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.