Billy McGuigan Founds McGuigan Arts Academy & Announces Omaha Series

Omaha, NE–Super talent Billy McGuigan, known for bringing Buddy Holly and The Beatles to life on stage, announced the opening of McGuigan Arts Academy, a new twist on performing arts education and venues. The Academy’s mission is devoted to teaching life skills through hands-on studies in music, theatre, film, art and technology. Acknowledging that not every student of the arts wants to be a performer, McGuigan Arts Academy will nurture and showcase Omaha’s talent in every artistic realm. 

“If this year taught us anything, it’s the need to connect and nurture one’s soul,” said founder Billy McGuigan. “Art is essential to that. How we create and present that art can be done in many ways. There is nothing else like this in the Midwest. McGuigan Arts Academy is designed to give anyone – from age 3 to 103 – the opportunity to learn confidence, cooperation and creativity. It’s more than development of talent. It’s development of the human spirit. Believe me, there is nothing more important than being the best person you can be. The arts have taught me that.”

McGuigan Arts Academy classes will be taught by full-time professionals led by Artistic and Education Director Kimberly Faith Hickman. “Kimberly is this mega talent in our midst,” said McGuigan. “A rare Broadway-accredited director, she honed her talent working on numerous Tony Award winning and nominated Broadway shows.”

In addition to the Academy, Rave On Productions will launch The Omaha Series; a season of shows presented in various venues across the Omaha Metro. The 2021 Omaha Series includes Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Waiting Room, Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story performed one night each at the Davies Amphitheatre, SumTur Amphitheatre and Soaring Wings Vineyard, The Rocky Horror Show and the McGuigan’s holiday tradition, Yesterday and Today, performed at the Slowdown.

Hickman most recently served as Artistic Director for the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). In her nearly five years there, she directed 19 productions and launched initiatives such as the OCP Directing Fellowship, sensory-friendly productions in collaboration with the Autism Action Partnership, and performances translated into Spanish in real-time. Her latest innovations, including Drive-In and virtual productions, assured that the show would go on.

“The pandemic helped me see endless possibilities for programming experiences – especially when I let myself break free from the traditional norms in theatre,” said Hickman. “Creating a production in a parking lot was really inspiring. We took a bold chance and before long, we had a sell out!”

Hickman and McGuigan agree that it was this collaboration during their days together at the Omaha Community Playhouse and the discovery that they both learned to love theatre via the Springer Opera House in Columbus, Georgia, that drew them together as co-visionaries for McGuigan Arts Academy.

“Our biggest revelation,” said McGuigan, “is that performance is a gift from performer to audience. Where that happens should be less tied to one space and more tied to access and an environment that blends with the creative product.”

“In addition to a myriad of classes,” added Hickman, “we will be casting and rehearsing four productions that will be performed at venues across Omaha including The Waiting Room in Benson, Sumtur Amphitheatre, The Slowdown and more.

McGuigan Arts Academy is located in Countryside Village at 87th and Pacific Streets. Thanks in part to generous sponsors, the Academy will offer class scholarships to those from across the greater Omaha metro who may not have the means to pay for them.

For more information, contact Kate Whitecotton at 402-682-2868 and kate@billymcguigan.com.  For class and Academy schedules and to learn more, see McGuiganArtsAcademy.com. For The Omaha Series visit www.billymcguigan.com/theomahaseries.

Retro Review: ‘Billy as Billy’ is Simply Effective

Come take a walk with me down the hall of time.  The year is 2006.  I was merely a Chris Elston as opposed to THE Chris Elston (as one my friends jokingly calls me) as the Corner wasn’t even a thought.  And a local musician & actor who had rocketed to fame as Buddy Holly was now releasing his debut album.  Join me as I retro review Billy as Billy, the first album from Omaha singer/songwriter Billy McGuigan.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of reviewing McGuigan’s latest album, billymcguiganTOGETHER.  I then realized I had never heard his original album and decided to see if I could hunt it up.  A little research managed to help me lay my hands on a copy and I gave it a listen.  Quite frankly, I was blown away by the quality of the work as McGuigan demonstrated a depth and maturity with his songwriting that experienced and legendary performers would envy.

I found myself liking this album every bit as much as his most recent work and in some ways, even a little bit more.  What I liked most about Billy as Billy is that it was just that. . . purely Billy.  He had a sound that just reached right out and grabbed you and it was wholly his own.  Only at a few moments did I detect the influence of another artist.  Even then, it was only for a brief riff or chord.  And, again, the stories McGuigan shares obviously come straight from the heart from which the best work always comes.

What surprised me the most about the album was that it was, for McGuigan, considerably lower key and reflective as opposed to the stratospheric energy of his live performances.  But that reflection is what gives the album its strength.

The album opened with “That Wonder In Your Eyes (My Little Girl)” which is a moderate love rocker, but that love could be different depending on one’s point of view.  The wonder in her eyes could be the wonder of a lover or the wonder of a newborn child which makes it a truly compelling song.

The album follows with the sad, yet darkly humorous “She Never. . .” which is told from the voice of a someone consoling a friend who’d been dumped by a faithless woman.  “(And Everything’s Fine Down On) Mission Street” is a fun, reflective rocker on a neighborhood’s history.  “Separate” is a tearjerker about a crumbled marriage.  “Trying to Write This Song” is a touching number about a man trying to say how much he loves a woman.  “Eyes Wide Open” is the album’s most haunting number.  Driven by a tragic piano, it tells the story of a broken man who can’t escape his past even though he tries to honor his late father’s final words to “keep (his) eyes wide open”, but he doesn’t know what he’s “supposed to see”.  The album closes in fine fashion with “All This Time Has Passed” which is an effectively simple tune featuring McGuigan on acoustic guitar backed with synchronized strings as he tells a story about a man still in love and trying to love even better.

If you’re able to find a copy of this album I highly recommend it.  It’ll unleash a cornucopia of emotions within you and it’s a poignant piece of musical storytelling.  All I can say is that I hope it isn’t too long before McGuigan gets the itch to share another album with the public.

McGuigan Puts it All Together with billymcguiganTOGETHER

When the pandemic brought a halt to his touring, Billy McGuigan had plenty of time to think “a lot about life, career, family, love and most importantly truth”.  These thoughts unleashed a wave of creativity which had him taking a page out of Paul McCartney’s playbook and create an album where he is virtually the sole creative force (writer, performer, instrumentalist and producer) and the end result is billymcguiganTOGETHER.

This album is a gem.  It draws inspiration from so many different sources that I wonder if McGuigan was aware of them all.  But a sampling of the sources include rock, country, the Beatles (as well as Paul and John in their solo years), Ben Folds, Buddy Holly, the Eagles and the Beach Boys just to name a few.  Add to this McGuigan’s own potent ability as a performer, songwriter, singer and storyteller and you have something that I consider to be genius.  And the key that holds it all together is that McGuigan speaks from the heart and that vulnerability is what gives this album its true power.

Each song is elegantly constructed and beautifully layered as McGuigan plays a minimum of 19 different instruments over the course of the album and even learned bass and drums to build his songs.  Listening to this album was like watching a fantastic play.  It’s serious where it should be.  Funny where it needs to be.  Hard hitting where it’s gotta be and just plain fun.  McGuigan’s songs will definitely evoke memories of your own life and help you make a real connection with these numbers.

Truthfully, there isn’t a weak number on the album, but some real standouts include the album’s emotional opener, “After All”, a tribute to McGuigan’s father, Bill; “Baby, Wont You Leave Me” which tells the true story of a man begging his girlfriend to leave because she keeps breaking his heart; the touching “For You, Too” which sounds like and may very well be a loving tribute to McGuigan’s children; the sweet “Little Metal Shed” which is a love song dedicated to McGuigan’s girlfriend; the humorous “This Trailer Park Was My Home” where McGuigan reflects on his own childhood and manages to turn the cliches of country music on their head at the same time; his Buddy Holly tribute “Me and Peggy Sue”; and his “throat scratcher”, “Wait A Bit Longer Now”.

But for me, the real showstopper was “Together”.  This song made me physically shudder and nearly pause it.  Surprising considering its upbeat nature, but it’s a beautiful song of hope and about sticking together after loved ones have passed on and its refrain of “with a hug and some love” caused me to tear up a bit as it sounds exactly like what a dearly departed friend of mine might have said in life.

billymcguiganTOGETHER is not only a great listen and an emotional roller coaster of an album, it is also, and this is not hyperbole, one of the best albums of which I have had the privilege of listening.  You will be doing yourself a true disservice if you don’t give it a chance.

billymcguiganTOGETHER is available now and can be purchased at www.billymcguigan.com.

The Eve the Music Returned

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In a time when the world has begun to take the tiniest of steps back to normalcy, it’s a relief to know that there are still some constants in the world.  And one of those constants is the awesomeness of a live show with Billy McGuigan and his band.  That awesomeness is available for your enjoyment again as Billy and his band bring you Rave On:  The Music of Buddy Holly in the parking lot of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This time around the show is not about Billy being Buddy or his extemporaneous wit and humor.  This time, it’s all about a band playing non-stop, untarnished, unvarnished, old-fashioned rock and roll with a 50s drive-in flair on an unseasonably perfect night for an outdoor concert.

It wouldn’t be a Billy McGuigan show without some of his classic storytelling, but the tales were kept to a minimum as he and his band were clearly hungry for a live audience and gave us their all in a 90 minute rockfest that featured the hits and obscurities of the late, great Buddy Holly along with a few other surprises as well.

McGuigan was in rare form tonight as he fueled himself on the applause and horn honks of an energetic audience and fired that energy right back at us with takes on “Maybe Baby”, “That’ll Be the Day”, “Handsome Brown Eyed Man”, a rare performance of one of Holly’s earliest recordings, “Midnight Shift”, and a 15 minute medley framed by “Oh, Boy!”.  Occasionally Billy would slow things down a few notches with his mellifluous tenor serenading the crowd with Richie Valens’ “Donna” and Holly’s own legendary soft song “True Love Ways” before ramping it back up a bit with “Crying, Waiting, Hoping” and the Everly Brothers hits, “Bye Bye Love” and “Wake Up Little Suzie” and closing things out with “Rave On” and an original rocker of his own creation, “Me and Peggy Sue”.

McGuigan was excellently supported by his band as we were treated to numerous saxophone solos from Darren Pettit and nearly as many guitar solos from Max Meyer, a phenom with chops to rival Jimi Hendrix.  Ryan McGuigan rocked out on rhythm guitar and provided a nifty little solo with Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” while Matthew McGuigan’s bass playing drove the beat and he got his own little chance to shine with Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes”.  Newcomer Larell Ware dazzled on the drums as he supported the night’s numbers with a thunderous backbeat.

If you want to enjoy one of the simple pleasures of life, then you need to get a ticket to see our local master musician as he interprets the classics of a legendary artist as only he can.

Rave On:  The Music of Buddy Holly runs through June 28 in the parking lot of the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6:30pm. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased online at www.omahaplayhouse.com or by phone at 402-553-0800.  This is a cashless event and reservations are required.  CDC guidelines are being followed and parking spaces will be assigned upon arrival.  Please do not arrive earlier than 90 minutes before showtime.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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Top photo provided by Analisa Swerczek

Drive In to ‘Rave On’

Omaha, NE– Ready for a fresh take on an audience favorite?  Billy McGuigan’s Rave On! The Music of Buddy Holly returns to the Omaha Community Playhouse as an exciting new drive-in concert experience.  Rave On! will open Thursday, June 11, in the Playhouse parking lot, which will take on the atmosphere of a ’50s rock’n’roll drive-in.  The event will be unlike anything audiences have experienced at the Playhouse before:  a high-energy, nonstop outdoor concert that features McGuigan and his band performing Buddy Holly’s most popular songs.  The playlist also includes the hits of fellow rockers like Elvis, the Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis and more.  The show runs without intermission.

Rave On! replaces Tara Vaughan’s She Rocks, which had been scheduled to run June 11-28 in the Playhouse’s Howard Drew Theatre.  She Rocks has been canceled. Rave On! will play on all the same dates.

Billy McGuigan has received national attention and critical acclaim for his dynamic take on Buddy Holly hits.  The family friendly show’s roots trace back to when McGuigan was cast in the title role of the Omaha Community Playhouse musical Buddy! The Buddy Holly Story.  The smash hit led to McGuigan’s creation of his own show featuring Buddy Holly’s music.  Rave On! has broken box office records in theatres across North America. McGuigan is also known for the popular touring shows Yesterday and Today and Rock Twist, which have been performed at the Playhouse for many years.

To ensure audience safety during the COVID-19 pandemic, this will be a cashless event requiring a reservation.  Cars will be parked in a checkerboard pattern for social distancing.  Audience members can choose to bring portable chairs and sit outdoors on the driver’s side of the vehicle they came in, but they may mingle only with those who came in their vehicle.  No concessions will be sold.  No smoking or alcoholic beverages will be permitted.  Bathrooms in the Playhouse main lobby will be available, with COVID sanitation and social-distancing observed.  Early arrival is recommended to allow extra time for parking.  Parking spaces will be assigned as cars arrive.  Please, no lining up to park until 90 minutes before showtime.

Tickets, starting at $35 per person, are on sale now and may be purchased by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

The Night the Music Lived

Buddy Holly Story

Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly

His career spanned a year and a half, but in that time he revolutionized rock and roll and left an indelible fingerprint that would inspire some of the greatest performers of all time.  His story is the focus of Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Janes’ script falls somewhere between a play and a jukebox musical.  Precious little of Holly’s life is covered in the show.  The play part focuses on certain key points in his life from his struggles as a teenager trying to become a rock star in the country music meccas of Texas and Nashville to his nabbing a recording contract with an open minded producer to his legendary Apollo performance to his whirlwind marriage to his break-up with the Crickets and, finally, to his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA.  Needless to say, the jukebox part focuses on Holly’s hits as well as numerous other hits of the day.

Tim Seib masterfully handles the dual direction required of the production.  He musters every ounce of story, nuance, and emotion from the story portion of the production.  In fact, I was incredibly impressed with his work for the romance between Holly and his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, which is the richest part of the story from an acting perspective.  Seib nabs an easy A+ directing the action of the musical part of the show which is good, old fashioned, pulse pounding rock and roll.

Some wonderful featured performances were supplied by Alan Gillespie as Norman Petty, the producer willing to allow Holly the chance to record music his way, but also lives up to his last name by attempting to screw Holly over by keeping the Crickets and taking the band name when Holly decides to change labels; Garrick Vaughan and Nissi Shalome as a pair of Apollo performers who give a rousing rendition of “Shout” and mercilessly heckle Holly and his band before their performance; Mike Brennan is an indefatigable cauldron of energy as J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and excels with his solo in “Chantilly Lace”.

I’d also like to give some special notice to Alix Rhode who gives a subtle and moving performance as Maria Elena Santiago.  She is strong, bold, and so loving and supportive of Buddy and your heart breaks as you know her fears for Holly’s safety are all too true.

This show lives or dies by the performer playing Buddy Holly and Michael Perrie, Jr. admirably carries the load of this show on his shoulders.

Perrie IS Buddy Holly and practically reincarnates him in front of the eyes of the audience.  Not only does Perrie bear a remarkable physical similarity to the late singer, but he also effortlessly emulates his look, assumes his accent and speech cadences, and even gets that unique hiccup in his voice when he sings.

Perrie brings some serious acting chops to the role.  He manages to show Holly’s politeness and decency, but also his toughness as Holly wouldn’t back down from anyone when it came to his music.  He also well plays Holly’s free-spirited nature.  This was a man who always marched to his own beat no matter what anyone thought about his choices.  He also expertly handles the heartache of Buddy’s life, shedding real tears when the Crickets abandon him and, more or less, yank the band name from him.

Musically, Perrie is also outstanding.  He’s a guitar player par excellence and easily handled rock numbers such as “Not Fade Away”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day”, but he was just as nimble and moving on the softer numbers such as “True Love Ways”, “Words of Love”, and “Heartbeat”.

Cullen Law’s musical direction was exceptional as he and his performers made these classic tunes their own.  Jack Smith’s costumes were superb, from the elegant suits for the men to the pretty gowns for the ladies. Ali Strelchun has created a nice three sided set with a massive band area at center stage, a small radio station at house left, and Petty’s tiny recording studio at house right.  Jess Fialko’s lights are spot on with colors and intensity matching the energy and emotions of the songs and an incredibly poignant blackout for The Day the Music Died.

I want to take a moment and applaud all of the actors for showing great poise under pressure as they battled microphone issues throughout the night, but steamrolled right over them.

Some music experts have argued that, had Holly’s life not been cut short, Buddymania may have ruled the world due to the breakthroughs he was making with music.  Though his life was tragically short, he left behind an amazing legacy that is still inspiring musicians today.  And if you want a taste of musical history and a fun filled time, go see this show.

Music Lived

The Day the Music Died (Left to right: Mike Brennan as the Big Bopper, Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly, & Chase Tucker as Ritchie Valens)

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 11.  Performances are at 2pm on July 28, 31 and August 2-4, 6, 10, 11 and 7:30pm on July 31, August 2, 4, 7, 9-10.  Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained at www.maplesrep.com or contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Pictures supplied through courtesy of Maples Repertory Theatre

This review is dedicated to the memory of Kay McGuigan.  We miss you, friend!

Revamped Rock Twist Set to Sizzle at OCP

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Omaha, NE.—Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist will open Friday, Aug. 2 at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Aug. 2 through 18. Performances will be held Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

A high-energy concoction of rock ‘n’ roll mega hits with a big band twist, Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist is a live concert experience covering everything from The Beach Boys to Billy Joel. This summer’s show features an all-new set list and introduces the Pop Rock Orchestra—a 15-piece lineup of all-star musicians.

MCGUIGAN’S 500TH PERFORMANCE

Billy McGuigan will celebrate his 500th Omaha Community Playhouse performance on Saturday, August 17 during Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

McGuigan, now an internationally-recognized touring musician, first appeared on the OCP stage in Sweet Charity in 1994. But it was his portrayal of Buddy Holly that truly jumpstarted his career. After starring in Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story in 2002, McGuigan decided to produce his own original Buddy Holly tribute show, and Rave On! was born. The show was wildly successful, appearing in ten different seasons at OCP over the next two decades.

Lightning struck again for McGuigan with the creation of yet another OCP fan favorite—Yesterday & Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience. This iconic all-request Beatles tribute show has run for 12 consecutive seasons at OCP and is set to return for 2019.

Tickets to Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist—including McGuigan’s 500th show on August 17th—are available online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or through the OCP Box Office at (402) 553-0800 or 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132.  Tickets begin at $42 ($32 for season subscribers) and vary by performance and seating zone.

MRT Will Show You How it’s Gonna Be with ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’

Maples Repertory Theatre Presents:

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan James

Synopsis

Follow the incredible journey of Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise to the top of the record charts during the golden days of rock ‘n’ roll in this dynamic tribute musical. You’ll be cheering for more, with such rousing fifties favorites as “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Raining In My Heart,” Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.” This joyous celebration of a musical legend has audiences on their feet in every corner of the globe and it will explode on the Royal Stage in a toe-tapping, hand-clapping extravaganza! “Oh Boy!”

Showtimes

  • Fri. July 19 – 7:30
  • Sat. July 20 – 2:00
  • Tues. July 23 – 2:00
  • Wed. July 24 – 2:00
  • Sat. July 27 – 7:30
  • Sun. July 28 – 2:00
  • Wed. July 31 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Fri. Aug. 2 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Sat. Aug. 3 – 2:00
  • Sun. Aug. 4 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Tues. Aug. 6 – 2:00
  • Wed. Aug. 7 – 7:30
  • Fri. Aug. 9 – 7:30
  • Sat. Aug. 10 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Sun. Aug. 11 – 2:00

Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained by contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924 or visiting www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Twist it Up, Billy

You are entering a fun dimension of sight and sound.  A world where rock tunes are performed like big band numbers and big band numbers are given a rock flair.  You are entering the Omaha Community Playhouse to watch Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

Yes, indeed, Billy McGuigan and his band have returned to OCP and they’re playing 60s hits (with a pinch of 70s and a smidge of 80s) in ways you’ve never heard them before.  “But, Chris,” I hear you say.  “Isn’t this just the same show as last year?”  And the answer is a most emphatic, “No!”  Not only does the show have a new set and lights courtesy of Jim Othuse and Tyler Packett, but they also have a new set list.  True, some of the hits from last year return, but there’s also plenty of new material so you can enjoy this show anew.

There’s something for everyone in this production as you’ll hear hits from Frank Sinatra, the Ronettes, Lulu, Billy Joel, Harry Connick, Jr., the Doors, Duke Ellington, and, yes, even the Beatles and Buddy Holly, plus more played as only the maestro of Omaha and his band can play them.

Billy McGuigan once again rules the stage with his killer stage presence and insane musical chops.  McGuigan is an artist of rare versatility who can smoothly glide from a Frank Sinatra number to a Doors hit just as easily as he switches from guitar to piano.  McGuigan constantly thrilled and energized the audience with varied hits such as smooth standard style songs like Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me” and Harry Connick Jr.’s “Come By Me”; hard rockers like “Live and Let Die” by Paul McCartney and Wings and the Guess Who’s “She’s Come Undone”; and soft ballads such as Buddy Holly’s “True Love Ways” and the Beatles’ “Here, There, and Everywhere”.

Co-starring with Billy is the one and only Tara Vaughan who spent the night tickling the ivories and shining in her own set of hits from powerful female singers.  You’ll thrill as Ms Vaughan’s sensuous alto belts out Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, slows it down for the Ronettes’ “Be My Baby”, and invites you to go “Downtown” with Petula Clark.

This show couldn’t be done without the assistance of a stellar band which includes some of the finest musicians and singers in the city.  Backing vocals are supplied by Ryan & Matthew McGuigan and Jessica Errett.  Strings are provided by Christina Allred on cello and Olga Smola on violin and, prior to tonight, I was unaware at how well strings could be used on rock numbers.  Steve Gomez helps to drive the action with his bass while Max Meyer shows some Pete Townshendish ability with his guitar solos.  Patrick Brown and Andrew Janak soar on alto and tenor saxophone.  Janak also arranged all of the night’s incredible music.  Patrick Peters keeps the groove sliding with his trombone.  Tomm Roland keeps the beat as only he can on drums.  Last, but certainly not least, is local jazz legend, Doyle Tipler, trumpeting with all of his might.

If you haven’t seen a Billy McGuigan show yet, what on earth are you waiting for?  This show only has a limited two week run, so get a ticket while a ticket can still be got.  I promise you a great time with a show suitable for the young and young at heart.  The only way you couldn’t have fun is if you’re comatose and, even then, I bet your pulse would still be beating in time with the music.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through August 12.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 and can be found at www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com or by calling OCP at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Masterful Musicians Make Magnificent Music

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Billy McGuigan and the Downliners (From left to right: Tara Vaughan, Ryan McGuigan, Matthew McGuigan, Billy McGuigan, Adam Stoltenberg, and Max Meyer)

Take a tour through the history of classic rock and roll as Billy McGuigan and his band play the hits from the 50s through the 70s in Rock Legends.  Last night Billy and his band, the Downliners, played a sold out, tour de force performance at the Davies Amphitheater in Glenwood, IA.

The show was actually billed as Rock Show, but was a variation of McGuigan’s Rock Legends production.  Billy McGuigan once more demonstrated his seemingly limitless musical talent with a pulse pounding, non-stop 90 minute ride that displays an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock.  Billy and the Downliners played some of the biggest hits of the best known bands of the 50s-70s, but also included several one hit wonders and hits that simply don’t get much airplay nowadays.  Imbued with that inimitable McGuigan energy, one would swear that Billy and the band wrote all of these tunes themselves as the music seems so fresh and extemporaneous.

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Mark Irvin

The night’s entertainment opened up with Omaha singer/songwriter, Mark Irvin.  Irvin has a voice reminiscent of Bryan Adams and a stage presence similar to Roy Orbison.  It’s just a man, his guitar, and his music.  Irvin is a powerhouse talent whose warm tenor haunted the audience with original numbers such as “I Will Surrender to You”, “I Finally Got it Right”, and “Fly With Me”.  He also did an impressive cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song” that had the audience singing right along with him.  If you want to get a taste of Irvin’s talent, his music is available on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

Then it was time for the featured act and Billy and company hit the ground running and never let up.

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Billy McGuigan

Billy McGuigan drove the night with his trademark wit and indefatigable energy.  He and his potent tenor went through an impressive range of high octane songs from “Bye, Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers to “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals to the first rock song, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”.  How he does this without wearing out, I’ll never know, but he did give himself a bit of a breather with a small set of slower songs capped with a particularly touching rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

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Tara Vaughan

It’s as much fun to watch Tara Vaughan perform as it is to listen to her sing.  Performance wise, she reminds me of Bob Marley in the sense that, like him, she is totally immersed in the music.  She doesn’t just play the keyboards with her fingers, she plays with her whole body, heart, and soul.  And that sultry alto had me looking for a cold drink after some of her numbers.  Notable turns from her came with Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”, a rocking rendition of the Gene Pitney penned Crystals hit, “He’s a Rebel”, and a dazzling take on “A Little Piece of My Heart” that would have made Janis Joplin proud.

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Ryan & Matthew McGuigan

Ryan & Matthew McGuigan nailed it in their time in the spotlight.  Ryan paid homage to John Lennon and the Beatles with his takes on “I Feel Fine” and the Lennon solo in “This Boy”.  Matthew got a chance to show some impressive versatility as he did The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” before segueing into Elvis soundalike Terry Stafford’s one hit wonder, “Suspicions”.

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Adam Stoltenberg & Max Meyer

Solid support was provided in the forms of Max Meyer and Adam Stoltenberg.  Meyer provided a series of superb solos on lead guitar while Stoltenberg’s drum work set a crucial backbeat.  Both also got a moment to sing when they each took some verses in The Band’s “The Weight” which was sung by the entire band.

When people hear the name Billy McGuigan, some think Buddy Holly while others may think the Beatles.  When I hear the name, I think he’s one of the best musicians Omaha has ever produced.  Normally, this is the point where I encourage you to get a ticket.  Sadly this was a one night only concert, but fear not.  You have another chance to catch Bily and company in action when Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist opens at the Omaha Playhouse on August 1.  The show runs through August 12 with performances running Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Contact OCP at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com for tickets.

But take my advice, when Rock Legends performs again, don’t miss it.  It’s awesome!