The Great Swiss Outing, Days 1-2: Smooooooth!!

At long last my latest international excursion was upon me.  After the great experience I’d had on my tour of Ireland last year (see articles entitled When Irish Eyes are Smiling), I was going to utilize the tour’s co-sponsor, Globus Journeys, to take a round the country tour of Switzerland.

Globus did bum me out over a couple of things.  For one thing, if you’re traveling solo, you are not given the option of agreeing to room with another solo traveler, so you have to pay the single supplement up front.  On the other hand, that does guarantee a room for yourself.

The other item is that I had joined the Journeys Club after the Ireland trip which gets tour discounts and, most importantly, absolutely free currency exchange at the top market rate.  However, apparently the Journeys Club is no more and I don’t recall getting notification about it, so there went the currency exchange.

The day of the trip didn’t start out all that rosy either.  My trusty laptop gave up the ghost so I had to borrow one until I returned home.  Then my first flight was experiencing a slight delay and I cringed inside.  My flights didn’t leave me much room for error.  I flew from Omaha to Chicago with a layover of 1 hour, 20 minutes.  Then I was to fly from Chicago to Newark, NJ with an hour layover so I didn’t have much breathing room.

Mercifully, my flight actually made up the delay, arriving earlier than expected.  I also had enough time to grab a quick bite at a McDonald’s before taking off to Newark.  That flight was also early, allowing me to exchange currency at Travelex so I would be ready when I landed.

The flight to Zurich was perfect.  I had a seat at the back of the center section, so I could lean back without disturbing anyone and I was right next to the restroom, if needed.  I spent the flight watching Paranormal Activity and Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, eating a surprisingly tasty chicken pasta dinner, and playing Phoenix Wright:  Trials and Tribulations in between a few snatches of sleep.

The flight arrived in Zurich nearly an hour early.  I breezed through customs in a few minutes, grabbed my bag, then met Brane (pronounced Bra Neigh), who would be the tour guide for the trip.  He pointed me towards the shuttle where I met Marty and Val O’Brien of Syracuse, NY who would also be on the tour.  We zipped over to Movenpick Hotel Zurich Aiport, where I was able to check in immediately.

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Movenpick Hotel Airport Zurich

I organized my room and then decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.  I discovered that Zurich is like small town America from yesteryear where everything is still closed on Sunday.  That included the City Centre, so I opted not to take a train down there to explore.

Instead, I darkened my room to relax and took a 2 hour nap to beat off some of the jet lag.  I actually managed to find some episodes of Columbo in English after I woke up so I had that on for a bit before washing up for dinner.

At dinner I sat with Emiline and Dorothy of California and Brane talked over what to expect on the tour.  We drank a toast to the success of the trip where I sampled the “famous Swiss white wine”.  As you may or may not know, I am a borderline teetotaler, but this was rather good.  Just the right amount of sweetness and not dry.

Then we were served a 4 course dinner that included a salad with a creamy vinaigrette dressing, an unbelievably awesome pumpkin soup, Chicken Schitzel Parmegiano, and plum pudding for dessert.

After the meal, I could feel the jet lag setting in, so it was time to bang this article out and get some shuteye, though I also met Bruce and Carol of Australia as we were taking the lift.  Tomorrow the adventure truly begins!!!

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An Unusually Rocking Fairy Tale

Resized_DSC_0858It’s the show that lovingly lambasts fairy tales.  A surly ogre named Shrek reluctantly comes to the aid of the fairy tale characters banished to his swamp by evil Lord Farquaad solely to regain his isolation.  Farquaad’s price for removing the characters from Shrek’s swamp is for Shrek to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon so Farquaad can marry her and become king.  But love may be blooming between the princess and the ogre when they find they have far more in common than they realize.  It’s Shrek the Musical with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori and it currently plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

What I am about to say is a lie.  Something that isn’t true.  Shrek the Musical is the most insipid piece of juvenile garbage ever to disgrace a stage and should be shunned by every man, woman, and child.

Truthfully, this show is an out and out joy.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so energized by a play.  Lindsay-Abaire wrote a script that not only well translates the film to the stage, but one that I also believe surpassed the source material on nearly every level.  He even adds a subtle theme of racism and judging books by their covers that adds a surprising amount of heft to the production.  His lyrics and the rock operaesque score by Ms Tesori will have you laughing and bopping and pining for the next number.

Kimberly Faith Hickman’s direction is simply exquisite.  Not only did she guide the cast to superb performances without a weak link in the lot, but she also brought a phantasmagorical staging to the show.  Yes, that is indeed the right word as there was something otherworldly about the staging.  The entire theatre was used to tell this story and I mean the ENTIRE theatre.  Stage, orchestra pit, aisles, rows, you name it.  It was all fair game to share this tale.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cast as on as this cast was tonight.  Every single member brought their A game to the table and created a production that has instantly vaulted into my top ten list.  Some standouts among the standouts were Kerri Forrester whose presence devoured the theatre and whose mighty voice thrilled the crowd with her take as Dragon in “Forever”; Maddie Smith who delights as Young Fiona as she pines for her Prince Charming in “I Know It’s Today”; and J. Isaiah Smith who gleefully chews the scenery as Lord Farquaad.

Jordan Smith triumphs as Donkey, the wise-cracking sidekick of Shrek.  Smith strikes a perfect balance between being the loyal friend and the hyperactive annoying chatterbox that just might test the patience of saints.  His tenor voice is stupendous and he excelled in numbers such as “Make A Move” and “Don’t Let Me Go”.  He completed his triple threat with his fluid and nimble hoofing which was made all the more impressive as he was doing it with hooves.

Mackenzie Dehmer makes for an absolutely perfect Fiona.  She ain’t your ordinary fairy tale princess.  She’s temperamental.  She’s high-strung.  She’s got a singing voice that can literally make birds explode.  She can be sweet, but also incredibly crude and crass as she happily engages Shrek in belching and farting contests.  Ms Dehmer possesses a deadly alto which can inflect ultra competiveness in “I Think I Got You Beat”, be excessively cheerful and caffeinated in “Morning Person”, or just flat out rock out in “I’m A Believer”.

I’m going to steal a descriptor from a friend and say that Steve Krambeck “ogre”achieves as Shrek.  Krambeck manages to capture the many layers of Shrek from his outer hide of irritability and crabbiness to his inner core of sensitivity and loneliness.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard Krambeck’s tenor in finer form than tonight as he managed a combination of hopefulness and sadness in “Who I’d Be” as he confesses to wanting to be a hero, despite being destined to being an ogre and the beautiful “When Words Fail” as he sweetly tries to work out a way to tell Fiona he loves her.  He handled the difficult Scottish accent well, though it did weaken at a few points, especially when he sang.

Lindsay Pape’s costumes set a new bar with spot-on reproductions from the film for Shrek, Fiona, and the other fairy tale denizens and beautifully creative outfits such as Donkey’s furry bodysuit.  Paul Pape’s prosthetic for Shrek was brilliant as it was built around Krambeck’s face and allowed him to emote with both face and eyes.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco crafted some truly unique sounds, especially for the “emissions” battle between Fiona and Shrek.  Melanie Walters supplied some stunning choreography especially with the company numbers of “What’s Up, Duloc?”, “Make A Move”, and “Freak Flag”.  Jim Othuse’s sets will take you from a quiet forest to a lonely tower to a dragon’s lair to the castle of a would-be king.  His lights will give you beautiful sunrises and romantic forest evenings.  Jim Boggess and his orchestra truly score with this score as they not only played it perfectly, but you could hear the fun they were having as well.

If you miss this show, you truly don’t know what you’re missing.  It’s fun.  It’s memorable.  It has something for the whole family with jokes aplenty for the adults and cartoony enough for the kids.   And it even teaches a little something about accepting yourself and the uniqueness of others.

Shrek the Musical performs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 14.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.   Tickets start at $42 and can be purchased at www.ticketomaha.com or at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office.  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

“Circle Mirror Transformation” Begins Blue Barn Season

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents
2009 Obie Winner for Best New Play
Circle Mirror Transformation
by Annie Baker
September 27th-October 21st, 2018
Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm
Sunday 10/7 & 10/21 at 2pm | 10/14 at 6:00pm
About the play:
Students in a community-center acting class find their lives transformed, their souls reflected, and the patterns of their lives revealed in this extraordinary celebration of ordinary life. As they discover each other through storytelling and deceptively simple games, hearts are won and lost, destinies shaped, and tiny triumphs and tragedies take on epic proportions.

About the production:
Circle Mirror Transformation is directed by Susan Clement-Toberer, with dramaturgy by Barry Carman, stage management by Meghan Boucher, set design by Marty Marchitto, lighting design by Brendan Greene-Walsh, costume design by Kendra Newby, and sound design by Craig Marsh.
The cast features Susie Baer Collins (Marty), Caroline Friend (Lauren), Nils Haaland (Schultz), Ashley Kobza (Theresa), and Mike Markey (James).
The production is generously sponsored by Sara Foxley.

Tickets: General Admission tickets are $35 and available by calling our box office (402) 345-1576. You may also purchase tickets via our website at www.bluebarn.org/tickets/

Engage:
“After Words”
October 4th Post-Show
Following the Thursday, October 4th performance, join us for a talkback with the cast. Our actors will tell tall tales about tale-telling, answer all your questions about the proper way to hula-hoop, and reveal their secret strategies for counting to ten.

“Theatre Works”
October 7th Post-show
Following the Sunday, October 7th performance, the BLUEBARN will spotlight three area organizations and artists who use theatre to actively transform lives. Join us for a panel discussion with Tyrone Beasley, Director of Outbound Programming at the Rose Theatre, Nick Zadina, Training Specialist at Project Harmony, and Carolyn Anderson, Director of WhyArts?.
Engagement events are free and open to the public.

“Shrek: The Musical” Launches OCP’s Mainstage Season

Shrek The Musical Opening This Week at Omaha Community Playhouse
Omaha, NE.–Shrek The Musical is opening this week at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Sept. 14 through Oct. 14, 2018.
Based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation film, Shrek The Musical follows everyone’s favorite green ogre as he embarks on a life-changing journey, discovering his place in the world along the way. Full of beloved fairy tale characters and endless humor that will captivate children and adults alike, Shrek The Musical is a must-see show for the whole family.
Written by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, or Change) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Ripcord, Rabbit Hole) and nominated for eight Tony Awards, Shrek The Musical will inspire audiences to let their freak flags fly!
Shrek The Musical opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Friday, Sept. 14 and runs through Oct. 14. Tickets are available at TicketOmaha.com or through the Omaha Community Playhouse box office by calling (402) 553-0800 or visiting 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132. For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

SPECIAL EVENTS
Opening Night Celebration
The Omaha Community Playhouse will hold a special opening night celebration for Shrek The Musical on Friday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. for guests attending the opening night performance. The celebration will feature cookies, “swamp juice” and Shrek-themed activities that promote self-esteem and celebrate individuality.
As part of the “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” activity, guests will design and decorate their own “freak flags” with words and images that represent their unique qualities that make them individuals. These flags will later become part of the performance, as guests are invited to proudly wave their designs while singing along to the song “Freak Flag” in the second act.

Guests will also be invited to contribute to the “This Is Our Story” wall—named after a song in Shrek The Musical that embraces individuality as a necessary path to social unity. Guests will write down a quality that makes them unique and special and display it on the “This Is Our Story” wall in the Owen Lobby.

Ogre Parties with Special Appearances by Shrek The Musical Characters
The Omaha Community Playhouse will host four special engagement Ogre Parties on Sept. 16, Sept. 23, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7 prior to the Sunday matinee performances of Shrek The Musical. Ogre parties will be limited to 30 guests, and will include appearances by characters from Shrek The Musical, an ogre-themed snack bar, “swamp juice” and fun, child-friendly activities including jelly bean roulette and “pin the tail on the donkey.”
As part of the “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” activity, Ogre Party guests will design and decorate their own “freak flags” with words and images that represent their unique qualities that make them individuals. These flags will later become part of the performance, as guests are invited to proudly wave their designs while singing along to the song “Freak Flag” in the second act.

Ogre Parties will run from 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. and will be held in the Guiou Boardroom on the second floor of the Omaha Community Playhouse. Tickets for the Ogre Parties are $15 per person and may be purchased through the Omaha Community Playhouse box office. Availability is limited, and only 30 tickets will be issued to each Ogre Party. Tickets to Ogre Parties are separate from tickets to performances of Shrek The Musical, and each must be purchased individually.

Production: Shrek The Musical
Based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation film
Production Dates: Sept. 14 through Oct. 14, 2018
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Show Times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: Tickets starting at $42; Prices may vary by performance
Tickets available for purchase at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800, or online at ticketomaha.com.

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Music By: Jeanine Tesori
Book and Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Director:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Steve Krambeck – Shrek
Mackenzie Dehmer – Fiona
Jordan Smith – Donkey
J. Isaiah Smith – Lord Farquaad
Justin Dehmer – Pinnochio
Kerri Forrester – Dragon / Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Dragon / Mouse
Erin Florea – Gingy / Sugar Plum Fairy / Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Mouse / Rat

Valerie Braun – Queen Lillian / Duloc Performer / Rat / Robin Hood
Stella Clark-Kaczmarek – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Ugly Duckling
Judson Cloudt – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Baby Bear
Jared Dominguez – Happy Person / Guard / Thelonius / Knight / Rat / Bishop
Samantha Gillotte – Happy Person / White Rabbit / Duloc Performer / Rat
Cody Girouex – Happy Person / Mad Hatter / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Andrew Hedin – Little Shrek / Duloc Performer / Cow / Elf
Olivia Howard – Happy Person / Wicked Witch / Duloc Performer / Rat
Ejanae Hume – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Mouse / Rat
Emma Johnson – Happy Person / Teen Fiona / Rat / Choir / Jiminy Cricket
Francesca Kerkhofs – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Rat / Choir / Tinkerbell
Sheldon Ledbetter – Happy Person / Rat / Guard / Knight / Dwarf / Lion
Austin Lempke – Happy Person / Peter Pan / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Brodhi McClymont – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Dish / Choir
Emily Mockrycki – Happy Person / Humpty Dumpty / Duloc Performer / Rat / Surprise Princess
Joseph Mokrycki – King Harold / 3 Pig / Guard / Knight / Pied Piper
Brian Priesman – Papa Ogre / Papa Bear / Guard / Knight / Rat
Tessa Priesman – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Spoon / Flower Girl
Belle Rangel – Happy Person / Fairy Godmother / Duloc Performer / Rat
Boston Reid – Happy Person / 3 Pig / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Danielle Smith – Mama Ogre / Mama Bear / Duloc Performer / Rat
Maddie Smith – Happy Person / Little Fiona / Velveteen Rabbit (Bunny) / Choir
Matthew Tolliver – Happy Person / Big Bad Wolf / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Scott Van Den Top – Happy Person / 3 Pig / Guard / Knight / Rat
Bella Washington – Happy Person / Tweedle Dee / Duloc Performer / Choir
Cleo Washington – Happy Person / Little Red Riding Hood / Duloc Performer / Choir
Rylie Washington – Happy Person / Tweedle Dum / Duloc Performer / Choir

Macca’s Genius Keeps on Rollin’ in Eclectic “Egypt Station”

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Back in 1989, Paul McCartney’s then manager suggested that he consider calling it a career after the release of Flowers in the Dirt as McCartney had just turned 50, supposedly ancient for a rocker.  Well, it’s 2018.  Sir Paul is 76.  And he’s still just as vital and talented as he was back in 1989.  No, no.  Wait a minute.  As he was back in the heyday of the Beatles.  And that gift for melody and unbridled, indefatigable energy is on proud display in Egypt Station, his 18th solo album (25th post-Beatles album).

Let’s be honest.  McCartney really doesn’t need to do it anymore.  His reputation and legacy are set in diamond.  He certainly doesn’t need the money.  But, like all artists, he still needs to create and he’s as dedicated to his craft now as he was at the beginning.  The result is an album which I personally consider to be one of his absolute best as it combines the intelligence, weightiness, and depth of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and merges it with the classic Macca formula.

Egypt Station is really a musical travelogue as McCartney has written a set of songs that takes us on a trip through his entire career.  You’ll get Beatleslike rockers such as the nice little foot-stomper, “Come On to You” and the frothy, but fun, “Ceasar Rock”.  You’ll even get a throwback to Abbey Road with the suite number of “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link”.  Journey through the era of Wings with the 70s style “Who Cares” and “Despite Repeated Warnings” which is a Band on the Run for today’s political climate.

Paul even takes a jaunt through some of his less than successful records best exemplified with “Back in Brazil” and “Nothing for Free” where he again dabbles in electronica.  While the former is a meh song, the latter is an excellent electronica rocker to close the album.

However, the best songs are the ones where Paul displays raw vulnerability and intelligence.  “I Don’t Know” is an instant classic and shows McCartney at his rawest and most honest.  “Happy With You” is a sweet love song to his wife, Nancy Shevell and “People Want Peace” is a brilliantly constructed anthem.

True, age shows a bit more in his voice as it cracks and creaks, but I think it actually adds potent character to his songs, especially to the softer, more powerful numbers.  But that unmatchable gift of melody is still untouched and functioning at peak capacity.

Take a ride on Egypt Station.  It’s one of the best works from an artist who’s still churning out pleasurable and exciting music after 55 years and shows no signs of slowing down.