Here I Go A Wassailing: Old Rittenhouse Inn & Bayfield, WI

Old Rittenhouse Inn

Today the road has brought me to Bayfield, WI.

It’s time once again for my favorite review of the year:  the annual Christmas B & B review.

This review has been 3 years in the making, but at long last I was able to make my way to this tiny village at the tip of northern Wisconsin to experience Old Rittenhouse Inn, owned and operated by the Phillips family, and its famous Wassail Weekend which was back in action after being suspended due to COVID for a few years.  This has been one of my favorite reviews and an inn that I would visit again in a heartbeat.

As I stated, Bayfield is a small village located at Wisconsin’s northern tip.  It also sits at the base of Lake Superior which means there is always the danger of a lake effect blizzard.  Due to this threat, I took the precaution of insuring my trip through Travel Guard.  For the cost of $35, I was able to have the peace of mind knowing that I wouldn’t be out financially in case things went south and the insurance would also fund lodging to the tune of $100 a day for five days if weather prevented me from returning home.

Fortunately, the weather report called for cold, but clear, weather for my jaunt.  So I was ready to rock.

I took an alternate route to Bayfield through the highways of Wisconsin for the double purpose of avoiding the Twin Cities which had just gone through a winter storm and for the hope of passing through small towns and seeing some local Christmas flavor.  A hope which was fulfilled as I made the long, but quaint, drive through the state.

I finally arrived in Bayfield around 3:30pm on Friday afternoon.  When you think small town, Bayfield is what leaps to mind.  It only has a total population of 584, has no chain restaurants, and a movie theater with one screen.  Truly it is the place to get away from it all.

The town had been bopped by its own storm on Tuesday and snow lined the streets and lawns.  But, hey, what’s a Christmas review without the magic of some winter snow?

I made my way to Old Rittenhouse Inn which practically kisses Lake Superior.  It is a Queen Anne Victorian mansion built in the Painted Lady architectural style and was originally built as a summer residence in 1890.  Jerry and Mary Phillips bought the home in 1973 and began operating it as Wisconsin’s first B & B. 

The mansion boasts an impressive 12 rooms which hold amenities such as whirlpool tubs, fireplaces, and views of Lake Superior.  Old Rittenhouse also has a sister inn called Le Chateau which holds an additional seven rooms for lodgers.  Old Rittenhouse also contains its own gourmet restaurant, Landmark Restaurant, on property and is open to the general public.  As the restaurant only holds 62, reservations are highly recommended, even as a guest of the inn.

I crunched my way to the front door of the inn where I checked in at an honest to goodness front desk and was led to Room 6.  This is one of the five biggest rooms I’ve stayed in and could have hosted a small party.  The room’s tan walls hold some lovely paintings along with a comfortable leather couch, rocking chair, coffee table, private table for two, a king-sized bed, and a whirlpool tub in the corner.  I also shared a private balcony with the room down the hall.

Once settled in, I explored the mansion and admired the Christmas festiveness on the first floor as well as the inn’s highly regarded stained glass windows.

Once my explorations were done, I donned my hat and coat and went to the downtown area to look around.  Downtown is just a few blocks away so there’d be no need for the car for this journey.  Downtown Bayfield looked properly Christmassy with the pine boughs wrapped around the street lamps and the storefronts shining with decorations, lights, and trees.

I was visiting during the off season so many activities and restaurants weren’t available to me which simply means I’ll have to come back during the spring or summer to experience ferries to the Apostle Islands and other seasonal events.  But I did enjoy gazing into the various shops and stores and saw the Christmas spirit in full swing.

For my dinner, I headed to Morty’s Pub.  This small bar and grill exuded a great deal of fun with sports showing on several TVs, a pool table, and seating at tables or the bar.  Morty’s Pub also had a goodie table laid out with desserts and chips and some hot items for the patrons to enjoy.

For myself, I enjoyed a tasty Bourbon BBQ Burger while I continued working my way thought my latest book of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.  A light snow had started to fall as I hiked my way back to the inn and I felt a long day of driving hit me as I entered my room.  I drew a whirlpool bath, added some aloe and green tea bath salts and just soaked for a long while before crawling under the thick quilt and blankets and reading myself to sleep.

Since I tend to rise early, I decided to eat early as well and had made a reservation to have breakfast at 8am.  In fact, I was the only guest eating at that early hour.  A menu was available and breakfast is free to guests of the inn ($16 for the general public).  The menu had several intriguing entrees, but I went with the special du jour:  Virginia Ham Scramble with a side of Yukon Gold Potatoes. 

Breakfast started with goblets of water and orange juice and a popover with crabapple ginger jelly.  For those of you unfamiliar with them, it’s a hollowed-out muffin.  Now I don’t typically eat jams or jellies, but this jelly was exquisite and the ginger really enhanced the flavor of the fruit.  My entrée was perfect in every way, shape, and form.  It was the perfect size and didn’t leave me feeling stuffed.  The potatoes were nice and crisp and eminently seasoned.  The scramble was right on the mark and a little cracked pepper upped the ante on the taste.

This, my friends, was dining.  I spent 45 minutes eating this delectable faire as I vacillated from reading and watching the lake smoke (due to the water being warmer than the air) waft off of Lake Superior.  I left a generous tip for the service (remember this is a working restaurant) and returned to my room for a bit of writing and reading.

About 11:30am I headed back downtown as I had a 90 minute massage scheduled at Superior Body Massage & Spa with Jen Banowetz.  Might I say that if you’re seeking a massage in Bayfield, make an appointment with Jen.  Jen’s knowledge of massage is unparalleled and she explained her techniques as she worked my muscles.  Jen used a variety of techniques including acupressure, Thai, Chinese, and even a bit of chiropractic adjustment when she stretched out my lower back.  The best moment was when she found a knot the size of a marble in my jaw and dissolved it with her fingers.  I felt my jaw hang loose in a way I haven’t felt in ages.

After untying my knots, Jen led me to the infrared sauna to close out my treatment.  Infrared sauna is a fairly new treatment that is more effective than traditional sauna as the infrared heaters warm you up from the inside out instead of just heating the air.  This lets one have a longer treatment and also purges more toxins from the system, increases relaxation, helps in weight loss, and promotes better sleep just to name a few benefits.

After a great sweat, I made a stop at the spirits shop across the hall and picked up a six pack of Wisconsin’s famed Spotted Cow beer to enjoy with my siblings during our own Christmas celebration in a few weeks.  I then returned to the inn for a brief rest before heading off to worship at Holy Family.

Holy Family Parish

It was a good Advent service with the deacon giving a strong sermon on how easy it is to justify sin and accepting the challenge of Jesus to change those patterns of thinking.  It was definitely a meaty subject to mull over.  But what moved me the most was what happened when I was leaving the chapel.

Holy Family has had a substitute pastor and I shook his hand on the way out and he gave me the warmest handshake I think I have ever experienced.  I was struck by his sincerity and his servant’s spirit which taught me a lesson in being Christian more powerfully than words ever could.

I mulled over that lesson as I walked back to Old Rittenhouse where I took another whirlpool bath and dressed for the Wassail dinner.

About 6pm I headed downstairs and found Landmark packed to capacity.  I was seated at a table with a pair of lovely couples:  Cheryl & Ed and Gail & Paul.  I enjoyed conversing with them throughout the eve.

At 6:30pm, the Old Rittenhouse Singers lined the cherry staircase and Jerry Phillips appeared in the doorway, shook his tambourine, and shouted, “Wassail!!” which the diners/audience heartily repeated.

Jerry Phillips welcomes the diners to Wassail.

This launched the Wassail Weekend.  Through the month of December, Old Rittenhouse Inn hosts 3 course luncheons ($65) and 5 course dinners ($95) where you are serenaded by the Old Rittenhouse Singers who will entertain you with a variety of Christmas hymns and carols.  Normally, the singers go from dining room to dining room to serenade, but sang to us from the stairs this year as a precaution.  Next year, the plan is to return to the traditional format.

Old Rittenhouse Singers

Now five courses may sound like a lot of food and it is filling, but the portions are not excessive (though the main entrée, understandably, is the most filling) and the courses are paced out over the night.  To give you an idea of the pacing, the first course was served shortly after 6:30pm and the final course was served around 10pm.

But what an amazing and festive night!!

The Christmas spirit was in full swing as the Old Rittenhouse Singers sang their hearts out and I enjoyed a sumptuous meal which began with a special Christmas cocktail called a White Christmas which was like a grasshopper without the green coloring.  Throughout the night I enjoyed a sumptuous feast consisting of the following courses:

Course 1:  Mushroom Consommé
Course 2:  Wassail Salad
Course 3:  Sorbet
Course 4:  Shaved Prime Rib with asparagus and mashed potatoes
Course 5:  Turtle Sundae with a rum syrup

With a full stomach and a peaceful soul, I slept soundly until morning dreaming of attending Wassail again in its full glory.

I dined early again as I had a long drive ahead of me and got to eat in the Blue Room (due to the color of the walls).  This was the inn’s original dining room before the Phillips family expanded it into the restaurant in the early 1980s.  I enjoyed the daily special again which was a Denver Scramble though I opted for bacon as the side dish and had V8 for the beverage.

Once I’d breakfasted, I settled the bill and began the long trek home.

If you want to experience Christmas in a way you never thought, you need to come to Old Rittenhouse Inn.  You will have an experience that will have you light of heart and full in stomach.  And the accommodations are luxurious and comfortable.  It will truly be a weekend you will remember always.

Until the next time. . .happy travels. . .and happy holidays!

From Them to You

From L to R (Ryan, Billy, and Matthew McGuigan rock out with Jay “Superman” Hanson in ‘Yesterday and Today’

It all began with one man’s love for the Beatles.  He passed that love to his children who gift countless people around the country with the music of the greatest group in rock, sharpened and honed with their own unique energy and delivery.  And now they’re doing it again in their own hometown at their new home at The Slowdown.  It’s Rave On Productions’ Christmas present to Omaha:  Yesterday & Today:  The Interactive Beatles Experience.

Yes, the McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, and Matthew) and their band are once again blessing the city with their gift of Beatles music for the holiday season.  This year marks the 15th anniversary of Yesterday & Today and it truly is the gift that keeps on giving.  This is actually Y & T’s second year at their new digs and the move to The Slowdown has actually helped make this show better than ever.

Having seen this show in multiple venues I can tell you that the band sometimes has to adapt their show to suit the environment.  But The Slowdown allows them to adapt the environment to suit the show as they have the best sound equipment, lights, and effects available so musicians can mold a top flight concert.  Billy McGuigan has also been able to add horns and strings which allows the McGuigans and their band to get the maximum potential out of each and every number.  Toss in the most varied set list I’ve ever heard (kudos to the audience), a supercharged band, an audience ravenous for entertainment, and the longest set of encores I’ve heard from the band and you’ve got the greatest rendition of Y & T that I’ve seen to date.

Billy McGuigan

Once more, Billy McGuigan acts as your master of ceremonies and tonight he was especially up for the game.  You could see the joy just radiating from his eyes as he soaked in the crowd’s energy and funneled it into his playing and singing throughout the night.  Billy got the night started off fast and right with a high powered take on “Got to Get You Into My Life” and barely paused for a breath from thenceforth.  If he wasn’t rocking out on early tunes like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “From Me to You” then he was leading the crowd to gentle waters with a trilogy including “Yesterday”, “Let it Be”, and “Here, There, and Everywhere”.  Billy clearly had the gasoline to go all night, but had to leave the audience immensely satisfied with merely a dozen encore tunes including the classic “Hey Jude” to close out the night.

Ryan McGuigan

No performer fuses theatricality and singing quite like Ryan McGuigan.  His numbers aren’t just songs.  They’re performance pieces.  Add that tenor that makes him sound like John Lennon reborn into the mix and you will simply be agog at his musical might.  Ryan kicked things into high gear right out of the gate with the acid trippy “She Said, She Said” and kept his foot on the accelerator with “Revolution”, “Come Together”, and “I Am the Walrus” though he did slow things down with a beautiful take on “All You Need is Love”.

Matthew McGuigan

Matthew McGuigan flexed his musical majesty in the first act especially with his bass work in “From Me to You” and brought his musical chops to bear in the second act.  Highlights of his singing included the ethereal “Strawberry Fields Forever” and somewhere I can hear John Lennon asking himself why he didn’t think to end the song on the same plaintive note that Matthew does.  McGuigan also soars with a peppy version of “All My Loving” and indulges in a bit of hard psychedelia with “Hey, Bulldog”.

Ciaran McGuigan

Lead guitarist Jay “Superman” Hanson not only knocked things out of the park with his skilled guitar playing, but he got multiple chances to shine with takes on George Harrison classics such as “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?”, and “Here Comes the Sun”.  Ciaran McGuigan has blossomed into a fine guitarist and his sweet, almost shy, take on “With a Little Help From My Friends” shows he will carry the legacy of Y & T into the future.

Jay “Superman” Hanson

Billy McGuigan often says the show is not about him and his band, but about the music from four guys from Liverpool and the audience’s connection with that music.  There’s an element of truth to that, but that connection would mean nothing without the interpretation of this music by three guys from Omaha inspired by a father who left this world much too soon.  Yesterday & Today has truly become a family affair and it’s a comforting feeling to know these treasures of Omaha will continue to share this gift with our town and the rest of the country for a long time to come.

Yesterday and Today:  The Interactive Beatles Experience runs at The Slowdown through Dec 30.  Showtimes are Fri-Sun at 7:30pm through Dec 11 and Wed-Fri at 7:30pm Dec 21-30.  There are no shows from Dec 12-20 and the performance on Dec 4 is at 6:30pm.  Tickets range from $20-$50 and can be purchased here.  The Slowdown is located at 729 N 14th St in Omaha, NE.

Lofte Community Theatre Announces 2023 Season

Doublewide, Texas

By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, & Jamie Wooten

March 24, 25, 26, 30, 31 & April 1, 2

Auditions: Feb. 13 & 14 @ 7 PM

The inhabitants of one of the smallest trailer parks in Texas—four doublewides and a shed—are thrown for a loop when they realize the nearby town of Tugaloo is determined to annex them. These friends, enemies, and neighbors will need to work together to overcome the oncoming annexation and preserve their way of life. This hilarious, fast-paced comedy, comes with plenty of “down home” humor to go around!

Wit

By Margaret Edson

May 5, 6, 7, 11, 12, 13, 14

Auditions: Feb. 16 & 17 @ 7 PM

*We suggest PG-13 for adult themes- This show discusses cancer and death*

Vivian Bearing, Ph.D., a renowned professor of English who has spent years studying and teaching the brilliant and difficult metaphysical sonnets of John Donne, has been diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. During the course of her illness—and her stint as a prize patient in an experimental chemotherapy program at a major teaching hospital—Vivian comes to reassess her life and her work with deep insight and humor that are transformative both for her and the audience. Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

9 to 5: The Musical

Music and Lyrics by Dolly Parton; Book by Patricia Resnick

July 15, 16, 20, 21, 22, 23, 27, 28, 29, 30

Auditions: May 15 & 16 @ 7 PM

Pushed to the boiling point, three female coworkers concoct a plan to take the power away from the sexist, egotistical, lying, hypocritical bigot they call their boss. Based on the 1980 hit movie, 9 to 5 The Musical is a hilarious, outrageous, and thought-provoking story of friendship and revenge in the Rolodex era. Come see these women take control of their office and discover there is nothing they can’t do, even in a man’s world.

The Mousetrap

By Agatha Christie

September 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10

Auditions: July 24 & 25 @ 7 PM

*This show discusses death, murder, and child abuse*

After a local woman is murdered, the guests and staff at Monkswell Manor find themselves stranded during a snowstorm. It soon becomes clear that the killer is among them, as the seven strangers grow increasingly suspicious of one another. A police detective arrives on skis to interrogate the suspects but when a second murder takes place, tensions and fears escalate. This murder mystery features a brilliant surprise finish from Dame Agatha Christie, the foremost mystery writer of her time. The world’s longest-running play comes to the Lofte stage!

The Nerd

By Larry Shue

October 14, 15, 20, 21, 22, 26, 27, 28, 29

Auditions: Aug. 13 @ 2 PM & Aug. 14 @ 7 PM

Aspiring architect Willum Cubbert owes his life to Rick Steadman, a fellow ex-GI whom he has never met but who saved his life when he was wounded in battle. Willum has told Rick that as long as he is alive, “you will have somebody on Earth who will do anything for you.” To Willum’s delight, Rick unexpectedly appears on the night of his thirty-fourth birthday party. However, delight soon turns to dismay as he discovers that Rick is a hopeless “nerd,” —a bumbling oaf with no social sense, little intelligence and less tact. This outrageous comedy will leave you laughing all the way home!

A Doublewide, Texas Christmas

By Jessie Jones, Nicholas Hope, & Jamie Wooten

December 1, 2, 3, 8, 9, 10, 14, 15, 16, 17

Auditions: Oct. 16 & 17 @ 7 PM

Back in one of the smallest trailer parks in Texas, it’s beginning to look a lot like trouble! Not only are the trailer park residents dealing with the stress of the holiday season, but they’ve just discovered that Doublewide is being double-crossed by the County. New problems come up and familiar problems come back as this band of eccentric Texans must band together once more to keep their lifestyle and their holiday spirit! Oh, there’s no place like a good ol’ Texas-sized mobile home for the holidays!

OCP Announces Auditions for ‘Little Shop of Horrors’

Omaha, NE–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) is holding in-person auditions for Little Shop of Horrors at the Omaha Community Playhouse on December 3 and 4 and Latino Center for the Midlands on December 5. 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.

Production: Little Shop of Horrors

Credits: Book and Lyrics by Howard Ashman; Music by Alan Menken

Director: Stephen Santa

Choreographer: DJ Tyree

Music Director: Jim Boggess

Show Dates: April 14-May 7, 2023 Omaha Community Playhouse, Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Rehearsals: Begin February 26, 2023

Show Synopsis: Seymour, a nerdy store clerk at Mushnik’s flower shop, is thrust into the spotlight when he happens upon a new breed of carnivorous plant. But his newfound fame comes at a cost when Seymour discovers the sassy seedling has an unquenchable thirst for human blood. Ravenously fun, dripping with camp and nostalgia. Disclaimer: Contains mild adult content and language.

Auditions: Saturday, Dec. 3, 1-4 p.m. (Latino Center for the Midlands, 4937 S. 24th St., Omaha, NE 68107)

Sunday, Dec. 4, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. (Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68132)

Monday, Dec. 5, 6-9 p.m. (Omaha Community Playhouse)

Callbacks: Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022, 6-10 p.m. (Omaha Community Playhouse)

Notes: Auditions are by appointment only. Please complete the audition form to schedule a time. When arriving to audition at the Playhouse, please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side of the building. Those auditioning should be prepared to spend 60-90 minutes at the audition.

Audition preparation: Two 32 bar songs – Pop, R&B, or Contemporary Musicals. Accompanist will be provided.

Roles: Click here for character breakdown.

Compensation: Onstage performers 19 and older for this show will be compensated $700 in total.

Contact: For more information, please visit omahaplayhouse.com.

Tears of Christmas

It’s the story of one man’s salvation through the saving power of Christmas.  It’s A Christmas Carol and it is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

OCP’s classic tradition is back on stage for the 47th time and this marks my third year in a row reviewing it and, I believe, my fifth time reviewing a version of this show.  I’m sometimes asked why I would review a show I’ve reviewed before and the answer is simple.

It’s never quite the same show.

Actors change.  Directors change.  Crew members change.  And with every change comes a new bit of insight.  A different way of doing things that makes the show original unto itself.  Even if everything were identical from the previous year, it would still be different because new and fresh inspirations would be infused into the show.  As it happens this show had a number of changes this year beginning with a blend of the new and classic as Susie Baer-Collins returns to direct the holiday tradition along with OCP Artistic Director, Stephen Santa, and Jim McKain who were making their directing debuts with this show.  The end result was the most moving rendition of A Christmas Carol I have witnessed at OCP.

With the fusion of the three directors, you assuredly see elements and moments from past productions of the show, but you also see new and original ones as well.  You also get a crucial new element that I had never seen in any previous production:  somberness.  This show began with a very sad feeling, almost as if Scrooge’s essence was infused into every jot and tittle of this world.  I admit I was hooked and I shed a few tears along the way.  Baer-Collins, Santa, and McKain guided their performers to solid performances and had me believing in Christmas’ power.

I always enjoy watching the ensemble, especially when they’re really into their performances.  As I gazed about and saw the smiling faces and lights in the eyes of the actors, I was well and truly sucked into their world.  Some stellar performances in the supporting cast came from Cullen Wiley as Topper who is truly amusing when he gives clues as he plays Yes and No at Fred’s party.  Jacob Roman brings a real meekness to Bob Cratchit whose strong heart allows him to work with the miserly and unkind Scrooge.  Christina Rohling is a loving mother and the rock supporting her husband as Mrs. Cratchit.

Don Keelan-White unlocked the full potential of Jacob Marley with his attack on the role this season.  There was something truly haunting (no pun intended) in both the supernatural and the emotional senses of the word with his performance.  He seemed otherworldly and very human at the same time.  His regret at his failure to help his fellow man during his lifetime was palpable and sincere and I loved his scaring the bejeepers out of Scrooge as he smacked his chains against the floor and pointedly warned Scrooge about the length and weight of his own invisible chains.

DJ Tyree was the Ghost of Christmas Present I had long envisioned.  Tyree just bled majesty and regality and basked in the essence of this spirit.  He had the jovial nature needed for this generous ghost, but also gave Scrooge a pointed verbal jab or two as he threw Scrooge’s cruel words back in his face when discussing the potential fate of Tiny Tim.

For the 17th and final time, Jerry Longe takes the reins of this show as Ebenezer Scrooge.  Indeed, I think the knowledge that this is his last go around added to some of the somber feeling of the show and certainly lent it an additional power.  Longe’s take on Scrooge this time was an angle I’ve never seen played before in any version and I really loved it.  Longe made Scrooge spiritually dead.  By that I mean, he was utterly emotionless.  Life held no joy for him and his accumulation of wealth was just something he did as it certainly brought him no happiness or comfort.  So convincing was Longe in this spiritual death that it made his Scrooge seem very old and frail.  It also had me riding along on Scrooge’s salvation train in a way I had never experienced it before.  Longe was shedding real tears at some points as Scrooge’s dead heart was slowly resurrected and I was searching for my own tissue right along with him.  His redemption had a purity I had never seen before and left me with a sense of divine satisfaction.

Longe seemed to improv asides a bit more this year, but they were fun and one aside had me doubled over with laughter. You’ll know it when you hear it. Truly, it is a fine finale for this treasure of local theatre.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra perfectly played the Christmas carols and hymns and there was an x factor this year that gave it that extra emotional punch.  Michelle Garrity’s choreography was always charming especially in the party scenes.  Linsday Pape’s costumes transport you to the Victorian era of Charles Dickens.  Jim Othuse’s set helps add to that feeling of a bygone era with the old-fashioned buildings and his lights add emotional depths with stars, the pale green of Jacob Marley, and the near total blackness while Scrooge waits for the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco’s sounds always enhance things with the ghostly voice modifications for the spirits, the gentle tolling of a clock tower bell, and the tinkling sound hearkening the appearance of Ghost of Christmas Past.  Andrew Morgan’s properties add so much with the sight of feasts, toys, and Christmas items.  Darrin Golden’s technical direction makes the supernatural realistic and Janet Morr’s artistry enhances the sets.

I think you’re truly in for a Christmas treat this year as this incarnation of A Christmas Carol is going to hit you in a way you’ve never been hit before.  You’ll truly marvel at the power of Christmas.

A Christmas Carol runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Dec 23.  Showtimes are Wednesdays at 7pm, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6:30pm.  Tickets start at $40 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800, or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse

Sister Has a Christmas Mystery to Solve

Mary Zentmyer stars as Sister in Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold

Omaha, NE.–Sister’s Christmas Catechism: The Mystery of the Magi’s Gold will open Friday, Nov. 25, 2022 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Nov. 25 through Dec. 23. Performances will be held Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

It’s “CSI: Bethlehem” in this holiday mystery extravaganza, from the author of Late Nite Catechism, as Sister takes on the mystery that has intrigued historians throughout the ages—whatever happened to the Magi’s gold? (“We know that Mary used the frankincense and myrrh as a sort of potpourri—they were in a barn after all.”) Retelling the story of the Nativity, as only Sister can, this hilarious holiday production is bound to become a yearly classic. Employing her own scientific tools, assisted by a local choir as well as a gaggle of audience members, Sister creates a living nativity unlike any you’ve ever seen.With gifts galore and bundles of laughs, Sister’s Christmas Catechism is sure to become the newest addition to your holiday traditions.

Tickets start at $35 and are available at the OCP Box Office (6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE) or by calling 402-553-0800.

A local choir will be featured during each performance of Sister’s Christmas Catechism.
•Freedom Choir, Sacred Heart Church – November 25-27
•Omaha North High School Choir – December 2-4
•Omaha Burke High School Choir – December 8-11
•Zion Baptist Church Choir – December 16
•Doan College Choir – December 17-23
•OCP Staff Choir – December 1 & 15

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse

Family Drama

Lon Smith has been offered a promotion that requires him to relocate himself and his family to New York.  Lon’s family, especially his headstrong and troublemaking daughters, are dead set against the move.  In trying to derail the move, Lon’s eldest child, Rose, ends up derailing his job.  To find out how the family copes with this turn of events, watch Meet Me in St. Louis currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

This show is unusual in that it first began life as a series of short stories by Sally Benson called The Kensington Stories in 1942 and these stories were later novelized under the title of Meet Me in St. Louis. Arthur Freed would convince Louis B. Mayer to buy the film rights and the stories were turned into a musical starring Judy Garland in 1944. Later, Christopher Sergel would turn the stories into a straight play. This production happens to be the straight play and it is very much a period piece.  It does seem a bit stronger than others of its ilk as it isn’t quite so draggy as its counterparts.  This production was also aided by a cast who were able to infuse the words and characters with some whimsy and charm.

Newcomer Jackson Newman really does get all that he can out of the script and any director that can manage to keep vibrancy with incredibly talky dialogue is clearly doing something right.  Newman strikes the right emotional beats with his control of the dialogue and gets his cast to project a strong sense of family.  He’s also led his cast to some effective performances and makes good use of the massive living room set.  It never feels empty in any spot and actors are well staged and blocked and can be seen at all points.

There were some exceptional performances in the supporting cast.  Chris Latta is an insufferable toady as Duffy.  Dannika Rees just bleeds snobbery as Lucille Pentard.  Randy Wallace amuses in the dual roles of the eccentric grandfather who claims he was once a king and as Lon’s blustering boss, Mr. Dodge.

This show had a real find in the form of Amy Wagner as Agnes.  Wagner struck all the right notes as the bratty and defiant tomboy who plays some pretty dangerous and mean-spirited pranks.  Wagner’s voice was clear and strong and could be heard throughout the theatre and her articulation was clear as a bell.

Francisco Franco is very sweet and fatherly as the family patriarch, Lon Smith.  Franco brings a real gentleness to Smith who is fully aware that he doesn’t have much control over the behavior of his children.  As such he uses persuasion and reason to convince his children of the soundness of his judgments as opposed to ordering them about.  What I truly admired about his performance was that he didn’t get angry when his kids screwed things up, he got hurt.  And his agony was more of a punishment to his children than his anger ever could hope to be.

Charity Williams imbues her Rose with the right blend of youth and nobility.  Rose has many positive qualities such as determination and forthrightness.  However, due to her youth, she can misuse these positive traits and can act with great idiocy.  Her mouth tends to run away with her and she often acts before she thinks which can lead to a world of trouble.  But sometimes her blitheness can save the day, too.

Joey Lorincz conjures yet another piece of theatrical magic with his gorgeous living room set that looks like it stepped right out of the early 1900s with its red patterned wallpaper and he closes the show with a colorful fireworks display shining through the living room window.  Rebecca Krause has the living room filled with period correct furniture.  Francisco Franco doubles up with sound design work with my favorite being a yowling cat used in a few gags.  Todd Uhrmacher’s costumes suit the period with dapper vests and suits for the men and fancy dresses, hats, and gowns for the ladies.

There were a few squeaks in today’s performance.  Pacing needed to be much quicker and cue pickups were lax.  Some of the movements seemed a little too staged and needed to be more natural.  Still, if you like a good vintage piece, then Meet Me in St. Louis will be right up your alley.

Meet Me in St. Louis runs through Nov 20. Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $25 and can be purchased at the Box Office, at blt.simpletix.com, or calling 402-413-8945.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Who Am I?

It’s a most unique love triangle.  Alice is in a relationship with Fiona who informs her that she now wants to live as a man and be called Adrian.  Leilani is attracted to Alice.  And Alice is trying to summon the courage to come out to her parents, but all the while is trying to figure out who she truly is.  This is Rotterdam and it is the debut production for Voices in Alliance and is playing at the Flixx Show Bar.

I was honored to be asked to review the inaugural show for this new theatre and I can certainly say that if the quality of future productions matches this one, this theatre will be very successful.

Jon Brittain has written a fascinating script.  It’s completely dialogue driven, yet never drags or becomes a sitting room piece.  Every conversation sparks and crackles with tension, love, questions, philosophy, and emotion.  The play’s dominant theme is searching for that sense of identity and being true to one’s self.  Sometimes that search is much harder than it seems.

Randall T. Stevens provides a top flight piece of direction.  Not only has he led his thespians to shining performances, but he has them use the dialogue with a brutal efficiency.  There’s no lag between the words.  Cue pickups were tight as a drum.  In some of the more intense scenes, words are flung like daggers between characters.  His staging is fairly effective as he uses the lounge’s own bar tables for bar scenes and utilizes spots other than the stage to perform some moments.  The layout is almost like theatre in the round and he may want to adjust some of the blocking to prevent actors from upstaging themselves at certain points, if possible.

Analisa Swerczek has her finest performance to date with her rendition of Alice.  As Alice, Swerczek is skittish and hides that skittishness beneath a veneer of perfectionism.  She’s written 15 drafts to come out to her parents, but can never pull the trigger.  In some ways, she’s very cowardly and Swerczek always has that sense of being hunted about her, never realizing that she is also the hunter that hounds her.  Alice is a lost soul searching for her true self while simultaneously running from it.  And her first brave steps towards claiming her own identity is simplistically and beautifully handled in the finale.

Ang Bennett has a moving performance as Fiona/Adrian.  Unlike Alice, Fiona always had confidence and certainness in who she was and seems to maintain that confidence when she decides to make the transition to Adrian.  Ironically, as Adrian, he begins to lose some of that confidence as he overreacts to not being accepted as a man immediately.  And Alice’s seeming rejection of Adrian causes him to nearly sacrifice his identity out of love.  Bennett handles some difficult scenes gracefully, especially one where Adrian practically begs his brother to physically fight him to feel like a man.  Bennett does need to keep their projection up as certain moments of dialogue were a little faint.

Nick LeMay and Xena Broaden sparkle in the supporting roles of Josh and Leilani.  LeMay’s Josh is in an original situation as he once dated Alice before Alice left him for his sister, Fiona.  Still, he has remained a staunch friend to both and serves as a bedrock for them to lean on as their relationship starts becoming tumultuous.  LeMay brings a genuine kindness and sensitivity to the role and provides some levity in lighter moments.  Broaden’s Leilani is a live life to the fullest kind of girl and wants to drag Alice kicking and screaming into the adventure of life.  But she also gives Leilani an innocent obtuseness as she is sometimes unable to recognize the seriousness of a situation and unwisely inserts herself into deeply personal moments.

Shannon Smay’s sounds really keep the production clipping along, especially his use of the song “Rotterdam”.

It’s a stellar first production for Voices in Alliance and a deep look into that personal sense of identity that’s going to have you really thinking before the night is done.

Rotterdam runs at Flixx Show Bar under the auspices of Voices in Alliance through Nov 19.  Showtimes are 7pm Thurs-Sat.  Tickets cost $25 and can be obtained here. For more information, please call 402-208-0150.  Due to mature language and themes, this show is not suitable for children.  Flixx Show Bar is located at 1019 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Great Plains Theatre Announces Auditions for Season 29

Auditions for Season 29 for Great Plains Theatre open December 1st, 2023! Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, will be holding in person auditions, and accepting virtual audition submissions for this season. All shows and roles are listed below. Please see details and information on which contracts have already been offered. In person details and virtual submission information is listed below. If you would like to be considered for any shows in the next season (2023) or would like to be acknowledged for a possible replacement track, please email Mitchell at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com.

IN PERSON AUDITION

Saturday, January 7th

9:00am – 12:00pm & Dance Call at 1:00pm

Please bring one current head shot and resume and prepare a 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you, a 60-second monologue, and be ready with extra materials should Mitchell need to see it. The dance call will be held after lunch at 1:00pm. Please bring clothes to move in. All callback materials will be sent via e-mail and accepted by video.

To sign up for in person auditions (adult and youth slots), please click the link below!

VIRTUAL AUDITION SUBMISSIONS

Please send a current head shot, resume, and an audition video package for consideration. Your audition video package should contain a 32-bar song cut, 60-second monologue, and any dance/movement footage for consideration. All videos MUST be sent via an unlisted YOUTUBE link. All materials required should be e-mailed directly to the Artistic/Education Director, Mitchell Aiello, at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com. If needed, callback materials will be sent out by the end of February 2023. Thank you for your time, talent, and commitment! 

VIRTUAL AUDITION SUBMISSION DEADLINE: January 27, 2023

Thank you and happy auditioning!

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Main Stage):

The Wedding Singer (Rehearsals: May 22-June 1, Performances: June 1-11)

Oliver! (Rehearsals: June 12-22, Performances: June 23-July 2)

Nunsense (Rehearsals: July 3-13, Performances: July 14-30)

Around the World in 80 Days (Rehearsals: August 28-September 7, Performances: September 8-24)

Miracle on 34th Street (Rehearsals: November 19-30, Performances: December 1-17)

Great Plains Theatre’s 28th Season (Live Literature Series):

Pinocchio (Rehearsals: February 14-28, Performances: March 1-11)

Around the World in 80 Days (Rehearsals: August 28-September 7, Performances: September 8-24)

Questions? Contact Artistic Director, Mitchell Aiello, at mitchell@greatplainstheatre.com

Click Here to SIGN UP for Season 29 Auditions

Season 29 Main Stage/Live Lit AUDITION – Breakdown

**ALL ROLES listed below are available EXCEPT for the roles notated. Mitchell receives thousands of virtual and in person auditions each season and is astounded with all of the talent and dedication. Thank you for your patience. GPT is excited to continue sharing the magic of live theatre through the sensational talent and outstanding shows presented.

PINOCCHIO

Pinocchio – The most famous puppet

Blue Fairy – Guiding Light for Pinocchio

Geppetto – Older man who builds Pinocchio

Fox/Mr. Big/Mr. Bunksterburger – Multiple-character track

Cricket/Whale/Talking Piece of Wood – Multiple-character track

THE WEDDING SINGER

Robbie Hart – Tenor. The lead singer of a band. Handsome and charismatic. A truly ‘nice’ guy that has the classic lead singer aura and personality. Also, a bit of a dreamer. In love with love until Linda leaves him at the altar and breaks his heart. Ability to play instruments a plus.

Julia Sullivan – Mezzo-Pop. Waitress. The pretty “girl next door” in looks and personality. Engaged to Glen but falls in love with Robbie and is conflicted as to who to choose. Empathetic, caring, and brave.

Holly – Mezzo-Pop. Julia’s cousin. Sexually promiscuous and always up for a good time but wants to be loved and is looking for romantic fulfillment in all the wrong places. She is in love with Sammy. Must be strong belter

Sammy – Tenor. The bass player in the wedding band and one of Robbie’s best friends. A total guy’s guy, but beneath his pretending to love being a bachelor he is actually in love with Holly.

George – Tenor. The wedding band’s keyboardist and one of Robbie’s best friends. He is sensitive and somewhat flamboyant. The foil to Sammy’s super guy attitude.

Glen Guglia – Tenor. Julia’s fiancé. A Wall Street broker. He is rich, shallow, and materialistic. Constantly tries to buy Julia’s love with money. He is a bit of a womanizer.

Rosie – Alto. Robbie’s grandmother who raised him. Motherly but adventurous and always trying to remain “hip” despite her age.

Linda – Mezzo. Robbie’s fiancé who leaves him at the altar. Keeps Robbie around as a back-up plan. Is more in love with the idea of Robbie being a rock star than she actually is with Robbie.

FEATURED ENSEMBLE INCLUDING:

(Many of these roles will be combined into multi-track ensemble roles)

Harold & Debbie Fonda – First bride & groom in the show.

David Fonda – Drunk brother of the groom at the first wedding; gives the worst speech ever.

Priest – Priest at Robbie and Linda’s wedding

Angie – Julia’s mom. Divorced and still bitter about it. Good Singer.

Crystal & Mookie – A stereotypical Jersey guy and girl. Mookie is very macho and Crystal loud and pushy. Crystal should be a good singer

Tiffany & Donnie – Another couple who gets engaged at the restaurant. Tiffany should sound like Janice from “Friends”

Waiters 1 & 2 – Waiters at restaurant where Glenn proposes to Julia

Donatella & Shane McDonnough – Bride and groom at the second (disastrous) wedding. Donatella speaks in an obnoxious baby‐talk voice.

Donatella’s Mother – A very assertive woman

Sales Clerk, Ricky, Bum, Agent – Good singers throughout show with solo lines

Impersonators – Billy Idol, Cyndi Lauper, Mr. T, Ronald Reagan, Tina Turner, Nancy Reagan, Imelda Marcos

OLIVER!

Fagin – Baritone. Middle aged leader of a children’s band of thieves. Cockney accent. Described as devious, a user, sly fox, con man, very personable. Must work well with young actors.

Nancy – (Offer Pending) Mezzo. When she was younger worked for Fagin, now a “barmaid” at the Three Cripples Bar. Cockney accent. She lives with and loves Bill Sykes, pretty, intelligent, longs for a better life. Must be a belter and move well. Must work well with young actors.

Bill Sykes – Baritone. Also worked for Fagin as a youth now a feared master criminal. Cockney accent. Good looking in a rough sort of way, sociopath, a killer who only looks out for himself

Mr. Bumble/Others – Baritenor. The Master of the Workhouse. Cockney accent. A large, pompous and corrupt bureaucrat. Must work well with young actors. Will be other small roles throughout the show.

Widow Corney/Others – Mezzo-Soprano. The Mistress of the Workhouse. Cockney accent. Sharp tongued widow, also corrupt. Must work well with young actors. Will be other small roles throughout the show.

Bet – Mezzo. Nancy’s friend, may also have worked for Fagin. Cockney accent. She idolizes Nancy. Must move well and work well with young actors.

FEATURED ENSEMBLE INCLUDING:

(Many of these roles will be combined into multi-track ensemble roles)

Mr. Sowerberry – The undertaker. Cockney accent. Kind of creepy, “buy” Oliver from Bumble to work in the funeral home as a coffin follower. Good Singer.

Mrs. Sowerberry – The undertaker’s wife. Cockney accent. More business savvy than her husband. Good Singer.

Noah Claypole – Undertaker’s apprentice. Cockney accent. May have also come from Workhouse. Feels threatened by, dislikes and torments Oliver.

Charlotte – Sowerberry’s daughter. Cockney accent. Attracted to Noah, kind of flirty.

Mr. Brownlow – Older gentleman. British (not cockney) accent. Kind upper class gentleman, Oliver’s grandfather.

Dr. Grimwig – A doctor. British (not cockney) accent. Upper class, friend of Mr. Brownlow.

Mrs. Bedwin – A housekeeper. British (not cockney) accent. Works for Mr. Brownlow. Warm personality.

Solo Singing Roles – The Rose Seller (mezzo), Strawberry Seller (soprano), Milk Maid (soprano), Knife Grinder (baritone) and Long Song Seller (Tenor)

NUNSENSE

Sister Mary Regina (Mother Superior) – Mezzo-Belt. A feisty, Sophie Tucker-type who can’t resist the spotlight. The head of the convent, she is respected greatly by the sisters. While she is strict, she has a hard time keeping the craziness of the convent at bay. She keeps her guard up in front of the nuns but has an extroverted side. Role requires some very physical humor. Must be able to move well.

Sister Mary Hubert (Mistress of Novices) – Mezzo-Belt. Hubert is in charge of novices but fancies herself a Mother Superior and is constant competition with Mary Regina. She exudes maternal wisdom to novices, but also likes to let loose. Must be able to move well and tap.

Sister Robert Anne – Mezzo-Soprano Belt. Once a child delinquent herself, this rough tough nun is a jokester and constantly challenging authority. She speaks with a thick Brooklyn accent and constantly displays her lack of refinement. Must be able to move well and tap.

Sister Mary Amnesia – Soprano Belt (classical and Country). As the name suggests, she has lost her memory and does not know who she is except that she is a nun. She is spacey and incoherent, often slipping into displays inappropriate for a nun. Must be able to move well and tap. Extra: puppetry and ventriloquism a plus.

Sister Mary Leo – Soprano. Leo is the novice nun who has entered the convent with the firm desire to become the first nun ballerina. Still learning the way and coming to terms with her decision to give up “civilian” life, she deems herself quite the ballerina and displays her talents through much of the show. She is easily swayed to join in mischief. Must be able to move well, tap, and pointe ballet.

AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS

Phileas Fogg

Actor 1 – Plays multiple roles.

Actor 2 – Plays multiple roles.

Actor 3 – Plays multiple roles.

Actor 4 – Plays multiple roles.

(All actors may be played by any gender.)

MIRACLE ON 34th STREET

Doris Walker – Mezzo-Soprano. Special Event Coordinator for Macy’s Department Store. She is a driven career woman and free thinker who has recently divorced. Hard-working and cynical. Must work well with young actors.

Fred Gaily – Baritenor. A handsome Military Captain mustering out into civilian life. Smart, hopeful and warm. Must work well with young actors.

Kris Kringle – Baritone. Kind old man who believes he is Santa Claus. He embodies all of the classic characteristics of the jolly, friendly, warm-hearted icon. Must work well with young actors.

Marvin Shellhammer – Baritone. An aggressive but somewhat bungling junior executive and the head of Public Relations.

R.H. Macy – Baritone. The boss of Macy’s. Very concerned with public opinion.

FEATURED ENSEMBLE INCLUDING:

(Many of these roles will be combined into multi-track ensemble roles)

Judge Harper – Presides over Kringle’s hearing; Judicial; likeable; a bit political.

Dr. Pierce – -Physician at Maplewood Home; warm, caring

Sawyer – Macy’s vocational guidance counselor; character role requiring great comic timing.

Mara – Prosecuting attorney; somewhat jaded; sticks to the letter of the law.

Halloran – Judge Harper’s political campaign manager.

Finley – Bailiff in Judge Harper’s court.

Bloomingdale – Owner and manager of Bloomingdale’s Department Store

ENSEMBLE

Season 29 YOUTH Main Stage AUDITION

Saturday, January 7th

9:00am – 12:00pm & Dance Call at 1:00pm

Please bring one current head shot and resume and prepare a 32-bar cut of a song that showcases you, a 60-second monologue, and be ready with extra materials should Mitchell need to see it. The dance call will be held after lunch at 1:00pm. Please bring clothes to move in. All callback materials will be discussed with Mitch after the dance call.

To sign up for in person auditions (adult and youth slots), please click the link below

Click Here to SIGN UP for Season 29 Auditions

Season 29 YOUTH Main Stage AUDITION – Breakdown

Seeking the following youth roles for the 2023 Main Stage Season

TEEN ENSEMBLE – The Wedding Singer – Male & Female, 13-18

FEATURED ENSEMBLE – The Wedding Singer – Male & Female, 13-18

OLIVER TWIST – Oliver! – Male, 7-13, An orphan workhouse boy. British (not cockney) accent, bright and innocent. Must be strong singer and actor. Must be good at memorizing.

ARTFUL DODGER – Oliver! – Male or Female, 8-15, A street kid. Cockney accent. Very energetic, highly personable, intelligent and savvy beyond his/her years.

ORPHANS – Oliver! – Male & Female, 6-15

FAGIN’S CREW – Oliver! Male & Female, 8-18

SUSAN WALKER – Miracle on 34th Street – Female, 7-13, Daughter to Dorris. She is wise beyond her years and a self-sufficient city girl. Must be good actor and singer.

YOUTH ENSEMBLE – Miracle on 34th Street – Male & Female, 8-18

Final Redemption: Jerry Longe’s Final Run in “A Christmas Carol” Begins on Nov 18

Jerry Longe (L) and Don Keelan-White (R) star in “A Christmas Carol” at Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, NE.–Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition, A Christmas Carol, will open Friday, Nov. 18, 2022 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Nov. 18 through Dec. 23. Performances will be held Wednesdays at 7 p.m., Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and two performances Sundays at 2 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

It just isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol! Experience Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition as Ebenezer Scrooge takes us on a life-changing journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Filled with stunning Victorian costumes, festive music and crisp, wintry sets, A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder of the power of redemption and the generosity that lies at the heart of the Christmas holiday.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $40 for adults and $26 for students, with ticket prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, located at 6915 Cass Street, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

JERRY LONGE’S FINAL YEAR

2022 will mark Jerry Longe’s final year playing Ebenezer Scrooge. He has played the iconic role for 17 seasons. The only other person to play Ebenezer Scrooge on OCP’s Hawks Mainstage is the late Dick Boyd who played the role for 30 years.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse