Farewell, My Friend

This is the hardest post I have ever written.  It’s been almost a day since I heard the news and still I struggle with the reality and with the words.

Nearly a year and a half ago, I asked my readers for help with a GoFundMe campaign for my friend, Kay McGuigan, who was beginning a battle with cancer.  The campaign was an enormous success and I thank you for your generosity.

Yesterday the friends of Kay got an update on her health and the news wasn’t good.

The fight is over and Kay is entering her final days.

It’s really hard to sum up the friendship of 19 years in just a few words.  Kay is truly one of a kind.  She lives life to the fullest and has the heart of a big kid.  I met her when I did my very first show back in 1999 and we were friends from the start.  She believed in me even when I didn’t believe in myself and always supported me in my acting endeavors.

Kay was there for me when I was preparing for The Elephant Man back in 2002.  She helped me rewrite and refine my audition to be the best it could possibly be.  As my coach, she thrilled with me when I told her how well the read had gone.  And she consoled me when I got the devastating news of my rejection.

Kay’s favorite holiday was Halloween and she and her husband, Ryan, used to throw a big party each Halloween.  Through these parties I got to know Ryan quite a bit better and through him I met his brother, Matthew, and the three of us bonded over a mutual love of the Beatles and Jesus Christ Superstar.  Today I’m proud to call these guys my brothers.

Back in 2005, I got to share in one of the great joys in the lives of Ryan and Kay.  It was their annual Halloween party and I said I’d stop by after I was through with a performance of Hamlet.  I was struck by the fact that the crowd was a bit smaller than normal when I arrived.  Kay and Ryan greeted me at the door and then Kay slyly told Ryan, “Tell him,” as she tapped her ring finger and I saw a new ring adorning it.

“I think I’ve got it,” I said.  “You got engaged.”

“Nope,” said Ryan, with a big grin.  “We got married.”

Ryan and Matthew helped me sit down from the shock of the news.  Yes, they had invited their closest friends to a surprise wedding that had taken place in their living room shortly before I arrived.

Since then, I’ve been a guest in the home of Ryan and Kay on many occasions.  And we’d talk about music, life, theatre, and just the daily goings-on.  She trusted me enough to housesit her beloved dogs, Moses and Charlie.  We often had FB conversations about any ol’ thing under the sun.

Since her battle began, our conversations were limited to texting, but I’ll always remember that she seemed quite a bit like her old, buoyant self during our last little chat.

This world is a better place for having you in it, Kay.  And I’m a better person for having known you.

And now I’d like to ask for your help once more.  Kay’s husband, Ryan, and their three children need another helping hand as they transition into a new chapter.  The GoFundMe campaign is still active and I would ask you to once again please make a donation at the below link.

https://www.gofundme.com/support-for-ryan-and-kay-mcguigan

Once again, I thank you for your time and generosity.

To Kay, farewell, my friend.

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I Never Promised You a Victorian Rose Garden: Algonquin, IL and Victorian Rose Garden B & B

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Today the road has brought me to Algonquin, IL.

A trip to this region had been steadily growing in my mind for the past few months.  I had actually been in this area back in 2015 when I stopped in the village of West Dundee, IL en route to a review of Cotton Patch Gospel at the Howmet Playhouse in Whitehall, MI.

I had been talking about the locale with a friend and started to reminisce about the fun I had in West Dundee.  The vintage arcade.  The lovely meal at The Village Squire.  The awesome elegance of The Mansion.  I began to get the itch to revisit the place.

I tried to convince several of my friends to go, but one had just got back from a trip while another was getting ready to take a small family trip and the other simply wasn’t interested in going.  I really didn’t want to go alone. . .unless I could stay at a B & B.

I contacted The Mansion to find out if they had any available rooms towards the end of August, but was out of luck.  Acting on an idle thought, I did a search on B & Bs around the West Dundee area and found one for the Victorian Rose Garden in Algonquin.  Then I checked to see how far Algonquin was from West Dundee.  Hmm, only 4 miles.  Did they have any rooms available?  Yes, they did.  I immediately booked the Presidential Chamber for what I would dub the Decompression Trip.

After the end of a hard month which included beginning rehearsals for my first full scale production in almost 6 years, I was ready for a trip.

Unlike my other trips where I take a day off to make the drive, I actually began this one after work on Friday.  The plan was to drive to the Iowa City region where I would stop to rest for the night before finishing the journey the next day.

I had thought to drive just slightly past Iowa City and find a decent place outside the hubbub of a major city, but fate decided to call my bluff as I had difficulty finding any inn, let alone a decent one.  I ended up driving nearly an hour longer than I planned and ultimately stopped in Walcott, IA, home of the world’s largest truck stop.

As I hoped the world’s largest truck stop held a pair of hotels, one of which was a Comfort Inn (bada book bada boom!).  It was a tiny hotel (only 3 floors), but I got a room on the top floor which I prefer on the rare occasions I stay at a hotel.  For an extra $5, I was able to get a king bed and I heaved a contented sigh as my eyes alighted on a small, but comfortable room.

I still needed to eat, but, as the hour was late, I stopped at a nearby Arby’s for a sandwich before returning to the hotel for a bath and a good night’s sleep.

And it truly was a good night’s sleep.  I awoke truly well rested and even had the benefit of having a hot breakfast at the hotel where I enjoyed a pair of sausage links with a biscuit and gravy and some apple juice before heading off on the road again.

Driving the extra hour ended up being a good decision as it not only got me closer to my destination, but helped me stay on my schedule as this route was still doing construction as they were back in 2015 which slowed me down a bit.

About 1pm, I had arrived in West Dundee and immediately made a beeline for the Underground Retrocade.  For those of you reading my blog for the first time, the Underground Retrocade is a vintage arcade where you pay $15 and get unlimited play for the day.   Some new games had been added since I had last visited including. . .a Dragon’s Lair cabinet!!

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Dragon’s Lair. The greatest video game of all time.

Dragon’s Lair is my all time favorite video game and revolutionized the industry when it came out in 1983.  It was the first interactive animated movie and told the tale of a brave, if slightly clumsy, knight named Dirk the Daring trying to rescue Princess Daphne from the clutches of the dragon, Singe.  Make the right move at the right time and you get one step closer to the dragon’s lair.  Make the wrong move and Dirk meets an untimely demise.

This was not the original game.  Rather, it was the officially licensed 2002 Limited Edition reproduction of which only 400 discs were made.  This version included the deleted opening scene on the drawbridge as well as some slightly different timing and moves.  The cabinet also included the original prototype version which has a slew of deleted scenes as well as the games Space Ace and Dragon’s Lair II:  Timewarp.  I didn’t reach the lair, but had fun playing.

I more than got my money’s worth as I played pinball versions of Ghostbusters and Doctor Who.  I also served drinks in Tapper, fought Bluto and the Sea Hag in Popeye, and conquered Dragon’s Lair II:  Timewarp, Bad Dudes vs Dragon Ninja, and Altered Beast as well as dabbled with Crystal Castles, Rampage World Tour, Fix it Felix, Jr., and Track & Field.

About 3:30pm I headed for the village of Algonquin.  As I arrived, I was shocked to see the massive amount of construction being done in the little village, but easily worked my way around it until I found the Victorian Rose Garden, owned and operated by Sherry Brewer.

I rang the doorbell of the inn and glanced around the neighborhood.  As I turned back to the door, Sherry’s smiling face had suddenly materialized in the window and the surprise nearly gave me a heart attack.

While my pumper reset itself, Sherry let me into the inn, led me to the Presidential Chamber, and gave me the nickel tour.  I put my normal explorations on hold as I headed for worship at St Margaret Mary.  This was a very nice and quaint church which holds a Polish service at the second Saturday night service.

It was a moving event which brought back memories of going to church back home in Fort Dodge as we sang hymns that I haven’t sung since my childhood.

After worship, I headed to the Colonial Café and I was starved.

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Colonial Cafe

I actually felt the need for a small appetizer so I opened the meal with a small cup of cheddar cheese chowder which had an interesting, but tasty, flavor especially with a dash of pepper.  My main course was a Smokehouse BBQ burger which was hearty and juicy and really hit the spot.  While I ate, I read The House of Brass by Ellery Queen and met an elderly gentleman who liked the fact that I was reading a book as opposed to being glued to a cell phone.

After dinner I headed back to the inn, where I had some chocolate chocolate chip cookies and a cold glass of milk.

With that dessert, Sherry turned down my bed and left me to my devices.  I went around the inn taking pictures (the last set I will take with this camera as it’s falling apart).  The house has an understated elegance not unlike visiting Grandma’s house with a music room, gorgeous dining room, and a living room that is almost like stepping back in time.  It contains an old-fashioned barber’s chair along with a cupboard of shaving mugs, an old-fashioned gumball machine loaded with marbles, and a rocking horse.

The Presidential Chamber, where I stayed, boasts a very comfy king sized bed as well as some nice easy chairs, a fireplace, a mounted flatscreen TV, and a bathroom with a clawfoot tub and shower and even a bidet.  After a long day of driving and activities, I was more than content to simply put my feet up for the night and write and post pictures before drifting off to the land of Nod.

I slept all the way through the night.  When I woke up, I got a shower and a shave and was ready for a good meal.

And that is exactly what I got along with some lovely company in the form of Mike and Sue of Ohio and Tone and Yvonne of Stockholm, Sweden.  For breakfast there was water, orange juice, and coffee along with an appetizer of fresh fruit, cinnamon scones, and banana nut bread.  The main entrée was French Toast croissants with Granny Smith apples, scrambled eggs with home-grown vegetables, and thick slices of bacon along with a heaping side of conversation which Sherry joined in on.

All too soon the conversation and the meal had to come to an end.  In hindsight, I wish I had another day to spend here for there are still activities to partake of, but I suspect I will be back again, hopefully with friends to really expand on the fun.

But if you’re in the Algonquin region, spend a night with Sherry at Victorian Rose Garden B & B.  It’s a inn as pretty as it sounds with fabulous food and company and quite a bit to do in the region as well as being a hop, skip, and a jump from Chicago.

Until the next time, happy travels.

A Life Captioned

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The Three Faces of Alison (From left to right: Analisa Peyton, Sasha Denenberg, and Angie Heim)

Alison Bechdel is a lesbian cartoonist drawing her life story.  As she draws, she struggles to remember something about her father.  And in her struggle she revisits her relationship with her dad through the course of her life and through the lenses of her adult eyes.  Join her on this journey through the halls of memories at the Omaha Community Playhouse in Fun Home with book and lyrics by Lisa Kron and music by Jeanine Tesori based on Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel.

I salute Ms Bechdel for opening herself to the world with this deeply personal tale.  In conjunction with Kron and Tesori, these three women have managed to create something beautifully original and eminently poignant.  The story does not follow an ordinary narrative track as it weaves back and forth between the present and the past, yet it is remarkably cogent and Ms Tesori’s music makes it blossom with magic.  This story is a true slice of life that is warm and witty and also raw and heartbreaking.

Roxanne Wach brings some true directorial splendor to this piece.  It’s the most unique piece of staging I’ve ever seen in a production and also some of the best as it is so precisely suited to the story.  Characters flit on and off the stage like living thought balloons as Adult Alison keeps a measured distance away from them as they are only her memories.  Her guiding of the piece is magnificent as each of her actors give their all and immerse themselves in their characters, drawing the audience deeper into Alison’s world.

Potent performances come from Julia Ervin who plays Alison’s first love and Jennifer Gilg who plays Alison’s mother, Helen.  Ms Gilg does an extraordinary job playing a woman who seems distant from her family, but is actually broken from carrying the burden of her husband’s secret.  Ms Gilg is especially impressive when she reveals all to Alison in “Days”.  Josh Peyton does admirable work playing the entire male ensemble altering his voice, attitude, and posture to suit each character.  He also has a nice, light tenor voice which shines brightly in “Raincoat of Love”.  Ryan Laughlin and Tyson Bentley provide vital energy as two of the Bechdel children and, along with Sasha Denenberg, brought the house down in the night’s best number “Come to the Fun Home”.

Michael Trutna excels in the role of Bruce, Alison’s father.  Trutna astutely shows the difficulty of being a closeted gay man in the 60s and 70s.  His inability to come to grips with his orientation causes him to adopt some dangerous sexual practices.  Indeed, his lack of control in this aspect of his life compels him to exercise extreme control over other aspects.  His family must always look perfect.  He personally restores his home to meet exacting specifications.  He’s willing to talk about anything and everything as long as it deflects from himself showing how sad and alone he truly is.

Trutna also has a wonderful tenor voice and uses it to fullest effect in “Edges of the World” where he finally takes a hard and honest look at himself.

In the case of Sasha Denenberg, big things really do come in small packages.  The theatre barely contained this little dynamo’s talent and energy and she gives a remarkable performance as Small Alison.  She is ever so much the imaginative child who wants to play airplane with her dad and draw cartoons.  And yet she shows wisdom beyond her years as she knows she’s different from other girls with her desire to wear pants and shirts, let her hair be wild, and her fascination with women shown when she humorously belts out “Ring of Keys” when she sees “a classic butch” for the first time.

Analisa Peyton creates a delightful coming of age character with Medium Alison.  Ms Peyton wonderfully essays Alison as she makes that awkward transition from childhood to adulthood as she enters college.  Along with the struggles of making the grade and making new friends, she believably wrestles with her burgeoning sexuality until she happily comes to terms with it in “Changing My Major”.  Then she just as easily plays the nervousness of sharing this truth with her parents as well as the shock of learning the truth about her father.

Through all of this looms the presence of Adult Alison as played by Angie Heim.  Ms Heim is spellbinding as she narrates the tale, makes wry and honest observations about herself and her family, or simply stays in the background reacting to her memories.  Ms Heim does a sensational job building to Alison’s epiphany about her relationship with her dad and the peace and sorrow that epiphany brings her.  Ms Heim also has a wide vocal range as she seems to be a natural alto who easily jumps to soprano when the need arises.  Her magnificent voice gets the night’s most thought provoking number, “Telephone Wire”.

Jim Othuse has crafted a small, but simple set of the Fun Home’s music room that evokes a real sense of elegance and is further enhanced by Darin Kuehler’s props of piano and antiques.  Othuse’s lights are also very emotional.  They change with the feelings of the characters from happy pink to melancholic blue to depressed black.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes not only capture the appearance of the real Alison Bechdel with Adult Alison’s glasses, shirt, and pants, but also the clothes of yesteryear with the late sixties style clothing of the Bechdel family and the 70s style outfits of “Raincoat of Love”.  Courtney Stein provides some clever choreography especially with “Come to the Fun Home”, a song and dance routine so fun and funny that I may come back again just to watch it.  John Gibilisco and Tim Burkhart team up to craft some subtle sounds to drive the tale, especially the sound of night traffic in New York City.  Jennifer Novak Haar and her orchestra bring their A game to the score adding crucial zip and pizzazz.

The Playhouse has kicked their latest season off with a red hot production and it is well worth your while to see it.  You’ll laugh.  You might cry.  But you won’t have a bad time.  Come to the Fun Home.

Fun Home plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Sept 16.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $24-$50 and can be obtained by calling the box office at 402-553-0800 or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  This show contains strong language and mature themes and is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Welcomes You to a “Fun Home”

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The Three Faces of Alison (From left to right: Analisa Peyton, Sasha Denenberg, and Angie Heim)

 

Omaha, NE–Fun Home–winner of five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize–will be showing at the Omaha Community Playhouse in the Howard Drew Theatre from Aug 17-Sept 16.

Based on the graphic memoir by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is a story of self-discovery and navigating challenging family dynamics.  When Alison’s father dies unexpectedly, she explores her past to tell the story of their tumultuous relationship.  The brilliant storytelling moves between the past and the present, while Alison relives her unique childhood playing in her family’s funeral home and her discovery of her own sexuality.

Fun Home is a refreshingly honest and moving story that takes us on a cathartic journey of seeing our parents through grown-up eyes.

“It really does go over our expectations we sometimes have of our parents and how they can’t be superheroes,” said actress Angie Heim.  Heim’s character, Alison, leads the audience on an emotional journey told through the exchange of memories and present-day introspection.  “She goes through looking at these memories fondly, but also looking at the painful memories as well–and you get to see that through her experience on stage.”

The production is directed by Roxanne Wach, a theatre veteran who has been directing on Omaha stages for nearly fifty years.  Wach says audiences will find personal connections to the universal themes and experiences in the show.  “The story is not just Alison’s journey–it’s a quest we’re all on.”

Fun Home opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Aug 17 and runs through Sept 16.  Due to high demand, Wednesday shows have been added to this production.  Tickets are available at www.ticketomaha.com or through the OCP box office by calling 402-553-0800 or visiting 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.  For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

In addition to the production itself, the Omaha Community Playhouse, in conjunction with Orchestra Sponsor, UNMC, have created a number of programming events surrounding the themes of the production such as suicide prevention, topics in LGBTQIA, and a discussion of graphic novels.  Special Events are as follows:

Aug 17-19

–Dundee Book Company will be on site selling the Fun Home graphic novel and other books relating to themes in the show.

–A graphic artist will be set up in the lobby drawing character sketches of attendees.  OCP will post these sketches on the walls of the Howard Drew Theatre as well as on social media.

–UNMC will be distributing information about topics in mental health.

August 19

–“Talk Back” discussion will be held after the performance on the topic of suicide.  Dr. Amanda Randall, Director of the Grace Abbott School of Social Work at UNO, Janae Shillito, Community Relations Director of the Kim Foundation and members of the Fun Home cast will discuss mental health related topics raised in the production.

September 9

–“Talk Back” discussion will be held after the performance on the topic of graphic novels and language.  Frank Bramlett, PhD, Professor in the English Dept at UNO and TESOL Program Director, along with members of the Fun Home cast will discuss the literary world of graphic novels.

September 18

–A Science Cafe will be held at 7pm at The Slowdown to discuss mental health and suicide.  The speaker will be Jonathan Sikorski, PhD, department of Psychology at UNMC.

Production:  Fun Home (Based on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel)

Music By:  Jeanine Tesori

Book and Lyrics:  Lisa Kron

Show Dates:  Aug 17-Sept 16 (Wed-Sun in the Howard Drew Theatre)

Director:  Roxanne Wach

Cast

Sasha Denenberg as Small Alison

Analisa Peyton as Medium Alison

Angie Heim as Adult Alison

Michael Trutna as Bruce

Jennifer Gilg as Helen

Julia Ervin as Joan

Tyson Bentley as John

Ryan Laughlin as Christian

Josh Peyton as the Male Ensemble

 

The Night is Coming

Walk the Night: Spirits to Enforce

Oct. 4th-31st, 2018

The fifth installment of BLUEBARN’s acclaimed immersive theatre series is located once again at Fontenelle’s Neale Woods Nature Center.

Based on the The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Walk the Night: Spirits to Enforce invites the audience to experience the world of the play through any one of fifteen unique perspectives. The events occur in real time, throughout The Neale Woods Nature Center.  There are no set theatre seats. Guests are free to explore.  Comfortable footwear is recommended. Performances include acrobatics, dance, fight choreography, live music and possible 1-on-1 interactions.

ADA-compliant pathways are readily available.

You begin either by venturing ahead into the unknown forest, or by staying in safety with your group.  The encounters you have and decisions you make will determine how you witness the orchestration of what may well be a plot for revenge…

The Story

Prominent local leader Prospero and his child went missing, presumed dead after a terrible accident.  Local legend has it, however, that they have been in hiding, at a mansion in the woods. In the decades since, sightings of sprite-like creatures, large yeti-like beasts and strange lights have been growing.  Now, after a clandestine meeting, those thought responsible for the “accident” have themselves disappeared.

Tickets

Walk the Night runs Thursdays-Sundays @7pm, with a second show on Fridays and Saturdays @9:00pm. This year there will be two special performances October 30 and 31@ 7pm.

You’ll choose from one of four different ways to experience the first half of the show. Come again and choose a different Act 1 ticket for an entirely different show. With four main pathways, simultaneous action taking place throughout the space, and multiple decisions to make as you chart your course through the story…the best way to fully experience Walk the Night: Spirits to Enforce is to come more than once.

Single tickets are $25 General/$20 Senior/Student

Unlimited Passes available for $45 General/$40 Senior/Student.

Tickets on sale now! Click here to reserve tickets.

Walk the Night is conceived and directed by Spencer Williams, co-directed by Colleen Hudson-Pace, devised by the ensemble, and features Original music by Andrew Heringer, choreography by Stephanie Huettner, technical design by Homero Vela, costumes by Jenny Pool, and puppet design by Shannon Wade. For more information, visit www.bluebarn.org or www.towalkthenight.com

Twist it Up, Billy

You are entering a fun dimension of sight and sound.  A world where rock tunes are performed like big band numbers and big band numbers are given a rock flair.  You are entering the Omaha Community Playhouse to watch Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

Yes, indeed, Billy McGuigan and his band have returned to OCP and they’re playing 60s hits (with a pinch of 70s and a smidge of 80s) in ways you’ve never heard them before.  “But, Chris,” I hear you say.  “Isn’t this just the same show as last year?”  And the answer is a most emphatic, “No!”  Not only does the show have a new set and lights courtesy of Jim Othuse and Tyler Packett, but they also have a new set list.  True, some of the hits from last year return, but there’s also plenty of new material so you can enjoy this show anew.

There’s something for everyone in this production as you’ll hear hits from Frank Sinatra, the Ronettes, Lulu, Billy Joel, Harry Connick, Jr., the Doors, Duke Ellington, and, yes, even the Beatles and Buddy Holly, plus more played as only the maestro of Omaha and his band can play them.

Billy McGuigan once again rules the stage with his killer stage presence and insane musical chops.  McGuigan is an artist of rare versatility who can smoothly glide from a Frank Sinatra number to a Doors hit just as easily as he switches from guitar to piano.  McGuigan constantly thrilled and energized the audience with varied hits such as smooth standard style songs like Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” and Harry Connick Jr.’s “Come By Me”; hard rockers like “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings and the Guess Who’s “She’s Come Undone”; and soft ballads such as Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” and the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere”.

Co-starring with Billy is the one and only Tara Vaughan who spent the night tickling the ivories and shining in her own set of hits from powerful female singers.  You’ll thrill as Ms Vaughan’s sensuous alto belts out Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, slows it down for the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, and invites you to go “Downtown” with Petula Clark.

This show couldn’t be done without the assistance of a stellar band which includes some of the finest musicians and singers in the city.  Backing vocals are supplied by Ryan & Matthew McGuigan and Jessica Errett.  Strings are provided by Christina Allred on cello and Olga Smola on violin and, prior to tonight, I was unaware at how well strings could be used on rock numbers.  Steve Gomez helps to drive the action with his bass while Max Meyer shows some Pete Townshendish ability with his guitar solos.  Patrick Brown and Andrew Janak soar on alto and tenor saxophone.  Janak also arranged all of the night’s incredible music.  Patrick Peters keeps the groove sliding with his trombone.  Tomm Roland keeps the beat as only he can on drums.  Last, but certainly not least, is local jazz legend, Doyle Tipler, trumpeting with all of his might.

If you haven’t seen a Billy McGuigan show yet, what on earth are you waiting for?  This show only has a limited two week run, so get a ticket while a ticket can still be got.  I promise you a great time with a show suitable for the young and young at heart.  The only way you couldn’t have fun is if you’re comatose and, even then, I bet your pulse would still be beating in time with the music.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through August 12.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 and can be found at www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com or by calling OCP at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.