The Tracks of Death

A murderer is lurking aboard the famed Orient Express.  Unfortunately for the fiend, the world’s greatest detective is also riding the train.  Will Hercule Poirot be able to solve the baffling killing of a shady businessman?  Find out in Murder on the Orient Express currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

As I stated in a previous review of this production, I’m not going to delve into plot details as I want the audience to experience the story fresh so they get maximum enjoyment out of it.  However, I can say that Ken Ludwig does an admirable job adapting Agatha Christie’s classic novel.  Ludwig stays fairly close to the source material though he does eliminate several characters which is a salient plot point and clue in the novel, but works around it pretty well.  Though known for farce, Ludwig plays this show pretty straight, yet manages to work a little humor into the story with his vaunted wordplay.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek’s direction is, on the whole, very accurate and precise.  He cuts a brutally brisk pace which keeps the audience on the edge of their seats as Poirot peels back the layers of the case.  His staging is spot on, making us feel the enclosed nature of the train and always well placing his performers so you can see their reactions to the goings-on at any given moment.  Clark-Kaczmarek also proves adept at pulling out some truly masterful performances from his thespians.  That being said, it also seemed like he tried to force a little comedy into the production as several of his actors were a little over the top which made them feel like caricatures instead of characters and didn’t always gel with the more grounded performances.

Some of the highlights of the night were Brennan Thomas who is a pretty mean S.O.B. as the murder victim, Samuel Ratchett.  Olivia Howard gives a beautiful, underplayed performance as the governess, Mary Debenham.  Ethan Dragon gives a master class in animation as the affable, and theatrical, Monsieur Bouc.

Connie Lee dominates her scenes as the obnoxious Helen Hubbard.  When Hubbard starts talking, one starts looking for her off switch as she never shuts up and has a grating personality that would even rub Mr. Rogers the wrong way.  Whether she’s frustrating passengers with late night singing and dancing or flirting with the conductor in an attempt to nab a new husband, Lee simply lights up the stage with her effervescent presence.

Daena Schweiger displays a superior dry wit as Princess Dragomiroff.  Seldom have I seen such potent hilarity come from such monotone delivery.  Schweiger knows just what words to emphasize or phrasing to utilize to get the fullest effect from Dragomiroff’s lines and her verbal sparring with Lee’s Hubbard was one of the show’s shining moments.

Seth Maisel wows in his Playhouse debut with a superb turn as Hercule Poirot.  Maisel easily conveys Poirot’s uber fastidious (bordering on OCD) personality with his hyper attention to details and the wiping of his hands after shaking with an old friend.  He also well communicates his genius with his rapid-fire deductions and ability to see through red herrings.  Maisel also brought a fantastic intensity to the role which I thoroughly enjoyed.  Maisel’s Poirot kowtows to nobody and has a highly developed sense of justice which is put to the test when that sense of justice is challenged by his dedication to the law.  His realization that, for once, justice and the law may not be one and the same leads to a haunting monologue excellently and subtly delivered by Maisel.

Justin Payne’s score had me ready for a night of mystery with its relentless eeriness.  Jim Othuse surpassed himself with this set as the Orient Express became another character with its luxurious sleeping compartments, elegant dining room, and imposing edifice during a scene done on the back of the train.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes were right on the money with the elegant suit of the impeccably dressed Poirot, the doughty dress of the uber religious Greta Ohlsson, or the spiffy uniform of Michel, the conductor highlighting some of her costuming prowess.  John Gibilisco and Tim Burkhart impressed with their sounds whether it be a gunshot, a chugging and braking train, or the flashback effect used on voices during the denouement.

The show will assuredly hold your attention and perhaps even have you white knuckling your armrests at points.  With its blitzkrieg pace, strong writing, assured direction, and solid performances, Murder on the Orient Express does provide a gripping night of mystery.

Murder on the Orient Express runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 10.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

P.S. I Love You

Josh Peyton and Sarah Schrader star in “Dear Jack, Dear Louise”

During World War II, Cpt. Jacob “Jack” Ludwig, an Army surgeon, began a correspondence with aspiring actress, Louise Rabiner.  Over the course of 3 years, their trading of messages blossomed into true love.  Follow the evolution and the ups and downs of their relationship in Dear Jack, Dear Louise currently playing at the Omaha Playhouse.

Ken Ludwig called this show a love letter to his parents as it is based on the true story of their courtship.  I don’t know if he used the actual letters written by his parents, but if he didn’t, he certainly managed to replicate the feel of a mail correspondence.  The dialogue of the letters perfectly captures that initial spark of interest, the getting to know each other, even the difficulties and squabbles every relationship undergoes, and the glow of real love.  It is also laced with the trademark wit and humor of Ludwig, but also shows his skills as a dramatic writer as he features some heavy moments that have all the subtlety of kissing a runaway freight train.

Susie Baer-Collins provides an outstanding piece of direction with the production, possibly one of her very best and that is saying something.  Her sure hand deftly handles this variation on the duologue and the conversations always snap and sparkle with realism and vitality.  I absolutely loved the staging with one character always slightly in front of another to show that they were in two different places.  Baer-Collins also pulled an extraordinary pair of performances from her two thespians.  If the quality of this show is an indicator of the rest of the season, it’s going to be an amazing ride at the Playhouse this year.

Over the past few seasons, Josh Peyton has established himself as one of the most believable actors in Omaha.  There is an extemporaneousness and naturalness to his performances that makes it seem like he is never acting, just being.  And this show is certainly no exception.  Peyton is sensational in the role of Jack Ludwig.  He reminded me of my own pop (who courted my mother through letters and tapes during the Vietnam War) with his quiet nature and dry wit.  His timidity in his early letters is so sweet and it was a joy to watch his confidence grow in proportion to his burgeoning love for Louise.  Peyton’s reactions are always just right and equal parts hilarious and haunting when the moment calls for them.  He also has a superb physicality which not only strengthen those expressions and reactions, but tells stories of their own such as dodging bullets and bombs and crawling through the dirt during hellish battles of the war.

I see great things in store for Sarah Schrader’s theatrical future after her phenomenal debut in this show. She is an absolute dynamo as Louise Rabiner and just seemed to quiver with energy.  Schrader was a perfect blend of sweet and tart as she could write very sensitive letters and then drop an epithet or pitch a mild fit in the blink of an eye.  Her animation blew out the scale and was always appropriate for the high energy actress with an obvious joie de vivre.  Schrader was equally impressive in the show’s heavier moments as she deals with the heartaches and fears of courting a soldier.

John Gibilisco’s usage of sound was some of the best I’ve heard in a show especially with the explosion of bombs and the belching of gunfire.  Jim Othuse created a simple set of tables, wardrobe, and shelves that provide the audience an opportunity to fill in the rest of the details with their own imaginations.  Othuse’s lights were remarkable with the flashing lights of rockets, the solo spotlights of sadder moments, and the lighting up of the theatre for VE Day.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes were spot on with Ludwig’s period military uniform and fatigues and the elegant 40s style dresses for Louise.

This was one of the most personally satisfying shows I’ve seen in recent years and, though the season be young, I think Peyton & Schrader have set an awfully high bar in terms of performances.  Get a ticket and you’ll see what I mean.

Dear Jack, Dear Louise runs at the Playhouse through Sept 19.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets stat at $36 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by calling 402-553-0800, or visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Needs Some Passengers for the Locomotive of Death

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) is holding auditions for the upcoming production of Murder on the Orient Express on Saturday, July 10 at 10:30 a.m. at Revive! Center Omaha, Sunday, July 11 at 1 p.m. at OCP and Monday, July 12 at 1 p.m. at OCP.

Through upholding high ethical standards, demonstrating respect for all and consciously working to provide diverse representation, OCP is committed to creating an inclusive and safe environment in which all community members feel a sense of belonging, and does not discriminate in casting practices on the basis of an individual’s ethnicity, age, gender, physical and cognitive ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, country of origin or other factors. Omaha Community Playhouse is committed to diverse and inclusive casting.

Production: Murder on the Orient Express

Adapted by: Ken Ludwig

Director: Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek

Show Dates: Sept. 17 – Oct. 10, 2021

Omaha Community Playhouse, Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Performances are Wednesdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre. Actors are called to the theatre one hour before curtain.

Rehearsals: Begin August 1, 2021

Show Synopsis: A thrilling whodunit set aboard the world’s most famous luxury locomotive, Murder on the Orient Express will keep you guessing until the very end. When the Orient Express becomes stranded by a snowstorm, a passenger is found stabbed to death in his private room. With the murderer still on board, a detective must solve the crime before the train reaches its destination.

Roles: Hercule Poirot – Male identifying, all ethnicities: A famous Belgian

Monsieur Bouc – Male identifying, all ethnicities: A Belgian man

Mary Debenham – Female identifying, all ethnicities: A governess

Hector MacQueen – Male identifying, all ethnicities: Rachett’s personal secretary

Michel and Conductor/Marcel – Male identifying, all ethnicities: one actor will play two roles

Princess Dragomiroff – Female identifying, all ethnicities: A Russian dowager

Greta Ohlsson – Female identifying, all ethnicities: Princess Dragomiroff’s traveling companion

Countess Andrenyi – Female identifying, all ethnicities: A countess through marriage

Helen Hubbard – Female indentifying, all ethnicities: an outspoken and flamboyant American from the Midwest

Colonel Arbutnot – Male identifying, all ethnicities: Scotsman

Samuel Rachett – Male identifying, all ethnicities: middle aged American businessman

Auditions: Those who wish to audition may choose one of the following three audition dates:

§ Saturday, July 10, 10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.

Revive Center Omaha, 2402 Lizzie Robinson Ave. (24th & Lake), Omaha, NE. 68111

§ Sunday, July 11, 1:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68132

§ Monday, July 12, 7:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE 68132

Callbacks: Monday, July 19, 7:00 p.m.

Notes: Auditions are by appointment only. Please contact Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com to schedule an audition appointment and request audition paperwork and sides.

Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.

When arriving to audition at the Playhouse, please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side of the building.

Please Bring: All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form. To expedite the check-in process, please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

COVID-19 In accordance with the CDC, if an individual is not vaccinated, they must wear a face mask. If

Protocols: an individual is vaccinated, they can decide whether to wear a face mask or not. All performers are required to be fully vaccinated. Proof of vaccination will be required upon casting.

Contact: For more information, contact Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com or (402) 553-4890.

OCP Announces Auditions for Season Premiere, “Dear Jack, Dear Louise”

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Auditions for:

Dear Jack, Dear Louise

by Ken Ludwig

Directed by Susan Baer Collins

Rehearsals Begin: Sunday July 11, 2021

Production Dates: August 20 – September 19, 2021
Performances are Thursdays – Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. in the Howard Drew Theatre. Actors are called to the theatre one hour before curtain.

Auditions:
Saturday, June 12, 11:00 – 2:00 p.m.
Revive Center Omaha 2402 Lizzie Robinson Ave., Omaha, NE 68111

Sunday, June 13, 2:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE, 68132

Monday, June 14, 6:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Omaha Community Playhouse, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132

Callbacks: Wednesday, June 16, 6:30 p.m.

For those auditioning at Revive Center Omaha: Auditioners may enter through the glass doors on the south side of the building along Lizzie Robinson Ave. Parking is available in the parking lot west of the building, adjacent to the Family Housing Advisory Services building. Face masks are required while inside the building.

For those auditioning at Omaha Community Playhouse: Please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side of the building.

Please contact Becky to schedule an audition appointment and request audition paperwork and sides.

The Story: U.S. Army Captain Jack Ludwig, a military doctor stationed in Oregon, begins writing to Louise Rabiner, an aspiring actress in New York City, hoping to meet her someday if the war will allow. But as the war continues, it threatens to end their relationship, before it even starts. Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig tells the joyous, heartwarming story of his parents’ courtship during World War II and the results are anything but expected.

Characters:

Jack Ludwig – Male identifying, early to mid-thirties, all ethnicities. An Army medical officer serving in the Second World War, stationed in Portland, OR. A bit reserved.

Louise Rabiner – Female identifying, mid-twenties to early thirties, all ethnicities. An aspiring actress from Brooklyn, living in New York City. Outgoing and stylish.

Please bring all contact information, personal schedules, a list of rehearsal conflicts and resume if available. To expedite the check-in process, please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

Face masks are required for all auditioners, staff and volunteers while indoors during the audition process. All masks must be worn properly in accordance with CDC guidelines, covering both the nose and mouth. All performers are required to be fully vaccinated. Proof of vaccination will be required upon casting.

For more information, please contact Becky Deiber
____________________________________________

OCP Needs Some Sleuths to Solve a Murder

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Auditions for:

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express
Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig


Directed by Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek


Production Dates: Feb. 26–March 21, 2021 | Hawks Mainstage
Rehearsals: Begin Jan. 17, 2021

In-Person, by appointment only Auditions
Sunday, Nov. 29 | 2 p.m. in Dance Studio at OCP (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

To schedule an audition time and to receive paperwork, email Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com

Enter through the Stage Door on the West side of the building. For those auditioning in person: Temperatures of auditioners will be taken upon arrival. Auditioners will be required to wear a facemask. Auditions will be held individually. Callbacks may include small groups. Provided seating will be plastic or metal chairs only, no fabric upholstery. The audition space will be appropriately sanitized. When arriving to audition, please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side of the building.

Virtual Auditions via Zoom
Monday, Nov. 30 | 6 p.m.
—Email Becky Deiber at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com to schedule a virtual audition via Zoom. Video Submission Auditions being accepted now through Nov 29. You can also submit a vocal audition video to Becky Deiber.


Omaha Playhouse Announces 96th Season

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) has announced the titles to be produced during their 96th season, which will run from August 2020 through June 2021. Subscriptions for OCP’s 2020/21 season are now available for purchase through the OCP Box Office at 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

OMAHA COMMUNITY PLAYHOUSE 2020/21 SEASON PRODUCTIONS

*Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra

Aug. 7–16, 2020

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Featuring Billy McGuigan | Music Director Steve Gomez | ©2007 by Rave On Productions

Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra is a high-energy concert experience packed with rock ‘n’ roll mega hits from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Led by international touring artist Billy McGuigan and backed by the 14-piece Pop Rock Orchestra, these all-star musicians serve up fresh, original arrangements covering everything from the Beach Boys to Billy Joel, and everything in between.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

Clybourne Park

Aug. 21–Sept. 20, 2020

Howard Drew Theatre

By Bruce Norris

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning comedy Clybourne Park serves as prequel and sequel to A Raisin in the Sun. A 1950s couple faces sharp backlash from neighbors for selling their home in the all-white Clybourne Park to a black family. Fifty years later, a white couple attempts to purchase the same home in the now predominantly black neighborhood, igniting fears of gentrification.

Disclaimer: Contains adult language and themes of racial tension.

Kinky Boots

Sept. 25–Oct. 25, 2020

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Book by Harvey Fierstein | Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper

Original Broadway Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Based on the Miramax motion picture Kinky Boots

Written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth

Flashy, inspiring and downright fun, Kinky Boots is the Tony Award®-winning musical warming hearts around the world. After returning to his hometown to manage his late father’s failing shoe factory, Charlie meets Lola, an outspoken and unapologetic drag queen in need of a sturdy pair of exotic boots. Together, the unlikely pair cobble a heartwarming tale of acceptance and friendship.

Orchestra Sponsor: Woodmen Life

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

Water by the Spoonful

Oct. 16–Nov. 8, 2020

Howard Drew Theatre

By Quiara Alegría Hudes

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Water by the Spoonful follows Elliott, an Iraq war vet struggling to care for his dying aunt, and Odessa, a recovering drug addict fighting to stay sober with the support of her online companions. When their two worlds unexpectedly collide, everyone’s progress comes crashing down in this thought-provoking and beautifully human tale.

Disclaimer: Contains adult themes and language.

Presenting Sponsor: Conagra Brands Foundation

*A Christmas Carol

Nov. 20–Dec. 23, 2020

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Written by Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones

Musical Orchestration by John J. Bennett

It just isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol! Experience Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition as Ebenezer Scrooge takes us on a life-changing journey to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Filled with stunning Victorian costumes, festive music and crisp, wintry sets, A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder that love and generosity are the heart of the Christmas holiday.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

Presenting Sponsor: First National Bank

Artistic Team Sponsor: Omaha Steaks

Orchestra Sponsor: KPMG

Bakery Shoppe/Special Effects Sponsor: Rotella’s Bakery

*Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience

Nov. 27–Dec. 31, 2020

Howard Drew Theatre

Featuring Billy McGuigan | Music Director Matthew McGuigan | ©2007 by Rave On Productions

Cap off 2020 with a shot of Beatlemania! Yesterday and Today is the smash hit, all-request Beatles show controlled by the audience. Share your favorite stories and relive your fondest memories with the songs that defined a generation. With no two shows the same, fans will be dancing in the aisles and singing along to all their favorite hits.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

The Miracle Worker

Jan. 15–Feb. 7, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

By William Gibson

The Miracle Worker is the incredible true story of Helen Keller, deaf and blind since age one, and the extraordinary woman who changed her life. Unable to communicate with their daughter, the Keller family enlists the help of Annie Sullivan, a woman determined to rescue Helen from the dark, tortured silence imprisoning her mind. A story that has inspired audiences for generations.

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

The Scottsboro Boys

Feb. 12–March 14, 2021

Howard Drew Theatre

Music and Lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb

Book by David Thompson

Original Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman

The Scottsboro Boys follows the wrongful conviction of nine black teenagers in Scottsboro, Alabama in the 1930s—an infamous case that helped ignite the modern civil rights movement. From the composers of Chicago and Cabaret, this 12-time Tony® Award nominee alternates toe-tapping musical numbers with heart-wrenching ballads to tell a harrowing tale of bravery and strength in the face of great adversity.

Disclaimer: Contains themes and language related to racial tension.

In the Heights

Feb. 26–March 21, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Before there was Hamilton, there was In the Heights. From the revolutionary musical mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, this Tony® Award-winning musical recounts three days in the vibrant Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights, NYC, where the Spanish-speaking residents chase American dreams. This bubbly fusion of rap, salsa, Latin pop and soul music boasts an infectious enthusiasm from beginning to end.

Presenting Sponsor: Heider Family Foundation

Producing Partner: Physicians Mutual

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

*THE CANDY PROJECT PRESENTS:

Gutenberg!  The Musical!

March 18–21, 2021

Howard Drew Theatre

By Anthony King and Scott Brown

Starring Steve Krambeck and Dan Chevalier

Join The Candy Project, friends of OCP, for a special presentation of Gutenberg! The Musical! A pair of aspiring playwrights audition their newest work—a big, splashy musical about the inventor of the printing press—for an audience of potential investors. This two-man musical spoof offers an unending supply of enthusiasm and laughs.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

April 16–May 9, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig

A thrilling whodunit set aboard the world’s most famous luxury locomotive, Murder on the Orient Express will keep you guessing until the very end. When the Orient Express becomes stranded by a snow storm, a passenger is found stabbed to death in his private room. With the murderer still on board, a detective must solve the crime before the train reaches its destination.

Producing Partner: UNMC

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

Outside Mullingar

May 7–30, 2021

Howard Drew Theatre

By John Patrick Shanley

This charming romantic comedy follows Anthony and Rosemary, two introverts who grew up on neighboring farms in rural Ireland. Rosemary secretly fell in love with Anthony at age six, but after a bought with heartbreak, Anthony swore off women forever. The now middle-aged pair must overcome their own aloofness—as well as a family property dispute—to find their way to one another.

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka

May 28–June 27, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Adapted for the Stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald

Based on the Book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Oompa-Loompa-Doom-Pa-Dee-Doo! We’ve got a family favorite for you! Grab your golden ticket as Willy Wonka takes your family on a whimsical tour of the chocolate factory—with Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, and all of your favorite characters. Featuring songs from the hit film, Willy Wonka will open up a world of pure imagination.

Presenting Sponsor: Mutual of Omaha

Orchestra Sponsor: Kiewit

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

Pardon Me, Boys, is that the Murdering Choo-Choo?

A shady businessman is found murdered in his locked sleeping compartment on the Orient Express.  Will the famed Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot, be able to solve the mystery with his formidable “little gray cells” or has he finally met a killer too cunning for him?  Find out in Murder On the Orient Express adapted by Ken Ludwig from a novel written by Agatha Christie.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

It’s awfully hard to write about the plot without being too spoilery so I’ll simply say that Ludwig does an admirable job hitting the essential points of the classic mystery.  With his involvement, I was expecting more of a comedy, but Ludwig plays this script surprisingly straight, though he does leave room open for a bit of over the topness with some of the characters.  The mash-up of comedy and drama weaken the first act slightly, but he sticks the ending on the second act as he seems to have decided to be almost totally dramatic with that act.

Todd Uhrmacher provides a solid piece of direction for the production, handling the dual natures of comedy and drama in the first act quite well and excelling with the nearly purely dramatic second act.  I liked the staging of his show as he placed his actors well in the cramped confines of the train without the actors ever seeming bunched up or blocking each other.  Uhrmacher guided his actors to well-defined performances as each imbued a distinct character.

Some enjoyable performances were supplied by Michael Taylor-Stewart who comes off as somewhat off-kilter and creepy as the secretary of the murder victim and Gene Hinkle as the genial CEO of the company that owns the Orient Express.  But Jeff Garst deserves special notice for an exceptional performance as the conductor, Michel.  He gives Michel a very efficient nature and he nails a brief, heart-wrenching moment at the show’s finale.

Jon Flower is an extremely worthy Hercule Poirot.  He has a firm grip on the sleuth with a flawless Belgian accent, well communicating Poirot’s genius with his deductions, displaying a very gentlemanly and cultured nature, and demonstrating Poirot’s fastidious personality with the care he gives to Poirot’s signature moustache.  Flower also brings a certain weightiness to Poirot who has to wrestle with a choice between his devotion to the law and his dedication to justice which, for the first time in his career, may not be one and the same.

D. Laureen Pickle is utterly obnoxious as Mrs. Hubbard. Almost from the get-go one begins looking for a muzzle to clamp shut the mouth of the man-hungry, stuck-up, grating American snob. Pickle plays this character slightly over the top, but always keeps it in the realm of believability.  She also deftly handles the character’s more dramatic moments when certain secrets begin to come to light.

I don’t think Joey Lorincz could design a bad set even if he was working blindfolded.  He has created one of the most ambitious sets I’ve seen on the Bellevue stage with a three room revolving set that shows an elegant dining room, an office/rear of the train, and the tiny, sleeping compartments one would expect to find on a train.  Lorincz does double duty on lights which were also quite effective, especially the dark blue of the recalling of clues during the denouement.  Todd Urhmacher also pulls double duty with his designing of the costumes which evoke memories of the 1930s with the elegant dresses of the ladies and the snappy suits of the men and the classic conductor’s tunic for Michel.  My program lacked a credit for sound effects, but liked the sounds of the train whistle and the rumble of the wheels on the track.

I thought the pace of the first act could have had a snappier pace and there were a few moments when speaking actors were in darkness.  Volume and projection could have been a bit stronger on the parts of some of the actors and accents were a bit of a mixed bag.

Ultimately, this show is a very pleasant theatre experience with the combination of a faithful telling of a legendary mystery and compelling characters making for a respite from the real world for a few hours.

Murder On the Orient Express plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through Feb 2.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com or calling 402-291-1554 during the hours of 10am-4pm Mon-Sat.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

The Game is Askew

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and to protect his heir, Henry Baskerville, when he receives an ominous warning to stay away from the moor.  Is there a human hand guiding this evil or is there truth to the curse of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  Find out when you watch Baskerville by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I had been looking forward to this show all season.  Hearing the name “Sherlock Holmes” is like ringing the chow bell as I’ve been an avid reader of these mysteries since childhood.  As a result of this, I admit to being a bit biased when it comes to Holmesian entertainment.  But that bias takes the form of having rigorous standards whenever I watch a Holmesian production or read a Holmesian story.  With that being said, I am pleased to say that Ludwig’s take on this classic tale more than meets my standards.  It’s almost completely faithful to the original story and manages to add its own unique flavor with a high dose of farcical humor well executed by a contingent of comedic clowns.

Suzanne Withem is the ringmaster of this circus and she stages it as a classic Vaudeville production with a bare-bones set.  Her direction is sterling as she never allows the energy to wane and she knows how to mine the funny out of the production with a series of well-timed jokes and fourth wall breaking moments.  Ms Withem leads her actors to strong, brilliant performances with a pell mell telling of this mystery.

I salute the superhuman efforts of the 3 actors of the play (Kevin Goshorn, Sara Scheidies, and Guillermo Joseph Rosas) as they rotate between playing nearly 20 different characters requiring complete shifts in costume, body language, accents, and voice to portray the numerous roles.  Some examples of their stellar work are Goshorn’s highly Texan Henry Baskerville, his obnoxiously crude Inspector Lestrade who constantly hocks loogies and scratches his behind, and a hilarious cameo as a charwoman cleaning 221B Baker St; Ms Scheidies’ overwrought Mrs. Barrymore who overgestures and oddly shuffles her feet, her busybodying Mrs. Hudson, or her energetic Cartwright, one of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; Rosas shines as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore who has a permanently stooped posture and a wonky back; the giddy naturalist, Stapleton who has an affinity for butterflies, and a proud Castillian concierge of the Northumberland Hotel.

I’d also like to applaud the work of the roustabouts, Kaitlin Maher and Gillian Pearson, who add their own humorous touches as they bring on props, make sound effects, and sometimes are the props.

Catherine Vazquez’s Dr. Watson is the show’s straight man and narrator.  She does a wonderful job exhibiting Watson’s stalwart loyalty to Holmes, his courage under fire, and his own keen intellect, though his powers of observation and deduction are far less pronounced than those of Holmes.  She does need to project a bit more to overcome BLT’s backbox nature.  Unlike the other characters, Watson needs to be the most grounded, which Ms Vazquez certainly was, but I think she still had some leeway to elevate his energy a bit.

Ben Beck is a pitch perfect Sherlock Holmes.  Not only does he well exude Holmes’ rude, unfriendly nature, but he also well communicates Holmes’ manic energy when the thrill of an investigation is on him.  Beck well handles Holmes’ complex dialogue as he often speaks in almost stream of consciousness cadences as he makes his rapid-fire deductions. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being Holmes to being the actor playing Holmes when miscues and other errors sprang up to throw off the Vaudeville troupe.

Brendan Greene-Wash has skillfully designed a cheap looking set of cutout woods and boxes that look like they could be packed up and whisked to the next town on a moment’s notice.  Zachary Kloppenborg’s costumes are spot-on and quite elegant from Holmes’ dressing gown, to Watson’s sharp suits, to the Texan garb of Henry Baskerville, the buttling suit of Barrymore, and the raggedy clothes of the Irregulars.  Joshua Mullady’s lights always enhance any production with the eerie ghostly lights used in the story of the curse of the Baskervilles to the shadowy night scenes in Baskerville Hall.

I thought I saw a few blips such as fading or dropped accents and the mixing of pronouns in regards to Watson, but as the show is presented as a troupe doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I can’t help but wonder if these “blips” were more subtle jokes to tie into the show’s running gag of little things going wrong here and there.  In any case, Baskerville is an extremely satisfying romp that does justice to a classic Holmes mystery while making bellies jiggle with laughter.

Baskerville plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 19.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 or visiting the web page at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

The Game Will be Afoot at BLT

BELLEVUE LITTLE THEATRE PRESENTS
“BASKERVILLE” AUDITIONS

Saturday, February 9, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm
Sunday, February 10, 2019 @ 1:00 – 4:00 pm

Interested parties need only attend one day of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you.

Actors should come prepared to move (not dance), demonstrate a variety of accents and dialects, and read from the script.

Please bring a resume and head shot if you have them and a list of conflicts between March 18 and May 19. Excessive conflicts and conflicts after April 19 may affect casting decisions.

Callbacks: Sunday, February 17
Rehearsals will begin February 18 (evenings and weekends)
Performance Dates: May 3 – 19, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Questions? Contact Director, Suzanne Withem at suzannewithem@gmail.com

“Baskerville,” by Ken Ludwig, is a comedic retelling of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Ludwig’s version, three actors play nearly 40 supporting characters to the leads, Holmes and Dr. Watson.

Actors of all genders will be considered for all roles, and actors of any gender, race, or ethnicity who are 18 or older are encouraged to audition. All actors will utilize various dialects, but a strong standard British dialect is required.

Characters:
* Sherlock Holmes: (any age; any gender) The world’s greatest detective is sophisticated, quick-witted, and passionate. He is an English gentleman who is very precise in speech and manner. This actor plays only one role.
* Dr. John Watson: (any age; any gender) A kind amiable doctor and Sherlock Holmes’s faithful sidekick. A man of action, intellect and deep emotion. He is also very British.
* Actor 1: (any age; any gender) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily the villains and baddies. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 2: (any age; any gender – though likely male identifying) Plays nearly a dozen characters – primarily heroes and gentlemen. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects.
* Actor 3: (any age; any gender – though likely female identifying) Plays more than a dozen characters – primarily maids, nurses, and damsels in distress. Must be a versatile character actor adept a physical comedy and various accents and dialects and willing to challenge traditional gender roles.
* Roustabouts and Foley Artists: (any age; any gender) – These two or three nonspeaking roles will be cast and treated as members of the acting company. They will assist with scene changes, participate in comedy bits, and serve as Foley artists providing live sound effects for the production from onstage. They should be creative problems solvers adept at physical comedy and familiar with silent storytelling. They are vital to the success of keeping the “trunk show” design of the production moving forward and creating the world of the theatre in which the play is performed.

The Bellevue Little Theatre, an all volunteer organization, maintains an “equal opportunity” policy for volunteer recruitment of both board and production positions. Auditions are open to the general public, with the same “equal opportunity” policy. All roles are open for audition except an occasional role is precast and is so noted in the audition notice.

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

‘Ladies’ Leave ‘Em Laughing in the Aisles

Meet Leo Cark and Jack Gable.  They are 2 struggling Shakespearian actors of dubious talent and meager means.  When they stumble onto a chance to steal 2/3 of a multimillion dollar fortune by posing as the long lost relatives of a dying woman, they throw caution to the wind and put their acting skills to the test.  And it is a mighty difficult test as the missing relatives happen to be women.  This is Leading Ladies by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

A big part of the magic of theatre is that if you change a few elements of a production it becomes brand new all over again.  Just a few months ago I reviewed this show for the Omaha Community Playhouse.  With that performance still fresh in my memory, I got to see an exciting, rib tickling new take on it due to a simple change of director and cast and crew.  This is why one can see the same show over and over and over again and it is still something unique and original.

Brandon McShaffrey truly knows what makes for good farce.  His direction of tonight’s show was genius as he not only knew where and when to add the ludicrous elements, but he also managed to add a sizable amount of realism to the production.  His actors were honest to goodness people as opposed to caricature and he led the lot of them to sterling performances that left the audience rolling in the aisles.

This show is truly an ensemble piece with every actor getting a chance to shine.  Madeline Thomas is simply cute as a button and deliriously ditzy as Audrey.  She may not be too bright, but she’s building her brain one complex word at a time.  Todd Davison and Sean Powell make for a great father/son act as the talentless physician, Doc Myers, and his nerdy, willowy son, Butch.  Andy Brown provides some laughs as Rev. Duncan Wooley, the cheapskate, milquetoast fiancée of the play’s leading lady.  But watch out for Jonna Wiseman as barbed tongued Aunt Florence as she steals every scene she’s in with her acidic antics.

With the supporting cast providing such a strong foundation, it would be nearly impossible for this show to fail and it gets a further boost from its three leads, Michael McIntire, Sean Riley, and Kara Overlien, who admirably carry the bulk of the show on their formidably talented shoulders.

I was extraordinarily impressed with Kara Overlien’s portrayal of Meg.  Ms Overlien is just so. . .genuine as the young heiress.  She plays Meg as a decent woman with a strong streak of integrity as she plans to marry Rev. Wooley for taking care of her after the death of her parents.  But she also gets a lot of joy out of life.  She has passion for the theatre and has a surprising amount of potential as a performer.  She loves music and is a skilled dancer.  In fact, her solo dance number to a radio song is one of the best moments of the night.  Ms Overlien also has incredible facial animation as her reactions to the events swirling about her were always extemporaneous and spot-on.

Sean Riley does so much with so little in his interpretation of Jack Gable.  A slight grin here and a little gesture there had the crowd eating out of Riley’s hand.  Riley’s Gable may be the less talented member of the acting duo, but he might be the mentally swifter of the two.  Riley comes up with absurd sign language as the deaf and dumb “Stephanie” and also knows how to sneak hugs out of Audrey.  He’s also got a bit of the devil in him as he makes Leo’s wooing of Meg more difficult with his insinuations about why we never seem to see Leo and “Maxine” together as well as messing with Leo during their performance at the Moose Lodge.  Riley clearly had a ball with the role and it showed with a stellar performance.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a skilled blending of over the topness and realism as the one provided by Michael McIntire’s rendition of Leo Clark.  McIntire’s Clark is truly a good actor, but can’t seem to catch a break.  When he hatches the plan of stealing the fortune he throws, and I mean THROWS, himself in the role of “Maxine”.  McIntire is larger than life as Clark playing Maxine and he dazzlingly moves between the over the top “Maxine” to the natural Leo without missing a beat.  His howlingly funny reactions and expression asides to the audience only further fueled his dynamic performance.

Outstanding technical elements further helped create the world of this show including Charles Johnson’s set which creates the illusion of a well to do home without being ostentatious.  Jack Smith’s costumes were snappy and elegant from the suits and tuxes for the men and the gowns and dresses for the ladies and the “leading ladies”.

Tighter cue pickups and a faster pace would have further bolstered tonight’s production, but it is still one terrific night of comedy.  The best stamp of approval I can give is that this show caused me to laugh myself into a coughing fit at several points and I saw many members of the audience doubled over in hysterics at numerous moments.  But, hey, don’t take our words for it.  Buy a ticket and experience the mirth for yourself.

Leading Ladies plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 22.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on July 1, 5, 15, and the 21 and at 2pm on June 24, 28, July 2, 7, 16, 18, 21-22.  Tickets cost $29 for the Main Floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.