where and when to add the ludicrous elements, but he also managed to add a sizable amount of realism to the production.  His actors were honest to goodness people as opposed to caricature and he led the lot of them to sterling performances that left the audience rolling in the aisles.

This show is truly an ensemble piece with every actor getting a chance to shine.  Madeline Thomas is simply cute as a button and deliriously ditzy as Audrey.  She may not be too bright, but she’s building her brain one complex word at a time.  Todd Davison and Sean Powell make for a great father/son act as the talentless physician, Doc Myers, and his nerdy, willowy son, Butch.  Andy Brown provides some laughs as Rev. Duncan Wooley, the cheapskate, milquetoast fiancée of the play’s leading lady.  But watch out for Jonna Wiseman as barbed tongued Aunt Florence as she steals every scene she’s in with her acidic antics.

With the supporting cast providing such a strong foundation, it would be nearly impossible for this show to fail and it gets a further boost from its three leads, Michael McIntire, Sean Riley, and Kara Overlien, who admirably carry the bulk of the show on their formidably talented shoulders.

I was extraordinarily impressed with Kara Overlien’s portrayal of Meg.  Ms Overlien is just so. . .genuine as the young heiress.  She plays Meg as a decent woman with a strong streak of integrity as she plans to marry Rev. Wooley for taking care of her after the death of her parents.  But she also gets a lot of joy out of life.  She has passion for the theatre and has a surprising amount of potential as a performer.  She loves music and is a skilled dancer.  In fact, her solo dance number to a radio song is one of the best moments of the night.  Ms Overlien also has incredible facial animation as her reactions to the events swirling about her were always extemporaneous and spot-on.

Sean Riley does so much with so little in his interpretation of Jack Gable.  A slight grin here and a little gesture there had the crowd eating out of Riley’s hand.  Riley’s Gable may be the less talented member of the acting duo, but he might be the mentally swifter of the two.  Riley comes up with absurd sign language as the deaf and dumb “Stephanie” and also knows how to sneak hugs out of Audrey.  He’s also got a bit of the devil in him as he makes Leo’s wooing of Meg more difficult with his insinuations about why we never seem to see Leo and “Maxine” together as well as messing with Leo during their performance at the Moose Lodge.  Riley clearly had a ball with the role and it showed with a stellar performance.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a skilled blending of over the topness and realism as the one provided by Michael McIntire’s rendition of Leo Clark.  McIntire’s Clark is truly a good actor, but can’t seem to catch a break.  When he hatches the plan of stealing the fortune he throws, and I mean THROWS, himself in the role of “Maxine”.  McIntire is larger than life as Clark playing Maxine and he dazzlingly moves between the over the top “Maxine” to the natural Leo without missing a beat.  His howlingly funny reactions and expression asides to the audience only further fueled his dynamic performance.

Outstanding technical elements further helped create the world of this show including Charles Johnson’s set which creates the illusion of a well to do home without being ostentatious.  Jack Smith’s costumes were snappy and elegant from the suits and tuxes for the men and the gowns and dresses for the ladies and the “leading ladies”.

Tighter cue pickups and a faster pace would have further bolstered tonight’s production, but it is still one terrific night of comedy.  The best stamp of approval I can give is that this show caused me to laugh myself into a coughing fit at several points and I saw many members of the audience doubled over in hysterics at numerous moments.  But, hey, don’t take our words for it.  Buy a ticket and experience the mirth for yourself.

Leading Ladies plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 22.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 1, 5, 15, and the 21 and at 2pm on June 24, 28, July 2, 7, 16, 18, 21-22.  Tickets cost $29 for the Main Floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.