Rock Twist and Shout

It’s rock numbers done with a big band flair.  It’s big band numbers done rock style.  It’s Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist and it is rocking out at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If there is anyone out there who harbors any doubts about the talent of Billy McGuigan, they will surely be dispelled after watching this show.  Putting it simply, this man is a musical and performing savant.  There isn’t a genre of music he can’t play.  He has stage presence for which directors would kill.  He has a charming affability which makes you feel like an old friend spending an evening at his house.

Even I, who has had the pleasure of listening to Billy’s shows pretty regularly over the past 15 years, was completely blown away by this production.  It has something for everyone.  Do you like rock?  Well, you’ll get to hear the Beatles, the Who, the Beach Boys, Elvis, and Billy Joel.  Is adult contemporary/jazz your bag?  You’ll hear some Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr.  And each song has a unique arrangement that will make it seem like you’re hearing it for the first time all over again.

From the opening number of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”, Billy had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.  His pure tenor soared throughout the night as he sang renditions of “Yesterday”, “Luck be a Lady”, “God Only Knows”, “Time Won’t Let Me”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Pinball Wizard” and a cover of “Here, There, and Everywhere” supported only by bass and percussion that was so moving that I started to tear up a bit.

Billy was just as adept keeping the audience’s attention between numbers with a low key storytelling style as he shared stories behind the numbers, regaled us with some humorous anecdotes, and told a couple of tender tales about his career and life.

Every good front man needs an excellent band and McGuigan’s band brought it and then some.  Steve Gomez’s bass hummed all night long and his musical direction was so precise and on target.  Andrew Janak stunned on the tenor saxophone and I tip my hat to him for arranging all of these sensational numbers.  Max Meyer’s lead guitar work was the feat of a prodigy.  Tomm Roland’s drum work never missed a beat.  Omaha legend, Doyle Tipler, never fell flat with his trumpeting.  Patrick Brown shined on the alto sax and Patrick Peters’ trombone playing couldn’t have been any tighter.  Tara Vaughan’s piano playing is always a treat for the ears and her rich alto got its own moment to shine with a medley of “Downtown” and “To Sir, With Love”.  Backup vocals were supplied by the multitalented trio of Matthew and Ryan McGuigan and Jessica Errett who dazzled in their own featured songs, “634-5789” and “We’re Going to a Go-Go”.  And I’d like to give special notice to Steve Wheeldon whose lighting was so atmospheric and enhanced every song.

To be frank, when I first heard about Billy’s new show I thought he had taken on a real challenge for himself by putting new twists on old classics.  But he proved why he is Omaha’s premiere entertainer with this brand new show that will undoubtedly be another roaring success.  My only disappointment was that there wasn’t another hour to this show.  Or two.  Perhaps five.  Well, you get the idea.  This show only has a limited run, so get your tickets fast and prepare yourselves for an amazing time.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Playhouse from July 12-23.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40 or $35 for groups of 12 or more.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

This Quartet is Worth Far More than a Million

On December 4, 1956, the first supergroup of rock and roll appeared at Sun Records.  On that day, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins all happened to be at Sun Records at the same time and had an impromptu jam session recorded by Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips.  Inspired by that day, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote a little show about what might have gone on in the studio.  They called it Million Dollar Quartet and it is playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

To be honest, I was expecting a jukebox musical when I sat down to review this show, but Escott and Mutrux actually wrote a nifty little story that segues nicely into the evening’s showstopping numbers.  It’s fun, actually delves a bit into the characters of Phillips and the Million Dollar Quartet, and is even a little sad and haunting at certain points.  This strong tale is strengthened by the legendary hits as performed by a powerhouse cast who hit all the right notes musically and acting-wise.

Paul Kerr has directed a real winner with this production.  He sets a snappy pace, wonderfully stages the show, and pulls some exceptionally strong performances out of his actors.  Kerr has a good grip on the true depth of this story and hits all of its emotional beats with maximum impact.

Kerr’s cast is stellar from top to bottom.  Each fully understands his or her character and each also happens to be a darn good singer and instrumentalist.

I’d like to give special notice to the unsung heroes of this show:  Sean Powell and Darren Johnston.  Powell does double duty as the show’s musical director and in the small role of Jay Perkins.  As musical director, Powell’s work is superb as he and the cast don’t miss a trick in any of the night’s numbers.  He also does well in the role of Jay, Carl Perkins’ older brother.  Powell brings a real presence to the role and brings a natural flamboyance to it, not to mention some dynamite strumming on and skillful acrobatics with his stand up bass.  Johnston fuels all of the numbers with a deadly accurate backbeat as the session drummer, Fluke.

While all of the actors are great, Billy Rude may be the one to keep your eye on with his frenzied performance as Jerry Lee Lewis.  Rude’s Lewis has a natural gift for rubbing people the wrong way and has a self-confidence bordering on arrogance as he struggles to achieve stardom as Sun Record’s newest artist.  Rude’s ability with the piano borders on the superhuman as I had difficulty following his fingers as they blitzed across the keys.  He didn’t just play the singer known as “The Killer”, he became him as he perfectly emulated his over the top piano playing right down to kicking away the piano bench and having that hairstyle that gets just as wild as his performances in “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’”.

Sean Riley brings a surprising amount of pathos to the role of Carl Perkins.  Perkins was the first breakout star of Sun Records, but has hit a bit of a slump and is feeling overlooked by Sam Phillips.  Riley brings a bit of bitter frustration to the role as he is a bit of a curmudgeon who is only really close with Johnny Cash.  Lewis irritates him and he harbors a lot of resentment and jealousy towards Elvis who not only supplanted him on the charts, but became better known for Perkins’ hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” more than Perkins himself.  Riley is also a master guitarist and singer who flies high in “Matchbox” and his sections in “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”.

You may think Johnny Cash has been reborn when you see Christopher Essex’s take on the Man in Black.  He bears a remarkable physical similarity to the singer, effortlessly duplicates his unique style of guitar playing, and has a similar bass voice.  Essex ably plays Cash as a gentle man of faith wrestling with the problem of telling Phillips he’s leaving the label.  He also shines in classic Cash numbers such as “I Walk the Line” and “Down By the Riverside”.

I really liked Courtney Crouse’s take on Elvis Presley.  He managed to show Elvis’ congeniality which people often forget about.  By displaying this side of Elvis’ personality, he shows us that the King was actually too nice for the cutthroat world of show business as he is often pushed around by Colonel Parker and his new record label, RCA.  But Crouse also reminds us that Elvis was a versatile performer almost without peer as he rocks out with “Hound Dog” then just as easily goes Gospel with “Peace in the Valley”.

After Bradley Farmer, as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, belted out “Fever” with that sultry alto, I needed to go soak my head in a bucket of ice water to cool off.  Ms Farmer gets a lot of mileage out of this small role who ends up serving as the confidante of nearly every character in the show.  Ms Farmer adds that extra something to the show whether it be singing or dancing to the numerous numbers or boosting the beat with her tambourine.

Last and certainly not least is Eddie Urish’s beautiful turn as Sam Phillips.  As the narrator of this tale, Urish presents Phillips as the grizzled record producer who built tiny Sun Records into a starmaking factory by recognizing rock and roll for the revolution it was and seeing the talent in future stars that other labels wouldn’t glance twice at.  I loved the loyalty that Urish gives to Phillips because it made his pain at watching the Quartet dissolve around him all the more believable and moving.

Todd Davison’s set is phenomenal as it has the perfect flavor of the former auto parts store now turned into a hitmaking machine.  Reymundo Montoya’s properties complete the picture of Davison’s set.  Shon Causer’s lighting adds a je ne sais quoi to the story as it changes from the brightness of the jam session to the dark blue of Phillips’ narration.

Believe me when I say you’re going to get more than a million bucks worth of entertainment out of this show.  The story is strong.  The performances are terrific.  The music is legendary.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride of this show.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 9.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 28 and July 7-8; 2pm on June 25, 27, 30 and July 5 and 9.  Tickets cost $29 for the Main Floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

BLT Holding Auditions for Season Finale, ‘All the King’s Women’

Auditions for Bellevue Little Theatre’s production of  All the King’s Women will be held at 7 PM on Monday March 27 and Tuesday March 28 at the Bellevue Little Theatre, 203 W. Mission Avenue in Bellevue, NE.

This theatrical tribute to Elvis Presley showcases women who met and/or influenced ‘The King’. The comedy provides insight into a side of Elvis seldom seen, and helps to portray the man and not the superstar.

A large cast of women of various ages is needed for this production which will open on Friday May 5th and run for three weekends, closing on May 21. Matthew Pyle will direct, with Bette Swanson serving as producer.

Rehearsals will begin on April 3.

For information call the director at 402-238-6788 or producer at 402-292-1920.

Billy McGuigan Returns to the Playhouse as Buddy Holly

Since 2002, Billy McGuigan has taken his interpretation of Buddy Holly from coast to coast achieving critical acclaim and setting box office records around the nation.  Now Billy returns to where it all began when he and his Rave On band bring Rave On:  The Buddy Holly Experience back to the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Prepare yourself for a high energy character concert as Billy McGuigan entertains you as the legendary lead man for the Crickets with hits such as That’ll Be the Day, Not Fade Away, True Love Ways, Peggy Sue, and more!!  Billy’s Buddy will also pay tribute to his fellow luminaries:  Ritchie Valens, Big Bopper, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry.

Rave On:  The Buddy Holly Experience runs at the Omaha Playhouse from June 10-26.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40.  For tickets contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit the website at http://www.omahaplyahouse.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Relive the Classic Hits with ‘Under the Streetlamp’

FLASHBACK TO CLASSIC HITS FROM 1950s TO 1970s WITH UNDER THE STREETLAMP

Show Brings Together Performers from “Jersey Boys;” Other Broadway Musicals

Omaha, Neb. (April 19, 2016) – Exuding the rapport of a modern-day Rat Pack, Under the Streetlamp is bringing doo-wop, Motown and rock ‘n’ roll to new audiences at the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street, on Thursday, May 19, 2016, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25, and are available at TicketOmaha.com, 402.345.0606 or at the Ticket Omaha Office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center.

Under the Streetlamp offers audiences the opportunity to hear four stars of stage and screen: Michael Ingersoll, Christopher Kale Jones, Brandon Wardell and Shonn Wiley. Featuring tight harmonies and slick dance moves, the performers take audiences back to the era of sharkskin suits, flashy cars and martini shakers – a flashback to a time when people would gather under streetlamps on hot summer nights to sing their favorite rock and roll songs.

Classic hits from Frankie Valli, Elvis Presley, Tom Jones, The Beatles, Roy Orbison, Bobby Darin and more are reborn for today’s audiences along with hilarious behind-the-scenes tales.

The quartet met onstage as lead characters in the Broadway musical Jersey Boys and each performer has an impressive list of credits. Among them, they have appeared on Broadway, in feature films and on television, including special appearances during the New

Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square, on “The Tonight Show,” “The Primetime Emmy® Awards,” “The Tony® Awards,” and the “Oprah Winfrey Show.” Under the Streetlamp aired its first PBS special in 2011 and its second in 2014.