Flash! Bam!! Alakazam!!

The Wicked Witch of the West is one of the most iconic villains in both literature and film.  But, what if we’ve all been fed a line about her evil?  What if the official history was simply a lie?  Discover the true story of the Wicked Witch of the West in Wicked which is currently playing at the Orpheum Theatre.

I’m definitely of two minds about this show.  I was entertained.  The show is beautifully sung and strongly acted.  But the story lacks a certain punch.  The idea is definitely intriguing, but Winnie Holzman’s script based off the novel by Gregory Maguire fails to hit a home run and has to settle for a double. The first act tends to drag a bit though the developing friendship between Elphaba (Wicked Witch) and Glinda helps to sell it due to the work of the leading actresses.

The story picks up considerable steam in the second act once Elphaba has been deemed the Wicked Witch and an enemy of Oz.  The script introduces multiple storylines and even wraps them all up, but some storylines aren’t developed enough and are just bluntly ended.  However, there is some considerable skill with the way the story weaves in the characters of The Wizard of Oz where it’s clear that that story isn’t a complete lie, but a version manipulated by the true powers in Oz. 

Joe Mantello gets as much out of the script as is humanly possible.  From a technical standpoint, the show is solid as a rock.  The pace is on point.  Cue pickups tight as a drum.  The actors have been coached into strong performances and each has a well-developed character.  Mantello has a real gift for duet scenes as some of the show’s strongest moments are when just two characters are interacting and they can be full of tension and pain or dripping with tenderness and sweetness.

Some strong supporting performances come from John Bolton who plays the Wizard.  He’s more (or should I say less) than a weak man.  He’s a power addict responsible for most of Oz’s problems.  Jake Pedersen excels as Boq, a Munchkin doomed to a dire fate due to his fawning over Glinda and his angering of a powerful foe.  Lisa Howard is downright sinister as Madame Morrible, the power behind the throne.  Kimberly Immanuel has a wonderful arc as Nessarose, the crippled sister of Elphaba who seems sweet, but hides a vindictive nature that makes her worthy of her never revealed title of Wicked Witch of the East.  Michael Genet is sympathetic as Dr. Dillamond, the last animal allowed to teach at the university and a tragic victim of the elite’s desperation to hold on to power.

There’s a lot under the surface of Jordan LItz’s Fiyero.  Fiyero puts on a good front of being a lazy gadfly, but it hides a tortured unhappiness.  Litz is wonderful as he comes off as a not overly intelligent jock until an act of kindness towards a lion cub starts to peel back his layers to reveal the honorable and heroic man lurking beneath the façade.  Litz has a beautiful tenor and knows how to act through the numbers and can be delightfully humorous when he sings about “Dancing Through Life” or heartfelt and loving as he pledges love to Elphaba in “As Long As You’re Mine”.

Jennafer Newberry shines brightly as Glinda.  Newberry does a remarkable job showing us the true Glinda.  She isn’t good.  She’s a rich, stuck-up, vapid airhead used to getting her own way with a bent for malapropisms.  But it’s a joy to see how her friendship with Elphaba helps her to truly become a better person and to inspire her to overthrow the true wickedness in Oz.  Newberry also has a stunning soprano which she can use to comedic effect evidenced by “Popular” where she tries to help Elphaba fit in or use to tug your heartstrings in “I’m Not That Girl” and “For Good”.

Lissa deGuzman is stunning as Elphaba.  She is brilliant at portraying the outcast who hides her pain under the mantle of responsibility as she cares for her sister.  It’s a treat to watch her slowly work her way out of her awkwardness until she claims her role as the Wicked Witch of the West (though not in the way you may think).  deGuzman has a stunning lower soprano and she nails the show’s hallmark song “Defying Gravity” to the floor.

Evan Roider and his orchestra never miss a note in their performance.  Susan Hilferty’s costumes recall the film version of the story with its fantastical clothes and characters.  Chic Silber’s special effects add that crucial bit of magic to the show.  Tony Meola’s sounds help bolster the show with sounds of magic and raging storms.  Eugene Lee’s sets are very impressive with the ever present clock and gears and the homunculus used by the Wizard to seem all powerful.  Kenneth Posner has a good use of lights especially when acts of magic are enacted.  James Lynn Abbott’s choreography is solid, but lacks any huge moments.

In spite of the story not quite being all it could be, Wicked is definitely a pleasant evening of theatre with strong musical performances and splendid acting.  It is also certain to enthrall the kids and the kids at heart.

Wicked runs at the Orpheum Theatre through May 15.  Performances are Tues-Sat at 7:30pm, Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 1pm and 6:30pm.  Tickets range from $43.50 to $188.50 and can be obtained at www.ticketomaha.com.  The Orpheum Theatre is located at 409 S 16th St in Omaha, NE.

A Needed Shot of Christmas

Is holiday stress getting you down?  Pandemic isolation making you blue?  Well, then I’ve got the cure for you.  What you need is a shot of Christmas and Camille Metoyer Moten brings it to you in spades with Christmas In My Heart:  A Concert Featuring Camille Metoyer Moten.  This streaming performance is courtesy of the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I think what I love most about Christmas is its simple beauty and that sums up this concert.  There’s nothing flashy or showy about it.  It’s as if Metoyer Moten has simply invited you into her home for a fun night of Christmas cheer.  And if you love Christmas music, then this will most assuredly be a show for you with Christmas tunes ranging from traditional carols, sacred hymns and even an original or two.

Camille Metoyer Moten is the total package as a singer.  She has a crystal clear alto voice.  A warm, welcoming presence that fills the theatre.  And animation that adds that little cherry to the sundae of her performance.  So absorbed will you become with her golden voice that you’ll find yourself swaying and singing along with the music.

Metoyer Moten opened the night with a ringing rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” and the night only went up from there.  Personal favorite numbers were her haunting take on “Mary, Did You Know?”, the sweet “Christmas Lullaby”, a vulnerable and beautiful recitation of some of her Christmas memories that segued into “Joy to the World” and her closing with the Judy Garland classic, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”.

Metoyer Moten didn’t come alone and her friends helped further enliven the night.  Her sister, Lanette Moore, shared the wonderful short story Mary’s Precious Little Lamb.  John Morrissey gave an energetic performance of one of my favorite Christmas tunes, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”.  Paul Tranisi’s powerful baritone mesmerized with “Christmas Love Song”.  Dave Wingert supplied a bit of humor with the mirthful “Another Christmas Song”.  And Kathy Tyree kicked things up a notch with her cover of the Yuletide rocker “Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)”.

Metoyer Moten was backed by a highly talented three piece band featuring David Murphy on piano, Mark Haar on bass and Mannheim Steamroller drummer, Joey Gulizia on percussion.  The trio even got its own moment to shine with a musical version of “O Christmas Tree”.  Susie Baer-Collins staged the concert with impeccable flair.  Jim Othuse sets the stage with a Christmas tree and holly along with some gorgeous lighting from wintery blue to festive red. 

So take a little time to revisit the fun and faith of Christmas with the music of Camille Metoyer Moten.  It’s balm for a weary spirit.

Christmas In My Heart:  A Concert Featuring Camille Metoyer Moten is available for streaming from the Omaha Community Playhouse through January 3, 2021.  Tickets begin at $30 and the show can be purchased at www.showtix4u.com/events/ocp.

Photo provided by Richardson Photography

Shelterbelt Announces 24th Season

SHELTERBELT THEATRE ANNOUNCES 24th SEASON – BY LOCAL/BUY LOCAL

Shelterbelt Theatre, Omaha’s home for new plays, is thrilled to announce their 24th Season including ALL playwrights living in Omaha, Lincoln and Council Bluffs. “I am really excited about our 2016-2017 season, as it is truly local — a nice mix of familiar faces and new collaborators that will allow us to continue challenging ourselves creatively to bring new works from page to stage,” said Shelterbelt Artistic Director, Elizabeth Thompson.

“Having a season of high-quality, local works deepens the cultural landscape of Nebraska and allows us to provide our local artists with the opportunity to showcase their work where they live. This is something I love about working with Shelterbelt. It’s really fulfilling to be a part of something so rooted in home,” said Shelterbelt Executive Director, Rox-anne Wach.

Shelterbelt Season 24, 2016-2017 will feature:

REVELATION by Samuel Brett Williams

October 6 – 30, 2016

Brandon’s Southern Baptist father always taught him to be prepared for the Rapture. Rebecca is a pre-med student who was raised as an atheist. All of a sudden, people begin disappearing, the Hudson River turns to blood, and the entire state of Ohio comes down with a bad case of the boils. Brandon grabs Rebecca and tries to make it from New York City to Arkadelphia, Arkansas in hopes of finding the New Jerusalem. Revelation explores faith, love, and the American landscape in a pitch black comedy about the End Days.

THE MOTHERHOOD ALMANAC by Noah Diaz

January 27 – February 19, 2017

A series of women, scattered across time and space, search for their own perfect understanding of what it means to mother: one writes a letter to her unborn daughter on yesterday’s Burger King napkins // another delivers a motiva-tional speech about learning how to accept grief and knowing when the mothering stops // another prepares a Power-Point presentation about what it means to love someone other than herself // another raises a glass and toasts to her daughter’s new bride // and so on. The Motherhood Almanac is a fiercely passionate tapestry of stories about the life inside of each us, as told by women and the women who raised them.

CATHERLAND Book and lyrics by Becky Boesen, music by David von Kampen April 21 – May 14, 2017

Susan is an emerging writer, living the life of her dreams, complete with an adoring husband and nearly-completed first novel. When tragedy strikes, and the trajectory of her life changes, she must decide how to move forward. Searching for answers, she flees to Red Cloud, Nebraska, the childhood home of novelist Willa Cather. Guided by her curiosity and the presence of a mysterious guest, Susan discovers that life is more about beginnings than endings. A lesson in embracing the unexpected, Catherland reminds us that “where there is great love, there are always miracles.”

NEIGHBORS, LOVERS AND ALL THE OTHERS by Marie Amthor Schuett July 14 – August 6, 2017

Loyal Guerre lives a life of blue kimonos, Judy Garland, and Pavarotti. Facing a serious bout of composers block, he finds inspiration in an unlikely source – his handsome, talented neighbor who has no idea that he needs a set of curtains to separate his apartment from the rest of the world. When fate brings them together and their lives intertwine, Loyal realizes that as his fantasy becomes reality, there is much more to his neighbor than the window to his world originally revealed.

Shelterbelt is Omaha’s home for new plays – Omaha’s only theatre dedicated exclusively to producing new and unpub-lished plays. Performances are Thursday/Friday/Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 6pm (final Sunday performances at 2pm.) ($15 | general • $12 | students/seniors/TAG • $20 | musicals). Tickets will be available at http://www.shelterbelt.org (click box office), or boxoffice@shelterbelt.org or 402.341.2757.  Shelterbelt is located at 3225 California St in Omaha, NE.