She Pre-Rocks

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On an absolutely perfect night at the Davies Amphitheater in Glenwood, IA, the one and only Tara Vaughan delighted the crowd with a spectacular night of song and storytelling dedicated to the women of rock and roll and produced under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

Though it didn’t explicitly have the title, this was a variation of Tara’s She Rocks show (coming soon to the SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion, NE).  Not only is it a revue of some of the classic songs from female rockers, it also serves as a testament to Vaughan’s awesome versatility.  Vaughan covers a slew of songs from a variety of performers ranging from Petula Clark to Amy Winehouse and whacked them all out of the park.

Outside of her insane talent as a singer and keyboardist, what I like best about Tara Vaughan is just her genuineness.  I agree with her manager, who calls her endearing.  She has a sweet, very shy, storytelling style as she talks about growing up, how she sing-narrates her life, and the stories of her friendships that just melt one’s heart like butter. 

But, ultimately, it’s all about the music and Vaughan delivers that and then some with her octane powered alto.  Highlights of Vaughan’s performance included her take on one of my all time favorite songs, Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain”; a ripping cover of Linda Ronstadt’s cover of “When Will I Be Loved”; an energetic version of Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”; a spot on performance of Fleetwood Mac’s “Say You Love Me”; not to mention a fine performance of her original song “Blame it On My Youth”.

Vaughan is strongly supported by her amazing band which featured Adam Stoltenberg providing the backbeat on drums and Max Meyer heating up the night with sizzling lead guitar solos.  Ejanae Hume not only shines as a backup vocalist, but she also gets her own moments in the spotlight with a take on Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” which made me want to get up and dance with somebody and a splendid cover of The Supremes’ “Keep Me Hangin’ On”.  The Given McGuigans (and I stole that description from Vaughan), Ryan and Matthew, not only serve as Vaughan’s partners in comedic crime, but also soar with Ryan’s acoustic guitar and percussion work and Matthew’s bass playing.  Matthew McGuigan and Tara also have a very sweet duet with Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” which seems to serve as an ode to their own friendship.

If you missed this show, well, too bad for you.  Thanks for reading my review.

Of course, I jest.  If you missed this show, you’ve got another chance to see this divine diva of the ivories when She Rocks plays at SumTur Amphitheater in Papillion, NE from Sept 9-19.  Tickets are $20 for lawn seating and $35 for stadium seating and can be purchased at  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 7pm.

If you’re ready for a bevy of hits from a mighty mistress of music, then you’re ready for Tara Vaughan.  She will rock your socks off.

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P.S. I Love You

Josh Peyton and Sarah Schrader star in “Dear Jack, Dear Louise”

During World War II, Cpt. Jacob “Jack” Ludwig, an Army surgeon, began a correspondence with aspiring actress, Louise Rabiner.  Over the course of 3 years, their trading of messages blossomed into true love.  Follow the evolution and the ups and downs of their relationship in Dear Jack, Dear Louise currently playing at the Omaha Playhouse.

Ken Ludwig called this show a love letter to his parents as it is based on the true story of their courtship.  I don’t know if he used the actual letters written by his parents, but if he didn’t, he certainly managed to replicate the feel of a mail correspondence.  The dialogue of the letters perfectly captures that initial spark of interest, the getting to know each other, even the difficulties and squabbles every relationship undergoes, and the glow of real love.  It is also laced with the trademark wit and humor of Ludwig, but also shows his skills as a dramatic writer as he features some heavy moments that have all the subtlety of kissing a runaway freight train.

Susie Baer-Collins provides an outstanding piece of direction with the production, possibly one of her very best and that is saying something.  Her sure hand deftly handles this variation on the duologue and the conversations always snap and sparkle with realism and vitality.  I absolutely loved the staging with one character always slightly in front of another to show that they were in two different places.  Baer-Collins also pulled an extraordinary pair of performances from her two thespians.  If the quality of this show is an indicator of the rest of the season, it’s going to be an amazing ride at the Playhouse this year.

Over the past few seasons, Josh Peyton has established himself as one of the most believable actors in Omaha.  There is an extemporaneousness and naturalness to his performances that makes it seem like he is never acting, just being.  And this show is certainly no exception.  Peyton is sensational in the role of Jack Ludwig.  He reminded me of my own pop (who courted my mother through letters and tapes during the Vietnam War) with his quiet nature and dry wit.  His timidity in his early letters is so sweet and it was a joy to watch his confidence grow in proportion to his burgeoning love for Louise.  Peyton’s reactions are always just right and equal parts hilarious and haunting when the moment calls for them.  He also has a superb physicality which not only strengthen those expressions and reactions, but tells stories of their own such as dodging bullets and bombs and crawling through the dirt during hellish battles of the war.

I see great things in store for Sarah Schrader’s theatrical future after her phenomenal debut in this show. She is an absolute dynamo as Louise Rabiner and just seemed to quiver with energy.  Schrader was a perfect blend of sweet and tart as she could write very sensitive letters and then drop an epithet or pitch a mild fit in the blink of an eye.  Her animation blew out the scale and was always appropriate for the high energy actress with an obvious joie de vivre.  Schrader was equally impressive in the show’s heavier moments as she deals with the heartaches and fears of courting a soldier.

John Gibilisco’s usage of sound was some of the best I’ve heard in a show especially with the explosion of bombs and the belching of gunfire.  Jim Othuse created a simple set of tables, wardrobe, and shelves that provide the audience an opportunity to fill in the rest of the details with their own imaginations.  Othuse’s lights were remarkable with the flashing lights of rockets, the solo spotlights of sadder moments, and the lighting up of the theatre for VE Day.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes were spot on with Ludwig’s period military uniform and fatigues and the elegant 40s style dresses for Louise.

This was one of the most personally satisfying shows I’ve seen in recent years and, though the season be young, I think Peyton & Schrader have set an awfully high bar in terms of performances.  Get a ticket and you’ll see what I mean.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs at the Playhouse through Sept 19.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets stat at $36 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by calling 402-553-0800, or visiting  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

That Beloved Blockhead

It’s a day in the lives of the Peanuts gang.  Join them in their adventures of life in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

This show is what theatre is all about.  After viewing this production, I think it should be the first show any performer should undertake because it offers actors the opportunity to completely embrace their inner child and just get into the simple enjoyment of pretending and that is the place from which great acting arises.  And, believe me, this ensemble cast understands that and blasts the ball right out of the park with a merry, fun filled production suitable for the entire family.

Clark Goeser’s script does a remarkable job capturing the spirit of the original comic strip.  Astonishingly, this show holds together despite the fact that there is no singular plot.  It’s like watching a series of comics come to life before your eyes.  In fact, some of the interstitials and scenes were pulled straight from the newspaper.  And, yet, it all flows so naturally and truly feels like just another day in the neighborhood.

Goeser’s songs are also a great deal of fun, sometimes incredibly sad and sweet and the additional dialogue of Michael Mayer and songs of Andrew Lippa seamlessly merge into Goeser’s original story.

Directors Mitchell Aiello and Melissa Ford effortlessly bring this production to life.  It’s clear they understand the spirits of Charles Schulz’s characters and bring them to colorful and vibrant life.  They nail the beats of each individual scene and use the power of imagination (the show has very little staging) to pull the audience into the world of the Peanuts gang.  They’ve also guided their performers to pitch perfect depictions of Schulz’s iconic characters making them all instantly believable and recognizable.

Some of the terrific performances you’ll see in this production come from Emi Fishman who is a delight as Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally.  Fishman truly shines as the obnoxious younger sister as she wrestles with stupid jump ropes and develops new philosophies to shift blame away from her poor work in school.  Ben Jaeger is also right on the money with his take on Schroeder.  Jaeger’s Schroeder has that slightly snooty attitude needed for the Beethoven loving piano player.  His bare tolerance for Lucy’s constant presence at his piano is spot on and he is quite the athletic dancer with his backflips in “Beethoven Day”.  Nolan Hall brings a cute charm as Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock.

Matthew Cox brings real intelligence and wisdom to the role of Linus.  Cox’s Linus has that even keeled nature one would expect from the gang’s resident philosopher and would especially be required of the younger brother of the combustible Lucy.  Cox’s Linus does have a tendency to be too smart for his own good as demonstrated by his doctoral level psychological analysis of the characters of Peter Rabbit, but I especially enjoyed his dependency on his blanket and the little things he did with it.  He didn’t simply drag it around.  He wore it, cuddled it, and even had an impressive tap routine with it in “My Blanket and Me”.

Given how much I disliked the character growing up, I’m amazed at what I’m about to say next.  Erica Lee Bigelow made Lucy my favorite character in this show.  Her commitment to the role is staggering and she perfectly captures the bullying, crabby, bellicose, arrogant, self-centered, selfish, overbearing nature of the neighborhood fussbudget.  Whether she’s doling out questionable advice to Charlie Brown, dreaming of being a queen, or simply pushing around her younger brother, Bigelow is just a scream as the resident brat of the group.

Mitchell Aiello is a hoot as Snoopy.  Aiello perfectly captures Snoopy’s free spirited nature as he truly marches to his own beat.  With Snoopy it’s hard to tell who’s the master and who’s the pet with his refusal to do traditional dog things like fetching and chasing rabbits (though he acquiesces on the latter to get Sally to stop bugging him) and harbors a certain disdain combined with a fierce loyalty to his beloved round-headed kid.  Highlights of Aiello’s performance were his interpretation of Snoopy gleefully escaping into his imagination to battle the Red Baron as the World War I Flying Ace and his showstopping performance in “Suppertime” as Snoopy’s well known mealtime dance morphs into a Broadway dance production.

Ultimately, the show needs to be anchored by its central character and Billy Eric Robinson is the Charlie Brown required for this show.  Robinson ably shows Charlie’s doubts, fears, and insecurities.  But he also shows his decency, his purity of heart, and his perseverance.  While Charlie never notices his more positive traits, it’s those traits that his friends admire most about him.  They may often chide him for his foibles, but they also gladly tell him that he is truly a good man.

Susie Jolink’s musical direction is a pristine piece of precision and having her onstage playing the piano for the musical pieces was an inspired bit of creativity.  Becky Dibben’s costumes look like they were taken right out of the comic strip with bright colors that just pop and match the clothing of the characters’ comic strip counterparts.  Jim Wohler Restorations provides a set that appears simple, but may be a bit more complex than this show typically gets.  Restorations sucks the viewer into the world of the show with the pillars of comic strips, the top of Snoopy’s doghouse, and Lucy’s psychiatric booth.  Mitchell Aiello’s lights also had that needed X factor with the lonely spotlight of Charlie’s sadder and more contemplative moments and the pizzazz of the flashing lights for the equally flashy “Suppertime”.

Great Plains Theatre has conjured a real gem with this production and you should get a ticket to enjoy it.  Bring the family.  Bring your friends.  Revel in your childhood once again and experience theatre in its purest and fullest sense.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs at Great Plains Theatre through August 22. Showtimes are Wed, Sat-Sun at 2pm and Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

Orchestral Enclave

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If you like your classic rock done classically, then this is the show for you.  It’s Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra currently running at SumTur Amphitheater under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

It was a beautiful night for an outdoor show and I was grateful for the cooler temperatures because Billy McGuigan and his orchestra truly heated up the night.  For those of you unfamiliar with the Pop Rock Orchestra show, Billy McGuigan and his musicians take you on a tour of music from the 50s to the 80s, but turn the traditional rock concert on its head by merging it with a big band orchestra of horns and strings to complement the standard guitars, basses, and percussion.  The end result is a dancing in the aisle, hand clapping, foot stomping good time.

I sometimes think Billy could create a new show based entirely around his storytelling.  He’s a raconteur without peer and never seems to lack a clever witticism, an off the cuff joke, or a poignant anecdote suitable for the moment or number.  This, combined with his stellar musicianship, is what makes him one of today’s premier acts.  McGuigan seemed extra energized tonight and used that juice to fuel a non-stop barrage of hits that the audience lapped up with a spoon.

Some highlights of McGuigan’s performance were his killer rendition of Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s All Right for Fighting”, a blazing take on Sinatra’s (Nancy, that is) “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, a haunting cover of the Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and a spot on version of Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World’.  McGuigan also featured numbers off his latest album, Together, including a version of “Little Metal Shed” rearranged by local sax legend, Darren Pettit, which tore the house down.

Aside from McGuigan’s powerful vocal chops, we were also treated to excellent featured performances from Matthew McGuigan who had a smooth and elegant interpretation of “My Girl” and Jay Hanson shone in one of my favorite numbers of the evening, George Harrison’s “I’ve Got My Mind Set on You”.  Steve Gomez’s musical direction always hit the mark and I thought the fingers of Omaha’s guitar guru, Max Meyer, would burst into flame with the speed and ferocity of some of his guitar solos.

A few instances of instruments overwhelming the voices of singers did little to stop the storm of this production and you’re going to have a beautiful weekend to take advantage of the final performances of this top flight production.  And I hope you will.

Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra runs at SumTur Amphitheater through August 15.  Remaining showtimes are Saturday at 7:30pm and Sunday at 7pm.  Tickets cost $35 for stadium seating and $20 for lawn seating and can be purchased at  SumTur Amphitheatre is located at 11691 S 108th St in Papillion, NE.

EMBRACE Blue Barn’s 33rd Season

BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to announce Season 33: EMBRACE.

After so much separation and isolation, we are thrilled to welcome you back to a full season of transformative live theatre. Season 33 embraces the very best of original, contemporary, and classic work, exactly what you’ve come to expect from Omaha’s Premier Professional Theatre. Our new season also fully embraces our commitment to creating a thriving, equitable arts scene in Omaha. Join us in embracing compassion and justice, join us in embracing extraordinary art and the artists who create it, join us in embracing a stronger sense of community.

Returning TRUBLU members can renew their membership today. Check your email for details, or call the box office at (402) 345-1576.

Public sales begin August 16 – visit for details!

Season 33 – Mainstage

Embrace Empathy

Heroes of the Fourth Turning by Will Arbery
September 30th – October 24th

Embrace Explosive Laughter

A Very Die Hard Christmas by Jeff Schell and the Habit
November 26th – December 19th

Embrace Madness and Love

King Lear by William Shakespeare
March 24th – April 17th

Embrace the Wild West

Buffalo Women: A Black Cowgirl Musical Dramedy by Beaufield Berry Music and Additional Lyrics by J. Isaiah Smith
May 26th – June 19th

Season 33 – Happenings

Embrace Emerging Artists

The BIG DAMN DOOR Festival: BONFIRE Residencies

Embrace the Future

R. Buckminster Fuller: THE HISTORY (and Mystery) OF THE UNIVERSE A play by D.W. Jacobs
Based on the life and writings of R. Buckminster Fuller
Six Drop-in Experiences throughout the Season

Embrace the Power of Storytelling

Musing: A Storytelling Series
Gatherings Quarterly, beginning Oct 13th

Omaha’s Newest Theatre, Benson Theatre, Announces First Auditions

Benson Theatre Proudly Announces Auditions for:

20th Century Blues by Susan Miller

Auditions will be held at the B-side of Benson Theatre, 6058 Maple St:

August 8, 2021: 5pm-7pm

August 9, 2021: 6pm-8pm

Auditions will consist of prepared sides, and cold readings from the script.

● Rehearsals: Beginning Mid-September

● Tech Dates: October 17, 18, 19, 20

● Production Dates: October 21, 22, 23, 24, 28, 29, 30

● Compensation: $925

For more information, to request a copy of the sides, or to schedule a different audition time contact Echelle Childers:

Character Facts:

  • Danny(she/her): accomplished, well-known photographer at a crucial point in her life – 50s to late 60s
  • Sil(she/her): Real Estate Agent trying to stay current – 50s to late 60s
  • Mac(she/her): Opinionated, high-level journalist – 50s to 60s
  • Gabby(she/her): Veterinarian with her own practice, not good with conflict – 50s to late 60s
  • Bess(she/her): Danny’s mother, artist – late 80s
  • Simon(he/him): Danny’s son, works for a progressive cable/internet news program – late 20/early 30s

Anti-Discrimination Policy

Benson Theatre does not and shall not discriminate on the basis of race, color, religion (creed), gender, gender expression, gender identity, age, national origin (ancestry), disability, marital status, sexual orientation, citizenship status, veteran status, political affiliation, or economic status in any of its programs, activities, and employment. We are committed to providing a safe, welcoming, and affirming environment for all people.

About the Show

Four women meet once a year for a ritual photo shoot, chronicling their changing (and aging) selves as they navigate love, careers, children, and the complications of history. But when these private photographs threaten to go public, relationships are tested, forcing the women to confront who they are and how they’ll deal with whatever lies ahead.

This play requires performers of all ethnicities. The script calls for six characters. Benson Theatre strongly encourages all performers to audition.

All performers are required to be fully vaccinated.