A Bit of German Americana: Bingham Hall & New Ulm, MN

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Bingham Hall

Today the road has brought me to New Ulm, MN.

Truly this has been one of my most enjoyable trips.  The primary reason for this is that New Ulm is the home of my second oldest friend, Lee Harrington, whom I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years and a visit with him was my top reason for coming to visit this pleasant little hamlet.

I got an early start for this journey, leaving at 6:30am.  Omaha had experienced a bit of a dusting the previous night so I slowly drove through the metro area.  I was surprised at how many cars were actually out on the road on a frosty Saturday morning, but once I hit I-29, I pretty much had the road to myself and the roads cleared up remarkably.

It was a real pleasure to have a whole new route to drive as I enjoyed the countryside and listened to some tunes.  I made a brief stop in Whiting, IA for some gas and noted a quaint little café that I may have to visit at a future time, but gasoline is quite expensive in this little town.  I paid nearly $2.30 a gallon to fuel up my car, yet if I’d been able to last another 30-40 miles I could have paid $1.90 a gallon.  Ah, well, what can one do?

I was actually on the interstate for only a short period of time as the route is mostly highways.  Surprisingly, I did not pass through many small towns though I did pass through a couple and the cold weather had me thinking of what they might look like at Christmas.

Shortly before noon, I reached the German town of New Ulm, the polka capital of America.  Its Germanic history was readily apparent as a large sign bid me “Wilkommen” as I entered the town.  New Ulm is a pretty easy town to navigate as everything seems built around its main street of Broadway and I’ve learned that there is a lot to do in the area with breweries, Renaissance faires, and music festivals.

I made my way to Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream where I met my old friend Lee and his daughter, Caitie, and her boyfriend, Joe.  It was as if no time had passed as Lee greeted me with a hug and paid the tab for lunch (thanks, btw).

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Happy Joe’s Pizza and Ice Cream

Happy Joe’s serves a smorgasboard luncheon and it is a pretty good spread.  They have a decent salad bar and serve a good set of hot entrees including a mean piece of fried chicken and their pizza wasn’t too bad as I sampled slices of pepperoni, chicken, bacon, and ranch, and taco.  I spent about an hour and a half conversing with Lee and his family (truthfully, the two of us did most of the yakking) where we caught up on things and shared a lot of old stories about some of the adventures and wacky hijinks we experienced in our childhood and teen years.  Tears were streaming down my face by the end of the visit as I was laughing so hard.

Sadly, it did have to come to an end, but I look forward to another visit in the future where more stories can be shared over a round of HeroQuest (a fantasy role-playing game we played as teens).

From Happy Joe’s, I made my way to the August Schell Brewery.  The brewery is the biggest in Minnesota and the second oldest family owned brewery in the country.  The business has been in the family for five generations and is heading into a sixth one which is highly unusual as most family run businesses only last into the third generation.

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Schell’s Brewery

For a brewery that does such big business, Schell’s is actually quite small.  Only several buildings are on the property which includes one which holds a mini-museum, gift shop, and tasting room; the actual plant; the former boardinghouse, now office for the company’s president, Theodore Marti; and the old family mansion which is now used for events as the current family lives elsewhere.

I highly recommend a tour as it only costs $5 and includes a free tasting session at the end.  At the end, adult tour visitors get to sample at least six different kinds of beer (the kiddos get Schell’s 1919 root beer) and then get a free 12 oz serving of whatever beer they liked the best.

While guests were encouraged to sample 2 oz servings, I limited it to just sips as I still had to drive and I’m a borderline teetotaler anyway.  However, of the samples, I especially enjoyed a seasonal beer called Goosetown which was honestly the second best tasting beer I have ever had.  Had I not had to be on my way, I would have taken a 12 oz glass of that.  I did, however, have a glass of the root beer which was quite tasty.

From the brewery I headed off to Loretto Park to walk The Way of The Cross.  The Way of the Cross are walking Stations of the Cross (a Catholic meditation going through Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection) and can be found all over the country.  Unfortunately, I’m guessing it, too, must be seasonal as the way was covered in snow and the stations had no statues.  I will have to file that away for another visit.

I killed a little bit of time at the library before I headed over to Bingham Hall, owned and operated by Shannon McKeeth, to check in.

Bingham Hall is a fine old-fashioned inn.  I was greeted at the door by Shannon’s husband, Todd, who ran my card and led me to the Hemle.

Quiet elegance is the best way to describe this room.  The walls are painted cranberry which had a remarkable calming effect.  The centerpiece of the room is its canopy queen bed and memory foam topper.  The room also boasts a uber comfortable easy chair with massage pad, gas fireplace, and a 42 inch cable TV with accesses to over 2,000 free movies.  The bathroom contains an ergonomic one person Jacuzzi bath.

Once I got organized I let the massage pad give me a rubdown before resting on the bed until it was time for church.

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Church of St Mary

Today I attended services at The Church of St Mary and it was quite convenient as it was literally across the street from the inn.  I found the service quite enjoyable as Father was quite earnest in the faith.  Afterwards, I returned to the inn as the temperature was plunging into the sub-zero temps.

I got a fire going, posted some pictures, and took advantage of the film library to watch Play Misty for Me.  The film was Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut and though it had a few pacing issues, I rather liked it as it featured a strong, somewhat un-Eastwood performance as he plays a not entirely likable DJ and an especially creepy performance from Jessica Walter who played his deranged stalker.

The day’s travel and escapades began to catch up with me so I drew a bath where I soaked for a while, shaved, and just enjoyed the jetted water.  I attempted to start a new novel about Blight County sheriff, Bo Tully, but found my lights going out, so I called it a night.

Memory foam is the best.  I slept straight through to dawn.  I took it easy in the morning before heading down to breakfast.

Breakfast was toast, fruit (honeydew, orange, and pineapple), cheese & mushroom quiche, seasoned potatoes, and ham with a glass of orange juice.  I also had a great conversation with Todd and Shannon who are quite proud of their little town and all of its history and things to do.

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Orange juice, ham, fruit, cheese & mushroom quiche, and toast.

I had to cut things a bit short as there is a threat of heavy snowfall over the area and there is a polar vortex blasting the region with sub-zero temps.  But stop in New Ulm if you have a chance.  Bingham Hall is a cozy, comfortable inn of understated elegance and there’s plenty to do in this little German town especially after winter when the town’s activities really get going.

Until the next time, happy travels.

The Game Will be Afoot at BLT

BELLEVUE LITTLE THEATRE PRESENTS
“BASKERVILLE” AUDITIONS

Saturday, February 9, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm
Sunday, February 10, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.

Actors should come prepared to move (not dance), demonstrate a variety of accents and dialects, and read from the script.

Please bring a resume and head shot if you have them and a list of conflicts between March 18 and May 19. Excessive conflicts and conflicts after April 19 may affect casting decisions.

Callbacks: Sunday, February 17
Rehearsals will begin February 18 (evenings and weekends)
Performance Dates: May 3 – 19, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Questions? Contact Director, Suzanne Withem at suzannewithem@gmail.com

“Baskerville,” by Ken Ludwig, is a comedic retelling of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Ludwig’s version, three actors play nearly 40 supporting characters to the leads, Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Actors of all genders will be considered for all roles, and actors of any gender, race, or ethnicity who are 18 or older are encouraged to audition. All actors will utilize various dialects, but a strong standard British dialect is required.

Characters:
* Sherlock Holmes: (any age; any gender) The world’s greatest detective is sophisticated, quick-witted, and passionate. He is an English gentleman who is very precise in speech and manner. This actor plays only one role.
* Dr. John Watson: (any age; any gender) A kind amiable doctor and Sherlock Holmes’s faithful sidekick. A man of action, intellect and deep emotion. He is also very British.
* Actor 1: (any age; any gender) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily the villains and baddies. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 2: (any age; any gender – though likely male identifying) Plays nearly a dozen characters – primarily heroes and gentlemen. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 3: (any age; any gender – though likely female identifying) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily maids, nurses, and damsels in distress. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects and willing to challenge traditional gender roles.
* Roustabouts and Foley Artists: (any age; any gender) – These two or three nonspeaking roles will be cast and treated as members of the acting company. They will assist with scene changes, participate in comedy bits, and serve as Foley artists providing live sound effects for the production from onstage. They should be creative problems solvers adept at physical comedy and familiar with silent storytelling. They are vital to the success of keeping the “trunk show” design of the production moving forward and creating the world of the theatre in which the play is performed.

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

“I and You” to Open at Blue Barn

I and You

by Lauren Gunderson

January 31st – February 24th, 2018

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 2/10 & 2/24 at 2pm | 2/17 at 6:00pm

About the play:  One afternoon, Anthony arrives unexpectedly at classmate Caroline’s door bearing a beat-up copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, and an urgent assignment from their English teacher. As these two let down their guards and share their secrets, they unlock a much deeper mystery that has brought them together. I and You is an ode to youth, life, love, and the strange beauty of human connectedness.

About the production: I and You features Anna Jordan and Jordan Smith. Directed by Barry Carman, with scenic design by Martin Marchitto, sound design by Molly Welsh, lighting design by Josh Mullady, and properties by Amy Reiner.

The production is generously sponsored by Jannette Davis, University of Nebraska Medical Center, and Mutual of Omaha.

Tickets:

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

Engage:

Whitman Exhibit

Jan 31st-Feb 24th: Visit the Mammel Lobby at the BLUEBARN to peruse a display on the legacy of Walt Whitman curated by UNL’s Whitman Archive.

Louder than a Bomb: Songs of Ourselves

Sunday, Feb 10th @ 6:30 pm: Join us as we host Nebraska Writer’s Collective presenting spoken word poets from their Louder Than a Bomb program. Four high school teams  (Central, Abraham Lincoln, Mercy and Skutt) will compete on the Blue Barn stage in celebration of poetry, theater, Walt Whitman and young writers.

Gifts of Life

Sunday, Feb 17th, Post-Show: Following our 6pm performance, BLUEBARN convenes a forum of transplant donors, donor family members, recipients, and professionals in partnership with the UNMC Transplant Team and Live On Nebraska. Join us for a discussion on the powerful impact of organ donation and the misconceptions that may prevent some from becoming donors.

AfterWords

Thursday, Feb 14th and 21st, Post-Show: Following the show, stay for a revealing conversation with the stars of I and You, Anna Jordan and Jordan Smith. He and she will be ready and willing to answer any and all questions about I and You for you and yours.

Engagement events are free and open to the public.

The McGuigan Invasion

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On Feb 9, 1964, a group known as The Beatles made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Their triumphant American debut not only forever altered the course of American music, but triggered an event known as The British Invasion as a slew of English bands would find their way to our shores to dominate the pop charts.  Last night at the Wilson Performing Arts Center in Red Oak, IA, people got a chance to either relive that era or experience it for the first time with Billy McGuigan’s latest show, The British Invasion.

Like the Beatles, Billy McGuigan continues to churn out hit after hit and his latest show is certainly no exception.  With his one of a kind energy and ability, Billy and his band, the Downliners, took the audience on a blitzkrieg tour of the British Invasion as they snapped out a wide arrangement of songs from a variety of bands such as The Who, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Petula Clark, The Dave Clark 5, Herman’s Hermits, Cream, Them, The Rolling Stones, and, of course, The Beatles.

Billy McGuigan was in especially good voice last night and set the tone for the night with his opening number of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” complete with some pinwheel guitar playing ala Pete Townshend. From there, he gave his rich tenor quite the hefty workout.  Whether he was belting out hard rocking numbers such as “Under My Thumb” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones complete with Mick Jaggeresque dancing and strutting to singing lighter rock numbers such as Herman’s Hermits’ “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” to gently emoting tender tunes like Peter and Gordon’s “I Go to Pieces”, McGuigan could simply do no wrong.

McGuigan also proved his remarkable versatility by tackling The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” with a take that would make Eric Burdon proud.  And he actually made me like a Van Morrison song (my favorite number of the night, actually) with his interpretation of Them’s “Here Comes the Night”.

Billy McGuigan was powerfully supported by his multitalented band, the Downliners, including his brothers, Ryan and Matthew McGuigan, on percussion, bass, and backing vocals who shined in their own numbers.  Matthew worked some magic with The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting of You” while Ryan was in full John Lennon mode with The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” before the two joined forces on the awesome “Revolution”.  Tara Vaughan tickled the ivories as only she can and was featured in several numbers as her, oh so gorgeous, alto attacked Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown”.  Omaha’s answer to Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, dazzled the audience with skillful lead guitar playing and solos while Adam Stoltenberg’s drumming was the unbreakable foundation for these numbers.

Early in the night, Billy told the audience that for a fraction of the cost of a Rolling Stones ticket we were actually hearing the same songs complete with lyrics and sung in tune.  Well, the ticket may have been a fraction of the cost, but the talent is absolutely priceless as Billy and the Downliners make these classic songs their own and you should certainly get a ticket the next time you hear that Billy McGuigan and The British Invasion is coming your way.

Locally, Billy McGuigan will be back in action on March 30,2019 when he teams up with the Omaha Symphony at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE with yet another new show, America Rocks the 60s.  Ticket prices start at $19 and can be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

This summer, Billy’s keyboardist, Tara Vaughan, formally debuts her own show, She Rocks!, over at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  This production features the legendary hits of female singers and songwriters and will run for 3 weeks beginning on June 13, 2019.  Tickets begin at $30 and can also be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

A Most Unique Perspective

A teenager on the autism spectrum decides to investigate the murder of his neighbor’s dog.  His investigation leads to the discovery of an even weightier mystery and his investigation into that case may lead those closest to him to a remarkable discovery about him.  This is The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time adapted by Simon Stephens from Mark Haddon’s novel and is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

To be up front, this is not a play about autism.  This is a play about family, trust, and love whose central character just happens to be on the autism spectrum (likely Asperger’s Syndrome).  I haven’t read the novel though, from the play, I suspect the book is also told from the point of view of the central character, Christopher Boone.  As such, Stephens’ adaptation creates one of the most original plays I have ever seen.  Not only is it a rock solid story, but it also allows the audience to vividly see just how Christopher processes information through writing and truly innovative staging that bring his internal processes to life.

Kimberly Faith Hickman has worked wonders with the show.  Her direction is nimble and nuanced.  Her cast virtually flawless.  But the real key to this show is its staging so the audience is able to see things through Christopher’s eyes.  Rest assured, Ms Hickman hits the bullseye with her staging through the use of silhouetted voices as Christopher recalls memories;  through the cast carrying Christopher around and flipping him over as he imagines himself an astronaut; through the duality of Siobhan reading about Christopher’s experiences while we watch Christopher living the experiences and see exactly how he behaved and reacted.

The supporting cast is exceptional and admirably fills out the people Christopher runs across in his adventures as well as the voices of memory inside his head.  Exemplary performances came from Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan, Christopher’s teacher and, arguably, one true friend who encourages his writing and helps him better cope with the rules of society; Daniel Luethke as a pair of kindly policemen who try to help Christopher and a friendly reverend whose faith butts heads with Christopher’s logic and atheism; and Silvia Conley as the motherly Mrs. Alexander who attempts to befriend Christopher and ends up providing crucial clues that lead Christopher to an even deeper mystery than the death of his neighbor’s dog.

The role of Christopher Boone is a meaty, difficult part to play.  Due to its level of challenge, it is often played by young adults pretending to be the 15 year old.  That being said, Kimberly Faith Hickman played a gamble casting the 12 year old Dominic Torres in the role.  That gamble hits the jackpot.

Torres rises to the challenge of this arduous part and nails the characterization to the floor.  The character has similar traits and qualities to Sherlock Holmes to whom the play’s title subtly references.  Like Holmes, Christopher has genius level intellect, a keen eye for detail, and a rude, unfriendly nature.

Torres imbues all of these qualities into his character as well as having a solid grip on the tics and behavior patterns of a person with Asperger’s Syndrome such as his lack of eye contact with people, the blank facial expressions, the awkward poses he assumes with his hands and legs, the monotone quality to his voice, and the inability to articulate frustration.  He possesses an excellent sense of timing and handled the difficult wordplay well.  He just needs to slow down his rate of speech so chunks of dialogue are not lost.

Mike Palmreuter gives a weighty performance as Ed Boone, Christopher’s father.  Palmreuter well communicates the difficulties of a single father raising a son with special needs.  He clearly loves Christopher and has well adapted to his son’s needs such as touching fingers instead of hugs due to Christopher’s dislike of being touched.  But he also displays a lot of doubt as to Christopher’s ability to function in society as he tries to dissuade him from his investigation into the dog’s death and worries when he must leave Christopher alone.  Palmreuter’s slumped posture says more about the weight on his shoulders more than the wonderful dialogue he speaks.

Kerri Forrester provides a good yang to Palmreuter’s yin.  As Christopher’s mother, Judy, Ms Forrester’s body language communicates a longing that Christopher was like other children.  She clearly wants to be able to hug Christopher and hold his hand, but will never experience that joy due to Christopher’s different way of living.  Ms Forrester’s eyes have a deep sadness to them when she realizes that she will never be able to make the emotional breakthroughs that her husband has when it comes to parenting Christopher.

Steven Williams and Chris Wood team up for a deceptively simple looking set that is a boxed grid, but pulses with lights and colors to express scene changes and emotional beats.  Jay Hanson and John Gibilisco join forces for a little music and sound effects from the zapping effects of the flashing lights to the light dings as the background lights assume new Tetris shapes to the crowd noises of subway and railroad stations.  Lindsey Pape’s costumes convey the blue collar nature of the Boone family as well as Christopher’s fixations with the nearly identical clothes he wears and the everyday outfits of the everyday people in the show.

As I said earlier, this is not a story about a boy with Asperger’s Syndrome.  It’s a story about family and, truly, about seeing things from a different point of view.  I think the best way to sum up this play is from a Sherlock Holmes quotation, “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing.  It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your own point of view a little, you may find it pointing. . .to something entirely different.”

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Feb 10.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $28.  For tickets, contact the OCP box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to adult language, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Will You be Part of the Book of Will?

The Omaha Community Playhouse is holding auditions for the upcoming staged reading of Book of Will on Sunday, Jan 20 and Monday, Jan 21 at 7pm at OCP.  The staged reading is part of OCP’s Alternative Programming Series.

Production:  Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson

Show Date:  February 25, 2019

Theatre:  Omaha Community Playhouse (Howard Drew Theatre)

Rehearsals:  To be determined once show is cast.

Description:  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.

Director:  Marie Amthor Schuett

Auditions:  7pm on Jan 20 and 21 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Those auditioning should enter through the west “Stage Door” entrance and proceed to the check-in table.

Roles:  Ed Knight, Isaac Jaggard, Elizabeth Condell, Emilia Bassano, Lanier, Fruit Seller, Marcellus, Alice, Susannah, Shakespeare, Ralph Crane, Barman, Compositor, Francisco, Henry Condell, Richard Burbage, William Jaggard, John Heminges, Rebecca Heminges, Anne Hathaway, Ben Jonson, Barman 2, Dering, Bernardo, Marcu, Boy Hamlet, Crier, Horatio

Notes:  Actors only need to attend of of the audition dates to be considered for a role.  Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.  If special accommodations are needed, please contact OCP prior to auditions.

Please Bring:  All contact information, personal schedules, and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form.  To expedite the check-in process, please bring physical copy of a headshot or recent photo of yourself.  Please note, photos will not be returned.

Contact:  For more information, contact Breanna Carodine, bcarodine@omahaplyahouse.com, at 402-553-4890, ext. 164.

A Mystery Opens Up Second Half of Playhouse Season

Omaha, NE–The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will open Friday, Jan 18 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Jan 18 through Feb 10, 2019.  Performances will be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Winner of five Tony Awards including Best Play and based on the best-selling mystery novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the emotional story of Christopher, a 15 year old boy with an autism spectrum condition who sets out to solve the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog.

Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman, the play’s vusually stunning design and innovative staging boldly conveys the point of view of the young protagonist on an incredible adventure and finds his perceptions of trust and reality turned upside-down.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $24 and prices may vary by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Cast

Dominic Torres as Christopher

Mike Palmreuter as Ed

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan

Karri Forrester as Judy

Amanda Stalnaker as Voice 1

Steve Denenberg as Voice 2

Sheldon Ledbetter as Voice 3

Matthew Kischer as Voice 4

Daisy Friedman as Voice 5

Silvia Conley as Voice 6

Peter Frampton as Sandy