A Telekinetic, Teenage Tragedy

Carrie White is a special girl.  Sure she’s bullied and ostracized by her classmates, but she is a special girl.  And maybe her mother abuses her psychologically and emotionally, but she really is a special girl.  Do you want to know how special?  Just make her angry.  But I wouldn’t advise it.  For, if you do, you won’t live long enough to regret it.  Find out how special Carrie White is in Carrie:  The Musical adapted by Lawrence D. Cohen from a novel by Stephen King with music composed by Michael Gore and lyrics written by Dean Pitchford and currently playing at SNAP! Productions.

I admit to not being much of a fan of Stephen King’s horror works.  I’ve only read one of his books and have seen roughly six of his macabre tales. Now I have watched the film version of Carrie and I consider it to be the deepest of his horror novels.  Let me correct that.  It isn’t a horror novel.  Carrie is a tragedy with some undertones of horror.  It is actually an eye opening look at the evil of bullying.  I also admit that I was glad to review this show because I found it to be one of the top productions of the theatre season.

I congratulate Todd Brooks for a truly impressive piece of stage and music direction.  He treated the subject matter with respect and did fine work leading the score.  I also thought he told the story exceptionally well as he and his troupe of actors led us through the pain of Carrie’s existence, yet managed to drop little nuggets of hope for her before epically yanking the rug out from under her feet.  Brooks also drew very good performances out of his thespians who provided a well acted, well sung tale.

I always appreciate choruses who understand the vital part they play in shows.  Each and every member of this chorus stay involved with every moment of the show, providing fresh and strong characterizations that really livened things up.  This particular chorus also had the best harmonization I have ever heard, best exemplified in “A Night We’ll Never Forget”.

Notable performances were supplied by Josh Polack as Billy Nolan, the dimwitted and mean-spirited boyfriend of Carrie’s nemesis and Mike Burns’ portrayal of Tommy Ross, one of the few decent students at Carrie’s school.  Burns had one of the night’s best numbers as his pleasant tenor touched hearts with “Tommy’s Poem (Dreamer in Disguise)”.

Gigi Hausman really shines in the title role of Carrie White in her SNAP! debut.  Ms Hausman has incredible body language as the put upon Carrie as she closes herself off from the rest of her classmates with her clasped hands, slumped shoulders, and downward gaze.  My heart truly ached from the loneliness and sadness she communicated and she nicely evolves Carrie from mousey to somewhat confident and hopeful when Tommy asks her to the prom and she learns how to control her telekinesis to her final snapping after a cruel prank causes her to unleash the full fury of her power on the school.

Ms Hausman was equally moving on the singing side as her soprano pleaded for God’s help in “Evening Prayers” and was quietly optimistic in “Why Not Me?”

Sara Planck is scary in her role of Margaret White.  And what really sells it is how real and normal she appears.  Ms Planck’s Margaret seems like a regular mom, if a little overprotective, until she starts spouting the drivel that Carrie’s first period was a sign of sin.  Then you realize that she’s a neurotic with a religious mania who crooks scripture to satisfy her warped view of God and locks Carrie in an underground cell to pray for forgiveness due to her own guilt of having conceived of a child outside of wedlock.

Ms Planck’s alto nearly stole the night as she tells Carrie “And Eve Was Weak”, confesses about the night she succumbed to temptation in “I Remember How Those Boys Could Dance”, and goes soprano when she laments “When There’s No One” after she calmly decides to sacrifice Carrie, mistaking her telekinesis for demonic power.

Paloma Power also makes a fine debut with SNAP! as Sue Snell, the play’s narrator.  Ms Power’s Sue bullies Carrie at the start of the show, but genuinely regrets her actions and tries to makes amends through apology and then by getting her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the prom.  Ms Power brings a real goodness and decency to the role and she also understands Carrie better than anyone, sharing how she sees the burning cauldron of pain beneath the quiet shell when she beautifully sings “Once You See”.

I was thoroughly repulsed by Chris Hargensen as played by Laurel Rothamel.  And, yes, that is a very high compliment.  I cannot recall a character that I detested as much as I did Chris.  Ms Rothamel’s interpretation is astonishing.  She is so cruel, so nasty, so slutty, so spoiled, and so vindictive that I found myself wishing someone would slap the taste out of her mouth and I’m a pretty peaceful, easy-going guy.  Even more amazing, she actually made me feel a tiny bit of sympathy for her when she implied that her bullying nature is the by-product of being beaten by her father, a ruthless attorney, in the night’s most fun number, “The World According to Chris”.

Jason DeLong deserves extremely high praise for his choreography which was not only fun and creative, but managed to be flowing and big despite the confines of the small theatre.  Megan Bollanger’s set invoked memories of high school dances from yesteryear.  Leah Skorupa’s costumes were pitch perfect from Carrie’s frumpy outfit to Chris’ vampy clothes to the elegant prom gear.  Joshua Mullady proves that he may be the city’s best lighting designer as his lights once more become extra characters in the show as they enhanced scenes with evil reds, hopeful glows, and soft romance.  Daena Schweiger’s sound and visuals really added that something extra to the show.

There were a few missed notes during some of the songs and some of the cast needed to speak up and project more, but this is a quality production.  The numbers are catchy, the story is surprisingly profound, and the acting is quite powerful.  Get yourself a ticket to see this as, as the cast sings, it’ll be a night you’ll never forget.

Carrie:  The Musical continues at SNAP! Productions through June 25.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 8pm and Sundays at 6pm.  The June 25 show and an additional matinee on June 17 will be at 2pm.  Tickets are $25 ($20 for students, TAG members, Military, and seniors (55+) and all Thursday shows).  For tickets, call 402-341-2757 or visit www.snapproductions.com.  Due to strong language and mature themes, Carrie:  The Musical is not recommended for children.  SNAP! Productions is located at 3225 California Street in Omaha, NE.

A Belle of a Good Time

Beauty and the Beast_4

Timothy Vallier as Beast & Leanne Hill Carlson as Belle

A classic fairy tale comes to life.  A vain and cold hearted prince is transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress when he fails to show her hospitality.  The only way to break the curse is for him to finally love and be loved in return before the enchantress’ rose sheds its last petal.  When circumstances bring the lovely Belle to the castle of the Beast, will the curse finally be brought to an end or is the afflicted prince doomed to his fearsome shape for all time?  Find out in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, closing the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I’m going to make a confession. . .I have never seen any version of Beauty and the Beast nor have I ever read the fairy tale.  I share that confession with you because I want you to understand that I walked into this show with a completely unbiased pair of eyes and no influences to alter my expectations.  Having said that, I now need to tell you that this was an entrancing and beautiful production, one worthy to be viewed by every man, woman, and child in this city.

Kimberly Faith Hickman works an incredible bit of magic with her direction.  Not only did she lead her actors to a string of dynamite performances, but she also flawlessly paced the show.  So smooth was its running that I was honestly taken aback when it came to an end for it only felt like a few minutes had passed.  Her staging is pluperfect and makes use of the entire theatre and the scene changes were satin slick.

From a technical standpoint this was, bar none, the finest show I have ever seen.  The costumes of Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey, and Amanda Fehlner are so elegant and eye catching from Belle’s simple blue dress to her opulent yellow gown to the rich oddity of the servants’ garments (they are humans transforming into household objects) to the make-up of the Beast.

Jim Othuse continues to pull from his neverending bag of tricks with his sets, lights, and special effects for this show.  You will travel from a simple, homey village to a dark and foreboding forest to a sprawling, cavernous castle.  John Gibilisco’s sounds help animate every moment and Darin Kuehler’s properties give life to the audience’s imaginations.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra never miss a note of the epic score and Michelle Garrity nails the choreography with lavish dance numbers and I must say that “Be Our Guest” is the single best bit of dancing I have seen in nearly 21 years of theatre.

And the acting?  Well, where does one begin?  Such a universally marvelous cast makes it very, very difficult for me to center on select performances.  But kudos go out to Kyle Wright who is delightfully dorky as Gaston’s lackey, Lefou and Brian Priesman as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and he especially shines with his melodic tenor in “No Matter What”.

However, I would be sorely remiss if I failed to mention the fantastic work done by the actors playing the Beast’s servants.  These include Bob Gilmore as the too tightly wound Cogsworth, the castle’s major-domo; Steve Krambeck as Lumiere, the charming candelabra with an eye for the ladies; Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts, the castle’s cook who also dazzles with her sweet and moving rendition of the title song; and Joey Galda as Madame De La Grande Bouche, the diva wardrobe.

The role of Belle seemed to be tailor made for Leanne Hill Carlson.  She brings intelligence, warmth, sensitivity, and strength to the part.  Ms Hill Carlson well communicates Belle’s outsider status due to her peculiar pater and her love of reading while also bringing nobility when she selflessly volunteers to take Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner.  With expert ease, she carefully undergoes the transformation from fearing and detesting the Beast to falling in love with him.  Her beautiful soprano will keep you mesmerized all evening with such numbers as “A Change in Me”, “Belle”, “Is this Home?”, and “No Matter What”.

Timothy Vallier makes a triumphant debut at the Playhouse with his interpretation of the Beast.  Vallier has a phenomenally well modulated voice, capable of a wide range of nuances ranging from animalistic snorting to cold anger to desperate loneliness to tender love.  He excellently executes Beast’s transformation from his temperamental, arrogant old self to his emergence as a kind and loving man.  Vallier also has a honey sweet tenor which is well utilized in “If I Can’t Love Her” and “How Long Must this Go On?”

Ryan Pivonka rounds out the three leads with his own worthy performance as Gaston.  Gaston isn’t your typical villain as he really isn’t evil.  He’s simply full of himself and his need to win Belle’s heart does drive him to a few dirty deeds.  Pivonka brings a macho swagger to Gaston who routinely roughs up the sycophantic Lefou while singing his own praises in “Gaston”.  He also manages to bring a small touch of sympathy to the role as he does genuinely love Belle, it’s just become twisted due to his overwhelming arrogance and selfishness.

I thought the pratfalls and violence could be smoothed out and punched up a bit, but that did little to dampen a magical night of theatre.  There are tickets still available, but I highly suggest ordering yours right away as I’ve heard they are rapidly dwindling.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is fun for the whole family and I promise you a Belle of a good time.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 25.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Sioux Empire’s ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ Explodes with Awesomeness

His best friend betrayed him.  His followers can’t understand his message.  His Father needs him to die to fulfill his mission.  This is Jesus and this is the story of his last week of life in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, currently playing at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.

There are certain shows that I hold to higher standards due to my affinity for them.  Jesus Christ Superstar is one of those shows and after the first act, the Sioux Empire Community Theatre’s production had eclipsed nearly all of my standards.  This show is incredible!!  It’s got tip top acting, stellar singing, inventive choreography, outstanding technical elements, and spot on direction.  This particular production has entered my top 10 of the best shows I’ve seen and my top 3 of the best out of state shows I have reviewed.

Eric Parrish takes on the demanding task of serving as both director and musical director of this show and is superb in both roles.  Parrish’s band (Garret Hansen, Tyson Conn, Trace Mahoney, Royce Kuenzli, and Rod Jerke) starts off red hot and just gets hotter as the night goes on as they never miss a trick or note of this legendary score.  Parrish’s direction is simply a thing of beauty.  He has set the show in a post-apocalyptic society where Jesus’ disciples, the Pharisees, and the Romans are depicted as rival gangs which I found positively inspired.  His staging is phenomenal and exhausting.  Static this show is not as his actors hurtle about the stage non-stop.  He also knows how to pull the very best out of his actors as I couldn’t find a weak link in the lot.

The supporting cast does excellent work as they enhance the show with their reactions, but they also acted through the scene changes which was crucial to keeping the show’s energy up.  Standout performances include Dennis Berger as Peter and Devin Basart as Annas.  Berger has a bright, light tenor that I could listen to all day and really shone in “Could We Start Again, Please?”.  Basart is a wonderful bootlicking lackey to the high priest whose operatic tenor soared in “This Jesus Must Die” and “Blood Money”.

Darren Lee’s take on Judas Iscariot has to be seen to be believed.  He presents Judas as a man whose relationship with Jesus has been frayed to the final thread.  He still respects Jesus, but he thinks Jesus is leading them all to their deaths due to his delusions of grandeur of being God’s son.  I loved how he skulked about in the darkness, glaring at Jesus whenever he did something with which Judas disagreed.  So realistic was the tension that I almost thought that Judas was going to slug Jesus at a couple of points.  Lee also ably portrays the regret and guilt of Judas after he betrays Jesus.

Lee also has a monstrously powerful tenor.  His voice is reminiscent of a young Meat Loaf as he belts out power numbers with “Heaven On Their Minds”, “Damned for All Time”, and “Superstar”.

What words could I use to describe Raine Jerke’s rendition of Jesus?  Mind blowing.  Staggering.  Powerful.  Haunting.  Good words to be certain, but they seem to fall short of the true awesomeness of his work.  I was gobsmacked to find out that Jerke has very little acting experience as he has an ease and naturalness equivalent to an actor with years of experience.  His expressions are pitch perfect.  His reactions deadly accurate.  His acting so nuanced as he swings between love for his followers in “Poor Jerusalem” to boiling frustration with them in “The Last Supper” and the extreme agony and fear of his death in “Gethsemane”.  So moving was that last number, that tears welled up in my eyes.

Jerke’s singing voice is astonishing.  His soaring tenor captured every tiny emotional beat of every number and managed to hit the nearly inhuman falsettos required of the role without popping a sweat.

Jenn Evanson Lee is wonderfully sweet as Mary Magdalene.  Her work is admirable as she portrays Mary as Jesus’ most loyal disciple.  Indeed she is the only one who actually tries to give Jesus the comfort and support he needs instead of just taking from him.  She also has a fabulous soprano which ranged from soothingly calm in “Everything’s Alright” to emotionally puzzled as she wrestles with her own feelings for Jesus in “I Don’t Know How to Love Him”.

James Van Oort radiates menace and authority as the high priest, Caiaphas.  This is truly a dangerous man and not someone you want as an enemy.  His deep and mighty bass driving home those points in “This Jesus Must Die”, “Hosanna”, and “Trial Before Pilate”.

I rather liked Rick Weiland’s original take on Pontius Pilate.  His first appearance is the only time we see him without his mask and he is a decent and just man puzzling over his dream about the Nazorean (“Pilate’s Dream).  In all of his other appearances, it’s clear that his authority is in his position as he lacks the confidence to withstand the extreme pressure the Pharisees are putting on him to crucify Jesus.

Neil Simons’ lights were the best I have ever seen in a show.  His lights were almost separate characters enhancing every moment of the show.  I was especially impressed with how they would go red or dark whenever evil seemed to be getting the best of Jesus.  Kathryn Pope’s costumes were amazing.  Keeping with the gang mentality, you had the leather jackets of Jesus’s crew and the suits and sunglasses of the Pharisees.  What I found most intriguing was that every character wore black to symbolize the darkness they were in while Jesus wore an off white shirt showing him as the light of the world.  Tiffany Koppes’ choreography was highly entertaining and inventive, especially her hilarious routine for “King Herod’s Song”.  I also adored Brad Waltman’s crumbling Colosseum set.

There were a few minor glitches in the show.  Some microphone issues cropped up in Act II and a little of the dancing could have been smoother, but these tiny things pale in comparison to the sheer magnificence of the show.  As the house was nearly full, I suspect a monster hit is on the hands of the Sioux Empire Community Theatre.  I heartily recommend getting a ticket before it’s too late.

Jesus Christ Superstar plays at the Sioux Empire Community Theatre through May 21.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $30 and can be obtained by calling the box office at 605-360-4800 or visit www.siouxfallstheatre.com.  The Sioux Empire Community Theatre is located at 315 N Phillips Ave in Sioux Falls, SD.

‘Superior Donuts’ Has No Holes

Arthur Przybyszewski has given up on life.  The aging hippie works his family’s 60+ year old donut shop whenever he feels like opening it, mourns the recent death of his ex-wife, and is estranged from his daughter.  Then Franco Wicks enters the picture.  This ebullient, confident young man takes a job as Arthur’s assistant and slowly helps him rediscover the joy of living.  When demons from Franco’s past return to stalk him, will Arthur help his new friend or run away again?  Find out by watching Superior Donuts by Tracy Letts, currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prior to tonight’s production, I had never seen a Tracy Letts play.  Now I’d like to see more of them.  Letts has a genuine gift for dialogue, skillfully blending comedy and drama, and a real knack for character development as every role from supernumerary to lead has a story arc that gives each a chance to shine.  It also didn’t hurt that he also happens to tell a great story with Superior Donuts.

Susie Baer-Collins returns to the Omaha Playhouse to direct this production and brought her A game to the table.  She nimbly fleshed out all of the individual story arcs and led her actors to strong performances, deftly guiding them from comedy to drama and back again.

As stated earlier, Letts has created a nice little microcosm which is a dream for character actors as each role has its wonderful little quirks.  Some sterling performances include Mary Kelly as an alcoholic street lady with a major sugar addiction and wisdom that either defies or results from the fact that she doesn’t live in the greater construct called reality; Devel Crisp as a dedicated and Trekkie police officer; Mark Thornburg as a gregarious Russian businessman hoping to buy Arthur’s donut shop; and Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as the cop with a crush on Arthur.

My socks were knocked off by the performance of Jeremy Estill as Luther Flynn.  Making his Playhouse debut, Estill brought an incredible sincerity and a palpable sense of danger to the neighborhood loan shark.  You really believe him when he says he doesn’t want to rough up Franco who is having difficulty repaying his sizable debt, but you also don’t doubt him when he promises harm to Franco if he can’t come up with the cash.  Estill’s well chosen gestures wonderfully animate Flynn and made him one of the night’s treats.

Aaron Winston has a stellar Playhouse debut as Franco Wicks.  Winston brings a real joie de vivre to Franco who has a lot of wild ideas for updating and upgrading the hole in a wall donut shop such as adding music, holding literary events, and upselling pastries.  Winston’s Franco eats life with shining teeth and is such a dreamer that Arthur (and the audience) can’t help but be buoyed by his enthusiasm and energy.  That infectious energy works just as well in Wicks’ more dramatic scenes as you’ll crash with Franco as he pays an awful price for his failure to repay Luther Flynn.

It is an excellent performance, but I would recommend that Winston pick up the pace a bit as it will add some more zing to his fine work.

Kevin Barratt’s work as Arthur Przybyszewski is a tour de force.  He begins the play as an utterly defeated man going through the motions of life.  He barely talks, shows little emotion, and seems resigned to the fact that his life has derailed.  When Franco’s zest begins to rub off on him, you see Arthur begin to lighten up and start rediscovering the joys of life.  He becomes more animated, has fun, and dances badly.  But Barratt’s best moments occur during his numerous monologues as he recounts his life up to the present moment and you really feel the joy of his childhood, the regret of his teens when he makes a cowardly choice, and the pain of watching his family disintegrate.  And it is through those stories that you’ll understand why he takes the steps he does to help Franco at the show’s climax.

I was rather impressed with Matthew D. Hamel’s set.  It has the perfect look of a hole in the wall donut shop from its aged racks, to its ancient cash register, to the old, but functioning Superior Donuts sign.  John Gibilisco’s sound strongly supported the story and Lindsey Pape’s costumes were an excellent fit (no pun intended) for the characters.

The pacing and cue pickups needed a bit of tightening, but it truly was a pleasant night of theatre with a show that has a lot of heart and soul and teaches the importance of friendship and simply being alive.

Superior Donuts plays at the Omaha Playhouse through June 4.  Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language, the play is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

One Queen Too Many

Two queens.  One rules England, though her claim to the throne is sketchy at best.  Another is imprisoned in a gilded cage with the threat of the axe looming over here, but still harboring hopes for freedom and the English throne.  The two engage in a private war fought mostly by proxy in which only one queen can survive.  This is Mary Stuart, an adaptation of Friedrich Schiller’s play by Peter Oswald and playing at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Schiller’s play is a nifty historical thriller.  He clearly had great understanding of the history of this particular period of the Tudors as well as great insight into human nature as his play touches on lust, betrayal, conspiracy, Machiavellism, and ambition run amok.  The story is completely dialogue driven, but every conversation and monologue builds to a climax of its own which serves to keep the audience’s attention glued to the tale.  Peter Oswald has updated the language to be more understandable to a modern audience yet still retain the feel of Schiller’s original story.

Lara Marsh provides an exceptionally strong bit of direction to this story.  Her actors never let the pace drag in the talky production, not by speaking faster, but by closing the spaces between their words, letting the dialogue retain its meaning.  Ms Marsh understands every jot and tittle of the play, expertly guiding her actors through the story’s numerous climaxes and resolutions, coaching her players to extremely realistic performances which was rendered more difficult with the audience up so close and personal to the performers, and making full use of the tiny performance space with impeccable staging.

There wasn’t a weak link in the large cast (beautifully costumed by Wesley Pourier), but there were several standouts in supporting roles.  These included MaryBeth Adams as Mary Stuart’s loyal and feisty servant, Hanna Kennedy; Steve Denenberg and Adam Hogston as Amias Paulet and George Talbot, who are the only court members truly concerned with Queen Elizabeth I’s welfare; and Eric Grant-Leanna as Davision, a nervous and befuddled new appointee to the court who falls victim to Elizabeth’s machinations.

Delaney Driscoll brings power and regality to the role of Mary Stuart.  Although she’s been imprisoned for the last quarter century, Ms Driscoll’s Mary Stuart is still every inch a queen.  It’s an astonishingly multifaceted performance as Ms Driscoll gracefully glides between being assured in her royalty in an early confrontation with Lord Burleigh (played by John Hatcher), to softer, gentler moments with Hanna, to being desperate and vindictive when she finally meets Elizabeth I, to a calm, but firm assurance of her right to rule England and her standing before God when she makes her final confession.

Charleen Willoughby’s take on Elizabeth I is almost the flip side of Mary Stuart.  Where Stuart is full of confidence and certainty in her right to be England’s queen, Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is plagued with self-doubt and insecurity.  Knowing that her right to rule is tainted by her illegitimate birth, Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is determined to overcome that taint by being the perfect queen.  That drive for perfection actually prevents her from taking decisive action and she is constantly seeking the counsel of her court.

But take care as Ms Willoughby’s Elizabeth is not as weak and willowy as she likes to pretend.  She does hold her own strong opinions and is not afraid to stick to her guns.  She is also very adept at manipulating situations to accomplish her darker whims while salving her conscience.

Eddie McGonigal plays Mortimer, the play’s lone fictitious character.  Mortimer is a traitor to the English throne and spearheads a rescue operation to liberate Mary Stuart and get her the English crown.  McGonigal’s performance is sensational as his Mortimer is so loaded with arrogance, it’s practically seeping out of his pores  If that isn’t bad enough, Mortimer’s grip on sanity is tenuous at best as he fancies himself an avenging angel doing God’s will in saving Mary Stuart.  He also lusts for a sexual relationship with the Queen of Scots culminating in a near rape of her at the end of Act I.

Few actors bring the type of naturalness John Hatcher brings to a role.  As William Cecil, Lord Burleigh, Hatcher always sounds extemporaneous, doubly impressive given the heinousness of his character.  Hatcher’s precise inflection choices beautifully animate his subtly bloodthirsty character with just the right touches of anger, manipulation, and snide pride.  Lord Burleigh wants Mary Stuart dead at all costs to solidify his power base with Elizabeth I and will do anything to make it happen such as softly cajoling Elizabeth into signing the death warrant for the good of England or gently putting the screws to Paulet to let an assassin reach Mary Stuart.  It is one of the night’s most mesmerizing performances.

You would think that Lord Burleigh would be the story’s primary villain, but I believe that (dis)honor goes to David Mainelli’s portrayal of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester.  I consider Mainelli’s performance to be his one of his finest due to the difficulty of this character.  Where Burleigh is open and up front with his villainy, Maninelli’s Dudley is a despicable, slimy worm working from the shadows.

Machiavelli is put to shame with Dudley’s machinations.  He loves power so much that he dumped his fiancée, Mary Stuart, because he thought he could do better and began wooing Elizabeth I.  Then he gets involved in the rescue operation of Mary Stuart because he still loves her and then turns on her when the rescue fails and his own survival is at stake.  In all of his oiliness, Mainelli manages to give Dudley a small kernel of decency with his regret at betraying Mary Stuart and finally makes a noble sacrifice to expiate his guilt.

Nearly every character in this play has an ulterior motive.  Elizabeth I needs to remove Mary Stuart to legitimize her claim to the throne.  Mary Stuart needs her freedom to usurp the throne from Elizabeth I.  Robert Dudley needs to increase his power base by any means necessary.  Mortimer wants to save Mary Stuart to be her lover.  Lord Burleigh wants to maintain his own power base and keep England separate from its enemies (all other countries in his mind).  These motives make these characters utterly hateful, but also make for a most compelling night of theatre as well.

Mary Stuart will play at the Joslyn Castle under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company from May 4-25.  Showtimes are Wed-Fri at 7:30pm.  There will be one Saturday performance at 7:30pm on May 6 and no performance on Friday, May 5.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors/military).  For tickets, please call the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at 402-502-4910 or visit www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Joslyn Castle is located at 3902 Davenport St in Omaha, NE.

 

Lead On, “Ladies”

Two broke, out of work Shakespearian actors hatch a plan to steal an inheritance from a wealthy old maid by pretending to be her long lost nieces.  Wrenches start to get thrown into the plan when the two cross dressing con artists fall in love with a pair of women and word comes that the real nieces are on their way.  This is Ken Ludwig’s Leading Ladies currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Ludwig is a masterful writer who knows all the ins and outs of good farce.  You’ve got the slamming doors, the over the top characters, the mistaken identities, and the ludicrous scenarios.  But Ludwig also adds a story that has got quite a bit of heart and includes a couple of surprising plot twists before the tale ends.  His terrific script is supported, nay, enhanced by a sterling cast that runs like a well oiled machine and obtains the maximum amount of yuks possible.

Jeff Horger paints a beautifully funny picture with his direction.  He clearly has an excellent grasp on farce with his use of broad, comedic strokes on the canvas.  Horger’s staging is top notch with his actors constantly moving about the performance space and his sight gags are completely organic and always apropos to the situation.  He’s also led his actors to strong, humorous performances and they made nary a misstep throughout the production.  Horger’s use of a melodramatic score composed and arranged by Vince Krysl is a positively inspired touch.

The supporting cast provides an excellent foundation for the comedy as each has developed a unique, zany character with his or her own particular quirks that brought vivid life to this world.  This includes Catherine Vazquez as a not overly bright waitress who builds a more complex vocabulary one word at a time, Sue Mouttet as the acid tongued matriarch with a heart of gold, and especially Don Harris and Christopher Scott who provided me with some deep belly laughs as the inept and lusty Doc Myers and his dopey son, Butch.

Will Muller stuns with his portrayal of Rev. Duncan Wooley.  With his unyielding posture, monotone voice, and limited, robotic movements, Muller has crafted one of the funniest characters I’ve seen in quite some time.  Muller’s Wooley may be a man of God, but he isn’t very likable as he is a stick in the mud’s stick in the mud who never wants to have any fun, plans a dull, businesslike wedding, and schemes to do God’s work using his fiancée’s wealth.  Muller is at his comedic best when his buttons get pushed to the point where his emotions finally explode out of him.

Victoria Luther is absolutely darling with her interpretation of Meg Snider, Wooley’s fiancée and heiress to a large fortune.  In many ways, Ms Luther is the glue of this cast as her character fuses the play’s unreality to its reality.  She is the most natural character in the show and brings a bright vibrancy with her character’s love of theatre and life.  Ms Luther shows impressive versatility as she easily switches from believable, grounded moments to over the top reactions when the need arises.

As important as the other characters are, the heaviest burden of this show lies on the shoulders of its “leading ladies” and the burden is well and ably carried by Kevin Goshorn and Michael Judah making their Playhouse debuts.

Michael Judah arguably does the most heavy lifting with his rendition of Leo Clark.  Clark is not only a sucky, over the top actor, but he is always on and has a mouth with an inexhaustible energy source.  Judah’s energy is unbelievably phenomenal as he rises to the challenge of this role with a feat of skillful overacting that would make John Carradine proud.  How he maintains that energy without collapsing is beyond me as he easily transitions from the theatrical Clark to the equally over the top “Maxine”.  Yet the over the topness of the character still seems completely natural.  It’s as if Clark doesn’t know how to just be himself until he falls in love with Meg and FINALLY drops his defenses and is able to engage in some lovely softer moments with her.

Kevin Goshorn’s Jack Gable is a worthy sidekick to Leo Clark.  Goshorn marvelously plays the loyal friend who gets caught up in Clark’s machinations.  Forced to impersonate Stephanie, the deaf and dumb niece, Goshorn has stupendous facial expressions and body language as he invents his own sign language to communicate with others and is especially amusing when he uses that sign language to tell “Maxine” he’d like to throttle “her”.  But he’s no shrinking violet.  As decent a person as Gable is, he isn’t above worming hugs out of the lady he likes or standing up to Clark by manipulating him to become “Maxine” just to screw with him.  Goshorn also gets the play’s funniest moment when he tries to bait Wooley into seducing him in order to help Clark get Meg.

The Snider estate, designed by Steve Wheeldon, is absolutely gorgeous with its soft blue walls and fancy double doors.  John Gibilisco’s sounds almost become extra characters with Clark’s idea moments and Meg’s entrance theme.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are extremely elegant, especially the gowns worn by Ms Luther, Judah, and Goshorn.  Darin Kuehler’s properties, especially the furniture, really liven up the stage.

This is the type of show that’s sure to take you out of yourself for a little while.  It’s not only laugh out loud funny, but it’s also got just the right touch of warmth and heart.

Leading Ladies runs at the Playhouse through May 7.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $36 for adults and $22 for students Thurs-Sun.  Wednesday show tickets are $28 for adults and $18 for students.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Get a Clue

The classic board game comes to life.  Six people at Boddy Manor have motive to kill Mr. Boddy.  One of them did.  Can you figure out who done it before the show ends?  It’s Clue:  The Musical by Peter DePietro with music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker, and Vinnie Martucci and lyrics by Tom Chido.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

Theatre doesn’t always have to be high art and Tony Award winners.  Sometimes a hokey, fun filled good time makes for the best night of theatre and this show is a shining example of that type of show.  DePietro’s script is very intriguing in that the show is actually a game.  Just as in the board game, a killer, weapon, and room are drawn at the top of the show and placed into a confidential envelope.  During the show, Mr. Boddy provides clues to help the audience deduce who done it, with what, and where.  And it does take a bit of careful listening and observational ability to figure it out.  This tactic helps to make for a pretty engaging production and ensures a different denouement almost every time.

With that being said, the focus on the game results in the loss of plot.  There really isn’t much of a story.  Rather there are little vignettes showing a bit about these characters and their connection to Mr. Boddy, an interrogation, the denouement, and then a real ending which feels unnecessarily tacked on.  On the other hand, I appreciate the use of meta as the characters are aware they are part of a board game and have done this on many occasions.  I also liked the rather catchy, occasionally hilarious, musical numbers.

Daena Schweiger’s direction makes full use of the play’s strengths and masks its weaknesses.  She understands the play’s farcical nature resulting in some really great caricatures from her actors.  The play is also well staged with the characters constantly moving about, making full use of the space.  I was especially impressed with a search scene immediately before Boddy’s murder with the actors running hither, thither, and non and was the show’s best moment.

It’s hard to analyze the performances of the actors as they can only be caricatures and the story does not allow them to develop in depth characters.  But there were several performances that did stand out.

Jesse Black plays Mr. Boddy, our host and murder victim.  I thought he came off a little too nice in Act I due to his underplaying of the role.  Boddy is a rather unlikable chap and Black had the room to go big and ram home that unlikability.  However, he has wonderful facial expressions which he used to the fullest in Act II as he is almost like an ever present spirit manipulating events and I rather enjoyed watching his reactions to the events swirling about.  He’s also got a very pleasant tenor voice best utilized in his keynote number “The Game”.

Patrick Wolfe delightfully chews the scenery as Colonel Mustard, an army man limited to administrative duty due to a condition where he sees living people as inanimate objects.  Wolfe has fantastic bluster and bombast as his off kilter Mustard always wants to play war games, even as foreplay.  Wolfe also has a great lower tenor voice as he joyfully declares “Do Unto Your Enemies” and searches for a good weapon in “Everyday Devices”.  Wolfe also has tremendous projection power, easily overcoming the black boxy acoustics of the theatre.

Sarah Ebke clearly is having fun as Mrs. Peacock, the wife of Mr. Boddy.  She is the one true villain of the piece as she is an unconvicted murderer which she gleefully admits to in “Once a Widow” as her alto tells us the story of the deaths of her five previous husbands.  Ms Ebke’s Peacock is a scheming, vile piece of work and one of the best characters of the night.

Carrie Beth Stickrod got the night’s biggest laughs with her rendition of Mrs. White, the put upon housekeeper of Mr. Boddy.  Ms Stickrod is beautifully acerbic as the housekeeper desperately searching for a way to escape the crushing debt she owes her employer.  I also loved her uneducated nature as her constant misspellings made for the best running gag of the show.  She’s also got a powerful soprano which kept the audience in stitches when she lamented “Life is a Bowl of Pits”.

Lindsey Tierney-Jack is all woman and then some in her portrayal of Miss Scarlet.  Ms Tierney-Jack brings a great sultriness to the role.  This is a woman fully aware of her sensuality and knows how to use it to get what she wants.  Ms Tierney-Jack also really emphasizes Scarlet’s performing heart as she breaks into random dance numbers during the chase scene in Act I.

Chris Ebke and his orchestra (Kim Hansen, Kyle Moeller, and Christina Allred) do justice to the musical score as Boddy Manor’s house band.  Gary Bosanek’s costume coordination was spot on with the bright, vibrant colors matching the character’s names.  Joshua Mullady’s lights enhanced each moment.  And Chris Ebke’s set is an awesome reproduction of the board game.

The energy of the cast seemed at a low ebb in tonight’s performance, resulting in a slow pace and loose cue pickups.  With the exception of Mr. Wolfe, the cast also needed to put the same projection of their singing into their dialogue.

Clue:  The Musical is definitely worth a watch, especially with the added thrill of getting to play the game during the show.  You’ll get some catchy music, some scene chewing hilarity, and a fun spectacle.

Clue:  The Musical runs at the Bellevue Little Theatre through April 9.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students with proper identification.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.