A “Choice” Selection Being Served at BlueBarn this Season

BLUEBARN Theatre is proud to announce our 34th Season: CHOICE!

Season 34 Mainstage

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Oct. 6 – Oct. 31, 2022

Washington Irving’s masterpiece comes to spooky life with a top-notch ensemble and sheer theatrical invention. Omaha’s own Ben Beck and Jill Anderson incorporate music, dance, and puppetry into a world premiere adaptation, with scenic design by Sarah Rowe and original music composed by Olga Smola. The Headless Horseman rides again!

Every Christmas Story Ever Told (And Then Some!) by Michael Carleton, Jim Fitzgerald, and John K. Alvarez
Original Music by Will Knapp
November 25 – December 18, 2022

Instead of performing Charles Dickens’ beloved holiday classic for the umpteenth time, three actors decide to perform every Christmas story ever told – plus Christmas traditions from around the world, seasonal icons from ancient times to topical pop-culture, and every carol ever sung. A madcap romp through the holiday season, this laugh-out-loud comedy offers a hilarious alternative to anthropomorphic Nutcrackers and singing Victorian children.

What the Constitution Means to Me by Heidi Schreck
Feb 2. – Feb. 26, 2023

Fifteen year old Heidi earned her college tuition by winning Constitutional debate competitions across the United States. In this hilarious, hopeful, and achingly human new play, she resurrects her teenage self in order to trace the profound relationship between four generations of women and the founding document that shaped their lives. Hailed as the best play of the year in 2019 by the New York Times and earning two Tony Award nominations, this boundary-breaking play breathes new life into our Constitution and imagines how it will shape the next generation of Americans.

The Chinese Lady by Lloyd Suh
Mar. 30 – Apr. 23, 2023

Brought from Guangzhou in 1834 as an “exotic oddity” The Chinese Lady follows the true story of the first woman from China to enter America. Afong Moy is paraded around for the American public to indulge their voyeuristic curiosities by delivering a performance of her “ethnicity”. Over the course of 55 years, Afong Moy begins to challenge her views of herself, her culture in the hands of others, and her disconnect from her homeland while grappling with her search for her own identity in America.
“By the end of Mr. Suh’s extraordinary play, we look at Afong and see whole centuries of American history. She’s no longer the Chinese lady. She is us.” The New York Times

Dance Nation by Clare Barron
May 25 – June 25, 2023

Somewhere in America, an army of pre-teen competitive dancers’ plots to take over the world. And if their new routine is good enough, they’ll claw their way to the top at the Boogie Crown Grand Prix Finals in Tampa Bay. A 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama, Dance Nation is a stark, unrelenting exploration of female power featuring a multigenerational cast of women portraying our 13-year-old heroines.

Season 34 Happenings

The Big Damn Door Festival
August 25-28 & Sept 1-4, 2022

The BLUEBARN invites you to celebrate THREE ARTIST-DRIVEN approaches to innovation in the creation of new work for the stage. Our Big Damn Doors are not just a primary feature of the architecture of the BLUEBARN, but a metaphor for the festival itself: wide-open doors and unbounded possibilities. BLUEBARN is proud to support emerging artists from the Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan area whose work has the power to drive change in our community, and who’ve been most impacted from systemic biases in opportunity. Artists that identify as Global Majority (Black, Indigenous, People of Color), LGBTQIA2s+, neurodiverse, and artists with disabilities have been prioritized.

Musing: A Storytelling Series
October 26, 2022 & April 19, 2023

Last season’s live storytelling sensation, Musing, returns to the BLUEBARN stage! Story curator Seth Fox will present Miscellanea Volumes One & Two: Storyteller’s Choice – two one-night-only events that feature compelling true stories exploring a variety of themes, all told by the people who lived them.
To have your story considered for a future Musing event, or for more detailed information about Musing, please contact story curator Seth Fox at musingomaha@gmail.com.

New TruBLU memberships go on sale Monday, 8/15! Renewing TruBLU members, check your email for your renewal link, or call our box office at (402) 345-1576. For more information on Season 34, visit http://bluebarn.org/plays-events!

A Lost and Troubled Soul

L to R: Noah Berry, Andy Harvey, Daniel Thompson, Karen Pappas, Kimberly Braun, Michael Perrie, Jr., Millicent Hunnicutt, Evan Raines, Horace Smith, and Matt Smolko star in “Hank Williams: Lost Highway”

He was a musical genius troubled by demons.  He was the first megastar of country music.  And he left this world far too soon.  He was Hank Williams and you can watch his story in Hank Williams:  Lost Highway currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

On very rare occasions I actually attend a show purely as a patron.  This was meant to be one of those times, but after seeing this show I felt obligated to put fingers to keyboard to share the gloriousness of this production.

Simply put, this is the finest show I’ve seen mounted at Maples Repertory since I first discovered this theatre.  It’s brilliantly directed.  It’s stellarly acted and sung.  Randal Myler and Mark Harelik conjured a pretty intriguing way of sharing Williams’ story.  It’s told in the vignette style, showing events from the life of Williams and using a nice touch of a pair of characters silently listening to Williams’ music on the radio.  They are people involved in Hank’s life, but they also serve as his id and the fans of Williams, respectively.  Williams’ numbers are skillfully placed as there’s no set up for each particular song, yet each song feels as if it was deliberately placed in its slot for a specific reason.

Todd Davison provided a spectacular piece of direction for this production.  This is a tricky show to direct as it does not tell a complete and connected story.  As such, each vignette is a mini-play in and of itself with its own build, climax, and resolution.  But there still has to be a unifying x factor to tie the vignettes together and Davison has that factor firmly in the palm of his hand as the transitions felt seamless.  He staged the show very effectively though some sightlines might be obscured from your view if you’re sitting at the farthest edges of the theatre.  His coaching of his actors is beyond reproach.  As my friend who joined me said, “There isn’t a flat tire in the lot.”  The acting is pitch perfect and the singing is angelic.

The supporting characters carry a heavy load in this show as they not only help to tell Williams’ story, but also have to play their own instruments.  Justin P. Cowan’s musical supervision is sure and certain with the cast nailing the interpretations of Williams’ songs to the floor.  Evan Raines provides some fine fiddling while Daniel Thompson sizzles on harmonica and, I think, a mandolin.  Amazing acting performances are supplied by Karen Pappas as Williams’ somewhat dominating mother, Mama Lilly.  Kimberly Braun skillfully sings badly as Williams’ wife, Audrey, whose ambitions far exceed her talent.  Andy Harvey brings a quiet leadership as Williams’ manager, Fred Rose.  Matt Smolko and Noah Berry shine as Jimmy and Hoss, friends and bandmates of Williams.  Berry especially impresses as the loyal friend who sticks by Williams until his demons become too heavy for him to support.  Millicent Hunnicutt does sterling work as a waitress who gets a one-night fling with Williams and also being a spiritual representation of his fans.  Horace Smith dominates as Tee-Tot, a street singer who inspires Williams’ career and serves as his emotional anchor and id as he appears to sing during Williams’ times of troubles to remind him of why he sings.  Smith has a beautiful, deep baritone that is Heaven sent and transports you to the heights and depths of emotion.

This show ultimately lives and dies by the performer playing Hank Williams and this show not only lives, but thrives, thanks to the talents of Michael Perrie, Jr.  If Perrie doesn’t get a Broadway World nomination for Best Actor in a Musical, it’s going to be a crime because he pulls off something truly amazing with the role.

Perrie simply IS Hank Williams.  Perrie perfectly duplicates his speaking and singing voice right down to the yodeling vibrato falsetto Williams often used in his songs.  Perrie is so much fun to watch due to his animation and attention to detail, finding little bits of business that enhance action and doesn’t pull attention away from the primary moment.  His body language was incredible as he well communicates Williams’ back issues from a botched spina bifida surgery with his grunts, grimaces, and twists.  Perrie’s drunken staggering and slurred speech in Williams’ darker moments is natural and realistic.  His song interpretation and emoting of said songs is so powerful that when he started crying during “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry”, I wanted to cry along with him.

Charles Johnson has designed a simple set of a barn, farmhouse front, and steps to be all of the scenes of the show.  Dominic DeSalvio’s lights really enhance the show, especially with his use of intimate spotlights to highlight the more emotional moments of the production.  Eliot Curtis’ props helped to flesh out the world of this show while Pete Nasir’s sound work was pluperfect.  Jack A. Smith’s costumes take you back to the late 40s/early 50s with the simple dresses of the women, the suspenders and dress clothes for the men, and, of course, Williams’ trademark white suit and Stetson hat.

A show like this serves to remind me of why I got into theatre and it deserves to be seen and appreciated.  You don’t even have to be a fan of country music or even know anything about Hank Williams to enjoy the show because I’m certainly not and I truly didn’t.  If you love great acting and music, you will love this show.  You’ve still got 2 chances to see this remarkable production, so give it a try.  You won’t regret it.

Hank Williams:  Lost Highway runs at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 7.  Final performances are tonight at 7:30 pm and tomorrow at 2pm. Tickets cost $33 for the Main Floor and $26 for the balcony and can be obtained at the Box Office or by visiting www.maplesrep.com or calling 660-385-2924. Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Photo by Kelly Lewis

A Legend Opens New OCP Season

Omaha, NE– The Omaha Community Playhouse opens its 22/23 Season on Friday, August 19 with The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez. The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre through September 18 with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $36, with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

SHOW SYNOPSIS: A Southern straight boy and out-of-work Elvis impersonator discovers a hidden talent—and a way to pay his mounting bills—after a drag queen convinces him to fill in on stage for one of her shows. Now if he could only find a way to tell his pregnant wife about his new hobby. A laugh-out-loud comedy filled with music, heart and plenty of sass. Disclaimer: Contains adult language.

Directed by: Brady Patsy

Cast

Ryan Figgins as Casey
Ryan Eberhart as Miss Tracy Mills
Brock McCullough as Anorexia Nervosa
Olivia Howard as Jo
Dennis Collins as Eddie
Giovanni Rivera as Jason

Tis the Season for Auditions

Omaha, NE–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) is holding in-person, youth and adult auditions for A Christmas Carol at the Omaha Community Playhouse, located at 6915 Cass St. Omaha, NE 68132 and Pear Tree Performing Arts at 4801 NW Radial Hwy Omaha, NE 68104. To schedule an audition, please visit the website here.

Through upholding high ethical standards, demonstrating respect for all and consciously working to provide diverse representation, OCP is committed to creating an inclusive and safe environment in which all community members feel a sense of belonging, and does not discriminate in casting practices on the basis of an individual’s ethnicity, age, gender, physical and cognitive ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, country of origin or other factors. Omaha Community Playhouse is committed to diverse and inclusive casting.

Youth Auditions: Saturday, August 13, 11:00 a.m. -2:00 p.m. (taking place at the Omaha Community
Playhouse)

Adult Auditions: Those who wish to audition may choose one of the following two audition dates:
Sunday, August 14, 6:00-9:00 p.m. (taking place at the Omaha Community Playhouse)
Monday, August 15, 6:00-9:00 p.m. (taking place at Pear Tree Performing Arts)

Youth Callbacks: Wednesday, August 17, 4:00 p.m.

Adult Callbacks: Thursday, August 18, 6 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Both callbacks will take place at Omaha Community Playhouse.

Please Bring: Please bring and prepare to sing 16-bars of a song from a musical. Dress comfortably for the dance portion of the audition.

Roles: Click here for character breakdown.

Legal Dose of Love

After being dumped by her boyfriend due to not being perceived as serious enough for the political career he has planned for himself, Elle Woods hatches a plan to win back his love.  She decides to follow him to Harvard Law School.  Initially disdained by her classmates, Elle eventually shows them she’s got what it takes to be Legally Blonde which is currently playing at Lofte Community Theatre.

I had neither seen the movie nor read the original novel, but after seeing this show, I might now do so.  The character of Elle Woods is a fictionalized version of the novel’s author, Amanda Brown, who was inspired to write the book based off her own experiences as a blonde law student at Harvard.

It’s actually a really great tale that reverses the traditional “fish out of water” story.  In this case, the fish is already a highly popular student, but that popularity doesn’t follow her to Harvard due to the highly competitive, ultra-serious nature of her fellow law students.  The show also touches on themes of self-respect and not to judge a book by its cover.  A lot of Elle’s early troubles at Harvard are the result of her bubbly personality and obsession with fashion leading her peers to think she’s an idiot, conveniently ignoring the fact that she was admitted to Harvard which means she is smart (she had a 4.0 grade average as an undergrad).  But when she finally applies herself, her peers’ eyes finally open to that reality.

Kevin Colbert’s direction is truly marvelous in this production.  Energy starts at a fever pitch and manages to be maintained throughout the show.  Pacing was right on the mark and Colbert knew how to merge the serious with the funny, expertly following those beats as those two elements were often in the same scene and, sometimes, the same moment.  Colbert has molded a wonderful set of performances from his actors that were utterly believable and just a load of fun to watch.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, an invested ensemble adds so much to a large scale production and I was extremely impressed as to how much the ensemble was into this show.  In bigger scenes, I kept my eyes on them just to see what little reactions and touches they would add and it really helped this world to blossom. 

Some great performances in the supporting/featured cast include Wade Mumford who nearly got a standing ovation mid-show for the way he simply walked into a salon to make a delivery and let the women ogle him.  Peyton Banks is shallow as the status chasing Warner Huntington III and has a nice falsetto with “Serious”.  Zoe Tien exudes a great superior than thou attitude with her take on Vivienne Kensington, a rival of Elle’s who has a rod up her backside which had a rod up its backside that I strongly suspect had a rod up its backside.  Max Antoine is very convincing as Professor Callahan, a popular law professor who is predatory inside and outside of the courtroom and classroom.

It was great seeing Anna Rebecca Felber grace a stage again as the theatre community has sorely missed her talents.  Felber shines as Paulette Buonofuonte, the hairdresser with hutzpah who befriends Elle.  Felber has comedic timing which can’t be taught and does more with a look or expression than some can with multipage monologues.  Felber has the loyalty and “take no guff” attitude needed for the hard as nails New Englander.  Felber can also belt out a tune like few can with a stirring rendition of “Ireland”.

Alex Rownd makes for a fine everyman as Emmett Forrest.  Normally, he would be the traditional “fish out of water” as he came from the poor side of town and had to make it to Harvard based on grit and grades.  But it’s his “fish out of water” nature that allows him to support Elle as he recognizes that same out of placeness in her and helps her to find that “chip on her shoulder” needed to succeed and quiet the naysayers.  Rownd brings real decency and an honorable nature to the dedicated student and he has a pristine tenor which he can use to humorous effectiveness in “Chip On My Shoulder” to a sweet sadness in “Legally Blonde”.

I rather hope Lofte qualifies for OEA nominations because Olivia Sis’ portrayal of Elle Woods not only deserves a nomination for Leading Actor in a Musical, it was also, for my money, one of the best performances of the season.

Sis just exploded onto the stage and had energy that would light up New York.  She perfectly captures Elle’s essence with that supreme self-confidence, enthusiastic personality, and devotion to fashion.  Most importantly, she doesn’t play her dumb.  Elle is smart, but not always a dedicated student unless the subject matter interests her.  Sis laid out a beautiful arc for Elle as she actually starts this show with a lack of self-respect, though she may not be aware of it as she follows (almost stalks) her ex-boyfriend to Harvard to win him back.  But when she realizes how vapid he is and the joy of using the law to help the underdog, she really begins to peak personally.

Sis also has an incredible singing voice as she consistently knocked balls out of the park with “What You Want, “So Much Better”, “Bend & Snap”, and “Legally Blonde”.

Benjamin Pettiford and his band nailed the peppy score to the floor and I give them bonus points for an item I’ll discuss shortly.  Becca Schmucker has crafted the new best piece of choreography I’ve seen on a metro stage.  It’s fun.  It’s exciting.  It’s inventive.  And the dancing in “Whipped Into Shape” is easily the best dance number ever performed locally.  Mark C. Koski at Sceneographics designed a very ambitious three tiered set with columns painted by Linda Dabbs whose rotations and incoming and outgoing properties of Shila Hansen & The Cast changed locales.  Kevin Colbert’s lights help add some ambiance with the almost pinkish light in Elle’s room to the use of focused spotlights on more serious moments.

For all the great things this show offered, it had one powerful thing working against it and that was microphone volume.  I had a very difficult time hearing the cast during Act I and they would sometimes be drowned out by the music of the band.  And here’s where the bonus points come in as the band picked up on that and lowered the volume in Act II so the actors could be heard more easily and the issues finally cleared by the climax of the show. 

That being said, this is still a virtually perfect night of theatre.  It’s a fun story with some surprising depth fueled by a high powered cast more than up to the challenge.  Take advantage of its last weekend and see a fantastic production.

Legally Blonde performs at Lofte Community Theatre through July 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at www.lofte.org, visiting the Box Office, or by calling 402-234-2553. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.

The Candy Man Can

From L to R: Bodie Kuzminski, Lennon McGuigan, Jay Hanson, Brinlee Roeder, Lily Sanow, Pieper Roeder star in ‘Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka’

Reclusive confectioner, Willy Wonka, holds a contest to find an heir to his chocolate factory.  Through the discovery of golden tickets hidden in Wonka candies, five children arrive at the factory for a fantastical tour and a series of morality tests to determine who is worthy to succeed the legendary candymaker.  This is Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and is currently playing at Scottish Rite Masonic Center under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

I’m glad to see Rave On experimenting with their content.  After a series of highly successful maturely themed rock musicals, Rave On does a 180 with a family show highlighting the students of the McGuigan Arts Academy.

Now this is a youth version of Willy Wonka so it runs a bit shorter than the traditional version as well as making a few changes to the story.  For example, in the youth version, only the children take the tour of Wonka’s factory.  The adults are left out.  In either case, Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald’s adaptation of the tale blends Dahl’s novel with the famed 1971 film.  It’s a faithful retelling, though I wish the writers had gone with the film’s climax which, surprisingly, is superior to the novel’s climax.  Bricusse and Anthony Newley also have written a series of fun songs, some original and some lifted directly from the film.

Kimberly Faith Hickman really provides a fine piece of direction and I especially applaud her work with the children.  Their work ranged from promising to excellent with some providing performances that were as good or better than work I’ve seen performed by some adults.  Hickman generates a real sense of whimsy and fun and tosses in a bit of theatre magic along the way with a brisk pacing that just makes the show fly.

Outside of the title character, the adults take a back seat in this production though Brandon Fisher does get to shine with an eccentric Grandpa Joe who fills Charlie’s head with tales of Wonka’s factory and acts as a bulwark to Charlie’s disappointments with “Cheer Up, Charlie”.

But this show is ultimately about the kids and the featured characters admirably carried the weight of the show.  Lennon McGuigan is clearly having a ball, not to mention being round as one, as Augustus Gloop and adds just the right level of theatricality with his number, “I Eat More”.  Pieper Roeder is snidely competitive as Violet Beauregarde who is drawn to gum like a moth to a flame.  Bodie Kuzminski is not only obnoxiously disrespectful as Mike Teavee, but adult actors can take lessons in projection and articulation from him. Lily Sanow has a bright future in theatre ahead of her as evidenced with her turn as Veruca Salt.  Sanow was perfect as the snotty, spoiled rich girl who demands catering to her every whim.  Sanow also has a pretty and powerful voice as she belts out Veruca’s personal anthem, “I Want it Now”.

Brinlee Roeder is very effective as Charlie Bucket.  Roeder brings a real sincerity and decency to the good-hearted Charlie who constantly encourages the family to “Be Positive” even in the most dire of circumstances.  Roeder also has a nice singing voice, shining in “Flying” and reducing the audience to tears of laughter in “Burping Song”. 

For a guy only acting for the second time in his life, Jay Hanson has some potent instincts for storytelling.  Hanson beautifully underplays the role of Willy Wonka, giving him a quiet impishness and a natural sardonic nature useful for bantering with the naughty brats in his tour group.  I was especially impressed with Hanson’s turn as an unnamed candy seller (implied to be an incognito Wonka) who seems to have a bit of magic about him as he helps Charlie obtain the final golden ticket.

Hanson’s singing is in its usual fine form with stellar turns in “Pure Imagination” and a creepy performance of “There’s No Knowing”.

Matthew McGuigan’s musical direction is in rare form.  No pun intended, but he doesn’t kid around with the music.  He keeps it light and fun, but the tunes also have underpinnings of rock with a smidgen of jazz that just gave it a unique and pleasing flavor.  Carly Frolio’s costumes are right on the mark, suiting the personalities of the characters and hearkening back to the film’s depiction of said characters.  I especially liked Wonka’s outlandish outfit of green pants with purple coat, vest, and brown hat and her Oompa Loompa outfits which conjured images of 90s hip hop performers with colorful stocking hats, black shirts, suspenders, and long colored striped socks.  Kate Whitecotton well utilizes the backdrops at Scottish Rite to take us from the poor home of the Buckets to the magnificent innards of Wonka’s factory.  Kyle Toth’s lights help to support the show with his LSD inspired colors for the “There’s No Knowing” number being particularly effective.  His technical skills were also quite impressive especially with the transformation of Violet into a giant blueberry.

There were some technical squoinks as the microphones would go from being so sensitive that I could hear normal breathing to going so soft that I’d lose singing to the instruments, but the cast didn’t let these slight bobbles have an impact on their performances.

If you’re a fan of the film and/or novel, you’re likely going to be a fan of this show as well.  The children put on a fine production with a little help from the adults and you’re going to have a scrumdiddelyumptious time.

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka plays at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center through July 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at https://www.theomahaseries.com/willywonka.  Scottish Rite Masonic Center is located at 202 S 20th St in Omaha, NE.

Photo Credit: Rave On Productions

Arcade Nirvana

Jeff enters Galloping Ghost

And now for a travel tale of a different type.

For my regular readers, you know that I was once a serious video gamer and that I’ve occasionally visited retro arcades to revisit that aspect of my childhood.  A few months ago, I read of a place in Brookfield, IL called Galloping Ghost that claimed to be the world’s biggest retro arcade.  I told my old friend, Jeff Bevirt, about it.  Jeff is still a serious gamer and he was intrigued, so we decided to take a weekend road trip to visit this arcade.

It had been a really long time since I had a true buddy road trip.  Having a friend along not only makes the time go faster, but it also helps to have someone with whom to share the driving duties so neither of us gets overly fatigued.

We got an early start, leaving Omaha around 8:30am.  I took the first leg of the drive and took us to Walcott, IA where we took a lunch break at Gramma’s Kitchen at the world’s largest truck stop.

Gramma’s Kitchen

Gramma’s Kitchen serves old-fashioned comfort food (and some not so old-fashioned, as well), includes a gift shop, and just has the feeling of yesteryear with its vintage signs and knickknacks.  Jeff ordered a meat loaf dinner which included a trip to the tiny salad bar where he got some prime rib and mushroom soup.  For myself, I decided to try the Frisco Burger.  My burger was delicious with its crispy bacon, vegetables, Swiss cheese, and toasted sourdough bun.  Should I ever eat here again and get a burger, I’ll be certain to get it medium well, as my choice of medium was just a bit underdone for my tastes, though tasty.  I ate half of my burger and saved the rest for my evening meal and Jeff took over the drive from this point.

A few hours later found us in Chicagoland where I had a premium king suite reserved at Embassy Suites in Naperville, IL. 

This Embassy Suites was a bit different from others in its construction.  Embassy Suites tend to be built in an atrium style, but this one was actually designed like a regular hotel.  Our room wasn’t quite ready when we arrived, but we got it about 10 minutes after our arrival.  We deposited our gear and Jeff ordered some bedding for the hide-a-bed and we left for Galloping Ghost.

About 40 minutes later, we arrived and managed to get a spot in the parking lot.  A few minutes later, we entered a place I can only describe as arcade nirvana.

Galloping Ghost is owned by Doc Mack who co-founded the business back in 2010.  Originally the arcade boasted 130 games, but Mack has multiplied that many times over and, today, the arcade contains over 700 video games and a separate venue contains 75 pinball machines.

For $20 you can play all day and that’s a bargain as you will play an equivalent amount in about an hour or so and you’ll need far more time to truly get a feel for this place.

Jeff and I spent the first half hour just wandering through the rooms admiring the games and marveling at the variety.  Not only did I see games that I see at nearly every retro arcade, but I also saw rare treasures, games imported from Japan, prototypes that never had a formal release, plus some originals.  In the second to last room we explored, we found a roped off area consisting of numerous games being prepped for future release as the arcade features a new release each week.

Interestingly, some of the games actually share a cabinet and a switch is available so you can toggle between them.  From watching various interviews online, I’ve learned that Mack and his crew hope to get each game its own cabinet.  But it’s a painstaking process as they try to get an original cabinet and, failing that, they create a similar one for the game.  Truly these are people who appreciate classic games.

Then it was game time!

I made a point of mostly avoiding games that I have played at other retro arcades to focus on the ones I had never played.  Jeff and I teamed up to defeat Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:  Turtles in Time, and Contra:  Evolution (an updated version of Contra released in 2011).  Later Jeff would join me to help me finish off Two-Face in Batman Forever, a prototype game.

Then we split and I wandered about and was stunned to find either limited release or never released sequels to Joust (Joust 2:  Survival of the Fittest) and Mappy (Hopping Mappy).  Then I started playing long missed favorites such as Crime Patrol and Mad Dog II:  The Lost Gold from American Laser Games.  I also enjoyed Biohazard: Code Veronica, an import shoot em up from Japan better known as Resident Evil in America.  I also dabbled in Timber, a spin-off of Tapper where you chop down trees while avoiding obstacles.  I took a crack at Super Burgertime which beat me to a pulp.  I also rescued the children and stopped Mr. Big in Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker; played a Dragon’s Lair II cabinet for the first time since a video game convention in 2010; came within 2 Sinibombs of destroying Sinistar; got creamed in Cliff Hanger, a diabolically difficult Dragon’s Lair style game based off two Lupin III movies; experimented with Hologram Time Traveler, but threw in the towel as I had trouble viewing the screen.

But the most interesting game I played was an interactive movie called The Spectre Files:  Deathstalkers.  In this game, you take the role of a private eye searching for a missing heiress in a haunted institution.  Whenever the game stops, you have to make a choice.  Choose correctly and the game continues.  Choose wrong and you will come to a premature end.  I really dug the mash-up of cheesy horror film and choose your own adventure.

Not every game works at peak capacity which is to be expected given the age and rarity of these machines, but that number was shockingly small and most worked like a dream.  The games are also packed tightly together so gaming could get a bit snug when the arcade is super busy.

After 6 ½ hours of gaming, my feet were done in and Jeff was a bit tired so we headed back to Embassy Suites.  Jeff’s bedding hadn’t been delivered so both of us ended up having to call the front desk to finally get some sheets and a blanket for him before finally retiring about midnight.

The next morning, we enjoyed Embassy Suites’ famed cooked to order breakfast before heading back to Omaha, planning to possibly return next year to enjoy Galloping Ghost once more and explore Chicago a bit.

But if you’re in the Chicago area and you are a video gamer, visit Galloping Ghost (9415 Ogden Ave in Brookfield, IL).  Once you visit this retro arcade, you’ll be hard pressed to want to visit another.

Practical Evil

When a violent encounter with a creepy, conservative conspiracy theorist results in his death, a group of liberal master’s students decide to better the world by killing those they deem to be a potential danger. . . which happens to be those who disagree with their way of thinking.  This is The Last Supper and it is currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre under the auspices of SNAP! Productions.

After two years, SNAP! returns to live theatre with a pretty dark and disturbing play by Dan Rosen.  This had actually been a movie and is a combination of a grislier version of Arsenic and Old Lace and the living out of the question, “Would you kill a young Hitler when he was innocent in order the prevent the horrible atrocities he would later commit?”  Rosen has a good grip on the current political climate and his play is actually an interesting commentary on the dangers of political extremism across all spectrums.

That being said, the script is weakened a bit by its lack of character development, dearth of sympathetic characters, and an ambiguous ending (though this becomes less so if you follow the clues.  Here’s a hint.  They’re all visual, so pay close attention.  Happy hunting!)

Todd Brooks has a tremendous sense of atmosphere as he bookends the play between a pair of thunderstorms which well represent the violence of the material and the moment.  He also does an excellent job with the subtlety of the final scene.  Brooks also has led his performers to fairly effective performances, especially with the victims who are the most compelling characters in the show.

Strong ensemble performances come from Dennis Stessman who exudes a cold and palpable menace as the creepy truck driver who gets the victim train going.  Don Harris provides some needed levity as the sheriff.  Randy Wallace is oblivious to his own hypocrisy as the man of God who has a horribly warped view on the horror of AIDS and perceives homosexuality as a disease.  Chloe Irwin is a blend of naivete and arrogance as a high schooler suing her school due to a belief that mandatory sex education is an invasion of her privacy.

As I stated earlier, there is a great lack of character development in the show.  As such, it’s hard to delineate the performances of the primary characters as they simply are what they are.  The only thing that seems to differentiate them is their degree of bloodlust.  The worst of them is willing to kill at the drop of a hat while the best of them comes to realize just how monstrous the group has become.

Roz Parr’s Jude is the primary character that gets the most character development.  At first, she is keen to get in on the killings and is one of the first to suggest eliminating those who don’t adhere to the groupthink.  But she is also the one who truly realizes how corrupted they have become through their heinous acts.  Parr really shines when the focus isn’t on her as her visceral reactions show how appalled and horrified she has become as the murders get easier, but the “crimes” justifying them get significantly minor.

Chris Scott does exemplary work with Norman Arbuthnot.  A conservative pundit in the vein of Tucker Carlson or Sean Hannity, Scott’s Arbuthnot is used primarily in interstitials promulgating more and more outlandish bilge until a chance meeting leads to him having dinner with the students where he seems to be a much more reasonable person.  He freely admits that a lot of what he says is just schtick to get attention onto a subject he cares about and almost convinces the students that there is room for differing opinions.  But just when he has you convinced he’s decent, he pulls an act that shows he fully buys his own hype which Scott handles with smarmy aplomb.

Sarah Kolcke has designed a very warm and welcoming home with a comfortable living room and kitchen which serves as a stellar counterpoint to its cold occupants.  Joey Lorincz should win an award for these lights especially with the lightning, the use of shadow, and use of spotlights on silent actors.  Daena Schweiger does some nifty A/V work with the use of the intros for the shows of several conservative pundits as well as her original creation of an intro for Arbuthnot’s show.  Connie Lee’s costumes are natural and suitable to the characters.

Act I felt pretty rough and almost like a rehearsal.  Cue pickups were very loose and the acting in the aftermath of the first death lacked a needed shock and intensity.  In Act II, the conversations felt a lot more natural and in tune with the ever-increasing stakes of the situations.

In the end this show takes a pretty absurdist look at the dangers of extreme political thought, but it also points out the very real threat posed by those who close their minds instead of truly opening up to discuss and debate our differences in order to reach a place of true understanding.

The Last Supper plays at Bellevue Little Theatre under SNAP!’s auspices through July 24.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thursday and Friday and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at the BLT Box Office or by visiting www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature subject matter, this show is not suitable for children.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission St in Bellevue, NE.

Seasons of the Valli

Four guys singing under a streetlamp become one of the most iconic pop groups of all time.  This is Jersey Boys and it is playing at Great Plains Theatre.

The story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons has got it all.  Pathos, greed, temptation, petty jealousies, the triumph of the underdog, the terrible price of success, and so much more.

And it’s all true.

It’s a fascinating story especially as it’s told from the point of view of each band member, all of whom have their own slant on the events of their career.  It’s also an incredible case study on super success as two handled it gracefully, one walked away from the pressure, and another caved to its excesses.  Combine it with the excellent pop tunes and you’ve got the makings for an incredible night of theatre.

Mitchell Aiello understands the many complexities of the script and his direction reflects that understanding.  This is a hard show to direct because, in a sense, the show tells 4 separate stories and the director has to make certain each tale gets the proper weight and focus and that becomes trickier when the stories start to intersect.  Aiello handles this task admirably as his four leads get ample opportunity to shine.  He also has done some terrific staging with some of my favorite moments being when the lights fade out on the Seasons as they fall away from the group.  Aiello also has coached his actors to a rock-solid set of performances.

Some wonderful performances in the supporting cast come from Braden Cray Andrew who adds just the right element of peculiarity to Bob Crewe, the eccentric, but talented, producer and lyricist who let astrology guide his business decisions.  Madelynn Washburn gives a fierce performance as the tough as nails Mary Delgado, Valli’s first wife and then flips that ferocity on its head with a turn as the airheaded lead singer of the Angels.  Washburn’s vocals match her fiery Delgado especially with her lead on “My Boyfriend’s Back”.  Annika Andersson finds some deep layers in the small role of Lorraine, a reporter who has a relationship with Valli, but isn’t wiling to share him with his career or family.

Matthew Ruehlman is a true con artist as Tommy DeVito.  Ruehlman’s DeVito has a certain likability crucial to a good con man, but he can be a real prick, too, as he writes checks his butt can’t cash and rubs the other Seasons the wrong way.  Ruehlman also brings a good sense of vanity to DeVito who thinks he’s the leader of the group (he’s not), but melds it with a tremendous force of will which arguably did hold the group together until they hit it big.  Ruehlman also brings some pathos to DeVito when his love of the high life and get rich quick schemes nearly sink the group at its zenith as well as endanger his continued well-being.

I was extremely impressed with the depth Bobby Guenther brought to the role of Nick Massi.  At one point, Massi compares himself to Ringo Starr, but George Harrison is the more apt comparison as Massi is the quiet Season.  Guenther’s Massi was content to go with the flow until the pressures of success and DeVito’s irresponsible behavior cause him to crack.   His breakdown was honest and true and you could feel his regret at the way he let stardom blow his family life to smithereens.  Guenther also has a big, beautiful bass voice who served as the foundation of the Seasons’ harmonies.

I really enjoyed Clayton Sallee’s take on Bob Gaudio.  Sallee plays the legendary songwriter with an ironclad sense of confidence with just the slightest sprinkling of ego.  Gaudio’s music was a big part of the equation in the success of the Four Seasons, but he never lords it over the others even though he argues, and pretty strongly, that “they couldn’t have done it without him”.  Sallee well communicates Gaudio’s knowledge of the music business with his negotiations with DeVito and his business dealings with Valli.  Sallee also an angelic tenor and knocks it out of the park with “December, 1963 (Oh, What a Night)”.

This being my second go-around reviewing this musical, I’m starting to come to the conclusion that the role of Frankie Valli has to be one of the most difficult to cast in theatre as talent isn’t enough.  You also need an actor of a certain physicality who can emulate Valli’s singular vibrato falsetto and tenor.  Luckily, this show has the talents of Bear Manescalchi who fits the role to a T. 

Manescalchi lays out a beautiful arc for Valli starting with him as a shy, hesitant teenager smoothing out the rough edges on his singing and evolving him into the strong, confident leader of the Seasons and mimics that falsetto and tenor to perfection from “Sherry” to “Rag Doll” to “Dawn” and all the rest. Manescalchi brings some raw emotional power to the role and knows how to act through a song with renditions of “My Eyes Adored You” and “Fallen Angel” that made me want to burst into tears.  Manescalchi can act up a storm away from a song with his smoldering fury and frustration with DeVito and his personal collapse upon learning of the death of his youngest daughter being particular treats.

Mitchell Aiello’s choreography is right on the mark.  This show isn’t known for big, flashy numbers though he gets some boppin’ in with “Short Shorts” and the curtain call reprise of “December, 1963”.  Rather it just needs well-coordinated, simple moves as the singers perform and he does that in spades.  Aiello has also designed a simple set of risers and crisscrossed slats to create the world of this show.  Kent Buess’ lights add fantastic detail and are highly emotional with a tragic blue for sadder moments, red for angrier moments, and a sunset purple for passionate moments.  He also has a good use for shadow as he brings the lights down on each Season as he leaves the group and also leaves the replacements (at least initially) in the shadows to emphasize the star that is Frankie Valli.  Becky Dibben’s costumes fill the bill with the trademark colorful suits of the Seasons as well as the period correct clothing of the cast as the show evolves from the 60s to 2000s.  Donna Rendely Peeler’s musical direction is spectacular.  The harmonies are gorgeous, the solos are heavenly, and never is a sour note sung.

The performers definitely needed to tighten the cue pickups both internally and in dialogue to help boost the energy and some moments of violence and horseplay need some smoothing out to be a bit more realistic. I’d also like to see this show again with a more demonstrative crowd as the quiet crowd of this performance wasn’t giving the cast enough energy to feed upon and that high octane flow between cast and audience is essential for a production such as this one.

That being said, this show is still another feather in the cap of Great Plains Theatre and you should get a ticket to see it.  And don’t be shy.  Be big.  Be boisterous.  Let it all hang loose because this cast is going to give you a show to remember.

Jersey Boys plays at Great Plains Theatre through July 31.  Showtimes are 2pm on Wed, Sat, and Sun and 7:30pm Thurs-Sat.  Tickets cost $40 and can be purchased at the Box Office, visiting www.greatplainstheatre.com, or calling 785-263-4574.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language.  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

Something’s Rotten, But it Sure Ain’t this Show

Nick Bottom is determined to write a hit play and best his hated rival, William Shakespeare.  Saddled with debt and with a child on the way, Bottom consults a soothsayer to dip into the future and decides to create the world’s first musical and steal Shakespeare’s greatest idea to create his magnum opus, Omlette.  This is Something Rotten! and it is currently playing at Ralston Community Theatre.

Let me get this out of the way first:  not only is this the new best musical I’ve seen mounted on an Omaha stage, it’s now also one of my personal top five shows.  If you love musicals, you’re going to love this show.  If you HATE musicals, you will still love this show because it points out that genre’s inherent absurdities and plays them up to the fullest especially with the musical in the musical.

Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell came up with something truly unique with this show.  It’s historical, anachronistic, parodic, and even brings in some literary theory concerning the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays.  Throw in a score by Wayne & Karey Kirkpatrick that not only lifts elements from all types of musicals, but includes a showstopping number that includes a mash-up of some of the biggest musicals ever written and you’ve got the elements for a heckuva good time.

Todd Uhrmacher gets this show and his sparkling direction reflects that.  This show goes in a lot of different directions and Uhrmacher knows when to be serious and when to be silly.  His staging is top notch.  The pace is lightning quick.  The characterizations are sublime and the cue pickups were right on the button.

The ensemble did a very good job of breathing life into this world and there were some incredible standouts in the supporting cast.  Chloe Rosman brings the comedy stylings of Kate Micucci along with an angelic soprano in her rendition of Portia.  Jenna McKain is the rock of her family as Bea Bottom and can really belt out a tune, burning brightly with “Right Hand Man”.  But I specifically want to shine a spotlight on Jon Flower who gave his best performance to date with his take on Nostradamus.  Flower was not only hysterical, but I think the operatic world lost a potential star with that magnificent tenor and he just soars in “A Musical”.

David Ebke is pitch perfect as William Shakespeare.  Ebke brings a Johnny Depp/rock star vibe to the role and is arrogant, oozes sex appeal, and wallows in the excesses of celebrity.  Ebke’s Shakespeare admits the work it takes to get famous isn’t as fun as the being famous part and it’s implied he uses a few shortcuts to retain that fame and fortune.  Ebke also possesses a dynamic tenor and made the ladies swoon with “Will Power”. 

The role of Nigel Bottom seems to be tailor made for Kyle Avery.  Avery is utterly natural and perfectly believable as the gentle, soft-spoken poet & writer.  His gentle tenor can either tug your heartstrings or fill you with the warm fuzzies and has two hallmark turns with the romantic “I Love the Way” and the moving “To Thine Own Self Be True”.  However, he does need to be careful not to go overboard with the pitch on his speaking voice in some of his more lamentable moments.

Steve Krambeck adds some serious layers to the role of Nick Bottom.  Bottom is a pretty conflicted guy.  He’s a decent sort, but his jealousy of Shakespeare’s success and his desperation to dig himself out of a financial and creative hole compel him to act recklessly and behave childishly.  Krambeck admirably balances and reflects Bottom’s many sides and adds his own mighty tenor with turns in “Bottom’s Going to Be on Top” and “God, I Hate Shakespeare”.

Chris Ebke and his orchestra show some impressive versatility with their handling of the highly varied score.  Debbie Massy-Schneweis has supplied the best piece of choreography I’ve seen in a local production.  This show has big numbers and Massy-Schneweis rises to the occasion with some of my favorite numbers being “A Musical” and “Make an Omlette”.  The production was fortunate to have the skills of Joey Lorincz as he designed yet another stellar set with the Renaissance building cutouts and utilizing a screen which projected illustrations of London Bridge, streets, and parks to indicate locale changes.  His lights always add something special such as tight spotlights on intimate numbers and his going to town with colors in “A Musical”.  Leah Skorupa-Mezger’s costumes suit the Renaissance period with the poofy pants, the colorful jerkins, the period correct dresses, and an elaborate scene with dancing eggs and omlettes.

Some of the dancing needed to be a bit cleaner and relaxed and a few bits of dialogue weren’t picked up by the mikes, but that did little to stop the avalanche of awesomeness that was this show.

If you’re looking for some fun and are a fan of theatre or even an opponent of musicals, then this is the show to see.  It’s the best thing going this summer.

Something Rotten! plays at the Ralston Performing Arts Center in Ralston High School under the auspices of Ralston Community Theatre through July 24.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 2pm.  Tickets cost $23 and can be purchased at the Box Office, calling 402-898-3545, or visiting www.ralstoncommunitytheatre.org.  Parental discretion is advised for this production.  Ralston Community Theatre is located at 8969 Park Dr in Ralston, NE.