Thank You for the Music. . .and the Singing. . .and the Dancing. . .and the Fun

Sophie is getting married and she wants her father to give her away.  The problem is she doesn’t know who he is, but has it narrowed down to 3 candidates.  She could ask her mom, but she doesn’t know which of the 3 it is either.  Which dad gets the honor?  Find out in Mamma Mia!, currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

I’ve always thought there was a certain genius to this script.  Catherine Johnson managed to create a musical that is almost devoid of plot (the mystery of the fathers is introduced at the top of the show and then almost forgotten about until Act II), but is so packed with fun that nobody really gives a hoot. The play’s appeal lies in the classic ABBA numbers whose lyrics are used to move the play along.

Brandon McShaffrey provides a remarkable piece of direction to this musical.  He adds a lot of little touches and flourishes that make the show far more than a jukebox musical.  He manages to make the show feel realistic by adding dramatic moments, sweet moments, and funny moments.  In short, he has transformed it into a slice of life production.  He’s also guided his actors to strong, vital performances and they are characters as opposed to caricatures.

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than seeing a supporting musical cast that gives their all to a show.  It adds such a crucial dimension to a musical.  Without it, a show will collapse.  This cast not only fueled the show with a vibrant energy, but they were obviously having fun and a particularly infectious kind as it spread throughout the audience as the night progressed.

Some standout members of the supporting cast include Maria Konstantinidis and Megan Opalinski as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna.  Ms Konstantinidis is delightfully vain as the snobbish Tanya while Ms Opalinski had the crowd roaring as the fiercely liberated, yet man-hungry Rosie.  Both women have beautiful singing voices and harmonize well, providing memorable moments in harmony with “Dancing Queen” and in solos such as Ms Konstantinidis’ turn in “Does Your Mother Know” and Ms Opalinski’s take on “Take a Chance on Me”.

Other strong performances come from Trevor Berger who is sweet and sincere as Sophie’s fiancée, Sky, and Danny Vaccaro as Harry Bright, a former headbanger (at least in his mind) now turned wealthy stuffed shirt with a heart of gold.

Megan Arrington is splendid in the role of Sophie.  She does an excellent job presenting Sophie’s search for that missing part of her identity, but she also manages to bring a, oh, let’s call it duplicitous mischief to the role.  Sophie is a bit underhanded as she lies to her fathers to get them to come to her wedding, keeps almost everyone in the dark as to their inclusion, and the wedding may actually be a scheme to discover the identity of her dad.  But there is nothing diabolical about her actions.  Sophie just wants to understand herself completely.

Miss Arrington possesses a gorgeous upper alto/lower soprano and she shines in numbers such as “I Have a Dream” and “The Name of the Game”.

Faith Sandberg sizzles as Donna.  She definitely embodies 70s flower power as she boldly and unapologetically lives life as a single, entrepreneurial mother.  She lives life on her terms and anyone who disagrees with it can get to stepping.  But she also brings a deep sensitivity to the character and has a tangible love for her daughter.  Ms Sandberg turns her songs into performance pieces as she acts through them as opposed to simply singing.  Some of her shining moments come with her renditions of “Mamma Mia!”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “Our Last Summer”.

Alan Gillespie gets the character with the most arc as Sam Carmichael.  Sam actually has a genuine story and Gillespie plays it for all its worth as he adds lovely emotional beats and even adds a touch of haunting sadness to Sam.  Gillespie also has a powerful tenor voice and has one of the night’s most memorable numbers in “S.O.S.”.

David Foster provides an impeccable piece of choreography.  Not only are his dancers silky smooth, but the choreography is also original, fun, and even funny, especially with the male ensemble’s work in “Lay All Your Love on Me”.  Shon Causer’s lights really enhance the scenes, especially the use of light and shadows when characters give private monologues.  Star Turner has designed a nice little villa which evokes a feeling of age and dilapidation.  Kevin Casey and his orchestra provide a tuneful night of entertainment.

This show is exactly what it presents itself as:  a pure unadulterated fun fest.  You’ll feel good by the time the night is through and if you’re not having fun, well, I suspect you probably don’t have a pulse.

Mamma Mia! plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 8.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 24, July 3, 7 and 2pm on June 24, 26-27, 30, July 6, 8.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

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Familial Follies

Today should be the greatest day of Tom Kerwood’s life.  He and his wife, Linda, are a step away from adopting a baby.  Then Tom’s two brothers, Dick and Harry, decide to help.  Dick wants to share the proceeds of smuggled cigarettes to help support the child while Harry plots to get them a killer deal on a house by planting cadaver bits in the backyard.  Then the illegal immigrants show up.  Oh, and the police are expressing an interest in the goings-on at Tom’s house.  And time inexorably ticks forward to the appointment with the social worker, Mrs. Potter.  How will it all work out?  Find out in Tom, Dick, and Harry by Ray & Michael Cooney and playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

This is, without question, one of the funniest scripts I have ever had the privilege of watching.  The Cooneys’ script is a bit of comedic genius as it manages to fuse two very disparate types of comedy:  the farce and the traditional English comedy.  These seem like two styles that wouldn’t gel as one depends on action and hijinks while the other is driven by dialogue, but it works incredibly well.  The dialogue is so sharp and witty and carefully builds into the manic comedy and action.  The play is further enhanced by a director and cast who are clearly masters at the craft of comedy.

Trevor Belt’s direction is absolutely pluperfect.  The staging of the show is magnificent as it makes use of the entire stage with especially clever use of any and all types of orifices:  doors, windows, even hide a beds.  He knows how to find the funny in each and every line and dreamed up some incredibly funny bits as well.  He’s also led his thespians to grand performances.  Belt’s pacing is spot-on as it starts out careful and methodical and picks up speed as the insanity unfolds.  Cue pickups were also done on the turn of a dime.

The play is a wonderful little ensemble piece and some stellar performances come from Kat Walker-Hill who plays Tom’s very proper wife, Linda, who is capable of unleashing an extraordinarily violent temperament when pushed to the limit; Michael Davis as the persistent, if not overly bright, Constable Downs; and Alex Vinh who gives a scene stealing performance done mostly through pantomime as Andreas, an illegal immigrant searching for his daughter.

Luke Bridges nails the role of Tom Kerwood.  Bridges’ work is exemplary as he plays Tom as the reformed con artist turned happy family man thrown into the most bizarre of situations.  The role is unique as it requires someone who can play a straight man, but also be a good physical comic as well.  Bridges handles the straight man with ease with precise and potent facial and physical reactions to the lunacy swirling around him.  He’s also an impressive physical comic culminating in the most epic meltdown I’ve ever seen on the stage.  Bridges also has a good grip on the nuances of language as he often has to say the same phrases over and over, but alters his inflection each and every time to change the meaning and tone of the phrases.

Troy Bruchwalski is the epitome of a con artist as the middle brother, Dick Kerwood.  Bruchwalski’s Dick is always looking for the next score, but gives the sense that he is rarely, if ever, successful.  He is a charmer and he is likable, essential tools in the arsenal of a con artist.  However, his charm and likability are clearly part of Dick’s personality.  He’s not out to hurt people, just earn a little illicit money.

Bruchwalski is also a tremendous physical comic, best displayed when he tells his brother the story of the illegal immigrants by deciphering their sign language in one of the show’s best moments.  He also possesses a mighty operatic tenor used during a “rehearsal” for a fake reality TV show.

Kyle McCaffrey does some skillful work in his portrayal of the youngest brother, Harry Kerwood.  I was particularly impressed by the fact that he lifts personality traits from his “brothers” to form his own character.  McCaffrey’s Harry has the kindliness of Tom, but the scamming instincts of Dick.  Regrettably, his scamming instincts are less honed than Dick’s as he never thinks his cons completely through.  McCaffrey is also a good physical comic especially a prolonged bit with a hide a bed and his ability to be repeatedly shoved out of a window.

Star Turner provides a dandy less is more set with a simple, but comfortable house full of the doors needed for farce.  Jimmy O’Donnell’s costumes suit the play’s characters from the suburban wear of Tom and Linda to the cheap clothing of the immigrants.  Mariah Yantz’s props really add to the play, especially a wall clock that runs in real time which is crucial to the play’s time element.

This is what a comedy should be.  There’s no moral.  There aren’t any deep thoughts.  It’s just pure unmitigated fun from start to finish and is guaranteed to chase the blues away with a night of deep and hearty belly laughs.

Tom, Dick, and Harry plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 27.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on June 27, 30 and July 6, 11, 13, 21 and 2pm on June 23 and July 1, 3, 11, 13-15, 17, 22, 24-25, 27.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Let’s Rock Twist Again

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Omaha Community Playhouse Summer Show
Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist On Sale Now

Omaha, Neb.— The Omaha Community Playhouse will present Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist August 1 – 12, 2018 in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre. Tickets are on sale now.

Omaha favorite Billy McGuigan brings his big band sound back to OCP after its world premiere here last year. He is joined by the Omaha-based Steve Gomez Band to present rock hits with a big band sound and big band standards with a rock and roll sound. This year’s show has all-new songs.

Billy McGuigan’s big band sound is back! Classic rock tunes with a big band twist; big band standards with a rock and roll twist. Rock Twist features Billy McGuigan with an all‐star lineup of the country’s finest musicians, backed by a 4-piece horn section. With an ever-changing set list, you will hear Frank Sinatra next to The Doors, Billy Joel, Harry Connick Jr., The McCoys, The Turtles, Petula Clark, Duke Ellington… all enhanced with fresh rearrangements that will have audiences screaming for more!

Production:      Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist 

Show dates:     August 1 – 12, 2018; Wednesdays–Saturdays, 7:30 p.m. and Sundays, 2 p.m.

Tickets:            At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or http://www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets start at $42. Tickets are $35 for groups of 12 or more.

Location:          Omaha Community Playhouse, Hawks Mainstage Theatre (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE  68132

OCP Announces 2018-19 Alternative Programming Season

Omaha, Neb.—The Omaha Community Playhouse is announcing its Alternative Programming series for the 2018-19 season. Alternative Programming includes a series of staged readings, special events and play development collaborations. All events are held at OCP.

The 2018-19 Alternative Programming schedule includes:

EDGES

by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul
July 9, 2018
Staged reading of a musical, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Kevin Goshorn and Caitlin Mabon, Music directed by Zachary Kloppenborg

This is the first show written by the creative minds behind Dear Evan Hansen, The Greatest Showman, and La La Land. It is a song-cycle about adults asking classic coming-of-age questions. The songs cover the universal issues of love, commitment, identity and meaning. The characters deal with confronting emotions, escaping expectations and deciphering complicated relationships.

LASSO OF TRUTH
by Carson Kreitzer
August 27, 2018
Staged reading, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Breanna Carodine

William Marston is a truly improbable character in American history – psychologist, author and inventor of both the lie detector and Wonder Woman. He was also a bondage enthusiast, a passion he shared with the two women he lived with in a large blended family: his wife Elizabeth and Olive Richards, his research assistant. This play tells the origin story of Wonder Woman, not only as an amazon princess and warrior, but as a comic book character and our preeminent female superhero.

DISASTER!
by Seth Rudetsky, Jack Plotnick, and Drew Geraci
September 24, 2018
Staged reading of a musical, Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Directed by Mackenzie Dehmer, Music directed by Liz Stinman

Earthquakes, tidal waves, infernos and the unforgettable songs of the ‘70s take center stage in Broadway’s side-splitting homage to classic disaster films. It’s 1979 and New York’s hottest A-listers are lining up for the opening of a floating casino and discotheque. What begins as a night of boogie fever turns to panic as the ship succumbs to multiple disasters. Featuring songs from Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie, Chicago, Orleans and more, this absurd sendup of ‘70s disaster flicks is as funny as it is ridiculous.

 
FROM THE GROUND UP
Collaboration with Great Plains Theatre Conference
October 15, 2018
Special Event, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Kevin Lawler

Come share in the experience of seeing a workshopped performance of a brand new script. An official collaboration with the Great Plains Theatre Conference, From the Ground Up is a workshop that provides a safe and nurturing playground for artists to develop new work for the theatre. The playwright’s material will be shared with an audience while still in the developmental phase then will continue to be developed to be included in the next Great Plains Theatre Conference.

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD
by George A. Romero and John A. Russo
October 29, 2018
Staged reading of a play, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Kaitlyn McClincy

Witness a theatrical adaptation of the classic horror film. Fall out from a satellite probe shot to Venus returns to Earth carrying a mysterious radiation that transforms the unburied dead into flesh-eating zombies. Seven people trapped in an isolated farmhouse, held hostage by the ravenous ghouls, begin to turn on each other as the dead encroach.

BOOK OF WILL
by Lauren Gunderson
February 25, 2019
Staged reading of a play, Howard Drew Theatre
Directed by Marie Amthor Schuett

Without William Shakespeare, we wouldn’t have literary masterpieces like Romeo and Juliet or Hamlet, but without Henry Condell and John Heminges, we would have lost half of Shakespeare’s plays forever! After the death of their friend and mentor, the two actors are determined to compile the First Folio and preserve the words that shaped their lives. They’ll just have to borrow, beg and band together to get it done.

DRAGON
by Jessica Austgen
April 29, 2019
Special Event, Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director TBD

In this unique comedy, a fledgling drag queen must go through the tests and trials of legendary cosplay divas to find her swagger. An ode to both geek and drag cultures, this refreshingly original piece gives the audience a front row seat to what happens when you combine equal parts fantasy adventure, comic book convention, and drag show.

Alternative Programming events are free and open to the public with an opportunity for donations. No tickets or reservations are necessary. Some events may be intended for mature audiences. For more information on Alternative Programming, visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Circle Theatre Holding Auditions for ‘Dracula’

Auditions for Dracula will be June 11-12, 2018 at 6:00 p.m. The auditions will be held at Hanscom Park United Methodist Church, 4444 Frances Street, Omaha, NE. People who audition will be asked to read from the script. Rehearsals will start in August.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Oct 19- Nov 3, 2018
Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and a special performance October 31 at 9:00 p.m.

We are excited to bring this classic novel to the stage. This adaptation, by local playwright Ryle Smith, includes all the principal characters from Stoker’s original story. This play tells the story of Dracula through the eyes of Jonathan Harker as in the novel. Much of our current mythology about vampires comes from this great classic novel.

For more information contact the Circle Theatre at 402-553-4715 or www.circletheatreomaha.org

To Live Again

Elliott Liteman is in a state of living death.  Stricken with Lazarus Syndrome (a type of survivor’s guilt which afflicts some people who are resuscitated after clinical death), Elliott doesn’t want to die, but is afraid to live.  During a horrific blizzard, his family comes to visit and he learns the importance of forgiveness and embracing life.   This is Lazarus Syndrome by Bruce Ward and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

First and foremost, let me assure you that this isn’t a doom and gloom story.  True, there are moments of weightiness, but this is an excellent slice of life tale full of humor, hope, and even mystery.  Ward’s script focuses on themes such as family, regret, ennui, aging, self-loathing, forgiveness, mortality, and what it means to be alive.  I found myself spellbound by the tale as Elliott’s internal struggle is outwardly manifested as he spars and engages with his family.

M. Michele Phillips has provided a superlative piece of direction to this story as well as an inspired bit of casting. She understands the path of the story well, skillfully navigating the many turns of the tale and capitalizing on every beat. Ms Phillips guides her actors to rock solid performances and you’ll never doubt for an instant that this group is a family.

Brett Foster gives a powerful and poignant performance as Elliott Liteman.  Living death well describes Foster’s essaying of Elliott as he merely goes through the motions of living.  Foster gives a wonderful weariness to Elliott whose guilt and depression are so great that he’s turned away from almost everything that made him happy and lives a life that’s a mundane routine of taking medicine to combat his HIV and wandering around his apartment in his bathrobe.  You can’t help but root for the guy when he finds small bits of happiness and vitality whether it’s through a sweet early morning conversation with his lover or a vigorous debate with his family.

Foster makes you feel the pain of a man who has lost his sense of self and is just seeking a way to end his cycle of nothingness.

Thomas Lowe plays the small, but crucial role of Stephen Bliss, Elliott’s young lover.  Lowe brings a sweetness and innocence to Stephen who has enough energy to live life for the both of them.  Your heartstrings will be tugged as Stephen’s love for Elliott allows Elliott to reclaim small sparks of himself and Stephen’s honesty and plain-spokenness may be the key to Elliott finally living his own life again.

Matt Allen is awesome as Elliott’s younger brother, Neil.  Invoking the essence of younger brothers everywhere, Allen’s Neil is a bit of a thorn in Elliott’s side as he drips melted snow onto Elliott’s floor and scarfs down Elliott’s food while making wry observations on his unique tastes in edibles.  Allen brings an incredible extemporaneousness to Neil’s dialogue as well as a snarky attitude which he carefully modulates to be a pest to Elliott, but not obnoxious or mean, especially when they start having suffering battles or discussing their somewhat fractious relationship.

Brent Spencer is the ideal Jewish father as Jake.  He believes a good meal can solve all ills and that the three things Jewish people do best are eat, suffer, and fight.  He is also clearly a man of his generation as he was brought up to believe that men didn’t show emotions and foul language is inappropriate in polite conversation.  But he also shows that an old dog can learn new tricks as his own losses have taught him the value of emotions and he tries to instill that lesson into Elliott.

Ben Adams has designed a cozy little apartment that feels like a real home.  Taelore Stearns’ lights pack an emotional punch.  They actually feel just as sad as Elliott.  Fred Goodhew’s sounds buoy the show’s emotional beats.  Leah Skorupa’s costuming is just right with the suits worn by Neil and Jake and the hum-drum look of Elliott with muted t-shirt, boxers, and a somewhat colorful bathrobe to offset the drabness of his other garb.

In the end, this is a story of life overcoming death and that it can still be lived and enjoyed despite great tragedy if one is only willing to take that chance.

Lazarus Syndrome plays at SNAP! Productions through June 24.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  The final show on June 24 will be at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for students, seniors (55+), TAG members, and military, and for all Thursday shows.   For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature themes, Lazarus Syndrome is not recommended for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.

Singin’ Up a Storm

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From left to right: Nate Wasson, Tayler Lempke Plank, and J. Isaiah Smith star in ‘Singin’ in the Rain’

Silent film stars Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are America’s sweethearts.  Lina is sweet on Don, but he merely tolerates her.  Don falls for a budding young actress named Kathy Selden who has earned the ire of Lina.  Their studio decides to make a talkie which morphs into a musical.  Difficulties arise when Kathy is selected to overdub Lina’s grating voice.  Lina decides to ground Kathy’s career to a halt as a result.  Will her machinations succeed?  Find out in Singin’ in the Rain, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If you like musicals with lavish dance numbers and memorable songs then this is the show for you.  Betty Comden and Adolph Green did a superlative job transcribing this classic movie to the stage.  They managed to retain the entirety of the original tale with very few changes and add a bit of that something extra by adding a song and dance number after every section of the story.  Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed have written a nice little score peppered with snappy, loving, and upbeat tunes.

Kimberly Faith Hickman once again infuses a show with some of her inimitable directing magic.  She hits all of the show’s beats.  Her staging is precise.  Her actors spot on.  The singing is on point.  More importantly, she just makes the show fun.

Kudos to a strong supporting cast who add the little touches that breathe vital reality into this world.  Some memorable featured performances include Mary Trecek in a humorous turn as Lina Lamont’s diction coach; Jason DeLong who shows he’s got acting chops to match his talented feet as Don Lockwood’s diction coach; Don Harris as Roscoe Dexter, a director struggling to transition to talkies; and Boston Reid who shines with his golden tenor voice singing “Beautiful Girls”.

Nate Wasson is truly a triple threat as Don Lockwood.  He can sing, dance, and act with an ease and naturalness that seems to be instinctive.  Wasson has a real knack for making you feel right along with Lockwood.  When he’s happy, you’re happy.  When he’s sad, you’re sad.  Wasson gives Lockwood a needed likability and sensitivity and comes across as a regular guy who just happened to make it very, very big.

And Gene Kelly can eat his heart out when it comes to Wasson’s singing and dancing.  Wasson’s fabulous tenor will grace your ears with sweet tunes such as “You Stepped Out of a Dream”, humorous ones like “Moses Supposes” (a personal favorite), and, of course, the iconic title song.  And his feet will keep you clapping as he skillfully taps his way into your heart in “Good Morning” and his solo work in “Singin’ in the Rain” which is rendered more difficult as he dances in an honest to goodness downpour.

Tayler Plank brings a sweetness and confidence to the role of Kathy Selden.  She plays a little coy with Don in the beginning as she poo-poohs film acting and pretends not to really be aware of his fame until they meet again at a party.  Later they truly bond when she becomes a contract player at Monumental Studios.

Ms Plank possesses a glorious soprano and delighted the audience all night with numbers such as “Would You?” and “You are My Lucky Star”.  She also does some impressive hoofing of her own in “Good Morning” and “All I Do is Dream of You”.

J. Isaiah Smith is definitely the man to watch with a mind blowing turn as Cosmo Brown. Smith has unteachable timing as the joke a minute songwriter and his rubbery face is ideal for comic acting with the wide variety of expressions he was able to conjure, each well suited to the moment. Seldom have I seen such an athletic dancer as Smith especially with his jaw dropping solo in “Make ‘Em Laugh” where he leaps all around as well as on and off the stage.

Cathy Hirsch gives an award caliber performance as Lina Lamont.  She nailed her character to the floor with a whiny, vacuous, New York accented voice that will delightfully grate on your ears.  Ms Hirsch is a primo villain as she is vengeful, egotistical, and just plain old nasty.  But I really tip my hat to her on her solo performance in “What’s Wrong with Me?” as she managed to retain that screechy off-key voice while somehow managing to stay on-key at the same time.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra once again fail at failing with yet another brilliantly performed score.  Roxanne Nielsen returns to the Playhouse to add another laurel to her long list of legendary pieces of choreography, especially with the work done by the three leads.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes evoke a sense of 1920s elegance with double breasted suits and gorgeous gowns.  Jim Othuse’s sets will take you from Don’s apartment to Grauman’s Chinese Theater to a certain memorable rainy street.  The OnPxl team of Matt Bross & Chad Eacker provide some impressive special effects especially with a stunning replication of old time silent films and talkies.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco team up to make some impressive sounds especially the foibles of recording sound movies for the first time.

The best way to sum up this show is to borrow from the title song:

 

They’re singin’ in the rain.

Just singin’ in the rain.

What a glorious feelin’.

You’ll be happy again.

Everyone in the place

Have a smile on your face.

As they’re singin’ and dancin’ in the rain.

 

Singin’ in the Rain plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 24.  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.