Thank You for the Music. . .and the Singing. . .and the Dancing. . .and the Fun

Sophie is getting married and she wants her father to give her away.  The problem is she doesn’t know who he is, but has it narrowed down to 3 candidates.  She could ask her mom, but she doesn’t know which of the 3 it is either.  Which dad gets the honor?  Find out in Mamma Mia!, currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

I’ve always thought there was a certain genius to this script.  Catherine Johnson managed to create a musical that is almost devoid of plot (the mystery of the fathers is introduced at the top of the show and then almost forgotten about until Act II), but is so packed with fun that nobody really gives a hoot. The play’s appeal lies in the classic ABBA numbers whose lyrics are used to move the play along.

Brandon McShaffrey provides a remarkable piece of direction to this musical.  He adds a lot of little touches and flourishes that make the show far more than a jukebox musical.  He manages to make the show feel realistic by adding dramatic moments, sweet moments, and funny moments.  In short, he has transformed it into a slice of life production.  He’s also guided his actors to strong, vital performances and they are characters as opposed to caricatures.

Nothing warms the cockles of my heart more than seeing a supporting musical cast that gives their all to a show.  It adds such a crucial dimension to a musical.  Without it, a show will collapse.  This cast not only fueled the show with a vibrant energy, but they were obviously having fun and a particularly infectious kind as it spread throughout the audience as the night progressed.

Some standout members of the supporting cast include Maria Konstantinidis and Megan Opalinski as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna.  Ms Konstantinidis is delightfully vain as the snobbish Tanya while Ms Opalinski had the crowd roaring as the fiercely liberated, yet man-hungry Rosie.  Both women have beautiful singing voices and harmonize well, providing memorable moments in harmony with “Dancing Queen” and in solos such as Ms Konstantinidis’ turn in “Does Your Mother Know” and Ms Opalinski’s take on “Take a Chance on Me”.

Other strong performances come from Trevor Berger who is sweet and sincere as Sophie’s fiancée, Sky, and Danny Vaccaro as Harry Bright, a former headbanger (at least in his mind) now turned wealthy stuffed shirt with a heart of gold.

Megan Arrington is splendid in the role of Sophie.  She does an excellent job presenting Sophie’s search for that missing part of her identity, but she also manages to bring a, oh, let’s call it duplicitous mischief to the role.  Sophie is a bit underhanded as she lies to her fathers to get them to come to her wedding, keeps almost everyone in the dark as to their inclusion, and the wedding may actually be a scheme to discover the identity of her dad.  But there is nothing diabolical about her actions.  Sophie just wants to understand herself completely.

Miss Arrington possesses a gorgeous upper alto/lower soprano and she shines in numbers such as “I Have a Dream” and “The Name of the Game”.

Faith Sandberg sizzles as Donna.  She definitely embodies 70s flower power as she boldly and unapologetically lives life as a single, entrepreneurial mother.  She lives life on her terms and anyone who disagrees with it can get to stepping.  But she also brings a deep sensitivity to the character and has a tangible love for her daughter.  Ms Sandberg turns her songs into performance pieces as she acts through them as opposed to simply singing.  Some of her shining moments come with her renditions of “Mamma Mia!”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “Our Last Summer”.

Alan Gillespie gets the character with the most arc as Sam Carmichael.  Sam actually has a genuine story and Gillespie plays it for all its worth as he adds lovely emotional beats and even adds a touch of haunting sadness to Sam.  Gillespie also has a powerful tenor voice and has one of the night’s most memorable numbers in “S.O.S.”.

David Foster provides an impeccable piece of choreography.  Not only are his dancers silky smooth, but the choreography is also original, fun, and even funny, especially with the male ensemble’s work in “Lay All Your Love on Me”.  Shon Causer’s lights really enhance the scenes, especially the use of light and shadows when characters give private monologues.  Star Turner has designed a nice little villa which evokes a feeling of age and dilapidation.  Kevin Casey and his orchestra provide a tuneful night of entertainment.

This show is exactly what it presents itself as:  a pure unadulterated fun fest.  You’ll feel good by the time the night is through and if you’re not having fun, well, I suspect you probably don’t have a pulse.

Mamma Mia! plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 8.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 24, July 3, 7 and 2pm on June 24, 26-27, 30, July 6, 8.  Tickets cost $31 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets, contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Take A Chance on It . . .

Sophie is getting married and she’s inviting her dad.  The trouble is that she doesn’t know who he is.  Using her mother’s diary, she has discovered three possible candidates, but will she be able to discover which one, if any, is her pop before her big day?  This is the story of Mamma Mia! written by Catherine Johnson with music and lyrics by Benny Andersson, Bjorn Ulvaeus, and Stig Anderson.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Mamma Mia! is one of those shows that’s short on story, but long on fun.  It’s a crowd pleasing, raucous romp where the tale is meant to take a back seat to the music.  But I promise you that you’ll be singing along and bopping to the ABBA tunes interpreted by Jim Boggess and his superior orchestra long before the night is through.  The show is strengthened remarkably by the direction of Jeff Horger who kept the energy and joy flowing through his cast and maximized a few serious moments along the way.  It also doesn’t hurt that Horger’s cast includes a slew of some of the finest talent in local musical theatre.

Frankly, I thought the work of the ensemble was worth the price of admission on its own.  If you took away the rest of the cast and just had to watch the shenanigans, antics, and singing of the chorus, it would still be a great time.  They are that good.  It’s some of the best harmonizing I’ve heard in a show and be on the lookout for Marcus Benzel as Dionysus.  Without uttering a single word, he tells a fantastic story through facial expressions and body language.

There are so many strong performances in the supporting cast that it’s hard to know where to begin.  For starters, there’s the work of Brendan Brown and Justin Eller who show some impressive comedic chops with their roles of Eddie and Pepper, the “help” at the Villa Donna.  Angela Jenson-Frey and Emily Peklo sparkle as Tanya and Rosie, the best friends of Sophie’s mother, Donna, and her former singing partners.  Ms Jenson-Frey is tremendous as the shallow and snobby, but good-hearted, Tanya and Ms Peklo is a hoot as the tomboyish Rosie.  Both ladies also have fabulous altos which they put to good use in “Dancing Queen” as well as in solo moments, specifically “Does Your Mother Know?” for Ms Jenson-Frey and “Take A Chance on Me” for Ms Peklo.

Jacob Roman and Mike Palmreuter entertain as 2 potential candidates for Sophie’s father.  Palmreuter plays Bill, a travel writer with a major phobia for commitment while Roman plays Harry, a successful British banker whose headbanging leaves something to be desired.  Roman has a particularly lovely tenor which soars in “One Last Summer”.

Victoria Luther gives a winning performance with her take on Sophie.  Ms Luther brings a real sweetness and honesty to the role.  There’s really nothing terribly sneaky about her plan to invite her possible fathers to her wedding.  Once she meets them, she’s actually mostly up front about why she invited them.  Ms Luther can also belt a tune as her soprano kept batting musical pitches in numbers such as “Honey, Honey”, “The Name of the Game”, and “Slipping Through My Fingers”.

Sarah Ebke is a force as Donna, Sophie’s mother.  Ms Ebke’s Donna is an independent woman used to standing on her own two feet as she raised a daughter plus single-handedly ran a hotel.  But she’s also a very dedicated mother and a very sensitive soul.  Ms Ebke’s magnificent alto got many of the night’s best numbers including “Mamma Mia”, “The Winner Takes it All”, and “One of Us”.

Adam Hogston has, arguably, the most well developed character in the form of Sam.  Hogston’s Sam is clearly still in love with Donna and Hogston displays a mighty emotional range and haunting emotional vulnerability as he wrestles with the multifaceted feelings wrought by his love from his nervousness about seeing Donna again to talking about the dissolution of his marriage with Sophie.  Hogston’s tenor will really touch hearts especially with his melancholic rendition of “S.O.S.”.

Jim Othuse opts for a simpler set with a hotel that evokes images of a Spanish villa and a dock with a view of the sea.  His lighting was also right on the mark with their changes with the emotional beats of the play.  Darin Kuehler’s properties added just the right touch, especially the pictures and items in Donna’s room.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are varied and strong from the beachwear, to the ABBAesque costumes seen at the curtain call and Sophie’s bachelorette party, to the hideous leisure suits worn by the potential papas at the start of Act II.  Melanie Walter’s choreography is a wonder.  Her dancers are satin smooth and I was especially impressed with the comedic swimwear number that kicked off Act II plus the curtain call number.

Mamma Mia! delivers exactly what it promises and that’s a rip roaring good time.  The songs are memorable and the dancing is entrancing.  A nearly full house seemed to agree with my assessment and another Playhouse hit seems to be on the horizon.  Oh, and I can already see the T.A.G. nomination for Best Ensemble for that curtain call.

Mamma Mia! plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 15.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Maples Repertory Theatre Announces 2018 Season

Maples Repertory Theatre is pleased to announce its 2018 season.

The summer portion of the season (June-Aug) will feature:

Mamma Mia!

This smash-hit musical featuring the songs of ABBA is one of the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals. Mamma Mia! is a delightful tale of love, laughter and friendship. Donna is slowly warming up to the notion of her daughter Sophie’s impending wedding when her life is upended by the unexpected arrival of three former beaus, all possible candidates to walk Sophie down the aisle. With all your favorite ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “Honey, Honey” and more, find out why Mamma Mia! has become an audience favorite!

Tom, Dick, and Harry

In this hilarious story of three brothers, Tom and his wife are about to adopt a baby. His brothers are anxious to help make a good impression on the woman from the agency who has arrived to check on the home and lifestyle of the prospective parents. Unfortunately Dick, who has stashed boxes of smuggled brandy and cigarettes in the house, and Harry, who is in possession of a cadaver he is planning to sell illegally to a medical school, fail miserably. The adoption agency representative is aghast – and the illegal Croatian aliens who do not speak English are no help at all.

The Drowsy Chaperone

 In a loving send-up of the frivolously inconsequential stage musicals of the Jazz Age, a fan known only as Man in Chair gives a spin to the original cast recording of one such musical, providing the audience with amusing minutiae about the play and the players.

The fall portion of the season (Late Sept/Early Oct-Dec) features:

Dearly Departed

In the Baptist backwoods of the Bible Belt, the beleaguered Turpin family proves that living and dying in the South are seldom tidy and always hilarious. Despite their earnest efforts to pull themselves together for their father’s funeral, the Turpin’s other problems keep overshadowing the solemn occasion: Firstborn Ray-Bud drinks himself silly as the funeral bills mount; Junior, the younger son, is juggling financial ruin, a pack of no-neck monster kids, and a wife who suspects him of infidelity in the family car; their spinster sister, Delightful, copes with death as she does life, by devouring junk food; and all the neighbors add more than two cents. As the situation becomes fraught with mishap, Ray-Bud says to his long-suffering wife, “When I die, don’t tell nobody. Just bury me in the backyard and tell everybody I left you.” Amidst the chaos, the Turpins turn for comfort to their friends and neighbors, an eccentric community of misfits who just manage to pull together and help each other through their hours of need, and finally, the funeral.

On Golden Pond

This is the love story of Ethel and Norman Thayer, who are returning to their summer home on Golden Pond for the forty-eighth year. He is a retired professor, nearing eighty, with heart palpitations and a failing memory—but still as tart-tongued, observant and eager for life as ever. Ethel, ten years younger, and the perfect foil for Norman, delights in all the small things that have enriched and continue to enrich their long life together. They are visited by their divorced, middle-aged daughter and her dentist fiancé, who then go off to Europe, leaving his teenage son behind for the summer. The boy quickly becomes the “grandchild” the elderly couple have longed for, and as Norman revels in taking his ward fishing and thrusting good books at him, he also learns some lessons about modern teenage awareness—and slang—in return. In the end, as the summer wanes, so does their brief idyll, and in the final, deeply moving moments of the play, Norman and Ethel are brought even closer together by the incidence of a mild heart attack. Time, they know, is now against them, but the years have been good and, perhaps, another summer on Golden Pond still awaits.

Away in the Basement:  A Church Basement Ladies Christmas

It is the 1959 Sunday School Christmas Program. As the children rehearse, kitchen ladies are finishing up goodie bags and touching up Nativity pieces. Little do they know what surprises await when they are called upon to step in and save the day.

Season tickets go on sale November 1, 2017.  For more information, visit http://www.maplesrep.com, e-mail info@maplesrep.com, or call 660-385-2914.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

OCP Announces 93rd Season

BILLY MCGUIGAN’S ROCK TWIST
Billy McGuigan and the Steve Gomez Band
By Rave On Productions
July 12 – 23, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

World Premiere

See Billy McGuigan as you’ve never seen him before. Classic rock tunes with a big band twist; big band standards with a rock and roll twist. Backed by a full horn section and an all-star lineup of Omaha’s finest musicians, Billy’s brand new show will have Playhouse audiences rocking like never before. Frank Sinatra? Check. The Beatles? Check. Harry Connick, Jr.? Check. Billy Joel? Check! Fresh re-arrangements of rock and jazz standards performed as only Billy can. It’s rock with a twist. The world premiere is coming to the Omaha Playhouse in July 2017.

EMINENT DOMAIN
By Laura Leininger-Campbell
Directed by Amy Lane
Aug. 25 – Sept. 17, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

World Premiere
Does oil run thicker than blood? Or will a pipeline splitting the prairie tear a family apart? A 2016 Eugene O’Neil National Playwrights Conference finalist, originally conceived for Shelterbelt Theatre’s Before the Boards series, Eminent Domain tells a relevant story of a Nebraska family farm threatened by the construction of an oil pipeline and the ensuing conflict that emerges within. On the surface, Eminent Domain exposes the hard-fought battle between Nebraska farmers and corporate energy. Dig deeper and the greater struggle is revealed: the fight to preserve our Heartland’s farms and the livelihood of the people who live here. Our most crucial resource is not just the land we are privileged to attend with cracked and calloused hands—it is our kin, our clan and our heritage. Join us for this world premiere of an Omaha playwright’s work. Disclaimer: Contains adult language.

MAMMA MIA!
Music and Lyrics by Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus and some songs with Stig Anderson | Book by Catherine Johnson | Based on the songs of ABBA
Directed by Jeff Horger
Sept. 15 – Oct. 15, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

This smash-hit musical featuring the songs of ABBA is one of the top 10 longest-running Broadway musicals. Mamma Mia! is a delightful tale of love, laughter and friendship. Donna is slowly warming up to the notion of her daughter Sophie’s impending wedding when her life is upended by the unexpected arrival of three former beaus, all possible candidates to walk Sophie down the aisle. With all your favorite ABBA hits such as “Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance On Me,” “Honey, Honey” and more, find out why Mamma Mia! has become an audience favorite! Disclaimer: Contains spandex, strobe lights and disco dancing.

STUPID F@#%ING BIRD
By Aaron Posner
A sort-of adapted from The Seagull by Anton Chekhov
Directed by Suzanne Withem
Oct. 13 – Nov. 12, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

This “sort-of adaptation” of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov tells a story in which an aspiring young director battles against the art created by his mother’s generation. A young actress competes with an aging Hollywood star for the affections of a renowned novelist and everyone discovers just how complicated life, art and success can be. This irreverent, modern and very funny remix of a classic play will incite you to consider how art, love and revolution fuel your own pursuit of happiness.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language and sexuality.

A CHRISTMAS CAROL (Special Event)
By Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones | Musical orchestration by John J. Bennett
Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Nov. 17 – Dec. 23, 2017 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. 7:00 p.m., Thurs. – Sat. 7:30 p.m., Sun. 2:00 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.)

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 filled with lovely costumes, exquisite music, beautifully crafted sets and special effects second to none. Perfect for the whole family!

YESTERDAY AND TODAY – 10th Anniversary (Special Event)
An Interactive Beatles Experience Featuring Billy McGuigan
©2007 By Rave On Productions

Nov. 24 – Dec. 31, 2017 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun. eve)

Billy McGuigan and his brothers are back for the 10th consecutive year at Omaha Community Playhouse! This all-request Beatles tribute show will have you dancing in the aisles and singing along to every song. Share your stories and relive your memories with your favorite Beatles songs. No two shows are the same, and every show is a guaranteed exhilarating time!

RIPCORD
By David Lindsay-Abaire
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
Jan. 19 – Feb. 11, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

Pranks and practical jokes abound when cantankerous Abby and chipper Marilyn are forced to share the nicest room at the Bristol Place Senior Living Facility. As Abby attempts to get rid of her unwanted new roommate, a series of bets soon escalates into a hilarious game of one-upmanship as the two women try every trick in the book to claim their space in the apartment and their place in the world. Ripcord is a hilarious tale with a lot of heart.
Disclaimer: Contains adult language spoken by a cantankerous old lady.

PARADE
Book by Alfred Uhry  |  Music and Lyrics by Jason Robert Brown  |  Co-Conceived and Directed on Broadway by Harold Prince
Directed by Jeff Horger
Feb. 9 – March 11, 2018 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

Parade is the Tony Award-winning musical based around the trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish man wrongfully accused of murder in Marietta, Georgia in 1913. Religious intolerance, political injustice and racial tensions are already prevalent in this small Southern town, and when reporters begin to sensationalize the case, the likelihood of a fair trial is put in jeopardy. With a book by Alfred Uhry (Driving Miss Daisy) and music by Jason Robert Brown (The Last Five Years, The Bridges Of Madison County), this true story reveals the beauty of the human condition, even when faced with tragedy. Disclaimer: Contains language and situations related to racial tension and mob violence.

Roald Dahl’s JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH
Words and Music by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul | Book by Timothy Allen McDonald | Based
on the book by Roald Dahl
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
March 2 – March 25, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

James and the Giant Peach is a brand-new musical guaranteed to mesmerize theatregoers of all ages. A compelling story by beloved author Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda) and music composed by the award-winning team of Pasek & Paul (La La Land, A Christmas Story, television’s Smash), a young orphan named James accidentally drops magic crystals by an old peach tree. Strange things start to happen and James soon discovers a world of magic and adventure full of friendly insects and learns that love and family can be found in unexpected places.

SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE
Based on the Screenplay by Marc Norman & Tom Stoppard  |  Adapted for the stage by Lee Hall  |  Music by Paddy Cunneen  |  Based on the Academy Award-winning film starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Joseph Fiennes
Directed by Jeff Horger
April 13 – May 6, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

Based on the Academy Award-winning film by Tom Stoppard and adapted by Lee Hall (Billy Elliot), Shakespeare in Love is a love letter to the stage and a celebration of theatre, music and human connection. While the government threatens to close all theaters, young Will Shakespeare suffers from writer’s block, as his muse Viola disguises herself as a man to pursue her dreams of being an actor. Amidst mistaken identities, ruthless scheming, backstage theatrics and a misbehaving dog, Will’s love for Viola quickly blossoms and inspires him to write his greatest masterpiece.
Disclaimer: Contains scenes of sexuality.

THE MOUNTAINTOP
By Katori Hall
Directed by Denise Chapman
May 4 – May 27, 2018 | Howard Drew (Thurs. – Sun.)

An Olivier Award-winning play of historical fiction, The Mountaintop imagines the final night in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. After giving his speech, “The Mountaintop,” Dr. King returns to his room at the Lorraine Motel. When a mysterious woman with a secret agenda pays a visit to Dr. King, the resulting confrontation imaginatively explores destiny, legacy and mortality.
Disclaimer: Contains dialogue related to racial tension and adult language.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN
Screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green | Songs by Nacio Herb Brown and Arthur Freed | By special arrangement with Warner Bros. Theatre Ventures, Inc. | Music published by EMI, all rights administered by Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC | Based on the Academy Award-nominated MGM film starring Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds
Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman
June 1 – June 24, 2018 | Hawks Mainstage (Weds. – Sun.)

The beloved movie musical Singin’ in the Rain comes to life on stage with charm, humor and stormy weather that has made it an enduring classic. This tale of a famous on-screen couple from the silent films who prepare to transition to the age of “talking pictures” combines the best of Hollywood and Broadway with music that will keep you smiling, dances that will keep your toes tapping and special effects that will take your breath away. Songs such as “Make ‘Em Laugh,” “Fit as a Fiddle,” “Good Mornin’” and of course “Singin’ in the Rain” will whisk you away to a simpler time.