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!

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

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

McGuigans Sing. Are You Listening? Beatles Tunes Will be Ringing!!

Omaha, NE–The holidays are coming which means it’s time for Omaha’s beloved holiday tradition: Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience.

Once again taking place at The Slowdown (729 N 14th St in Omaha, NE), Omaha’s legendary locals, The McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, Matthew), will entertain you with the melodies of the legendary Beatles as only they can.

If you’re new to the city or haven’t had a chance to partake of Omaha’s best show, permit me to elucidate on the auditory treat that awaits you.

Yesterday & Today is unlike any concert you will ever see. The McGuigans will entertain you with a night of Beatlemania chosen entirely by you. You read that right! This is an all request concert and the McGuigans are waiting to hear your requests and the stories behind them. The end result is a classic rockfest that may have you thinking the Fab Four have been reincarnated in this Terrific Trio.

No song is beyond their ken as they know them all from “Love Me Do” to “Her Majesty”. Bring your favorites. Bring your obscurities. But be sure to bring yourselves and prepare for a splendid evening.

All showtimes are 7:30pm with the exception of 6:30pm showings on Dec 4 and 11. Tickets are available here.

SEATING OPTIONS:
Pit & Pitside – Reserve your row. Seats within your reserved row are first come first pick the night of the show. You are guaranteed seats in your reserved row.
Balcony – You are guaranteed seats in the balcony. Seats are first come first pick the night of the show.
General Admission – Located at the back of the venue. Seating is limited. Seats are not guaranteed.

8 ticket maximum per order. Click here to see the venue seating map. Have a group of 9 or more? Reach out to kate@billymcguigan.com for group reservations.

SHOW DATES:
November 25, 26
December 2, 3, 4
December 9, 10, 11
December 21, 22, 23
December 28, 29, 30

TICKET PRICES:
$20 General Admission
$30 Balcony
$35 Reserved Pit
$50 Reserved Pitside

Doors open 1 hour to showtime.
Ticket purchases are non-refundable.
Purchase tickets in person at the Slowdown at our open house, November 5 from 11am – 1pm.

Holidays at Disney, Day 1: Educational Fun (EPCOT)

Geosphere (also houses Spaceship Earth ride)

Boy, are my dogs barking.  (Notices reader)

Oh, hi there!

I just finished one hectic adventure.  So hectic that I had neither the time nor the energy to do my daily write-ups.  So welcome to Part I of the tale of my final visit to Walt Disney World.

WHAT????  I hear some of you expostulate.  Let me clarify.

Those who know me know of my fondness for the Disney parks.  While I have enjoyed them as a solo visitor, I realize that adventures like this are even more fun when shared.  So, barring unusual circumstances, the next time I visit Disney, it will be with friends and family.

Upon making this decision, I decided to plan a very special finale, especially as my last visit to WDW was ten years ago.  Normally I visit during the summer, but that brutal heat and humidity eat me alive.  Now my love for Christmas is legendary and having done an early family Christmas, a most wonderful idea struck me.

I would visit WDW right after Christmas and fuse my love for the holidays with WDW.

December 27 found me flying a non-stop flight to Orlando via Southwest.  God was looking over me that day as a powerful tail wind brought me to Florida almost 40 minutes early. 

During the pandemic, I finally caught up to the rest of the planet and invested in a smartphone.  So I downloaded the My Disney Experience app and I’d highly recommend it for your visit to Disney parks.  You can plan an itinerary, get tips, order food, make Lightning Lane and restaurant reservations (120 days in advance as opposed to the 60 using the webpage via a computer), and check into your hotel far in advance.  On arrival day, the app will give you your room number and, with MagicMobile, your phone turns into the room key and park passes.  That way you can bypass the front desk, go straight to your room, and have more park time.

But first, you have to get to your hotel.  I made use of Disney’s Magical Express which provides free round trip transportation from airport to hotel for those staying on Disney property.  Once upon a time, the Magical Express also took care of your luggage so you could skip baggage claim, but I learned that particular service was no longer offered when I booked this trip. 

Disney’s Magical Express

Regrettably, you will not be able to make use of this service as Magical Express ended operations as of Dec 31 so I ended up being one of the final people to ever make use of it.  Mears, the company that managed Magical Express, will still work with Disney to provide transportation, but it’s going to cost you.  Standard service will be $32 a head for round trip standard service and an express service will be offered for $250 (for up to 4 people).  I’d stick with standard service as you’ll be on your way within 20 minutes.  Outside of price, the only real difference is that express takes you straight to your resort while you might make a few stops with standard service which was how the Magical Express operated.

As my final solo outing, I decided to book a moderate resort (Disney’s middle tier).  Moderate resorts will have some onsite restaurants and bigger rooms.  I picked Coronado Springs and hit the jackpot.

Coronado Springs

Coronado Springs has been dubbed “the deluxe resort (top tier) priced as a moderate” and I believe it.  It had recently gone through a massive renovation which updated the rooms and added the Gran Destino Tower which is a more luxurious set of rooms.  The property also contains a fitness center and spa and is Disney’s largest property.  It’s like a small town and has multiple bus stops.  Since the price difference was negligible, I booked a preferred room with a king bed.  Preferred rooms guarantee a good view of the property and usually contain a view of the lagoon or swimming pools.

I was notified that my room was ready while I was on the Express so I was delighted that I could go straight to my room without having to store my luggage since I was arriving several hours earlier than the 3pm check in time.

I entered the main lobby at Gran Destino where I was directed to my room.  I felt my Christmas juices flowing as I gazed at the elegantly decorated lobby and couldn’t wait to see what the parks had prepared for Christmas.  I took the elevator to the lower lobby and marveled at the button design as they were on the outside of the elevator.  You press the button for your floor, then get a message saying what elevator will be transporting you.

It was a fair hike to my room at about 10 minutes, but I had a room on the top floor with a lovely view of the courtyard and swimming pool.  A very spacious room awaited me and I put my clothes and toiletries away and immediately headed to Epcot.  For those on property, complimentary bus service is available at all resorts.  Some of the resorts also have alternate modes of transportation.  Depending on where you’re staying, you might be able to travel via boat, monorail, or gondola.

EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) is the park I always do on the first day since I can’t get a full day.  It’s a more adult themed park as it’s very educational and cultural.  While it does boast rides, they’re all very slow paced and perpetual motion based with a few exceptions.

Epcot is also broken into two sections:  Future World and World Showcase.  Future World deals with science and technology (mostly) while World Showcase takes you on a miniature tour of the world.

I started things off in Future World by visiting Test Track.  This is the lone power ride of the park which simulates the testing of a new car.  This ride also boasts a single rider line so solo guests can bypass the main line and just fill in a gap.  Groups can use this line, but you will be split apart.  But I highly suggest using it as you’ll get to ride in about 5 to 10 minutes so you could do it several times over.

From there I also enjoyed rides on Spaceship Earth, Living with the Land, and Journey Into Imagination with Figment. 

Spaceship Earth (pictured at the top of this article) is the ride in Epcot’s famed geosphere (or giant golf ball, as its nicknamed) which takes you on a tour through the history of communication.  It’s also the longest ride in any of the parks at a whopping 16 minutes and is narrated by Dame Judi Dench.  The ride is slated for a massive overhaul which will shut it down for two years, but that project was delayed by the pandemic and has not yet been rescheduled.

Speaking of the pandemic, masks are required on all rides and anywhere indoors.  Now back to the rides.

Living with the Land takes you on a boat ride where you learn about growing foods.  The fruits, spices, and vegetables you see growing in the greenhouses are actually used in Disney restaurants.  Journey Into Imagination with Figment takes you on a tour of the Imagination Institute hosted by Dr. Nigel Channing (played by Monty Python alum, Eric Idle).  Channing’s tour gets taken over by Figment, a talking purple dragon who teaches you how to unleash your imagination.

Then I made a stop at Club Cool which is an exhibit where you can sample Coca-Colas from around the world.  It’s a good place to get free drinks though you can also get free cups of water at most eateries as Florida law mandates that it be available due to the sweltering heat in the summers.

They had actually changed up the flavors from my last visit.  My favorite was Country Mix from the Dominican Republic which has a creamy, fruity flavor.  Beverly, from Italy, is my least favorite and isn’t meant to be enjoyed.  It’s a bitter aperitif meant to activate your taste buds so you can enjoy your meal more.

Then I began meandering around the World Showcase beginning with the giant Christmas tree.  I admit I was surprised at what I considered the lack of Christmas decorations.  Don’t get me wrong.  There were elegant wreaths and lights everywhere, but I was expecting a lot of flash and pizzazz and not the understated beauty I saw.

Epcot is running its Festival of the Holidays so each country in World Showcase is doing little shows explaining how Christmas is celebrated in that particular region.  It also does a Candlelight Processional telling the story of Jesus’ birth each night with a different celebrity reader each week of the holiday season.

Each region also has special food kiosks for the holiday season so you can sample food and drink from different cultures and each sample costs between $5ish to $15ish.  I hadn’t eaten all day so I stopped at L’Chaim where I had a delicious pastrami on rye with a homemade pickle and mustard to tide me over until dinner.

I did walk through all the countries, but stopped at the Mexico Pavilion where I entered the faux Mayan pyramid so I could ride Gran Fiesta Tour, a boat ride that shows you the culture of Mexico under the conceit of Panchito and Jose Carioca of the Three Caballeros searching for Donald Duck so they could perform their concert.

Then it was time for dinner.  Epcot has the best restaurants of the 4 parks so I had dinner there each night.  For the first night, I hit up one of my favorites:  Teppan Edo in the Japan Pavilion.

Teppan Edo

Teppan Edo is teppanyaki dining which means the food is cooked at your table.  A salad course precedes the main entrée and it was served with a ginger peach dressing that blew my socks off.  For my main course, I enjoyed steak, chicken, and shrimp served with vegetables and Udon noodles along with steamed rice and enjoyed some conversation with Dave and Kyla who were seated with me at the table.

With a fine meal under my belt, I enjoyed the Christmas lights as night had fallen and the geosphere had been turned into a mammoth Christmas ornament as it went through a beautiful light show.

I had thought about using my Park Hopper to dash over to Magic Kingdom, but it had been a long day.  So I returned to Coronado Springs to go to bed as I had to get up mighty early the next morning.

Christmas Lights it Up: Fargo Mansion Inn & Lake Mills, WI

The Fargo Mansion Inn

Today the road has brought me to Lake Mills, WI.

Yes, sir, it’s time once again for my favorite event and, I hope, yours.  It’s the annual Christmas B & B review.

This year’s review brought me to Lake Mills and The Fargo Mansion Inn owned and operated by Tom Boycks and Barry Luce. 

Fargo Mansion Inn is an 1881 Queen Anne mansion which had been bought by E.J. Fargo, son of the founder of Wells Fargo, in 1883.  Fargo was also a bit of an inventor as he created the central vacuuming system still used in homes today.  He lived in the mansion until his death in 1921 and his third wife continued to live there before moving to a nearby nursing home where she passed away at the age of 67.  At that point, the mansion was transformed into apartments for years before falling into disrepair and condemnation.

Boycks and Luce bought the mansion in 1985 and spent two years restoring it and were actually one of, if not the first, B & B proprietors in Wisconsin.  In fact, the partners are the founding members of the Wisconsin Bed and Breakfast Association.  If the inn and the association don’t keep them busy enough, Boycks and Luce also have several other business interests in the community.

Unlike a great deal of my outings, I was only going to have one day to enjoy the inn and community so I had to hit the ground running.  Once I spotted the mansion, I knew I had hit the jackpot.

One of the inn’s calling cards is that the owners like to decorate it according to a 19th century Victorian Christmas and I felt my Christmas juices flowing when I saw the Christmas tree and pine strings decorating the outside of the inn along with cutouts of toy soldiers.

Tom opened the door before I even had a chance to ring the bell and welcomed me into the home where I also met Barry.  Tom gave me the quarter tour of the home and I marveled at the decorations and period antiques in the common areas.  He then led me to the Enoch J Fargo Suite which was my room for the night.

This is Fargo Mansion’s largest room and dubbed the honeymoon suite containing a queen-sized bed, English writing desk, and a secret.  Don’t worry, I won’t keep you in the dark.  The bathroom has a secret entrance behind one of the bookshelves and is the closest I’ve come to seeing a true secret passage.

Once I got settled, I returned to the commons where I took a really good look around and enjoyed the fresh, piney smell of a real Christmas tree and took a close look at the intricate Christmas decorations and enjoyed some photos of the mansion back in its original heyday.

Before I knew it, it was time to go to church.  I visited St Francis Xavier and this was a mighty small chapel; about on par with my visit to Our Lady of Victory in Limon, CO over the summer.  Father Bob conducted the service and he was a gregarious and entertaining pastor.  This was the third Sunday of Advent known as Gaudete (Rejoice) Sunday and is represented by the rose-colored candle on the Advent wreath.  Rejoice was the key word of the service as Father’s sermon centered around rejoicing that our Savior was coming and our Savior was here and with us.  It was definitely a good one to feel the Spirit moving and I left worship with a flutter in my heart and a rumble in my stomach.

It was indeed dinnertime and I headed over to the nearby town of Johnson Creek to eat at Crawfish Junction.

Crawfish Junction

Crawfish Junction is a bar/restaurant known for its Cajun fare.  Surprisingly it does not seem to serve gumbo (unless it pops up as a soup of the day), but does serve an excellent plate of jambalaya to which I added some delectable shrimp and forewent the hush puppies for homemade mashed potatoes and gravy.  The gravy had a great taste, but was much too thin, but the potatoes were right on the mark.

Satiated, I then headed to Janesville, WI to enjoy one of the region’s premier holiday events:  the Holiday Light Show at the Rotary Botanical Gardens.

I had read of the event prior to my arrival, but, thanks to Sandy, whom I met in my previous review, I learned that the tickets had to be bought in advance and would not be sold at the door.  So keep that in mind if you want to visit.

This truly is a popular event as there was a large line of people still waiting to get into the gardens, but it is well worth it.  A million lights transform the gardens into a Christmas wonderland where you get to see flowers, Christmas trees, old-fashioned lampposts, sea serpents, Old Glory, and many other colorful surprises guaranteed to make your eyes pop.

I could have spent hours there, but had to settle for 40 minutes as plummeting temperatures were turning me into a Chrisicle.  Afterwards, I returned to Fargo Mansion for some article prep and then sunk under the thick quilt for the night.

I wish I could sleep like that all the time.  I closed my eyes and when I opened them it was nearly 6am.  I had some time to write and ablute and then went down to breakfast.

Tom served up some lemon bread with a granola/yogurt/fruit dish and a main course of cheesy scrambled eggs, orange slices, and sausage links.  Tom is easily one of the best conversationalists I’ve had as a host and he may be the future version of myself as we seem to share similar senses of humor and personality traits.  But he is truly a master at the art of hospitality as we talked about the B & B industry and the events of the day.

Alas, I had to start heading the preparations for my drive home.  But if you’re in Lake Mills, especially around Christmas, stay at Fargo Mansion.  You’ll have an excellent pair of hosts, a wonderful mansion to relax in, and a fine feed in the morning. 

And that wraps up this review, join me in about two weeks when I close out the year with a special holiday series when I travel to Orlando, FL to experience Walt Disney World for the holidays.  It’ll be a grand adventure.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

‘Tilly’ is Silly

Tilly is having a rough holiday season.  Her sister ran off with a guy and left her in sole control of their diner which is in danger of going out of business.  She misses her father.  She’s lonely and her beau hasn’t proposed to her.  And her Christmas Extravaganza talent show is lacking star power and talent.  Will her apprentice guardian angel be able to help her find her Christmas spirit?  Find out by watching Tilly’s Holiday Extravaganza currently performing at Harold’s Koffee House under the auspices of 2×4 Planck Productions.

For full disclosure, the show’s playwright, Doug Marr, was a friend of mine and I performed in several of his original works so I have a good feeling for his style of writing.  This show definitely has the feel of an early work (it hasn’t been performed for 30 years) and seemed like a tale of two plays.  The first act needed a bit of polish.  It sets up Tilly’s woes and introduces Novice Betty whose “help” just seems to make things worse and then she vanishes and Tilly’s day just goes from bad to worse with various mishaps.  Act II jumps ahead to Christmas Eve and the extravaganza and is a much stronger act centering on the, ahem, “talent show” and the turn things take when a pair of strangers arrive at the café before everything gets wrapped up in a bow (Christmas pun intended).

Though it has some weaknesses, Doug’s love of Christmas and nostalgia are palpable and the play does feature some of his hallmarks.  Witty one-liners.  Ridiculous situations.  Frenemy characters.  And the energy of his family and friends who came together to produce this show definitely boost the production.

Lorie Obradovich does a laudable job of directing this play and does a very strong job of staging the actors, though there are points where the actors are out of the view of some patrons depending on where they’re seated in the diner.  Her coaching is quite solid as she really got her actors to embrace the silliness of their characters and just have some fun.

Some amusing performances come from Mike Downey as a dumb as a brick mechanic whose angry singing of “Frosty the Snowman” to the tune of “The Little Drummer Boy” is the play’s highlight; Dylan Marr and Elizabeth Planck make for a cute newlywed couple with an enjoyable pair of bad songs; Rob Baker brings some smiles as a never will be singer whose act is more lounge lizard than Sinatra; Ann Downey serves as a capable “straight man” to her goofball husband; Daniel Baye supplies some yuks as a befuddled thief; Wes Clowers has a nice everyman quality as Tilly’s boyfriend, Dale.

Rose Glock is an absolute delight in the dual roles of Novice Betty and Marlene.  As Novice Betty, apprentice guardian angel, Glock summons the spirit of Jean Stapleton’s Edith Bunker with the Queens accent and her good hearted ditziness.  As Marlene, Glock comes off as a mannish Lucy Van Pelt.  She’s crabby and she’s the boss (especially with her dominance of her brother, Pee Wee) and few are the people she can stand (and probably vice versa) for more than 5 minutes.

Laura Marr shines as the titular Tilly.  There’s definitely a flavor of Vicki Lawrence’s Mama character in her performance.  Marr’s Tilly is, more or less, the level headed leader of this neurotic group.  She never seems short of a snarky one liner, has a real take charge attitude, and can deliver extemporaneous, subtle sarcasm like a champ.  Still, she has a good heart and you genuinely want her to find her Christmas cheer.

The costumes supplied by Laura Marr, Paula Clowers, Robyn Baker are well done, indeed.  Most enjoyable were Tilly’s waitress outfit and poofy wig, Murray’s ugly as sin “tuxedo”, the coveralls for the mechanics, and Novice Betty’s flapper outfit.  There’s even a few clever light tricks from the director and cast as flickering lights (both regular and Christmas) abound whenever divine intervention is afoot.

It’s a sweet show for the holiday season and a worthy tribute to the late Doug Marr.  Come for the show.  Come for the pie.  Come for some Christmas cheer.

Tilly’s Holiday Extravaganza plays at Harold’s Koffee House through Dec 21.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat (Dec 21 is a special added Tuesday show).  Tickets cost $18 for the show and $25 for show, pie, and coffee or soft drink.  Harold’s Koffee House is located at 8327 N 30th St in Omaha, NE.

You’ll ‘Die Hard’ Laughing

A hard-edged NYC police officer flies out to Los Angeles to spend Christmas with his estranged wife and family, but gets caught up in a massive robbery attempt and he’s the only hope to stop the thieves.  Hey, this might make for a good movie!  But it’s A Very Die Hard Christmas and it’s currently playing at BlueBarn Theatre.

Jeff Schell and the Habit knew just what notes to strike when they decided to lampoon this classic action flick.  They actually stay true to the story, but completely upend its spirit with a comedic tour de force guaranteed to leave you wheezing for air before the night is through.  The meta aspect of the script is its finest quality as the show is aware it’s a show.  And a show done on the cheap at that as they can’t afford a full contingent of criminals and rely on Nerf ammo and squirt guns to mete out the show’s rampant violence.

Susan Clement dives into the heart of this show with a stylish bit of direction.  The show is immaculately staged as actors flow in and out of scenes as seamlessly as a rolling river.  Clement is able to give each actor a moment to shine and each feels like an individual and not just a piece of the ensemble.  Her coaching is right on the money as each performer gives a well-developed performance.  But keep your eyes on everybody or you might miss some subtle sight gags going on in the background of the crowd scenes.

Each member of the ensemble is a joy to watch and you’ll be treated to some quality work from Jonathan Purcell as Ellis, a coked-up prick who arrogantly thinks he can negotiate his way to safety and has a surprising set of pipes when he sings about how he “doesn’t want to die tonight”.  Roni Shelley-Perez lights it up in overacting, soap operatic glory as McClane’s estranged wife, Holly.  Raydell Cordell III is a scream as a Nakatomi employee who continuously pops up to say, “Oh, snap!” as well as providing a gentle take on Sgt. Al Powell, a police officer who lost some of his heart when he shot a kid.

Katie Becker-Colon might have the best role in the show as the Narrator.  Dolled up like Andy Warhol, Becker-Colon pops up to move the story along with endless variations and styles of Twas the Night Before Christmas while filling in needed gaps for assistance such as playing the piano or serving as a cameraperson for the obsequious reporter hungering for a scoop.  Becker-Colon is also a heck of a hoofer as I was blown away by her crisp dancing in the musical numbers.

Hughston Walkinshaw is magnetic as Hans Gruber, the criminal mastermind.  His performance invokes reminisces of Alan Rickman without aping him.  Walkinshaw is clearly having a ball as he cold-bloodedly squirts people to death, clomps around the stage while monologuing, and occasionally flips characters to Severus Snape for obligatory Harry Potter jokes.

Josh Peyton is a worthy John McClane as he makes the role his own.  He’s a chain-smoking, blue collar cop determined to see justice done regardless of regulations.  Peyton’s physicality is staggering as he deftly moves between building floors to dodge murderous thieves, hangs and shimmies down a bar, and rolls, rolls, rolls his way to justice and cover.  His fistfight with a life sized doll near the end of Act I is easily one of the funniest sight gags I have ever seen on stage.

Melanie Walters’ choreography is a blast to watch.  Robert Donlan’s set provides the feel of a cheaper version of downtown LA with the towering Nakatomi building.  Joshua Mullady’s lights really add some spice to the show with the starlit night sky and the complete drop to darkness before doing a slow light rise for the entrances of the FBI.  Jennifer Pool’s costumes evoke memories of the film from McClane’s dirty T-shirt to the 80s style clothes of the Nakatomi employees. 

It’s fast, furious, and funny and it’s almost sold out.  As of this writing, the only available tickets remaining are for the Dec 8 show at 7:30pm and they’re limited.  So visit www.bluebarn.org or call 402-345-1576 to grab one of the last tickets for this Christmas blockbuster.  Tickets cost $35.

A Very Die Hard Christmas runs through December 19.  Due to profanity, the show is not recommended for young children.  BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

A Magical Holiday Escape: The Roost and Appleton, WI

The Roost Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Appleton, WI.

Oh, what a difference a month or two can make.  Originally, I was going to be doing an earlier than usual Christmas review, but I ended up having to change plans when my selection opted to postpone its signature holiday event.  So I booked a different venue for the annual review and still found myself with an extra day off for the Thanksgiving weekend.  So I thought to myself, “Why waste a good day off?”  Thus, I scheduled a trip to Appleton to visit The Roost Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by De Ann Steffens.

I enjoyed a pleasant drive to Appleton while sitting on pins and needles as I listened to the Iowa Hawkeyes pull off a miraculous comeback against the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  I lost the signal for the game’s final few minutes, but heaved a sigh of relief as I saw they had obtained the victory just as I pulled into the Roost.

De Ann greeted me at the door and gave me the nickel tour before leading me to the Tapestry Suite.  True to its name, a large tapestry does adorn one of the walls.  A cheery fire was going which added to the room’s ambiance.  A large two-person jacuzzi sat in corner while a high, four poster queen bed sat in the other.

I got things organized and immediately headed out to my car to experience some of the town.

Though this isn’t a formal Christmas review, I was able to scratch my Christmas itch with visits to Darboy Community Park to enjoy Fox Cities’ Festival of Lights and the nearby Oshkosh Celebration of Lights at Menominee Park.

The Festival of Lights is a half mile self-guided walking tour through a winter wonderland of lights that form elves, dinosaurs, toys, snowmen, and even Santa’s workshop.  It’s completely free and donations are cheerfully accepted.  You can even buy a hot beverage to ward off the chill.

But if you want a heavy shot of Christmas, you definitely need to visit the Celebration of Lights in Oshkosh.  It’s a drive through tour featuring twelve miles of lights and effects while you tune in to a dedicated radio station of Christmas songs to strengthen the magic.  Cost is $10 per car.  Aside from the dazzling display of lights, you can even stop by the workshop to visit that guy in the red suit who likes to say “Ho!  Ho!  Ho!”

Feeling the joy of the holiday, I returned to the inn and gamed a bit before curling up in my bed for the night.

I awoke the next morning and I was starved.  De Ann had prepared a fruit dish along with Baked French Toast that had a crust of brown sugar and cinnamon along with some bacon and eggs.  I was unable to finish the tasty meal and took a half hour walk to burn off some of the calories.  Then I hopped into the car to begin exploring some of Appleton.

First, I decided to get my history on with a visit to The History Museum at the Castle in downtown Appleton.  It’s not terribly huge and, at first, I was mildly disappointed.  The main floor featured an exhibit about famed writer (and Appleton native) Edna Ferber along with some tidbits about Appleton history including the first jukebox, X-ray machine, and new voting machine, but nothing with that wow factor.  I headed upstairs feeling overcharged for the $10 I spent, but then things took a turn.

History Museum at the Castle

The second floor features a little exhibit on social research and the history of toys, but its main attraction is the history of famed magician and escape artist, Harry Houdini, and that was worth the price of admission by itself.

Houdini had claimed Appleton as his hometown and the museum goes into a detailed history of Houdini’s upbringing and rise to fame.  The museum even has a replica of the trick coffin (a new illusion) that Houdini was buried in as well as cuffs he escaped from, one of his straitjackets, a replica of his milk can escape, a representation of his Chinese Water Torture Escape, and you can even perform his famed Metamorphosis trick where he would be locked into a box and then switch places with his wife in 3 seconds. You can also perform one of Houdini’s famed jail cell escapes.  Houdini wasn’t shy about sharing secrets to some of his tricks so be forewarned to skip the backstage part of the exhibit if you want to keep the tricks a mystery.

From there I drove through downtown Appleton and enjoyed the Christmas decorations.  Appleton is actually a happening town with a lot of restaurants and activities and even boasts a pretty impressive performing arts center which I may have to visit at some point in the future.  But, for now, I had a quest.

My older and younger brothers, Brian and Dan, decided to utilize my being in Wisconsin to pick up some regional beverages.  So I began the search for Spotted Cow beer and Sprecher’s Grape Soda.  I went to a Super Target and was denied.  Then I reached a Festival Foods where I found Spotted Cow, but they seemed to have every flavor of Sprecher’s except Grape.  Brian opted for a cherry soda as a Plan B.

Flush with success I returned to The Roost to begin writing.  After a few hours I was off to worship at St Bernadette’s where I enjoyed a pleasant Advent service centering on a sermon telling us that Jesus, our Friend and Teacher, had come, will come again, and had never left us.  A truly blessed thought to warm the soul.

St Bernadette

With services completed, I grabbed an early dinner at Cinder’s.  This restaurant is famed for cooking over charcoal and I enjoyed the cindery goodness of a Northwoods Burger with a side of fries (bottomless, if you feel like more) while I watched the Minnesota Golden Gophers give the Iowa Hawkeyes an early Christmas gift in the form of a trip to the Big 10 title game with a victory over the Wisconsin Badgers.  Then it was back to The Roost to organize some photos, write a bit more, and grab a hot bath in my jetted tub on a frozen night while watching The Karate Kid before retiring.

At breakfast this morning, I met Fred & Sandy who seemed to love B & Bs as much as I do along with sharing a mutual love of theatre. As we conversed, we enjoyed sausage, eggs (over hard for me), granola & yogurt, and more Baked French Toast though with cream cheese and blueberries. I hated to end the conversation, but duty called, not to mention a fairly long drive.

And that wraps up this installment. Appleton is a nice little town with a lot of activities and Christmas cheer and Green Bay is not too far away if you happen to be a Packers fan. If you’re in the area, take some time to rest at the Roost and enjoy a little understated elegance.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.