An Unusually Rocking Fairy Tale

Resized_DSC_0858It’s the show that lovingly lambasts fairy tales.  A surly ogre named Shrek reluctantly comes to the aid of the fairy tale characters banished to his swamp by evil Lord Farquaad solely to regain his isolation.  Farquaad’s price for removing the characters from Shrek’s swamp is for Shrek to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon so Farquaad can marry her and become king.  But love may be blooming between the princess and the ogre when they find they have far more in common than they realize.  It’s Shrek the Musical with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori and it currently plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

What I am about to say is a lie.  Something that isn’t true.  Shrek the Musical is the most insipid piece of juvenile garbage ever to disgrace a stage and should be shunned by every man, woman, and child.

Truthfully, this show is an out and out joy.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so energized by a play.  Lindsay-Abaire wrote a script that not only well translates the film to the stage, but one that I also believe surpassed the source material on nearly every level.  He even adds a subtle theme of racism and judging books by their covers that adds a surprising amount of heft to the production.  His lyrics and the rock operaesque score by Ms Tesori will have you laughing and bopping and pining for the next number.

Kimberly Faith Hickman’s direction is simply exquisite.  Not only did she guide the cast to superb performances without a weak link in the lot, but she also brought a phantasmagorical staging to the show.  Yes, that is indeed the right word as there was something otherworldly about the staging.  The entire theatre was used to tell this story and I mean the ENTIRE theatre.  Stage, orchestra pit, aisles, rows, you name it.  It was all fair game to share this tale.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cast as on as this cast was tonight.  Every single member brought their A game to the table and created a production that has instantly vaulted into my top ten list.  Some standouts among the standouts were Kerri Forrester whose presence devoured the theatre and whose mighty voice thrilled the crowd with her take as Dragon in “Forever”; Maddie Smith who delights as Young Fiona as she pines for her Prince Charming in “I Know It’s Today”; and J. Isaiah Smith who gleefully chews the scenery as Lord Farquaad.

Jordan Smith triumphs as Donkey, the wise-cracking sidekick of Shrek.  Smith strikes a perfect balance between being the loyal friend and the hyperactive annoying chatterbox that just might test the patience of saints.  His tenor voice is stupendous and he excelled in numbers such as “Make A Move” and “Don’t Let Me Go”.  He completed his triple threat with his fluid and nimble hoofing which was made all the more impressive as he was doing it with hooves.

Mackenzie Dehmer makes for an absolutely perfect Fiona.  She ain’t your ordinary fairy tale princess.  She’s temperamental.  She’s high-strung.  She’s got a singing voice that can literally make birds explode.  She can be sweet, but also incredibly crude and crass as she happily engages Shrek in belching and farting contests.  Ms Dehmer possesses a deadly alto which can inflect ultra competiveness in “I Think I Got You Beat”, be excessively cheerful and caffeinated in “Morning Person”, or just flat out rock out in “I’m A Believer”.

I’m going to steal a descriptor from a friend and say that Steve Krambeck “ogre”achieves as Shrek.  Krambeck manages to capture the many layers of Shrek from his outer hide of irritability and crabbiness to his inner core of sensitivity and loneliness.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard Krambeck’s tenor in finer form than tonight as he managed a combination of hopefulness and sadness in “Who I’d Be” as he confesses to wanting to be a hero, despite being destined to being an ogre and the beautiful “When Words Fail” as he sweetly tries to work out a way to tell Fiona he loves her.  He handled the difficult Scottish accent well, though it did weaken at a few points, especially when he sang.

Lindsay Pape’s costumes set a new bar with spot-on reproductions from the film for Shrek, Fiona, and the other fairy tale denizens and beautifully creative outfits such as Donkey’s furry bodysuit.  Paul Pape’s prosthetic for Shrek was brilliant as it was built around Krambeck’s face and allowed him to emote with both face and eyes.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco crafted some truly unique sounds, especially for the “emissions” battle between Fiona and Shrek.  Melanie Walters supplied some stunning choreography especially with the company numbers of “What’s Up, Duloc?”, “Make A Move”, and “Freak Flag”.  Jim Othuse’s sets will take you from a quiet forest to a lonely tower to a dragon’s lair to the castle of a would-be king.  His lights will give you beautiful sunrises and romantic forest evenings.  Jim Boggess and his orchestra truly score with this score as they not only played it perfectly, but you could hear the fun they were having as well.

If you miss this show, you truly don’t know what you’re missing.  It’s fun.  It’s memorable.  It has something for the whole family with jokes aplenty for the adults and cartoony enough for the kids.   And it even teaches a little something about accepting yourself and the uniqueness of others.

Shrek the Musical performs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 14.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.   Tickets start at $42 and can be purchased at www.ticketomaha.com or at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office.  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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“Shrek: The Musical” Launches OCP’s Mainstage Season

Shrek The Musical Opening This Week at Omaha Community Playhouse
Omaha, NE.–Shrek The Musical is opening this week at the Omaha Community Playhouse. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Sept. 14 through Oct. 14, 2018.
Based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation film, Shrek The Musical follows everyone’s favorite green ogre as he embarks on a life-changing journey, discovering his place in the world along the way. Full of beloved fairy tale characters and endless humor that will captivate children and adults alike, Shrek The Musical is a must-see show for the whole family.
Written by Jeanine Tesori (Fun Home, Caroline, or Change) and David Lindsay-Abaire (Ripcord, Rabbit Hole) and nominated for eight Tony Awards, Shrek The Musical will inspire audiences to let their freak flags fly!
Shrek The Musical opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Friday, Sept. 14 and runs through Oct. 14. Tickets are available at TicketOmaha.com or through the Omaha Community Playhouse box office by calling (402) 553-0800 or visiting 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132. For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

SPECIAL EVENTS
Opening Night Celebration
The Omaha Community Playhouse will hold a special opening night celebration for Shrek The Musical on Friday, Sept. 14 at 6:30 p.m. for guests attending the opening night performance. The celebration will feature cookies, “swamp juice” and Shrek-themed activities that promote self-esteem and celebrate individuality.
As part of the “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” activity, guests will design and decorate their own “freak flags” with words and images that represent their unique qualities that make them individuals. These flags will later become part of the performance, as guests are invited to proudly wave their designs while singing along to the song “Freak Flag” in the second act.

Guests will also be invited to contribute to the “This Is Our Story” wall—named after a song in Shrek The Musical that embraces individuality as a necessary path to social unity. Guests will write down a quality that makes them unique and special and display it on the “This Is Our Story” wall in the Owen Lobby.

Ogre Parties with Special Appearances by Shrek The Musical Characters
The Omaha Community Playhouse will host four special engagement Ogre Parties on Sept. 16, Sept. 23, Sept. 30 and Oct. 7 prior to the Sunday matinee performances of Shrek The Musical. Ogre parties will be limited to 30 guests, and will include appearances by characters from Shrek The Musical, an ogre-themed snack bar, “swamp juice” and fun, child-friendly activities including jelly bean roulette and “pin the tail on the donkey.”
As part of the “Let Your Freak Flag Fly!” activity, Ogre Party guests will design and decorate their own “freak flags” with words and images that represent their unique qualities that make them individuals. These flags will later become part of the performance, as guests are invited to proudly wave their designs while singing along to the song “Freak Flag” in the second act.

Ogre Parties will run from 12:45 p.m. to 1:45 p.m. and will be held in the Guiou Boardroom on the second floor of the Omaha Community Playhouse. Tickets for the Ogre Parties are $15 per person and may be purchased through the Omaha Community Playhouse box office. Availability is limited, and only 30 tickets will be issued to each Ogre Party. Tickets to Ogre Parties are separate from tickets to performances of Shrek The Musical, and each must be purchased individually.

Production: Shrek The Musical
Based on the 2001 DreamWorks Animation film
Production Dates: Sept. 14 through Oct. 14, 2018
Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Show Times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2:00 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: Tickets starting at $42; Prices may vary by performance
Tickets available for purchase at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office, 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800, or online at ticketomaha.com.

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

Music By: Jeanine Tesori
Book and Lyrics: David Lindsay-Abaire

Director:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Steve Krambeck – Shrek
Mackenzie Dehmer – Fiona
Jordan Smith – Donkey
J. Isaiah Smith – Lord Farquaad
Justin Dehmer – Pinnochio
Kerri Forrester – Dragon / Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Dragon / Mouse
Erin Florea – Gingy / Sugar Plum Fairy / Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Mouse / Rat

Valerie Braun – Queen Lillian / Duloc Performer / Rat / Robin Hood
Stella Clark-Kaczmarek – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Ugly Duckling
Judson Cloudt – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Baby Bear
Jared Dominguez – Happy Person / Guard / Thelonius / Knight / Rat / Bishop
Samantha Gillotte – Happy Person / White Rabbit / Duloc Performer / Rat
Cody Girouex – Happy Person / Mad Hatter / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Andrew Hedin – Little Shrek / Duloc Performer / Cow / Elf
Olivia Howard – Happy Person / Wicked Witch / Duloc Performer / Rat
Ejanae Hume – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Mouse / Rat
Emma Johnson – Happy Person / Teen Fiona / Rat / Choir / Jiminy Cricket
Francesca Kerkhofs – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Rat / Choir / Tinkerbell
Sheldon Ledbetter – Happy Person / Rat / Guard / Knight / Dwarf / Lion
Austin Lempke – Happy Person / Peter Pan / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Brodhi McClymont – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Dish / Choir
Emily Mockrycki – Happy Person / Humpty Dumpty / Duloc Performer / Rat / Surprise Princess
Joseph Mokrycki – King Harold / 3 Pig / Guard / Knight / Pied Piper
Brian Priesman – Papa Ogre / Papa Bear / Guard / Knight / Rat
Tessa Priesman – Happy Person / Duloc Performer / Spoon / Flower Girl
Belle Rangel – Happy Person / Fairy Godmother / Duloc Performer / Rat
Boston Reid – Happy Person / 3 Pig / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Danielle Smith – Mama Ogre / Mama Bear / Duloc Performer / Rat
Maddie Smith – Happy Person / Little Fiona / Velveteen Rabbit (Bunny) / Choir
Matthew Tolliver – Happy Person / Big Bad Wolf / Duloc Performer / Knight / Rat
Scott Van Den Top – Happy Person / 3 Pig / Guard / Knight / Rat
Bella Washington – Happy Person / Tweedle Dee / Duloc Performer / Choir
Cleo Washington – Happy Person / Little Red Riding Hood / Duloc Performer / Choir
Rylie Washington – Happy Person / Tweedle Dum / Duloc Performer / Choir

A Belle of a Good Time

Beauty and the Beast_4

Timothy Vallier as Beast & Leanne Hill Carlson as Belle

A classic fairy tale comes to life.  A vain and cold hearted prince is transformed into a hideous beast by an enchantress when he fails to show her hospitality.  The only way to break the curse is for him to finally love and be loved in return before the enchantress’ rose sheds its last petal.  When circumstances bring the lovely Belle to the castle of the Beast, will the curse finally be brought to an end or is the afflicted prince doomed to his fearsome shape for all time?  Find out in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast by Linda Woolverton with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Howard Ashman & Tim Rice, closing the season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I’m going to make a confession. . .I have never seen any version of Beauty and the Beast nor have I ever read the fairy tale.  I share that confession with you because I want you to understand that I walked into this show with a completely unbiased pair of eyes and no influences to alter my expectations.  Having said that, I now need to tell you that this was an entrancing and beautiful production, one worthy to be viewed by every man, woman, and child in this city.

Kimberly Faith Hickman works an incredible bit of magic with her direction.  Not only did she lead her actors to a string of dynamite performances, but she also flawlessly paced the show.  So smooth was its running that I was honestly taken aback when it came to an end for it only felt like a few minutes had passed.  Her staging is pluperfect and makes use of the entire theatre and the scene changes were satin slick.

From a technical standpoint this was, bar none, the finest show I have ever seen.  The costumes of Georgiann Regan, Travis Halsey, and Amanda Fehlner are so elegant and eye catching from Belle’s simple blue dress to her opulent yellow gown to the rich oddity of the servants’ garments (they are humans transforming into household objects) to the make-up of the Beast.

Jim Othuse continues to pull from his neverending bag of tricks with his sets, lights, and special effects for this show.  You will travel from a simple, homey village to a dark and foreboding forest to a sprawling, cavernous castle.  John Gibilisco’s sounds help animate every moment and Darin Kuehler’s properties give life to the audience’s imaginations.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra never miss a note of the epic score and Michelle Garrity nails the choreography with lavish dance numbers and I must say that “Be Our Guest” is the single best bit of dancing I have seen in nearly 21 years of theatre.

And the acting?  Well, where does one begin?  Such a universally marvelous cast makes it very, very difficult for me to center on select performances.  But kudos go out to Kyle Wright who is delightfully dorky as Gaston’s lackey, Lefou and Brian Priesman as Belle’s eccentric father, Maurice, and he especially shines with his melodic tenor in “No Matter What”.

However, I would be sorely remiss if I failed to mention the fantastic work done by the actors playing the Beast’s servants.  These include Bob Gilmore as the too tightly wound Cogsworth, the castle’s major-domo; Steve Krambeck as Lumiere, the charming candelabra with an eye for the ladies; Dawn Buller-Kirke as Mrs. Potts, the castle’s cook who also dazzles with her sweet and moving rendition of the title song; and Joey Galda as Madame De La Grande Bouche, the diva wardrobe.

The role of Belle seemed to be tailor made for Leanne Hill Carlson.  She brings intelligence, warmth, sensitivity, and strength to the part.  Ms Hill Carlson well communicates Belle’s outsider status due to her peculiar pater and her love of reading while also bringing nobility when she selflessly volunteers to take Maurice’s place as the Beast’s prisoner.  With expert ease, she carefully undergoes the transformation from fearing and detesting the Beast to falling in love with him.  Her beautiful soprano will keep you mesmerized all evening with such numbers as “A Change in Me”, “Belle”, “Is this Home?”, and “No Matter What”.

Timothy Vallier makes a triumphant debut at the Playhouse with his interpretation of the Beast.  Vallier has a phenomenally well modulated voice, capable of a wide range of nuances ranging from animalistic snorting to cold anger to desperate loneliness to tender love.  He excellently executes Beast’s transformation from his temperamental, arrogant old self to his emergence as a kind and loving man.  Vallier also has a honey sweet tenor which is well utilized in “If I Can’t Love Her” and “How Long Must this Go On?”

Ryan Pivonka rounds out the three leads with his own worthy performance as Gaston.  Gaston isn’t your typical villain as he really isn’t evil.  He’s simply full of himself and his need to win Belle’s heart does drive him to a few dirty deeds.  Pivonka brings a macho swagger to Gaston who routinely roughs up the sycophantic Lefou while singing his own praises in “Gaston”.  He also manages to bring a small touch of sympathy to the role as he does genuinely love Belle, it’s just become twisted due to his overwhelming arrogance and selfishness.

I thought the pratfalls and violence could be smoothed out and punched up a bit, but that did little to dampen a magical night of theatre.  There are tickets still available, but I highly suggest ordering yours right away as I’ve heard they are rapidly dwindling.  Disney’s Beauty and the Beast is fun for the whole family and I promise you a Belle of a good time.

Disney’s Beauty and the Beast plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 25.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Sleeping Beauty to Grace Orpheum

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY FAIRYTALE COMES TO LIFE IN PERFORMANCE BY THE MOSCOW FESTIVAL BALLET

Tchaikovsky’s Classic Ballet Is At Omaha’s Orpheum Theater On January 23

Omaha, Neb., (December 18, 2015) – A cherished ballet featuring fairytale princesses and malevolent witches in a storybook kingdom will be performed one-night-only at the Orpheum Theater. Omaha Performing Arts presents The Sleeping Beauty featuring the Moscow Festival Ballet on Saturday, January 23, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. The performance is sponsored by Bank of the West.

The Sleeping Beauty is part of Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s glorious repertoire of storybook ballets, which includes The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. The Sleeping Beauty is a cherished ballet that transports audiences to a kingdom of fairytale princesses, malevolent witches, and a true love’s kiss.

One of the most renowned ballets in the classical repertoire, the Moscow Festival Ballet’s The Sleeping Beauty is enjoyable for all ages.

Founded in 1989 by legendary principal dancer of the Bolshoi Ballet, Sergei Radchenko, the company brings together elements of the great Bolshoi and Kirov ballet companies. Russian dancers under Radchenko’s direction have staged new productions of timeless classics including Giselle, Don Quixote, Paquita and Carmen, as well as commissioned new works. Their last performance in Omaha was Swan Lake in April 2014.

Tickets start at $20, and are available through Ticket Omaha* at 402.345.0606,

TicketOmaha.com or the Ticket Omaha office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas streets.