Cause Some Trouble, My Friend. Trouble Right There at the Chanticleer.

Chanticleer Community Theater presents
The Music Man Auditions

November 9 & 10 @ 2:00 pm

Audition Material:
Please prepare 16-24 bars of a song and bring music for the accompanist – no acappella.
Please, wear comfortable shoes for dance audition.

Rehearsals are tentatively scheduled to begin December 10, 2019 at Chanticleer (830 Franklin Avenue, Council Bluffs, IA) with the production scheduled for March 13 – 22 in our new home at the Hoff Family Arts and Culture Center. Some music rehearsals may begin sooner in preparation of the February 19th Gala at our new home.

Show Summary:
The Music Man follows fast-talking traveling salesman, Harold Hill, as he cons the people of River City, Iowa, into buying instruments and uniforms for a boys’ band that he vows to organize – this, despite the fact that he doesn’t know a trombone from a treble clef. His plans to skip town with the cash are foiled when he falls for Marian, the librarian, who transforms him into a respectable citizen by curtain’s fall.
Stage Director: Dwayne Ibsen | Music Director: Jerry Gray | Choreographer: Robin Putnam and Patti Zukaitis

Contact Information: Chanticleer: 712-323-9955 or Email:  chanticleertheater@gmail .com

In the Heart of History: Chestnut Charm & Atlantic, IA

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Chestnut Charm Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Atlantic, IA.

I thought I had checked out all of the B & Bs close to my neck of the woods, but imagine my surprise when I was looking over my list and saw that I missed one in the nearby town of Atlantic, IA.  Immediately I booked a visit to Chestnut Charm Bed & Breakfast, owned and operated by Barbara.

Truthfully, I badly needed a little getaway.  I’d had an unusually difficult week capped by a Friday the 13th that lived up to its moniker as everything that day went foul and the day ended with a notification that a project I’d hoped to be part of had fallen through.

Saturday the 14th started much better with a bright sunny day making for a pleasant drive to nearby Atlantic, the Coca-Cola capital of Iowa.

I got into town a little bit early as I wanted to do a bit of exploration.  Atlantic is like stepping back in time to a more peaceful era with a quaint downtown area with old-fashioned street lamps and shops that close up early on the weekends.

Coca-Cola is a big part of the town as you will find painted murals of the soft drink all over the downtown area and a bottling plant is in the heart of downtown.  There’s even a Coca-Cola museum and information center that I may visit on a future jaunt to this city.

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Coca-Cola Bottling Companay

I definitely plan to return during the Christmas season because Atlantic prides itself on how it celebrates the Yuletide season with a celebration called Christmas in Atlantic.  This celebration features over six miles of LED lights in the downtown area, a visit from St Nick, fireworks, themed window displays and a lighted parade.

After a brief walkaround, I headed off to Chestnut Charm, a 121 year old Victorian mansion situated on a 2 acre property.  The mansion had been built by a lumber baron named Edward Shaw as a wedding present to his daughter.

I was greeted by Barbara who is a “jane of all trades” as she grows her own fruits and vegetables, built the property’s gazebo, and has done quite a bit of work on the mansion itself, aside from being its resident chef.  She is also a waterfall (fount seems too small a word) of knowledge and an expert on the history of the region.  Barbara told me about all sorts of interesting historical facts about the region and gave me numerous ideas of side/day trips to take on future outings such as St Patrick’s in Imogene, IA and the windmill and Dutch museum of Elk Horn.

Barbara escorted me to the Manson Master Suite which is a very comfortable and spacious area with a fireplace, hardwood floors, a queen sized bed, a private sunroom, and a bathroom with a rather deep tub.  I had just enough time to take in the room before heading over to worship at Sts Peter and Paul.

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Sts Peter and Paul

The service brought a great sense of peace to me and made me more than ready to enjoy dinner at The Redwood Steakhouse in nearby Anita, IA.

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The Redwood

The Redwood prides itself on being an old-fashioned steakhouse.  Back in the day steakhouses would actually bring a relish tray so diners would have something to nosh on before their entrees came and The Redwood continues that practice.  My tray contained pickles, black olives, green olives, carrots, cauliflower, cheese, and pickled herring which was actually quite tasty.  A little French bread and salad and a bit of the items from the relish tray wonderfully tided me over.

For my entrée, I opted for a NY Strip and took Barbara’s suggestion to try the hash browns.  Barbara claimed these were the best hash browns around and she was right on the money.  They were nice and crisp on the outside, but soft and fluffy in the middle and a bit of cheese and onions gave it that extra bit of kick.  My NY Strip was cooked perfectly and I seasoned it with spices at the table and enjoyed a long and pleasant dining experience.

When I returned to Chestnut Charm, Barbara showed me a battalion of Monarch butterflies flying around her neighbor’s yard and introduced me to Concord grapes which I had never tasted before, but found them quite sweet and learned they were the grapes used in Welch’s jelly and probably their soda back when that existed.

From there, Barbara educated me on the history and interesting sights of the area before we called it a night and I went to my room to rest and write.  A nice long soak in the deep bathtub had me ready for a trip to the land of Nod.

I awoke, truly refreshed for the first time in a week and was ready for breakfast.

Barbara greeted me in the kitchen and led me to the sunroom where a glass of water was waiting for me.  Barbara shortly brought me orange juice and an egg frittata with onions, garlic, Italian herbs, and zucchini from her garden along with sweet smoked bacon which was locally produced and magically prepared in her kitchen, and a peach muffin stuffed with raspberry jam with both fruits coming from her garden.

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After picking my plate clean, I finally did a little exploration of the mansion.  At 121 years of age, this home was produced before electricity and plumbing and back when craftsmanship was king.  The woodwork is prepared by hand.  Stained glass windows adorn the property.  Cloth is handpainted.  The lamps on the stairwell are now electric, but were once much bigger Victorian gas lamps.  The property also contains a carriage house where the inn’s two jacuzzi suites reside.  There’s even a 101 year old Victorian piano which can actually be played.

Regrettably reality was calling me back home and I had to pack it in.  But a trip to Chestnut Charm and Atlantic, IA is well worth a visit.  You’ll find a plethora of history in the area, enjoy a fine home cooked meal, meet a hostess with intimate knowledge of the area, and maybe a bit of Christmas cheer if you time it right.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Journey to Gurnee or Sealed with a Chris

Time for a travel tale of a different sort and you can get twice the bang for your buck as you can read my brother’s take on this story at his blog.

I have three brothers (Brian, Dan, and Jeff) and six weeks or so ago, my brother, Dan, texted out of the blue with a suggestion that the four of us take a road trip together.  He had suggested Cedar Point in Sandusky, OH, but that was a bit far for a weekend trip for 3 of us and would be tough to coordinate as we each live in different states and the nearest major airport to Sandusky was over an hour away.

Add that to the fact that timing would be delicate.  Most amusement parks close after Labor Day or have greatly reduced hours.  Add that to the fact that Jeff and I will be out of the country for most of September and that essentially left August unless tabled for another year.

Jeff’s husband, Scott, suggested a visit to Six Flags Great America in much closer Gurnee, IL might be a more viable option.  It took a bit of doing, but the 4 of us managed to clear our schedules at the end of August to make this trip.

Sadly, Dan had to bow out at the 11th hour due to illness, but he encouraged the three of us to continue the trip and kept in regular contact via text to enjoy things somewhat vicariously.

My older brother and I live almost equidistant from Gurnee, but he was kind enough to drive to Omaha so we could make the trip together.  He even agreed to my plan to take a more roundabout route as the initial route seemed to go through Chicago proper and I had little desire to battle that maniacal traffic or pay a series of potentially usurious tolls.  Furthermore, I wanted to split the trip down over 2 days so we wouldn’t be overly worn out for doing things after arriving in the Gurnee area.

Thursday night found us heading out on the road after a quick meal at Chick Fil A.  Animated conversation made the time go quickly and we pulled over shortly after midnight at a Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

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Brian photobombs my photo of Sleep Inn in North Liberty, IA.

I was wired and didn’t drift off to sleep until after 1am and slept rather fitfully.  Brian and I rose early and had breakfast in the hotel dining room.  It was adequate with the sausage links being tasty, but the biscuits were a little tough and needed a knife and fork to cut.  Brian ate 4 mini cinnamon rolls for his breakfast.

Shortly afterwards, we were back on the road.  My roundabout route took us through quite a few lovely small towns which I rather enjoyed.  We actually passed through Galena and I got to show Brian the B & B I had stayed at there, the former Bernadine’s Stillman Inn.

I actually made some notes of locales to visit for future journeys, but Brian got slightly annoyed due to a neverending stream of construction we went though in these small towns that slowed us down.

Eventually, we reached our destination, Springhill Suites in Waukegan, IL, but found that the exits leading to the hotel were blocked by more construction and it took nearly 30 minutes for Google Maps to suss out a route that finally allowed us to reach the hotel.

 

 

Springhill Suites was a pretty modern hotel and the rooms were quite nice, but not exactly suites in the strictest sense of the word.  They were actually expanded rooms, but did grant quite a bit of space.

We puttered around for a bit.  Brian and Jeff engaged in a pair of cribbage games while I watched Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  After Brian took Jeff in 2 straight games, we headed out to dinner and tried nearby Anastasia’s, a sports lounge.

You get pretty good value for your money as you get a good sized meal for your cash.  Jeff had a meatball sandwich while Brian supped on blackened cod and I had a gyro sandwich which really hit the spot.

After dinner, we engaged in one of my favorite activities:  mini golf!!  We visited Lighthouse Miniature Golf which was a little family owned course.  The grounds were lovingly maintained though a little refurbishment could be used here and there.  The course had a ton of character and very fun and challenging holes.

 

 

I ended up finishing in third, being unable to find my groove until closer to the end.  But I did manage to win the Ace Award with a pair of holes in one on the last two holes.  The hole in one on the 18th hole netted me a free game which I will be glad to use when I’m back in the area.  Someone mistook my calm poise and skill for ridiculous sloppy luck on that last hole, but what the hey.

With the links putted, we went back to the hotel and hooked up Brian’s Wii where we played a few rounds of Mario Party 9 before getting some shuteye to attack the park the next day.

Fortunately, all three of us are early risers, so we were able to get up and get some breakfast in the hotel dining room.  Again, the food was just so so.  The turkey sausage patties were pretty good and the biscuits and gravy were actually even tougher than the ones I had in Iowa and again needed a knife and fork to eat them.

As the park didn’t open until 10:30am, we even had time to squeeze in a round of Phase 10.  Now my brothers often curse my unbelievable luck in the game.  I do admit that I seem to have a penchant for obtaining wild cards, but I attribute it to the universe being nice to me because I’m pure of heart.  However, my brothers have actually labeled various winning hands as “Chrises” depending on the number of wilds in it. All the way from a regular Chris for three wilds to an Omega Chris if a winning hand ever has all 8 wilds.  Once again, I won the game and sealed it with a Chris.

 

 

It was a perfect day for parking as the weather was a glorious spring day without a whit of humidity.  Six Flags Great America is coaster crazy with a whopping 16 roller coasters to try.  The park wasn’t overly full and we usually didn’t have to wait very long for rides. Some of the rides even had single rider lines which we used to get on rides in a matter of minutes.  Highlights included American Eagle, a classic wooden coaster that has the herky jerky movement and the body rattling jolts of an old fashioned coaster; X-Flight, an inverted wing coaster that has some impressive barrel rolls and a 180 degree swoop through a narrow chasm; The Joker Crazy Coaster, a unique coaster that climbs 12 stories and flips you over several times; The Goliath, the world’s fastest and tallest wooden coaster with an initial job of 180 feet and inversions that were nearly loop the loops.  This was easily one of the best coasters I’ve ever ridden and was the only ride we hit twice.  Our final ride was Superman:  Ultimate Flight and the one we waited the longest for at 95 minutes due to its being a signature ride.  This is an inverted coaster, but the seats actually pull up and lock into place so the riders face parallel to the ground to simulate flying like Superman.  I freely admit that right before the first drop, I held up my arms in flying pose and said, “I’ve waited all my life to say this.  Up, up and awayyy!!!!”

What better way to close the night than with more mini-golf.  So we were off to Aloha Falls in nearby Libertyville.

 

 

Aloha Falls was the course I had originally wanted to play, but we were stunned to learn that it is only open on the weekends and only until about 8pm.  The course’s signature Waterfall Course is listed as the 8th toughest in the USA and the clubhouse holds some classic board games and video game systems to play.

This is one of the most beautiful courses I’ve ever played with extremely lovely and difficult holes.  It lives up to its rep as a tough course, but I played one of the best games of my life ending 3 under par on the front nine which allowed me to race toward a fairly easy victory for the night.  Though this is very much a quality course, all 3 of us liked Lighthouse more due to its character.

We were starving after the game as we hadn’t eaten since breakfast so we stopped at a Chili’s near the hotel for dinner.  I packed away one of the biggest meals in recent memory with a Chili’s chili burger and I also scarfed a fair number of the chips and salsa Jeff got as a free appetizer.

With full stomachs, we returned to the hotel where we played a last round of Mario Party in which fate stole my victory at the last moment.  Then it was to bed as Brian wanted to leave very early in the morning to get back home.

At 7:40am, Brian and I bade good-bye to Jeff and headed back home.  Brian wanted to take the most direct route so it was all interstate for us.  Truthfully, it would not have been so bad using this route on the way to Waukegan as it skirted around Chicago, but it did take us through 5 tolls so my route did save us a bit of dough.

Though we were short a Musketeer, it was still an enjoyable trip and it was nice to bond with my most of my siblings.  If the stars align, maybe Cedar Point can be done next year.

Until the next time, happy travels!!

The Night the Music Lived

Buddy Holly Story

Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly

His career spanned a year and a half, but in that time he revolutionized rock and roll and left an indelible fingerprint that would inspire some of the greatest performers of all time.  His story is the focus of Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Janes’ script falls somewhere between a play and a jukebox musical.  Precious little of Holly’s life is covered in the show.  The play part focuses on certain key points in his life from his struggles as a teenager trying to become a rock star in the country music meccas of Texas and Nashville to his nabbing a recording contract with an open minded producer to his legendary Apollo performance to his whirlwind marriage to his break-up with the Crickets and, finally, to his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA.  Needless to say, the jukebox part focuses on Holly’s hits as well as numerous other hits of the day.

Tim Seib masterfully handles the dual direction required of the production.  He musters every ounce of story, nuance, and emotion from the story portion of the production.  In fact, I was incredibly impressed with his work for the romance between Holly and his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, which is the richest part of the story from an acting perspective.  Seib nabs an easy A+ directing the action of the musical part of the show which is good, old fashioned, pulse pounding rock and roll.

Some wonderful featured performances were supplied by Alan Gillespie as Norman Petty, the producer willing to allow Holly the chance to record music his way, but also lives up to his last name by attempting to screw Holly over by keeping the Crickets and taking the band name when Holly decides to change labels; Garrick Vaughan and Nissi Shalome as a pair of Apollo performers who give a rousing rendition of “Shout” and mercilessly heckle Holly and his band before their performance; Mike Brennan is an indefatigable cauldron of energy as J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and excels with his solo in “Chantilly Lace”.

I’d also like to give some special notice to Alix Rhode who gives a subtle and moving performance as Maria Elena Santiago.  She is strong, bold, and so loving and supportive of Buddy and your heart breaks as you know her fears for Holly’s safety are all too true.

This show lives or dies by the performer playing Buddy Holly and Michael Perrie, Jr. admirably carries the load of this show on his shoulders.

Perrie IS Buddy Holly and practically reincarnates him in front of the eyes of the audience.  Not only does Perrie bear a remarkable physical similarity to the late singer, but he also effortlessly emulates his look, assumes his accent and speech cadences, and even gets that unique hiccup in his voice when he sings.

Perrie brings some serious acting chops to the role.  He manages to show Holly’s politeness and decency, but also his toughness as Holly wouldn’t back down from anyone when it came to his music.  He also well plays Holly’s free-spirited nature.  This was a man who always marched to his own beat no matter what anyone thought about his choices.  He also expertly handles the heartache of Buddy’s life, shedding real tears when the Crickets abandon him and, more or less, yank the band name from him.

Musically, Perrie is also outstanding.  He’s a guitar player par excellence and easily handled rock numbers such as “Not Fade Away”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day”, but he was just as nimble and moving on the softer numbers such as “True Love Ways”, “Words of Love”, and “Heartbeat”.

Cullen Law’s musical direction was exceptional as he and his performers made these classic tunes their own.  Jack Smith’s costumes were superb, from the elegant suits for the men to the pretty gowns for the ladies. Ali Strelchun has created a nice three sided set with a massive band area at center stage, a small radio station at house left, and Petty’s tiny recording studio at house right.  Jess Fialko’s lights are spot on with colors and intensity matching the energy and emotions of the songs and an incredibly poignant blackout for The Day the Music Died.

I want to take a moment and applaud all of the actors for showing great poise under pressure as they battled microphone issues throughout the night, but steamrolled right over them.

Some music experts have argued that, had Holly’s life not been cut short, Buddymania may have ruled the world due to the breakthroughs he was making with music.  Though his life was tragically short, he left behind an amazing legacy that is still inspiring musicians today.  And if you want a taste of musical history and a fun filled time, go see this show.

Music Lived

The Day the Music Died (Left to right: Mike Brennan as the Big Bopper, Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly, & Chase Tucker as Ritchie Valens)

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 11.  Performances are at 2pm on July 28, 31 and August 2-4, 6, 10, 11 and 7:30pm on July 31, August 2, 4, 7, 9-10.  Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained at www.maplesrep.com or contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Pictures supplied through courtesy of Maples Repertory Theatre

This review is dedicated to the memory of Kay McGuigan.  We miss you, friend!

MRT Will Show You How it’s Gonna Be with ‘Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story’

Maples Repertory Theatre Presents:

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan James

Synopsis

Follow the incredible journey of Buddy Holly’s meteoric rise to the top of the record charts during the golden days of rock ‘n’ roll in this dynamic tribute musical. You’ll be cheering for more, with such rousing fifties favorites as “Peggy Sue,” “Oh Boy,” “Maybe Baby,” “That’ll Be the Day,” “Raining In My Heart,” Ritchie Valens’ “La Bamba” and the Big Bopper’s “Chantilly Lace.” This joyous celebration of a musical legend has audiences on their feet in every corner of the globe and it will explode on the Royal Stage in a toe-tapping, hand-clapping extravaganza! “Oh Boy!”

Showtimes

  • Fri. July 19 – 7:30
  • Sat. July 20 – 2:00
  • Tues. July 23 – 2:00
  • Wed. July 24 – 2:00
  • Sat. July 27 – 7:30
  • Sun. July 28 – 2:00
  • Wed. July 31 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Fri. Aug. 2 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Sat. Aug. 3 – 2:00
  • Sun. Aug. 4 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Tues. Aug. 6 – 2:00
  • Wed. Aug. 7 – 7:30
  • Fri. Aug. 9 – 7:30
  • Sat. Aug. 10 – 2:00, 7:30
  • Sun. Aug. 11 – 2:00

Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained by contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924 or visiting www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

The Golden Review: Valparaiso, IN and Songbird Prairie

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Songbird Prairie Bed & Breakfast

Today the road has brought me to Valparaiso, IN.

Welcome to my 50th B & B review.  Having reached this magic number, I wanted this review to be something special.  I needed a destination with lots to do, a top of the line inn, and I wanted it to feel like a bit of a road trip.  I pored over my spreadsheet of inns to find something to fit the bill and as I perused the Indiana section it hit me right between the eyes.  I found Songbird Prairie Bed and Breakfast, a luxury inn which has won numerous “best of” and hospitality awards over the years.  I booked a room and eagerly looked forward to a grand adventure.

Friday evening found me making the trek to Indiana.  I had decided to split up the drive over 2 days so I would have energy for activities once I arrived in Valparaiso so I made an overnight stop at a Travelodge in Iowa City, IA.

 

It had been a fairly pleasant day when the drive started, but by the time I had rolled into Iowa City, it had become a hazy gray and the humidity had shot past the roof.  So humid was it, that I actually saw steam rising from pools of water from a storm that must have dumped on the city before my arrival.  The conditions felt perfect for a tornado and I later learned that one had touched down just outside the city, but nothing came of it.

The hotel was serviceable and even had a swimming pool.  I deposited my luggage in my room and cast a grateful eye on my king-sized bed.  The smell of a Domino’s Pizza down the hall reminded me that I should probably do something about my own hunger.

A restaurant called Los Agaves Mexican Grill was attached to the hotel and solved my problem of finding a place to eat.  My waiter, Jose, brought me a bowl of chips and salsa while I looked over the menu. I opted to try the Chiles Colorado.  Shortly after my order, a plate of grilled beef tips in a spicy red mole sauce with Spanish rice and refried beans appeared before me.  With the use of warm corn tortillas, I made several “tacos” to enjoy the meal.  It plugged the spot dead center and I went back to my room and laid down to sleep.

The bed was quite comfortable as I slept the sleep of the dead.  I’m talking limbs splayed out, slack jawed sleep.  After waking up, I got cleaned up and had the hotel’s deluxe continental breakfast which meant some hot items were available.  I had a biscuit with some sausage gravy and a bowl of Frosted Flakes with a cup of orange juice to wash it down and was back on the road about 90 minutes later.

I enjoyed a very peaceful drive as I listened to the tunes of my MP3 player and wondered if Indiana had finally completed the construction which had bedeviled me several times over the years.

They had.

But it didn’t make much difference as traffic still slowed to a snail’s pace after I crossed over.  However, as I only had to travel about 11 miles to reach my exit, the slower pace didn’t cause me any duress.

So it was that I found myself in Valparaiso, hometown of popcorn magnate, Orville Redenbacher.  The town of Valparaiso is also nearby the Indiana Dunes for those who like the outdoors, Chicago for those seeking big city fun, and South Bend, IN if you’d like to visit Notre Dame.

Songbird Prairie, owned and operated by Barbara and Efrain Rivera, is nestled out on a wooded acreage just outside of Valparaiso.  The large, red mansion is at the end of a long gravel road.  I was met at the door by Barbara who gave me a tour of the home.

Luxurious is indeed the word to describe this inn as it not only boasts very fancy and comfortable rooms, but it also has a spa room and gift shop.

Barbara led me to the Robin Suite, the inn’s best room.  This elegant room had a king-sized Ethan Allen bed, carpet so soft that my feet practically sank in the fibers, brownish-green walls with an outdoor mural of blue sky and clouds painted on the ceiling, a fireplace (only operable during colder months), and a huge bathroom which featured a chromotherapy Jacuzzi.

 

After getting settled, I headed off to services at St Elizabeth Ann Seton.  Due to the size of the parking lot, I thought this would be a good sized church, but it was actually quite small.  The service was quite energetic and you could see that Father was full of the Spirit as he talked about the glory of the Resurrection and even used the traditional Protestant greeting of “He is risen” and the congregation actually responded with “Indeed He is risen.”

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St Elizabeth Ann Seton Catholic Church

After a vigorous service, I was ready for dinner and I decided to try the Industrial Revolution.  This restaurant  celebrates America’s technological advancements and each week a different pioneer is featured.  This week, it was the man who brought Atari to America.  For dinner, I decided to try the Garlic Parmesan Burger with a side of garlic potato wedges.  The burger was actually quite tasty, but could have benefited from some more vegetables.

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Industrial Revolution

The day started to catch up with me, so I went back to the inn to give the Jacuzzi a spin.  This was a smart bathtub.  A light goes on when the tub has reached the proper level of water.  You can set the duration and intensity of the jets which are pinpoint and built into the walls of the tub.  The tub even uses chromotherapy which means that the tub cycles through a series of colored lights to help bring you into a deeper state of relaxation.  I stayed in the tub for nearly 45 minutes soaking up every joule of heat.  From there, I crawled into bed and set a white noise machine to the sound of rainfall to fall into the blissful arms of slumber.

I awoke the next morning to see that real rain had actually fallen during the night.  A light sprinkle was still falling, but it wouldn’t derail any of the day’s plans.  But, first, I needed some breakfast.

Breakfast is held in the sun room which is miked so guests will be serenaded with the music of songbirds.  Now I have had the privilege of enjoying some very fine dining in my travels, but this had to be the best presented meal I had ever had.  Each course was a piece of artistry in how it was framed on the plate.  The artistic description especially suited the first course as Barbara had carved watermelon into the shape of birds and served them with a cranberry scone.

The main entrée was French Toast souffle with sausage patties and the souffle was incredibly on point especially with the wonderful aftertaste of cinnamon.  For dessert there was strawberry sorbet and beverages were orange juice and water served with lemon and a bit of mint, I believe.

 

I had a big day planned and got started immediately.  I headed to the nearby town of St John to visit The Shrine of Christ’s Passion.

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The Shrine of Christ’s Passion

The Shrine is a walking version of Christ’s Passion or The Stations of the Cross as they are known in Catholicism.  Members of all branches of Christianity visit every year and it is a profound experience.  If you’re a believer, you must experience this place.  If you’re not, you just might become one after visiting.

The Shrine is absolutely free and survives solely on donations and sales from the gift shop.  The gift shop is pretty impressive and has a wide variety of Christian gifts, literature, and a second floor where it’s Christmas year-round.

The walking area contains 40 life sized bronze statues that feature the Stations with a few extras such as the Agony in the Garden, the Last Supper, Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene after His Resurrection, the Ascension, and Moses on Mt Sinai.  The detail of the statues is incredible, especially with the eyes which brilliantly communicate the emotions of the various moments.  I was transformed as I walked the path and truly felt like I was watching my Savior walk the path of the cross.

 

I spent nearly 2 hours at the Shrine and bought a meditational called Jesus Today by Sarah Young on my way out.

I reflected on the experience as I drove back to Valparaiso where I would visit Zao Island.

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The dragon of Zao Island

Zao Island is a little fun park that features batting cages, an arcade, laser tag, go-karts, a super slide, a small gator farm, and two mini-golf courses that USA Today called the most interesting in the country.

That last part is what really caught my attention.  I wouldn’t normally play mini-golf by myself, but I wanted to experience this one given the newspaper’s statement.  The course didn’t quite meet my standards.  For me, the fun in mini-golf is gimmickry and challenging holes.  While there were a few complex holes, they were pretty much straightforward putting greens and failed to scratch my itch.  My own personal tastes aside, the park has more than enough to do for an afternoon of family fun.

I returned to the inn to begin a bit of writing and headed out to dinner at about 5:30.

I decided to try Yats Cajun Creole.  This is a small eatery near Valparaiso University with a daily changing menu.  I decided to have some gumbo and this time it truly was a stew as it was served on a plate.  The stew part of the gumbo was tasty, but I would have preferred a little more of the stew and a little less rice.

From there, it was back to the inn for a quiet evening of writing and reading before another Jacuzzi bath and setting the white noise machine to waterfall to help put me out.

Breakfast the next morning consisted of water with lemon and mint, orange juice, a fruit cocktail of apples, kiwi, grapes, strawberries, and oranges, lemon poppy and banana nut muffins, bacon, herb baked potatoes, omelet stuffed with cheese, peppers, and ham, croissant, with a choice of several small cheesecakes for dessert.  I had just enough room to sample the lemon cheesecake with edible butterfly.

 

And that, my friends, brings an end to the Golden Review.  I will actually be slowing down the B & B portion of this blog for a bit to focus on some other things.  I still fully intend to continue with an annual Christmas review, but other reviews will be sporadic for a little while.

But, if you find yourselves in the Valparaiso area, enjoy a bit of luxury at Songbird Prairie while you’re exploring.  You may find it hard to tear yourself away after having a taste, both literal and metaphorical, of its elegance.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

A Bridge Between Them

Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife originally from Italy, looks forward to a few days to herself when her family heads off to the 4H Nationals at the Indiana State Fair.  When her family leaves, a well-traveled National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid, arrives to ask for directions to the Roseman Bridge to complete his photo assignment.  Robert has recently visited Italy which sparks a fast friendship between himself and Francesca which evolves into something more and forces the two to make some life altering choices.  This is The Bridges of Madison County by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and based on Robert James Waller’s novel.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I was quite surprised by this show.  I had been expecting a schmaltzy love story, but what I got was a well framed tale that built slowly, organically, and subtly.  This story is about much, much more than a man and a woman falling in love.  It’s about the circumstances that brought them together, the forces that drive them, and the hard choices they have to make about their respective futures.  I especially liked how natural the affair comes about.  There’s nothing forced about it.  It was just something that happened which leaves it up to the viewer to decide on the morality of what goes down.  The show is aided by Brown’s score, especially as interpreted by Jim Boggess and his splendid orchestra.  The songs are almost internal monologues and span a series of emotions that I have never seen before in a musical.

A story that builds as methodically as this one requires a very gentle touch with the direction and Kimberly Faith Hickman provides that touch and then some.  Ms Hickman strikes each emotional beat dead on the mark.  It’s never too much or too little.  The pacing is phenomenal and keeps the attention of the audience with every gradual revelation of the plot.  She also has a killer set of performers to tell this story, especially in her 4 leads.

That previous sentence may have made you take pause, but there are 4 leads for this production.  Kimberly Faith Hickman made the decision to double cast the two leads and each pairing takes one down a very interesting variant of the story.  In order to give readers a complete vision of this play, I watched the show twice so I could see how each set of leads interpreted the tale.

Mackenzie Dehmer is deadly accurate with her character choices in the role of Francesca.  She seems. . .not happy, but settled in her role as a farm wife.  She loves her children.  She loves her friends.  She even loves her husband, but it isn’t the same love that she once shared with him.  Her body language indicates that there is a void in her life that she doesn’t know how to fill.

Then Robert comes into her life.

Suddenly Ms Dehmer just lights up with passion and life as she now has someone with whom she can truly relate.  As their friendship grows, Ms Dehmer really makes you see the happiness blooming in her soul, yet it is still tinged with a thorn as she is always constantly aware of the potential effect on her family.  Her anguish as she wrestles with the decision to be with Robert or her family is heartbreakingly real and well essayed.

I think Ms Dehmer would have a fine career in opera with her devastating vocal range.  A natural alto who effortlessly hits soprano notes, Ms Dehmer shone musically as she wonders about Robert in “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”, consummates her relationship with him in “Falling Into You”, and sings about her haunting final decision in “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles”.

Angela Jenson-Frey gives us a Francesca who is actually quite happy with her life.  Yes, she misses her native country, but is comfortable with her life in Iowa and is mostly satisfied with her choices in life.  When Robert appears in her life, there isn’t that immediate spark of attraction.  It is a friendship that quickly transforms into a passionate love.  Ms Jenson-Frey’s Francesca also seems a bit more assured in her decisions as her final choice seems to come a bit more easily and confidently.

Ms Jenson-Frey also has a beautiful soprano singing voice which she uses to full emotional potential in her numbers whether she’s gladly telling the audience part of her life story in “To Build a Home”, tenderly asking Robert to simply “Look At Me”, or sharing the rest of her life story with Robert in “Almost Real”.

I was crushed by James Verderamo’s take on Robert.  He projects a palpable aura of loneliness.  His Robert is a man who lives apart from the rest of the world.  He’s never in one place very long and has made the decision not to get involved with people because he always has to get to the next assignment.  His chemistry with Mackenzie Dehmer is pitch perfect as each truly seems to fill a missing part of the other.  When he falls for Francesca, you really feel the wonder of a man who is experiencing happiness for, perhaps, the first time in his life.

Verderamo’s tenor is velvet smooth and allowed him to emote his songs to the fullest.  Whether he is “Wondering” about Francesca or describing the life of a photographer in “The World Inside a Frame” or musing about his own mortality in “It All Fades Away”, Verderamo never failed to let the audience see his true thoughts and emotions.

Thomas Gjere’s Robert is far more content in his life.  While he is a bit of a wanderer, he is comfortable with the life he has chosen though he believes he isn’t the greatest company in the world.  What I liked best about this take is that Gjere’s Robert is quite likable and charming, but seems completely unaware of that fact due to his always focusing on the next assignment.  When he falls for Francesca, it seems to truly awaken himself to himself for the first time.

Gjere has a mellow low tenor that you could listen to for hours.  His phrasing is always perfectly precise and he makes you feel his budding happiness in “Temporarily Lost” and the full joy of his personal awakening in “Who We Are and Who We Want to Be”.

While this is primarily a two person show, a supporting cast does periodically appear to show what is going on outside Francesca & Robert’s world and sometimes get involved in it.  Kevin Olsen and Joey Hartshorn provide some levity as an older married couple who are neighbors of the Johnsons.  Ms Hartshorn is especially amusing as the busybody with a heart of gold and has a hilarious solo in “Get Closer”.  Mary Trecek belts out a great hoedown in “State Road 21/The Real World” and Analisa Peyton has a moving solo as Robert’s ex-wife in“Another Life” where she explains why she left him.

Jim Othuse crafts a realistic small town with the farmhouse of the Johnsons and a spot on replica of the Roseman Bridge.  I also liked how he created bars and other homes through the use of windows and bar counters.  Aja Jackson’s lights brilliantly support the story with sunrises, sunsets, and proper mood lighting during the show’s weightier and emotional moments.  Megan Kuehler’s costumes well suit a small town farming community with simple dresses for the adult women and t shirts and jeans for the men and kids.

As I said in the beginning, this is far more than a love story.  This is a story about two people who were missing something vital and found that missing piece in the other.  It is not about their love.  It is about what they will do with that love and it makes for a profound tale indeed.

The Bridges of Madison County continues through March 24.  Tickets start at $24 and vary by performance and seating zone.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or calling the OCP box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.