Pretty Powerful Poison

Molina and Valentin are as different as night and day.  Molina is a flamboyant homosexual imprisoned for corrupting a minor.  Valentin is a young revolutionary full of piss and vinegar.  Yet an unlikely friendship grows between them which will be tested by a cruel warden.  And over all of this looms the specter of the Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman currently playing at the Barn Players.

Turning Manuel Puig’s heavily dramatic novel into a musical is certainly a tall order.  But Terrence McNally’s script combined with the incredible score of John Kander and Fred Ebb and the amazingly talented cast of the production makes for much much more than an effective musical.  It makes for one of the best shows I’ve seen in over 20 years of being involved with theatre.

Eric Magnus doesn’t miss a trick with a masterful piece of direction.  The staging is the strongest I’ve ever seen with Magnus’ cast making full use of Doug Schroeder’s simple and beautiful set of bars and stairs.  Magnus has pulled nearly perfect performances out of his entire cast and decisively navigates the multiple twists and turns of the plot with pinpoint accuracy.

Rarely have I seen a nuanced performance the likes of the one supplied by Joell Ramsdell as Molina.  As Molina, Ramsdell is unabashedly and unashamedly gay.  But his flamboyance covers a desperate loneliness.  All he wants is a friend.  He survives the hell of this prison by escaping into fantasy.  He thinks of his mother.  He fondly recalls the numerous movies he’s seen.  He remembers lavish musical numbers with his favorite actress, Aurora.  But he fears Aurora’s character of the Spider Woman who is Death incarnate and that character he often sees in his daily life.

The depth and range of Ramsdell’s acting is truly astonishing.  Starting off as a coward, he shows small signs of strength as he helps Valentin survive his imprisonment.  A strength that grows as his friendship with Valentin blossoms.  This leads to some of the show’s best scenes as Ramsdell shows the intense agony of a man forced to choose between his friend and his mother before making a choice that shows the meaning of courage.

Ramsdell also has a fabulous tenor which he adapts easily to comedy in “Dressing Them Up” or heart-wrenching drama in “Mama, It’s Me”.

Paul Brennan III matches Ramsdell step for step with his stirring rendering of Valentin.  Valentin is an angry revolutionary who fully believes in his cause and wants nothing to do with his new cellmate at first.  As he slowly accepts Molina’s friendship, Brennan beautifully evolves his character to show him capable of love, humor, and a bit of shocking Machiavellism.  Up until the end of the show, Valentin’s cause and desires still are the most important things in his life and he manipulates Molina’s feelings for him with an act that is both tender and selfish to get him to do what he wants.  But Molina’s choice at the play’s climax finally pushes Valentin to look beyond himself.

Brennan’s tenor will make your insides turn to jelly with a velvet voice that effortlessly knocks emotional pitches out of the park with numbers such as “Marta”, “Anything for Him” and “The Day After That”.

JC Dresslaer gets the show’s most interesting character in the form of Aurora/Spider Woman.  She’s mostly a fictional character in this world whose purpose is to help Molina, later Valentin, maintain sanity in the nightmare world in which they live.  But this allows her to do some brilliant character acting as she portrays Aurora’s various characters.  Most notably a wild rumba number (“Gimme Love”) to close out Act I and a hilarious piece of melodrama complete with over the top Russian accent to open Act II.

But Ms Dresslaer’s character of the Spider Woman haunts the world of the show with a most eerie reality and finality.  Dressed in a simple black dress, the Spider Woman exudes menace and, dare I say, gentleness with every appearance.  Yes, her appearances mean death, but she also wants to show that death is not something to be feared.

Ms Dresslaer’s dancing is so silky smooth, it makes all of her musical numbers showstoppers.  She also has a pitch-perfect alto used to excellent effect in “Come” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman”.

I was extraordinarily impressed with the mileage Emerson Rapp got out of the role of the Warden.  It’s not a big role, but the evil which Rapp imbued into the character made sure the audience was spellbound each time he appeared on stage.  He clearly considers the prisoners animals suitable for torture and murder.  He will do anything and I mean ANYTHING to get what he wants.  Poisonings, beatings, emotional manipulation, bribery. . .it’s all fair game to one of the most insidious characters I’ve seen brought to life on stage.

Paul Secor Morrel and his orchestra deftly handle the varied score with an evening of precise instrumentation.  The costumes of Fran Kapono-Kuzila are well suited to the show from the tattered rags of the prisoners to Molina’s kimono and scarves to Aurora’s numerous costumes for her numbers.  The ensemble cast also stayed in every moment to add crucial life to the story as well as adding strong voices to the chorus.

Musicals often get flak for being shallow on substance, but Kiss of the Spider Woman proves that a musical can be just as challenging and deep as straight theatre if given a chance.  If you love great theatre then you need to go and see this show.  Then you need to tell others to go get a ticket so they can see this show as it deserves a sold out run.

Kiss of the Spider Woman plays at the Barn Players through October 2.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 2pm. There will be an Industry Night performance on Sept 26. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students (w/ID), and groups of 10 or more.  Industry Night tickets will be $12 at the door.  To order tickets, visit the website at www.thebarnplayers.org or call 913-432-9100.  Due to sensitive thematic material and some strong language, this show is not suitable for children.  The Barn Players is located at 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

‘Cabaret’ Coming to Orpheum Theater

“One of musical theatre’s GREATEST TRIUMPHS!” -Houston Chronicle

“Gutsy staging and bold characterizations! CABARET arrives like a KNOCKOUT PUNCH.”

– Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“Five stars! WILLKOMMEN HOME. A Broadway jewel returns in all its glittering glory.”

– Time Out New York

“Truly unmissable! Even if you saw it last time, you are strongly advised – no, URGED – to return.”

-USA Today

ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY’S TONY AWARD® -WINNING PRODUCTION OF CABARET COMES TO OMAHA’S ORPHEUM THEATER OCTOBER 11-16

OMAHA, NEBRASKA (September 7, 2016) — Direct from Broadway, Cabaret, the musical masterpiece comes to Omaha’s Orpheum Theater. As part of their 50th Anniversary Season, the critically acclaimed and award-winning Roundabout Theatre Company is proud to present the National Tour of Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty) and Rob Marshall’s (Into the Woods and Chicago, the films) Tony Award®-winning production of Cabaret, playing Tuesday, October 11 through Sunday, October 16 at the Orpheum Theater as part of Omaha Performing Arts’ Broadway Series.

Tickets, starting at $30 each, are available online at TicketOmaha.com; by phone at 402.345.0606; or at the Ticket Omaha box office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center, 12th and Douglas. Groups of 10 or more may purchase tickets by calling 402.661.8516 or toll-free at 866.434.8587.

John Kander and Fred Ebb, best known for their legendary musical, Chicago and Joe Masteroff’s Tony®-winning musical features some of the most memorable songs in theatre history, including “Cabaret,” “Willkommen” and “Maybe This Time.” Cabaret is set in the infamous Kit Kat Klub, where the Emcee, Sally Bowles, and a raucous ensemble take the stage nightly to tantalize the crowd––and to leave their troubles outside.

The North American Tour of Cabaret features the original Broadway direction by Sam Mendes and original co-direction and choreography by Rob Marshall. Tour direction is under the helm of BT McNicholl (Spamalot) and choreography is recreated by Cynthia Onrubia (Victor/Victoria). The design team includes set design by Robert Brill (Assassins), costume design by William Ivey Long (Chicago), lighting design by Peggy Eisenhauer (Ragtime) and Mike Baldassari (Nine), sound design by Keith Caggiano (The Radio City Christmas Spectacular) based on the original Broadway design by Brian Ronan with hair and wig design by Paul Huntley. Cabaret features orchestrations by Michael Gibson (The Boy From Oz), music supervision and vocal arrangements by Patrick Vaccariello (On Your Feet) and music direction by Robert Cookman (Legally Blonde). M·A·C. is the Official Makeup Partner for the production. Cabaret is based on the play by John Van Druten and stories by Christopher Isherwood.

Roundabout Theatre Company’s acclaimed production of Cabaret first opened on Broadway on March 19, 1998 starring Alan Cumming and Natasha Richardson and won four Tony® Awards including Best Revival of a Musical. Cabaret went on to play on Broadway for six years and 2,378 performances before finishing its run on January

4, 2004. Cabaret returned to Broadway and the infamous Studio 54 with performances beginning March 21, 2014 with Alan Cumming reprising his Tony®-winning role as the Emcee. The production featured Michelle Williams, Emma Stone and Sienna Miller in the role of Sally Bowles and played 423 performances through March 29, 2015.

Cabaret premiered on Broadway in 1966 and won eight Tony® Awards, including Best Musical, in addition to the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award, the Outer Critics’ Circle Award, the Variety Poll of New York Critics, and London’s Evening Standard Award. The original Broadway production played 1,166 performances.

Cabaret will play Omaha’s Orpheum Theater Tuesday, October 11, Wednesday, October 12 and Thursday, October 13 at 7:30 p.m.; Friday, October 14 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, October 15 at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday, October 16 at 1:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.

For more information on Cabaret go to http://www.ticketomaha.com or http://www.cabaretmusical.com http://www.roundabouttheatre.org. Follow ROUNDABOUT THEATRE COMPANY on Twitter: RTC-NYC and on Facebook. Follow Cabaret on Twitter: Cabaret_Musical and on Facebook.

Hal Holbrook Brings Mark Twain to Holland Center

AWARD-WINNING ACTOR HAL HOLBROOK BRINGS MARK TWAIN TONIGHT! TO HOLLAND CENTER

Timeless Laugh-Out-Loud Humor Makes This One-Man Show a Treasure of the American Theatre

Omaha, Neb., March 3, 2016 – Emmy®- and Tony®- award winning actor Hal Holbrook brings the longest running show in American Theatre history, Mark Twain Tonight!, to the Kiewit Hall at the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street, Friday, April 8, 2016, at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30 through Ticket Omaha at 402.345.0606, TicketOmaha.com, or the Ticket Omaha Box Office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center. Special thanks to hospitality sponsor Hotel Deco.

Once called “America’s Voltaire,” Samuel Clemens, known by the pen name Mark Twain, preceded today’s social critics with scathing but humorous satires focusing on the corruption and lies of 19th Century politicians and journalists. Twain’s novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer top the lists of American classics and have weathered the tests of time and include subjects that still seem significantly relevant today.

Holbrook portrays Twain as the aging character that we recognize – the white hair, brows and mustache; white suit; and the illusion that Twain is speaking in his time. “Let the audience update him,” Holbrook said. “That has made the show more powerful because human behavior doesn’t change. Neither does its foolishness. That’s the joke.”

The Washington Post said, “Holbrook’s characterization of the great novelist and raconteur is, to this day, a work in progress. The transformation is so complete as to be unsettling at times. The combination of Holbrook’s physical and vocal talents and the potency of Twain’s words is a mesmerizing thing to behold.”

A legendary star of television, movies and the stage, Holbrook has built his career on a variety of roles with no connection to Mark Twain, including Don Quixote, King Lear, Shylock, Abe Lincoln, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and more than 50 feature films.

He won the Tony Award for Mark Twain Tonight! in 1966 and was nominated for an Emmy Award for the show in 1967. Since then, he has received five Emmy Awards between 1971 and 1989. Holbrook was presented the National Medal of the Humanities in 2003 by President George Bush. In 2008, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in Into the Wild.

Haunting Albee Drama to End Playhouse’s Howard Drew Season

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Edward Albee

May 8–June 7, 2015 (Wed-Sat at 7:30pm & Sundays at 2pm)

The Tony Award-winning drama, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is one of the greatest theatrical masterpieces of all time. As George and Martha’s marriage falls apart, their new friends, Nick and Honey, become pawns in their cruel mind games. A war of words and exercises of wits drive Edward Albee’s revolutionary play.

This production contains adult content and strong language and is intended for mature audiences.

Tickets go on sale April 28.  Tickets prices are $36 for adults and $22 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.

media sponsor: Cox

Directed by Hilary Adams

Stage Managed by Lara Marsh

Cast

Charleen Willoughby as Martha

Brennan Thomas as George

Steve Hartman as Nick

Megan Friend as Honey