Broadway and Beyond Compare

Take 3 friends and legends of the Omaha musical stage and what do you get?  Something completely sublime.  This is Broadway and Beyond which was performed at the Jewish Community Center under the auspices of Performing Artists Repertory Theatre.

Sometimes all one needs is the simple things in life.  Three magnificent singers performing show tunes from some of Broadway’s best (and some lesser known ones) and sharing stories from their long history of performances and I’m as happy as a clam.  And the rest of audience seemed to be in the same state of euphoria as Camille Metoyer Moten, Paul Tranisi, and John Patrick Morrissey swept us away in an amazing afternoon of songs and stories.

The friendship between the three was palpable as they bantered with each other as they reminisced about shows past, but when they started singing, that’s when things really got cooking.

Under the accompaniment of Katherine Turner on piano, Metoyer Moten, Tranisi, and Morrissey each held the audience in the palms of their hands as they took turns singing some of their favorite songs.  My only regret is that they never joined forces on anything but the intro and outro of the show.

Camille Metoyer Moten’s golden alto dazzled the audience with the sonorous “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” from Evita and the soaring “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  But she swept me away in a cloud of musical ecstasy with the hauntingly beautiful “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music.

Paul Tranisi got the show off to a thunderous start with the godly “Rain” from Once On this Island.  From there, he blended his mighty baritone with a bit of theatricality as he morphed into Tevye musing about what he would do with a small fortune with “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof and then blew the audience away with “I, Don Quixote” from Man of La Mancha.

John Patrick Morrissey exudes youthful energy and has quite the vocal range.  Morrissey belted out “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha with extreme confidence and optimism, serenaded us with a determined take on “My Corner of the Sky” from Pippin, but could also handle pieces with more gravitas such as the thoughtful “Pilate’s Dream” from Jesus Christ Superstar.

I audibly “awwed” with disappointment when the afternoon ended as I could have spent a few more hours enjoying the trio’s songs and stories.  Sadly, it was also the only day to enjoy this concert, but I hope they consider doing this production again in the very near future.

Until then, you can still enjoy a fine performance from Performing Artists Repertory Theatre with its closing performance of Always. . .Patsy Cline on October 31 at 3pm at the Jewish Community Center.  Tickets are $37 and can be purchased by calling 402-706-0778.  The Jewish Community Center is located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.

A Honkytonk Friendship

It’s a story of friendship between a down to earth country star and her biggest fan.  This is Always. . .Patsy Cline and it is currently playing at the Jewish Community Center under the auspices of Performing Artists Repertory Theatre.

Ted Swindley has written a pretty effective script.  While the show does pay tribute to Cline’s music (skillfully performed by Vince Learned and his band), it is more about the true story of the friendship between Louise Seger and Patsy Cline.  Swindley deftly cuts the duties of this show between a top flight storyteller and a world class singer as the character of Seger shares the story of how she became a fan of Cline’s music and then befriended her when she performed at a honkytonk in the early 60s.  The character of Cline doesn’t do much acting, but needs a mountainesque presence to go with a superior set of vocal chops.  Fortunately, this show has both elements in spades.

Gordon Cantiello’s direction is quite exceptional.  Not only do his two actresses perfectly embody their characters, but the relationship between them feels organic and genuine.  Cantiello also found a surprising number of beats in the script and keeps it engrossing as the story of Seger and Cline is, at turns, sweet, humorous, loving, and sad.

Connie Lee turns in a winning (dare I say award winning?) performance as Louise Seger.  Seger is definitely a character.  She’s iron willed, free spirited, and brassy as all get out.  But she’s also loyal, caring, and an awful lot of fun to be around.   Lee is a delight to watch with her incredible animation.  I just got a kick watching her react to Cline’s performances as she swayed to the music, outright danced to it, and made VERY sure that Cline’s drummer didn’t rush the backbeat.  More impressive is how she does it in a way that you notice it, but it doesn’t pull attention away from Cline.  Lee also does a bit of nifty improvisation to get the audience involved in the show.

Kellyn Danae Wooten was so spot on as Patsy Cline that if my eyes were closed I would have thought she was Cline.  Wooten perfectly emulates Cline’s throaty alto as she performs her classic hits including “Crazy”, “Sweet Dreams”, and “Walking After Midnight” just to name a few and also threw in a few encores for the audience at the end.  Though the character of Cline has very little spoken dialogue, Wooten had the warm, welcoming presence of the down to earth singer who I’m certain was “greatly relieved” to be treated like a regular person by Seger.

It’s a fun and amusing show and you don’t even have to be a fan or know much about Patsy Cline to enjoy the show.  If you enjoy a good bit of storytelling and enjoy good music, you will have a fun time watching this production.

Always. . .Patsy Cline runs through October 31.  Showtimes are 1pm and 4pm on October 23 and 3pm on October 31.  Tickets cost $37 and can be purchased by calling 402-706-0778.  The Jewish Community Center is located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.

This Operation is a Bittersweet Triumph

Imagine that it’s a night like any other night.  Suddenly a warning siren begins to blare throughout the night sky.  You begin to hear loud whistles growing closer and closer.  Then explosions rip through the air.  Buildings collapse around you.  The ground shakes with the force of an earthquake.  Your heart feels as if it will burst through your chest as your life flashes before your eyes.  If you can imagine that, then you can imagine the terror of the Sheffield Blitz.  Operation Crucible by Kieran Knowles lets the audience experience those horrifying nights through the eyes of four young steelworkers.  It is currently playing at the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company.

Knowles’ script can best be compared to a runaway freight train.  It starts at a fever pitch and keeps you holding on for dear life until the bitter end.  Be prepared for a most unique night of theatre as Knowles’ script completely rewrites the rules of the game.  The fourth wall dissolves as the actors interact with the audience.  The set consists of a few benches and chairs which the performers manipulate to create the scenes in conjunction with vivid vocal descriptions.  The time of the play rapidly shifts back and forth from present to past and from reality to memories.

Lara Marsh has constructed a powerhouse show as she shares Knowles’ tale of the Sheffield Blitz.  Occurring on the nights of December 12 and 15, this event was the devastating bombing of Sheffield, England (the munitions center of the country during World War II) by the German Luftwaffe.  Ms Marsh’s meticulous direction leaves no beat unearthed in the telling of this heavy tale.  The staging is unbelievable as her 4 actors make full use of the tiny performance space in an exhausting feat of acting as these men are constantly on the move from start to finish.  Ms Marsh has also led her thespians to sterling performances making for one of the best pieces of ensemble acting I’ve seen in quite a spell.

Before getting into individual performances, it’s important to understand the effectiveness of this ensemble.  This play has long stretches of broken, fragmented dialogue with cues that don’t follow a normal flow of conversation.  I don’t believe I’ve ever seen such tight cue pickups from a cast as these gentleman just came in right on top of each other on all but a couple of occasions.  This is doubly impressive when one considers that there were often no clues to tip the actors off to their next line.  Their physicality was also splendid as the actions and scenes of this story are told largely through the body language of the performers as they paint pictures of luxury hotels, the work of a munitions mill, or the crippling injuries from being caught in a collapsing building.

Daniel Sukup is outstanding in his BSB debut as Tommy.  Sukup imbues Tommy with a wonderful sense of playfulness as he leads the hazing of the new boy, Bob, at the mill.  He’s also an incredible observer of human nature, depending on his ability to judge character to assess situations and form relationships.  Yet he also uses that talent to see to the heart of people in order to keep them at arm’s length.  Tommy’s gregarious nature is also somewhat of a mask that hides his desperate loneliness as he has no family and perpetually grieves a father lost to the horrors of war.  Sukup’s ability to switch from the fun-loving prankster to the haunted and lonely man at a moment’s notice is nothing short of uncanny.

Eddie McGonigal’s Bob is a wonderful treat for the audience.  He’s just full of sunshine and optimism and brightens situations just by stepping into a room.  McGonigal does a superlative job of portraying Bob’s innocence and naiveté.  As the new guy, McGonigal’s Bob is subject to a few practical jokes to test his mettle at the mill, but comes through them with flying colors, especially with his tireless efforts on the job.  Nothing gets Bob down for long and, even in the heart of mortal peril, his positivity serves to buoy the spirits of his friends in their darkest hour.  But McGonigal also gets to shine in a dramatic moment when Bob shares a story about his dog.  Be sure to have a tissue ready.

Eric Grant-Leanna expands his resume by another top flight performance with his interpretation of Phil.  I found Phil to be the most interesting character in the show as he is a Scotsman which makes him the outsider of the group as his friends are all British.  I found this very apropos as Phil certainly feels like an outsider due to the fact that he was drafted to go fight before a foot injury rerouted him to the mill.  Grant-Leanna does an exceptional job revealing the self-doubt that is constantly on Phil’s shoulders as he tries to make himself believe that he was not a coward for not being able to fight.  Indeed, so heavy is this doubt that Phil’s final monologue in the aftermath of the bombing had me slumping in my seat as he made a defining choice about his life.

There aren’t many who can pack intensity into a role like Daniel Dorner.  Making a rare appearance on stage, Dorner plays the role of Arthur, the leader of the group.  Dorner’s Arthur is a pillar of strength for these four friends as he grew up dirt poor yet has such strength of spirit as he always believed that someone always had it worse.  That nobility serves Arthur well as he suffers a horrific leg injury partway through the show and struggles to work through it.  Dorner sells the injury flawlessly, dragging and/or limping on the useless limb for the remainder of the play.

Charleen Willoughby’s workingmen costumes suit the era of the play to a T.  Darrin Golden’s lights are magic from the red hot glow of a forge to the yellow alert for the bombing raid to the stale shine of a single light bulb when the men are trapped in a hotel.  Eric Griffith’s sounds enhance the play’s story and drew me so deeply into it I actually jumped at a few moments when the attacks and destruction began.

Director Lara Marsh had said this play would help the audience see World War II from the British side and that it certainly does.  It is a tale of friendship, tragedy, and the strength of the human spirit.  It also removes the blinders and shows that the horrors of war often transcend the battlefield.

Operation Crucible will be performed by the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at the Jewish Community Center through Nov 19.  Showtimes are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm.  There will be a 6:30pm performance on Sunday, Oct 23.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors (65+)/Military).  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-502-4910 or visit the website at www.bsbtheatre.com.  The Jewish Community Center is located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.

Prepare to be Blitzed

The Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company will take you back in time to World War II and to Sheffield, England to experience the devastation of the Sheffield Blitz through the eyes of 4 young steelworkers.  The play is Operation Crucible by Kieran Knowles and will begin its run on October 21 at the Jewish Community Center.

The Sheffield Blitz is a reference to the worst nights of the German Luftwaffe bombing of Sheffield on the nights of December 12 and 15 in 1940.  Sheffield, a steelworks town, was targeted due to its manufacturing of armaments.  In particular, Sheffield was the only city in the UK that made 18 inch armor piercing shells.  The code name for the operation was Schmelztiegel, the German word for crucible.

Prepare yourself for a unique theatre experience as 4 actors (Daniel Sukup, Eric Grant-Leanna, Daniel Dorner, and Eddie McGonigal) share the horrific nights of the bombing on a nearly empty stage using the power of just their voices and bodies.  As director Lara Marsh stated, “I needed 4 actors who could keep up with the physicality of the play. . .who could play different characters. . .who could pantomime.”

Telling a story without benefit of scenery and extremely limited props is quite the chore, but definitely an enticing challenge.  “This is the type of theatre I want to get into. . .I hate the fourth wall,” said Daniel Sukup.

And this play certainly blurs, if not obliterates, the fourth wall.  The play eschews the normal narrative style as the story turns from the nights of the bombings to events in the past to memories of the play’s characters in rapid-fire succession.  In discussing the difficulties of the play, actor Eric Grant-Leanna said, “Memorizing lines [is the toughest].  In most plays, your cues come from an actor saying something to you, but that isn’t the case here.  You’ve got to know what to say and when you’re supposed to say it and you can’t paraphrase because you’ll be losing something.”

Actor Eddie McGonigal furthered that thought when he said, “You’ve got to know your lines and your intentions from the very start.”

Director Lara Marsh believes in sharing stories worth telling and hopes the audience “learns something about the war from the British side.  We know all about it from the American side.”

Operation Crucible opens on October 21 and runs through November 19.  The show will take place under the auspices of the Brigit St Brigit Theatre Company at the Jewish Community Center located at 333 S 132nd St in Omaha, NE.  Showtimes are Fri and Sat at 7:30pm with one Sunday performance on Oct 23 at 6:30pm.  Tickets cost $25 ($20 for students/seniors (65+)/Military).  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-502-4910 or visit the website at www.bsbtheatre.com.