‘Catherland’ to Premiere at Shelterbelt

SHELTERBELT PRESENTS THE PREMIERE OF CATHERLAND BOOK/LYRICS BY BECKY BOESEN, MUSIC BY DAVID VON KAMPEN, APRIL 21-MAY 14, 2017

Shelterbelt Theatre is pleased to present the premiere of Catherland, book and lyrics by Becky Boesen, music by David von Kampen, at 3225 California Street, April 21- May 14, 2017. Performances are Thursday/Friday/Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 6pm (except for May 14 at 2pm.) (Thursdays | $15 • Friday/Saturday/Sunday | $25 – general, $20 – students, seniors 65+, TAG). Tickets are on sale at www.shelterbelt.org (click box office), or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org, or 402.341.2757.

In Catherland it becomes clear “There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.” Susan made a deal with her husband: once her first book is done, they’ll start a family. As the ink dries on the final page, the couple moves from Chicago to Red Cloud, NE, hoping to begin a simpler life. A slew of mysterious guests prove that there’s nothing simple about small town living. Dreams shatter, plans change, and the trajectory of Susan’s future takes new shape in the looming shadow of American novelist, Willa Cather. Susan just hopes to make it out alive.

The cast features: Jennifer Gilg, Sara Planck, Laurel Rothamel, Craig Bond, Randy Vest and Ben Adams.

Creative staff includes: Stage Manager: JoAnn Goodhew • Assistant Director: Meganne Storm • Set Design: Bill Van Deest • Lighting Design: Carol Wisner • Costume Design: Erienne Wrendt • Sound Design: Roxanne Wach • Props: Roxanne Wach, Meganne Storm • Fight Director: Terry Doughman • Piano: Peggy Holloway • Cello: Asia Wilson, Tom Miller • Percussion: Dan Wach

“I am excited to bring Catherland to Omaha. It’s a Nebraska story by Nebraska artists. There aren’t a lot of new musicals being written around here, so being able to workshop one is such a treat,” said Roxanne Wach, director. “When I read an early draft of the script and heard some of the score, I knew there was something special here – a good ghost story and really evocative music. It’s not a typical musical theatre tale, and I think that’s significant.”

Wach continues, “For fans of Cather, this is a fictionalized Willa, based on personal letters and touching on parts of her life. So, though there are ties in the script to several Willa Cather works, this is a modern story. I have such a soft spot for Willa and the prairie.”

“The prairie is vast and beautiful and terribly mysterious. Its openness inspires possibility, but, also, there are places where if you screamed, no one would hear you… Catherland explores that juxtaposition,” Boesen adds. “The feeling of Nebraska lends itself to such a special and unique aesthetic. We like to create shows that feel like where we live. It’s a pretty good place.”

Boesen and von Kampen both lived in Nebraska as children and moved back to Lincoln as adults to raise their respective families. Boesen is a writer, lyricist, director, actor, and teaching artist. She is the recipient of three Mayor’s Arts Awards in Lincoln, NE, a 2015 Kimmel Harding Nelson Center Artist in Residence, and in 2014, was honored as a Nebraska Individual Artist Fellowship Award recipient by the Nebraska Arts Council. Her work is frequently commissioned and has garnered awards from well-recognized organizations including the National Endowment for the Arts.

Von Kampen is a six-time Downbeat Award winner in graduate-level jazz writing categories, a three-time winner of the Vancouver Chamber Choir Young Composers Competition, and the recipient of a 2015 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer award. His creative work spans a wide variety of genres, including jazz, choral music, chamber music and musical theater. This range is apparent in Catherland, which incorporates a variety of influences into the score.

Wach feels that the music is very accessible and possesses a unique voice in modern musical theatre. “I really love the music. I often find myself humming the songs. For auditions, we asked actors to learn a small snippet from the score. Many told me that the music really made them want to be a part of the production.”

“I hope the music is consistently reflecting the tone of the story,” explains von Kampen. “I wanted it to serve Becky’s words and give the characters a jolt in the arm at the most important moments. Mostly, I just tried to write good songs.”

Wach says that Shelterbelt takes its mission of producing only new work very seriously. “There are few cities Omaha’s size, who have a theatre that produces only new plays. New plays are vital for a vibrant arts community. There’s something so thrilling about investing in the unfamiliar,” she continues. “Just knowing that you’re a part of a group of people all experiencing the play for the first time, together.”

“It’s so important as a writing team to have the opportunity to see your work on its feet,” said Boesen. “Our friends at Shelterbelt allow us to walk the wire and provide the net. Roxanne and her cast and crew are so supportive and create a safe environment to experiment with changes. That’s a gift.””

Special events during the run of Catherland include:

  • Sat., April 22 • Post-show Talkback with playwright and composer
  • Thurs., May 4 • post-show Cather Scholar Panel with Chuck Johanningsmeier, PhD. and Rev. Steven P. Ryan

UNO Professor Charles Johanningsmeier was the recent recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar award and taught for a full academic year in the Institute for American Studies at the University of Leipzig, in Germany. He is frequently consulted by scholars around the world for his expertise in how fictions published in both books and periodicals affected the attitudes and actions of American readers in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He is a member of the Board of Governors for the Willa Cather Foundation.

Rev. Steven P. Ryan is Chaplain at Creighton University School of Dentistry. He holds a doctorate in American literature from the University of Texas at Austin, and his dissertation was on spiritual themes in the fiction of Willa Cather.

  • Sat., May 6, 2pm • Emerging Composer Workshop with David von Kampen, for high school and up

Songwriters and composers: bring compositions already in progress and your questions about composing for thoughtful comments and suggestions from award-winning composer, David von Kampen, a six-time Downbeat Award winner in graduate-level jazz writing categories, a three-time winner of the Vancouver Chamber Choir Young Composers Competition, and the recipient of a 2015 ASCAP Young Jazz Composer award. His creative work spans a wide variety of genres, including jazz, choral music, chamber music and musical theater. He is a lecturer of music theory and literature at the UNL, where he directs the UNL Vocal Jazz Ensemble. He also teaches applied composition at Concordia University, NE, and serves as Music Coordinator for Blended Worship at Christ Lutheran Church in Lincoln.

  • Thurs. May 11 • 7pm: Pre-show Book Discussion What is the best Cather novel? Make a case for your favorite! A lively discussion led by playwright Ellen Struve.

All programs are at the theatre.

In the gallery, Shelterbelt is pleased to present cold wax and oil works by Lori Elliott-Bartle. Bartle teaches workshops through Omaha Creative Institute and independently. She is also a teaching artist through the Midwest Artist Studios project, which links artists with school classrooms throughout an 11-state region. She will be exhibiting her work with Kris Allphin May-July at the Crane Trust, Wood River, NE.

Shelterbelt Theatre is Omaha’s home for new plays. This is Shelterbelt’s 24th season, By Local/Buy Local, featuring scripts celebrating our local playwrights. Shelterbelt Theatre is a 2015 and 2016 recipient of the international 50/50 Applause Award by the International Centre for Women Playwrights, which honors theatres that produce a season with an equal or greater number of plays written by female playwrights. (www.womenplaywrights.org).

This production is made possible with support from Nebraska Arts Council | Nebraska Cultural Endowment.

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“A Christmas Carol” is Sleeker, But Chipped Around the Edges

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Greedy miser, Ebenezer Scrooge, is given one chance to redeem his soul.  Will a visit by the three spirits of Christmas be enough to gain salvation?  This is the story of A Christmas Carol adapted by Charles Jones from the classic novel by Charles Dickens and celebrating its 40th anniversary at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Question:  How do you breathe new life into a 40 year old tradition?

Answer:  You put Hilary Adams at the helm.

Ms Adams’ direction gives A Christmas Carol a new lease on life.  More importantly, her direction went a long way in giving me the A Christmas Carol that I’ve long wanted to see.  Ms Adams accomplished this task by trimming a lot of unnecessary fat from the play, cutting a whiplash pace, and, for the most part, guiding her actors to natural, realistic performances.  I applaud Ms Adams for her staging of the story and she and the stage crew deserve especially high praise for the seamless and effortless scene changes.  The only critiques of her direction are that she needed to rein in some of the more cartoony performances that weakened this incredibly realistic production and to slow down the pace just a little bit.  Some of the actors were talking so fast that diction suffered and some important beats got glossed over.

I was extraordinarily pleased with Jerry Longe’s performance as Scrooge.  This was actually my third go-around in watching this play and the two previous times I thought Scrooge was missing something crucial.  This time I got a pitch-perfect Scrooge.  Longe’s Scrooge is cold-hearted, mean, greedy, selfish, and those are his better points.  This is a man that needs redemption.  I thought Longe was especially effective in making Scrooge’s salvation a drawn out process.  He fights changing tooth and nail and changes just a little with each interaction with the spirits until he finally sees the error of his ways.  That slow process makes the light-hearted, giddy Scrooge utterly believable when he is, at long last, redeemed.

Longe does need to slow down his delivery.  I lost some of his dialogue in Act I because he was speaking so quickly, though his speed was much more controlled in Act II.

David Krenkel was a wonderful surprise as he made his Playhouse debut as Bob Cratchit, Scrooge’s long-suffering clerk.  Krenkel was utterly natural as Cratchit.  He imbued a wonderful fatherliness and goodness into his role which had me believing him from start to finish.

I was underwhelmed by Don Keelan-White’s portrayal of Jacob Marley.  Keelan-White’s rushed line delivery resulted in the loss of character and made it feel like he was simply going through the motions.  Marley should exude a sense of otherworldliness and he seemed all too human to me.  Instead of speaking faster, Keelan-White just needs to close up the spaces between his words.  This will allow him to retain nuance without sacrificing pace.

Bridget Robbins strikes all the right notes as the Ghost of Christmas Present.  Ms Robbins found quite a few nice character moments in her role.  I was especially impressed with how her Spirit was concerned about Scrooge’s welfare, yet had no qualms about giving him a metaphorical shot to the mouth by using his own cruel words against him.

I am not quite certain what Michael Farrell was trying to accomplish with his interpretation of the Ghost of Christmas Present.  His phrasing was rather odd which made it difficult for me to understand what he was saying.  Farrell’s vocal quality also made it seem like he was trying to be jolly (which did come through) and magisterial (which did not quite hit the mark).

The ensemble was always engaged in the action, but there were several notable performances in smaller roles.  Don Harris impressed as Jake, especially in a scene where he tries to stand up to the usurious Scrooge before caving into him.  Emily Mokrycki is splendid as Mrs. Cratchit and strikes the perfect balance between love for her family and disdain for Scrooge.  Megan Friend excels with a sweet turn as Belle Fezziwig, the one-time fiancée of Scrooge, and a hilarious turn as the thieving Mrs. Dilber.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra add to the feeling of Christmas with bright and spritely renditions of Christmas carols.  Georgiann Regan’s costumes perfectly fit the Victorian tale.  Jim Othuse’s sets, lighting, and special effects are absolutely marvelous.

I understand that over 70% of the cast was appearing in this play for the first time.  That much new blood combined with opening night jitters may account for some of the bumps I saw tonight with diction, volume, and interpretation, especially in Act I.  The cast seemed to find their groove in Act II which is a good sign that they will reach their full potential for this 40th anniversary run.  All quibbles aside, I still consider this to be the best version of A Christmas Carol that I’ve seen at the Playhouse in the nearly 19 years I’ve lived in Omaha.  Even if you have seen the play before, I promise you surprises that will make it new all over again.

A Christmas Carol plays at the Omaha Playhouse through December 23.  Performances are Wednesdays at 7pm, Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm, and Sundays at 2pm and 6:30pm.  There are no performances on Nov 25 or 26, but two additional performances will be held on Dec 22 and 23 at 7:30pm.  Before Dec 15, tickets are $36 for adults and $25 for students.  Tickets for the Dec 15-23 performances are $40 for adults and $29 for students.  For reservations contact the OCP box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.