You Say You Want a Musical Revolution

Tony and Maria are in love, but their love faces numerous obstacles.  Her brother and his best friend are the leaders of rival gangs that refuse to let them be together.  The world also tries to keep them apart due to its racism as they come from different cultures.  When they try to rise above these problems, they get dragged back down and crash to a hideous reality.  This is West Side Story based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

It isn’t often that I find myself tongue-tied when I start to write a review, but I am still in a state of glorious shock at what I just saw.  Prior to tonight, I had never seen West Side Story in any capacity though I had read that the original mounting of the show revolutionized what could be done with choreography.  While I have no real comment to make on that, I can say that SLT’s take on this show completely revolutionized what I considered possible with musical theatre.  This was, by far, the single best musical I have seen mounted on any community theatre stage.

Lorianne Dunn does double duty as both director and choreographer and excels in both aspects.  As director, she has put together an absolute masterpiece of a production.  Her direction is certain as she expertly maneuvers her actors through the emotional beats of the stories and songs and leads them to sterling performances.  Her staging is impeccable.  It makes full use of the performance space and none of her actors upstaged themselves or others.

Her choreography is genius.  Never have I seen such lavish dance numbers especially standouts such as “America”, the prologue, and “The Rumble”.  Her work is all the more impressive given the youth of her cast who absolutely nail their performances with a polish and poise that experienced veterans would envy.

This cast is just amazing.  Their energy (and fitness levels) was off the charts.  They were clearly having fun and that added further fuel to nearly flawless performances.  The chorus remained in each and every moment adding vital life and reality to this staged world.  Exceptional supporting performances were supplied by Richard Bogue as the racist and thuggish Lt. Schrank; Lysander Abadia as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks; Robert Hazlette as the always angry Action and he also gets the lead on the night’s funniest number, “Gee, Officer Krupke”; and Miriam Stein as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend.  Ms Stein especially shines with a velvet lower soprano in “America” and “A Boy Like That”.

Asa Charles Leininger stuns as Riff, the leader of the Jets.  Leininger makes Riff far more than a brainless brute with his multilayered take on the character.  His Riff started the Jets to have a sense of belonging.  He’s proud of his gang because of the support they provide.  He’s tough.  He’s loyal, remaining friends with Tony despite his walking away from the gang.  His Riff even has a code of honor as he’s willing to settle his issues with the Sharks with one fistfight.  He even has some common sense as he refuses to react to those that call him and his gang hoodlums and prefers to stay cool.  Leininger’s New York accent is spot on and he retains it as his lower tenor entertains us with “Jet Song” and “Cool”.

Tanner Johnson is scary smooth as Tony.  Johnson takes the audience by the hand and gracefully leads it through Tony’s emotional journey.  He’s got the perfect personality for the likable Tony who is trying to escape his former world of violence by holding down a job and finding love.  You will be swept along with him as he experiences the highs of love, the horror at his violent actions when he gets dragged back into the gang world, and his heartbreak when he thinks he has lost Maria.

Johnson also has a gorgeous tenor voice.  More importantly, he knows how to act through the songs, striking each emotional beat with unerring accuracy.  Some of his best moments were his joyous “Maria” and his beautiful take on “Somewhere”.

Genevieve Fulks is a powerhouse of talent and will steal your hearts as Maria.  She has such innocence and sweetness in the role and you can believe she has the power to evolve Tony into a better person.  But she just as easily handles anger and pain when her world begins to fall apart due to the lifestyle of violence lived by her loved ones.  And, my word, what a heavenly voice she has.  Ms Fulks’ operatic soprano gave a performance for the angels with showstopping turns in “I Feel Pretty”, “I Have Love”, and “Tonight”.

Susan Gravatt and her orchestra perfectly play the score of this musical.  John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed a magnificent set of fences, crumbling tenements, and fire escapes.  Jamie Bowers’ lights and sounds enhance the story.  Kris Haik and Ginny Herfkens are winners with their precise costuming with the t-shirts, jackets, and jeans of the gangs and the elegant dresses for the ladies.

As I said earlier, this is the best community theatre musical I have ever seen staged in nearly a quarter century of theatre involvement. I have seen professional productions that couldn’t hold a stick to this show.  It’s just a blitzkrieg of perfection from the fantastic story to grade A direction to stunning choreography to flawless acting and entrancing singing.  If you love theatre and live in or near the Springfield, MO area, buy a ticket to see this show.  You will be blown away.

West Side Story plays at Springfield Little Theatre through Feb 4.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $16-$36.  For tickets visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Parental discretion is advised for coarse language and gestures and some scenes of violence.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

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A Season of Deja Vu

Déjà vu:  The sensation that you are doing something that you have done before.

It’s almost eerie how much this season mirrored the last one.  Like last year, it ended quite early and I only was able to audition for a couple of shows.

This season actually began unusually early.  Back in March, to be precise.

I had attended the Omaha Playhouse’s announcement of the 2017-18 season and they announced the season premiere would also be a world premiere as they would kick off with an original play called Eminent Domain written by local actress/playwright, Laura Leininger-Campbell.  They further announced that the auditions for this show would take place the next week as the actors would be helping to refine the show.

I managed to get a PDF of the script from Laura and found it to be a fascinating read.  The play explores themes of family with the framing device of a Nebraska farm family being threatened by an oil company claiming eminent domain to annex part of their property to lay a pipeline.

I was especially drawn to the character of the autistic Evan MacLeod whom I found to be a deep well of character acting.  I spent the next week taking a crash course in autism in order to properly present my take on Evan.

When I went to the auditions next week, I found that Laura’s play had really struck a chord with the community.  It seems as if the entire theatre community had come out to audition.  Not only was I up against some of the brightest names in Omaha theatre, but I was also up against much of the original cast who had been part of the show back when it was a staged reading.

My old shipmate, Frank Insolera, was one of the hopefuls and we started catching up on old times.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Christina Rohling, whom you might remember as the director of Elephant’s Graveyard and A Heavy Rain, heading in our direction.  Frank and I reached a pause in our conversation and both looked her way.

Addressing me, she said, “I just want you to know that you made my job (for Elephant’s Graveyard) very difficult.  It just came down to the 2 different energy levels between you and the guy I chose.”

Once more, I felt that strange mixture of pride and melancholy as I added another story to my ever growing pile of “good” rejections.  It only lasted for a moment as I thanked her for the compliment and then found out I would actually be reading with her when I made my stab at Evan.

Christina also happens to be one of the top talents in Omaha, so I was glad for the opportunity to bounce ideas of the scene as I explained to her my vision of Evan.  She seemed surprised at my attention to detail as she said, “It sounds like you’ve done some serious homework.”

We walked into the conference room on the 2nd floor of the Playhouse under the scrutinizing eyes of director Amy Lane and Laura.  Christina and I sat on the floor and I immediately started becoming Evan.  From my research, I decided that Evan was on the more severe side of the autism spectrum and had developed physicality and vocal patterns to suit that.  I adopted an awkward sitting position as I twisted my legs together and thrust my right hand between them, resting my hand on my left knee.  I slightly tilted my head and avoided any eye contact with Christina.  I also adopted a monotone, sing-song cadence for my speech.

I was actually extremely pleased with my take and felt as if I were hitting the right notes.  It also ended up being my best bite at the apple as my second read was for a different character who didn’t have a lot to do in that side.

Intellectually, I knew that I was up against a formidable challenge, but I still hoped against hope that I mustered up enough magic for a callback.

Alas, that hope was dashed shortly afterwards.

For the first time in a long while, I really felt the bitter disappointment of defeat.  I was surprised, yet not surprised at the same time.  With the extra effort I had put into it and with the full power of my heart behind it, I think it would have been more of a surprise had I not felt stung by the rejection.  And, of course, the lack of a callback made me wonder, “Did my efforts make any sort of an impact?”

Nowadays, I don’t dwell on those moments for long and I was quickly back to my old self.

I would next read for the staged readings of Angels in America and In the Heat of the Night, but there isn’t much of a story there.  Solid reads and no casting.  Que sera, sera.

Then came Ripcord.

I knew that I had to read for this show from the moment I read the synopsis.  The thrust of the story is that Abby and Marilyn share a room at the nursing home.  Abby had had the room to herself for a long while and wasn’t particularly keen on getting a new roommate.  Even worse, Marilyn’s sunshiney nature really grates on Abby’s curmudgeonly personality.  When Marilyn claims never to get angry and Abby claims never to get scared, the two women make a bet.  If Abby can anger Marilyn, Marilyn will get another room so Abby can be on her own again.  But if Marilyn can scare Abby, then Marilyn gets Abby’s bed because she likes it better than hers.  The result is an increasingly dangerous game of one-upsmanship.

There were 3 roles for men which included the nurse, Scotty, and two character actors who would play 3 distinct characters apiece.  I felt a little too old to play Scotty and relished the idea of the two character roles as I would get the rare opportunity to go completely over the top.

This play would mark my second reading for Kimberly Faith Hickman, the new artistic director of the Omaha Playhouse.  The first had been Angels in America.

I was surprised when my first side was for Scotty, but figured it was because not many men showed up to that first day of auditions.  Then I stepped inside the dance hall and it happened.

I felt the magic.

This was my most enjoyable audition in several years.  I didn’t care about getting cast.  I just wanted to go in and have some fun and I did just that.  I understood Scotty from the get-go and felt strong as I read the role.

When I finished the read and went back outside, I was given a side for one of the character actors.  After reading this side, I have come to the conclusion that I must project a natural aura of niceness as my side was for one of the regular roles performed by the character actors.  I actually felt a twinge of disappointment as I had been hoping to sink my teeth into one of the broader sides.

Not that the side I had was dull, but it was the same type of character I often find myself reading for and I just wanted to show that I could do more than essentially play myself.

Imagine my surprise when I was asked to stick around for a third read.  Once more I read as Scotty and varied my performance a bit from the first read.  After this read, I was let go, but there was also only one more group to read after I had finished.

Needless to say, I had quite a bit of hope as it had been ages since I had been at an audition from start to finish.  A few days later, my hope was rewarded when I got the call asking me to come to callbacks where I would be considered for the role of Scotty.  I laughed at the irony as the role I thought I had the least chance for ended up being the only role I would be considered for. . .or so I thought.

At the callbacks, I was given a side for Scotty that would FINALLY allow me a chance to go over the top.  I felt so giddy, I nearly broke into a soft shoe routine.  I had been chomping at the bit for this for eons and I let loose for all I was worth when I read the side.  I won’t spoil the scene, but I will say that I unleashed a scream not unlike the one emitted by Daniel Stern when he was mugged by the pigeons in Home Alone 2.

Immediately after finishing the read, Kimberly said, “I know I said I was only considering you for Scotty, but I want you to read this side for Benjamin.”

I was floored by the side.  It was a tremendously powerful and poignant scene as Benjamin is the estranged son of Abby and this was a complete 180 from the previous side and I looked forward to performing it.

When I went back in, I gave the most honest and heartfelt read I could muster and was really feeling Benjamin’s angst and heartache.  Shortly after this read, I was dismissed.

A few days later, I found an e-mail waiting for me from Kimberly.  The fact of the e-mail told me I did not make it in, but the fact that it was from the director told me that it was also something more.  I opened it up and read the following message:

Hi Chris!

I wanted to personally thank you for attending auditions and callbacks for RIPCORD.  I really enjoyed watching you and your work throughout the process.  This was a very difficult play to cast as so many talented people came to the auditions.  I ended up going with another actor for the roles of Scotty/Benjamin, but I wanted to let you know of that decision from me personally rather than a general notification e-mail.  I also want to encourage you to continue auditioning at OCP.  You have tremendous talent and I look forward to the next opportunity we may have to work together.

I was proud of this message and moved it to my scrapbook.  I had no regrets and had thoroughly enjoyed myself and I had made an impact.  You can’t ask for more than that.

We’ll talk again next season.

The Bird is the Word!

Conrad loves Nina who is smitten with Trigorin who is the boyfriend of Emma.  Mash adores Conrad, but is pursued by Dev and Dr. Sorn just wants a hug.  This is Stupid F@#!ing Bird, a sort of adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s The Seagull written by Aaron Posner and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is one of the smartest, cleverest, funniest scripts I have ever seen produced.  Posner has a great gift for wordplay and his writing shows a love for and a frustration with the work of Chekhov.  A sort of adaptation is the best way to describe this piece as it is not a complete parody of The Seagull.  It mostly retains its story, but modernizes the language and peppers it with light-hearted comedy and fourth wallbreaking self-awareness.  But it also has its fair share of deep and serious moments as well.

Suzanne Withem deserves high praise for her direction of the play.  Her direction has a decisive energy which emerges in the constant movements of the actors, preventing the show from ever being static.  Her staging is precise and utilizes the full space with the actors even getting up into the stands with the audience.  Ms Withem has also done a sterling job leading her actors through this play as there isn’t a weak link in the lot.

Beau Fisher is quickly becoming one of my favorite performers to watch due to his naturalness and boisterous energy.  He scores another hit with his take on Conrad.  Fisher easily comes off as an innovator seeking to create new forms of artistic expression.  He is also the tortured artist who loves Nina too much and is frustrated by the fact the Nina does not love him back to the same degree.  Fisher skillfully vacillates between the emotional highs and lows of Conrad while deftly handling the character’s difficult wordplay.  While his love for Nina is a bit smothering, it does pull at your heart as it is a genuine love from a man who has never really known love himself.

Raydell Cordell III anchors the show as Conrad’s best friend, Dev.  Dev is the only truly likable character in the show.  He’s also one of two characters who end up truly happy at the show’s end.  Cordell brings a cute awkwardness to Dev with his pursuit of Mash and inability to say the right thing in a group setting.  Yet, in one on one conversations, he proves himself to be an able listener, a wise advisor, and a rock of support.

Sonia Keffer gives an eye opening performance as Emma Arkadina, Conrad’s mother.  Ms Keffer’s Emma is a slightly boozy, extremely cynical and successful actress who, like her son, doesn’t really understand love and happiness and readily admits to it.  She is content to live a life being hated quietly and filling it with money and men.  Emma does have a kind of caring for her son, but it never really germinated into love.  Instead it takes the form of a territoriality as she will fiercely protect what belongs to her when she sees it threatened or hurt.

Alissa Hanish cuts a very pitiable figure as Nina, the seagull of the play.  Hanish gives us a Nina who is a lost child who thinks she knows what she wants out of life, but when she gets what she thinks she wants, she learns that it was just poisoned fruit.  She is easily swayed by the illusion of the surface and cannot see the truth below.  Ms Hanish conveys these ideas not only through her delivery of the dialogue, but through her superior sense of movement.  Through movement, Ms Hanish displays comedy with her moves during the performance event “We.  Are.  Here.”; confusion, love, and a desperate search in a prolonged sequence when she constantly kisses Conrad, but blindly searches for something greater; and a descent into madness when she collapses into hysterics at the play’s climax.

Potent supporting performances are also given by Michael Markey as the lonely Dr. Sorn; Aanya Sagheer as Mash who sings depressing songs inspired by her unrequited love for Conrad; and Kevin Anderson as the pretentious genius writer, Doyle Trigorin.

The sounds of John Gibilisco and the lights of Darrin Golden become supporting characters in the play as they had a crucial extra dimension.   This is especially noticeable with the shadowy lights of Golden when the play veers into experimental performance art and Gibilisco’s mystical sound of the seagull.

The movement direction of Wai Yim adds a beautiful bit of art to the production while Lindsey Pape’s costumes suit the cotemporary feel of the show as the performers really seem as if they’re wearing their own clothes.

A couple of the actors needed to pump up the volume a bit, but all voices carried well and Jim Othuse’s simple set of a curtain and small stage lent itself well to the inherent creativity of the show.

In closing, all I can say is now you’ve heard about the bird and I’m telling you, man, that this bird is the word!

Stupid F@#!ing Bird plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Nov 12 at the Omaha Playhouse. Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

It is a Brilliant Thing

After his mother attempts suicide, a little boy decides to write a list covering every brilliant thing in life.  This list follows the boy as he grows into a man and experiences the highs and lows of life.  This is Every Brilliant Thing by Duncan MacMillan and it kicks off the Blue Barn Theatre’s 29th season:  Connect.

MacMillan has written a pretty potent script “based on true and untrue stories” and it has a little bit of something for everyone.  It’s funny.  It’s poignant.  It’s thoughtful.  It’s relevant.  The play centers around the theme of suicide and provides a hopeful message:  things will get better.  This message is laid out with facts, stories, and audience participation.  I thought the audience participation element was positively inspired because this is a story that we are all part of as all of us have felt down in life and needed a little picking up.

An interesting thing about casts is that the smaller they are, the stronger they have to be.  When dealing with a one person show, not only does the actor’s talent have to be of phenomenal quality but he or she needs an almost symbiotic relationship with an equally talented director in order to find, develop, and relate the innumerable beats of the story.  Fortunately this show illustrates just such a relationship as the impeccable direction of Susan Clement-Toberer combined with the acting chops of Hughston Walkinshaw result in a night of theatre that is somber, moving, light, funny, and strong.

Ms Clement-Toberer’s staging is of superior quality as she breaks down the barriers between actor and audience.  Walkinshaw performs in the round and is centimeters away from the audience. Never is there a static moment as Walkinshaw constantly moves around the room and engages the audience, bringing them deeper into the world of this tale.

So natural and extemporaneous is Walkinshaw that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting.  It’s almost as if he’s telling his own life story.  But it is an arduous and triumphant performance as Walkinshaw has to constantly be on his toes and be aware of every moment as he may have to fill in the blanks or gently move things along during the audience participation moments.

Walkinshaw’s interpretations are so spot on and precise.  At one moment, he is an innocent little boy facing death for the first time when his beloved dog is put to sleep.  In a flash, he’s a college student finding love for the first time.  In the blink of an eye, he’s a jaded adult facing his own battle with depression which causes his marriage to crumble while he deals with the hideous reality of suicide in his own family.  Yet, through it all, he maintains his grip on hope with the ever growing list of brilliant things.

Shea Saladee softly lights the performance space with a series of vintage chandeliers.  Craig Marsh’s sounds take the form of music which plays an important emotional role in this show.  And the final number will be the “happiest sad song” you ever heard.  Amy Reiner’s properties of bits of the list truly enhance the spontaneous nature of the unnamed character’s writings.

This is theatre at its purest.  At its most intimate.  At its most beautiful.  At its peak.  It’s a masterful opening for the Blue Barn and you will regret it if you miss this one.

Every Brilliant Thing plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm (The Oct 8 show will be at 2pm.).  Tickets cost $35 for adults and $30 for students, seniors (65+), TAG members, and groups of 10 or more.  For reservations, call 402-345-1576 or visit www.bluebarn.org.  The Blue Barn is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

When Darkness Falls

Three con men are trying to get hold of a doll stuffed with $50K worth of heroin.  They believe the doll to be in the possession of a photographer and his blind wife and believe the wife will be an easy touch.  But they’re about to discover how blind that assumption is.  This is Frederick Knotts’ Wait Until Dark and it is currently playing at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre.

Knotts has a real gift for crime drama.  His scripts tend to build slowly to create delicious tension as the plot works its way up brick by brick and then having the hammer drop when the tension is at its peak.  This play is no exception to that rule, but it also has a terrific thrust and parry as the three con men trade off control of the situation with the blind woman until the final, epic confrontation where only one will win.

Jean Meachum’s direction is quite admirable.  Due to the con game, this play is quite talky, but Ms Meachum prevents the play from being static by having the actors constantly moving about the stage, physically representing the ever present tension of the situation.  She has also guided her thespians to solid performances and I loved the staging of the piece, especially the fact that the three con men tend to always be in the room with their blind target as their facial expressions and actions show how easy they think their victory will be.

Strong supporting performances are given by Ryan Drew as “Sgt. Carlino” and Libby Matthews as Gloria.  Drew is so natural and extemporaneous as the not so mentally swift con man who constantly wipes off his fingerprints.  Ms Matthews is perfectly bratty as the obnoxious child who lives upstairs, but proves she’s got a good heart when real danger threatens.

Colonsay Selby gives a stunning performance as the blind Suzy Hendrix.  Ms Selby excellently conveys Suzy’s blindness with a thousand yard stare and never making eye contact with the other cast members.  She also does it physically as her movements show that she is familiar with her apartment, but not overly so.

Ms Selby’s acting is also top quality as she well communicates the helplessness Suzy feels as she is still not used to her blindness, but also summons the grit, courage, and brains needed to survive this dangerous game with these 3 criminals.

David Shewell brings intelligence and smoothness to his portrayal of “Mike Talman”.  This is a man who knows how to get what he wants from his marks and prides himself that he doesn’t need to resort to violence to get it.  Shewell’s velvety rich baritone makes it easy to see how women (his usual targets) are taken in by him.  But Shewell also gives a kernel of decency to his con man as he relents from using his obvious physical advantage over Suzy when she is at his mercy.

Joe Caronia is downright terrifying as “Mr. Roat”.  Caronia’s “Roat” brims with confidence and you always have the sense that he is one step ahead of everybody else which allows him to take control of any situation.  But what’s so spooky about him is how soft-spoken he is.  All of his quiet words are tinged with an edge of menace that should put anyone he speaks to on guard.  Justifiably so, as Caronia is such an awesome physical specimen that there is little doubt that his “Roat” could inflict great damage when the whim strikes.  I also enjoyed Caronia’s versatility as he plays a couple of characters as part of the con who are night and day different from the menacing “Roat”.

The program lacked a credit for set design, but it was a splendid construct which had the look and feel of a basement apartment.  The props of Sarah Oldham and Ernie Snyder really made the set seem like a real home.

There were a few line bobbles in the night’s performance and pacing and cue pickups needed stepping up to add to the play’s crucial tension.  That being said, it didn’t put a damper on this thriller especially in the electrifying finale.

Wait Until Dark is an exciting nailbiter and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Get a box of popcorn and ready your spine for tingling.

Wait Until Dark plays at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre through Oct 1.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children.  For tickets, contact the theatre at 816-637-3728 or visit www.sobtheatre.org.  Parental discretion is advised for this show.  The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre is located at 114 N Marietta St in Excelsior Springs, MO.

Maples Repertory Theatre Announces 2018 Season

Maples Repertory Theatre is pleased to announce its 2018 season.

The summer portion of the season (June-Aug) will feature:

Mamma Mia!

This smash-hit musical featuring the songs of ABBA is one of the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals. Mamma Mia! is a delightful tale of love, laughter and friendship. Donna is slowly warming up to the notion of her daughter Sophie’s impending wedding when her life is upended by the unexpected arrival of three former beaus, all possible candidates to walk Sophie down the aisle. With all your favorite ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “Honey, Honey” and more, find out why Mamma Mia! has become an audience favorite!

Tom, Dick, and Harry

In this hilarious story of three brothers, Tom and his wife are about to adopt a baby. His brothers are anxious to help make a good impression on the woman from the agency who has arrived to check on the home and lifestyle of the prospective parents. Unfortunately Dick, who has stashed boxes of smuggled brandy and cigarettes in the house, and Harry, who is in possession of a cadaver he is planning to sell illegally to a medical school, fail miserably. The adoption agency representative is aghast – and the illegal Croatian aliens who do not speak English are no help at all.

The Drowsy Chaperone

 In a loving send-up of the frivolously inconsequential stage musicals of the Jazz Age, a fan known only as Man in Chair gives a spin to the original cast recording of one such musical, providing the audience with amusing minutiae about the play and the players.

The fall portion of the season (Late Sept/Early Oct-Dec) features:

Dearly Departed

In the Baptist backwoods of the Bible Belt, the beleaguered Turpin family proves that living and dying in the South are seldom tidy and always hilarious. Despite their earnest efforts to pull themselves together for their father’s funeral, the Turpin’s other problems keep overshadowing the solemn occasion: Firstborn Ray-Bud drinks himself silly as the funeral bills mount; Junior, the younger son, is juggling financial ruin, a pack of no-neck monster kids, and a wife who suspects him of infidelity in the family car; their spinster sister, Delightful, copes with death as she does life, by devouring junk food; and all the neighbors add more than two cents. As the situation becomes fraught with mishap, Ray-Bud says to his long-suffering wife, “When I die, don’t tell nobody. Just bury me in the backyard and tell everybody I left you.” Amidst the chaos, the Turpins turn for comfort to their friends and neighbors, an eccentric community of misfits who just manage to pull together and help each other through their hours of need, and finally, the funeral.

On Golden Pond

This is the love story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for the forty-eighth year. He is a retired professor, nearing eighty, with heart palpitations and a failing memory—but still as tart-tongued, observant and eager for life as ever. Ethel, ten years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delights in all the small things that have enriched and continue to enrich their long life together. They are visited by their divorced, middle-aged daughter and her dentist fiancé, who then go off to Europe, leaving his teenage son behind for the summer. The boy quickly becomes the “grandchild” the elderly couple have longed for, and as Norman revels in taking his ward fishing and thrusting good books at him, he also learns some lessons about modern teenage awareness—and slang—in return. In the end, as the summer wanes, so does their brief idyll, and in the final, deeply moving moments of the play, Norman and Ethel are brought even closer together by the incidence of a mild heart attack. Time, they know, is now against them, but the years have been good and, perhaps, another summer on Golden Pond still awaits.

Away in the Basement:  A Church Basement Ladies Christmas

It is the 1959 Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse, kitchen ladies are finishing up goodie bags and touching up Nativity pieces. Little do they know what surprises await when they are called upon to step in and save the day.

Season tickets go on sale November 1, 2017.  For more information, visit http://www.maplesrep.com, e-mail info@maplesrep.com, or call 660-385-2914.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

‘Eminent Domain’ Conquers the Playhouse

An estranged family reunites to wage battle against an oil company seeking to use eminent domain to claim part of the family’s land.  But the fallout from the court battle and the actions of one of the company’s employees may tear the family asunder once more.  This is the story of Eminent Domain by Laura Leininger-Campbell which is making its world premiere at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Ms Leininger-Campbell has written an exceptionally thought-provoking and powerful story.  What I found most impressive about the tale was its deceptive simplicity.  Through ordinary conversation, Ms Leininger-Campbell taps into the heart of what it means to be family.  The love.  The banter.  The fights.  The heartache.  The camaraderie.   The unity.  It’s undoubtedly one of the most real and believable plays I have ever seen with a tight, well-balanced script that gives all of its characters a chance to shine.

This strong script is further aided by a cast consisting of the cream of Omaha theatre under the watchful eye of Amy Lane who leads her cast to a series of sterling and stellar performances.

Memorable performances are supplied by Chris Shonka and Christina Rohling.  Shonka plays Trent Nichols, an attorney for the oil company who seems like a decent man who, through business or circumstance, brings the MacLeod family buckets of grief when he files the claim of eminent domain and cuckolds the son of the MacLeod patriarch.  Ms Rohling plays Theresa MacLeod, the unhappy wife of the cuckold who feels like, and is treated as, an outsider by the MacLeods and longs for a better life away from the farm.

My personal favorite performance was Eric Salonis’ interpretation of the autistic Evan MacLeod.  As Evan, Salonis nails the nuances of autism with his completely blank features, failure to make eye contact, laserlike focus on tasks, twitching, monotone speech patterns, and repetitive motions.  Though he often seems in his own world, Salonis’ Evan is more aware of things than one may think as he often tries to help his family through difficult moments by offering them his grandfather’s watch to wind.

Bill Hutson is quite the character as Rob MacLeod.  As the patriarch of the MacLeod clan, he is irascible, foul mouthed, set in his ways, and slightly prejudiced.  Hutson effortlessly swings from one extreme to the other as Rob engages in loud arguments with his family and then, just as easily, sits down for an enjoyable meal with them.  Rob is the type of old-fashioned man who thinks he always has to be strong and in control to lead his family which makes his emotional collapse in Act II all the more heart-wrenching.  But his collapse is what finally allows him to show his real heart and strength.

Erika Hall Sieff is definitely her father’s child as Adair MacLeod.  She is just as stubborn and pig-headed as he is and their similarities led to their long estrangement prior to the events of the play.  Ms Hall Sieff is marvelous as the lawyer who returns home to help save the family farm from the greedy oil company and well embodies Adair’s potent sense of justice.

Jeremy Estill gets the play’s most tragic character in Bart MacLeod.  Estill’s Bart is a borderline, if not full-blown, alcoholic whose drinking hides his frustration at giving up a potential and promising career as a poet to return to the family to help his father, Rob.  Estill’s Bart has an incredible command of the English language which he uses to provide some of the show’s lighter moments and softening some of the darker ones.  Despite his issues, Estill will make you feel Bart’s pain when he learns of his wife’s adultery and finally explains the motivations for his life’s choices.

Technically, this show was a masterpiece.  I was floored by Michael Campbell’s scores and arrangements, especially the driving drumbeat in Act II which supports the play’s darkest moments.  John Gibilisco’s sounds were top notch especially the sound effects of the thunderstorms that served as ominous omens.  Jim Othuse’s farmhouse was a thing of beauty and his lights were wonderful in showing the passage from day to night.  Megan Kuehler’s rural costumes really gave the actors the look and feel of a Nebraska farming family.

Ultimately, this play is a great slice of life story.  While it may sound cliché, you will laugh, cry, and think.  Eminent Domain is a real winner and I am so pleased that the Playhouse took a chance on mounting such an extraordinary story.  Don’t do a disservice to yourself by missing this show.

Eminent Domain runs at the Omaha Playhouse through Sept 17. Performances are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.