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.

Free-Spirited Farce Flips, Flops & Flies

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Steve Krambeck as Francis Henshall

Charming con artist and ne’er-do-well, Francis Henshall, takes a job as a minder (bodyguard) for a gangster just so he can eat regularly.  When he sees an opportunity to further line his pockets, he takes a job with a second criminal and now needs to keep both from finding out he works for the other.  This is One Man, Two Guvnors” by Richard Bean with songs by Grant Olding and based off Carlos Goldoni’s The Servant of Two Masters.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Trust me, this story is far more complicated than this simple synopsis as farce always is and this play contains all of the elements for a truly great farce.  You’ve got the mistaken identities, gender swapping, pratfalls, slamming doors, constant plot twists, and then everything is tidily resolved at the end of the show.  Bean does good work updating Goldoni’s story for a more modern era as it is set in the late 1960s.  But he also manages to retain the flavor of the original with characters making constant asides to reveal their true thoughts and motivations.  He still manages to make it his own with some out of the box fourth wall breaks and the need for his performers to indulge in a bit of improvisation.

Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek, one of Omaha’s finest comedic talents, helms this production and he is clearly in his element guiding this clownish tale.  He’s definitely got a good eye for a gag and comes up with some real doozies when it comes to pratfalls and some that are tastefully crass such as when Francis tries to woo a woman with a rose.  His cast has some strong comedic chops and knows how to deliver a punchline and he uses some truly unique staging such as the use of a skiffle band (Colin Duckworth, Paige Cotignola, Susan Hendrick, and Adam Sherrerd) to warm up the audience and cover scene changes with some fun and rollicking tunes.

Some of Omaha’s best and brightest grace this production, but there are some truly standout performances from Bill Hutson as a feeble and deaf waiter; Marcus Benzel whose expressions and animated movements really bolster his scenes; and John Shaw as Alan Dangle, a wannabe actor who always speaks in an overexaggerated, theatrical style.

Steve Krambeck gives an energetic performance as Francis Henshall.  Krambeck certainly has his work cut out for him as he has to add a sense of likability to an unlikable person and he does so admirably.  Krambeck oozes the charm crucial for a con artist and handles the physicality of farce quite well as his character takes quite a beating throughout the night.  But he also shows himself as having a good grip on improvisation as he often repartees with the audience and once even had me believing he had broken character during one of these interactions as his delivery of the joke was so subtle and smooth.

It is certainly an exhausting performance as Krambeck runs, flops, dances, charms, xylophones, and sings his way into your heart.

Cathy Hirsch is sterling in her performance as Rachel Crabbe.  Most impressive is that Ms Hirsch spends most of the show disguised as her character’s twin brother, Roscoe, a thug whose death prior to the show is the catalyst for everything that goes down.  Ms Hirsch’s portrayal of Rachel as Roscoe is quite convincing as her bearing, speech patterns, and walking make her a very believable man.  This also allows for a great change in dynamic when she drops the façade to be the truly feminine Rachel.

Chris Shonka is a gentlemanly brute as Stanley Stubbers.  Beneath his elegant manners beats the heart of a fiend as he’s a killer on the run who doles out violence when angered, has a penchant for sadism, and seems to have a rather deviant appetite for virgins.  Shonka does so well with the excellent manners that one tends to forget just how rotten he truly is until your brain has a chance to process some of the heinous things he’s saying.

Matthew Hamel definitely has a set for the times as the colors of his buildings really reflect the psychedelic 60s.  His buildings and scenes have the flavor of a seaside town and I rather liked his elegant dining room with its grand wooden walls towards the end of Act I.  John Giblilisco’s sounds added to the ambiance of the show with the lolling of waves, the popping of champagne corks, and the splash of bodies hitting the water.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes epitomize the swinging 60s with their bright, loud colors, especially the tweeds of Francis.  Adam Sherrerd does excellent work with the musical direction of the night’s numbers as well as being in fine fettle on lead vocals.

The show could definitely benefit from a few tweaks.  The energy of a farce needs to be akin to a runaway train once it gets going and the pace of the first act dragged.  The accents were uneven among the cast and some of the pratfalls and violence were a bit overly controlled.  On the other hand, comedy, especially farce, really needs the juice of a live audience to energize the performers and the loud laughs I heard tonight gives me confidence that this show is going to get its necessary fuel.

One Man, Two Guvnors plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 5.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24, with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Due to some of the risqué humor, this show isn’t recommended for young children.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

American Classic on Tap for OCP

Of Mice and Men Opens Feb 15 at Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, NEOf Mice and Men will open Friday, Feb 15 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from Feb 15-Mar 17, 2019.  Performances wil be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Migrant ranch workers in California during the Great Depression, George–an intelligent, but uneducated man–and Lennie–a large man with the mind of a child–dream of making enough money to buy their own land.  When a crime is accidentally committed, the two men are faced with a moral predicament in one of the most powerful and devastating stories of the 20th century.

Directed by Ablan Roblin, the play based on the critically acclaimed classic American novel by John Steinbeck explores the ultimate meaning of friendship.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $40 for adults and $24 for students ticket prices varying by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  Of Mice and Men

Written By:  John Steinbeck

Directed By:  Ablan Roblin

Cast

Josh Peyton as George

Tony Schik as Lennie

Dennis Collins as Candy

Nick Zadina as Slim

Mike Leamen as Carlson

Steve Catron as Curley

Mallory Vallier as Curley’s Wife

Donte Plunkett as Crooks

Randy Vest as The Boss

Benjamin Battafarano as Whit

 

BLT Announces Auditions for “Arsenic and Old Lace”

Bellevue Little Theatre presents
Arsenic & Old Lace Auditions

Sunday, November 11 @ 7:00 PM
Monday, November 12 @ 7:00 PM

Location:  203 W Mission Ave, Bellevue, NE

Interested parties need only attend one evening of auditions, so please feel free to select the date that is most convenient for you. Those auditioning will be asked to read sections from the script. These will be provided at auditions.

Actors should bring:
• All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts to complete the audition form.
• A recent photo to attach to audition form. Photos do not need to be professional and will not be returned. Should you not have a photo, one will be taken at the time of the audition.
Casting decisions will be completed and all parties notified no later than Sunday, September 16th.

Rehearsals: expected to begin in late November
Performance Dates: January 18-February 3, 2019
Performances are Fri., Sat. evenings at 7:30 and Sunday afternoons at 2 pm.

Mortimer Brewster is living a happy life: he has a steady job at a prominent New York newspaper, he’s just become engaged, and he gets to visit his sweet spinster aunts to announce the engagement. Mortimer always knew that his family had a bit of a mad gene — his brother believes himself to be Teddy Roosevelt and his great-grandfather used to scalp Indians for pleasure — but his world is turned upside down when he realizes that his dear aunts have been poisoning lonely old men for years! When Mortimer’s maniacal brother, Jonathan. (who strangely now resembles Boris Karloff) returns on the night that the aunts were planning to bury the newest victim, Mortimer must rally to help his aunts and protect his fiancé — all while trying to keep his own sanity. as well. An uproarious farce on plays involving murder, Arsenic and Old Lace has become a favorite.
Todd Uhrmacher will be director for this classic.

Adults are required for this production. Cast requirements are as follows.  For information contact the director at uhrmne@gmail.com.

Available Roles:
* Abby Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered– murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Martha Brewster: A sweet caring old lady who is loved by all. She has a Victorian charm and grace about her. Her way of helping could also be considered–murder. Very old-fashioned in an ironic way. (55-75)
* Elaine Harper: A sweet young lady who knows what she wants. She is in love with Mortimer and she is not about to let him talk her out of their engagement. (18-25)
* Mortimer Brewster: A young theatre critic who has a bunch of crazy people in his family tree. He himself is afraid of becoming crazy as well as what may happen if people find out about the skeletons in his families cellar. (25-30)
* Teddy Brewster: A bit on the crazy side; Teddy Brewster thinks that he is president teddy Roosevelt. He buries all of Martha and Abby’s “gentlemen” in the basement. (25-35)
* Jonathan Brewster: He was troubled as a child and is even more so as an adult. He has escaped from a mental institution and has murdered multiple people. In order to hide from the law Johnny has had to turn to plastic surgery to alter his face, leaving him disfigured. (30-40)
* Dr. Einstein: A plastic surgeon who is often drinking. He has also escaped from a mental institution. He has a German accent (30-50)
* The Rev. Dr Harper: A protective father to Elaine. (40-60)
* Mr. Gibbs: A nice elderly man who lives alone and has no family. (60-70)
* Officer O’Hera: A officer who doesn’t really want to be an officer. He wants to write plays and is eager to tell the renowned critique Mortimer about his plot. He’s not very good at reading the room or knowing when now is not a good time. (20- 40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Brophy: An officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Officer Klein: Another officer of the law who is likable but maybe not the brightest man on the force. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Lieutenant Rooney: All bronze and no brain. An officer of the law. (20-40) (This character may be male or female.)
* Mr. Witherspoon: Superintendent of Happy Dale sanitarium. (40-60) (This character may be male or female.)

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.

Cotton Patchin Time Again: Hannibal, MO & Garth Woodside Mansion

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Garth Woodside Mansion

Today the road has brought me to Hannibal, MO.

I had actually had this journey on my mind for quite a while.  When the opportunity arose to review a professional production of Cotton Patch Gospel, I knew I would be making my way to Hannibal and a visit to Garth Woodside Mansion, owned and operated by John and Julie Rolsen.

It was an absolutely perfect day for a road trip.  The sky was sunny and clear and the temperatures were downright springish.  I had a fairly smooth ride into Hannibal, though Google Maps tried to make me take a left turn at Albuquerque.  I ended up finding the road I needed anyway, so neener neener Google!

The inn is located in a secluded area along a gravel road and is of great historical interest as it has a direct connection to the town’s most famous resident, Samuel Clemens AKA Mark Twain.

The original owners of the inn were John Garth, a successful Hannibal businessman, and his wife, Helen.  The home was built on his farm, Woodside, in the late 1800s.  John and Helen were lifelong friends of Twain who often visited the mansion.  In fact, one of the rooms in the inn is called the Samuel Clemens and Twain actually stayed in the room whenever he visited the Garths.

As I pulled up to the inn, I took a moment to soak in the impressive structure. When you think bed & breakfast, this is the type of building that springs to mind. If the inside was anything like the outside, I knew I was falling into the lap of luxury.  I bumped into another couple on my way to the front door and we were met by Julie Rolsen.  Julie is easily one of the most gregarious innkeepers I have met on my travels and she and her husband have wickedly sharp senses of humor.  If you stay here, read the book on the inn in your room and you’ll agree with me.

After giving us the nickel tour, Julie showed me to the Rosewood, my base of operations for the next few days.  Admittedly, I wanted to stay in the Samuel Clemens to really absorb the inn’s sense of history, but I had been beaten to the punch.  On the other hand, I did get to become a part of a unique piece of inn trivia.

The bed in my room is called the most expensive bed in Missouri.  It’s a hand carved piece of artistry insured for $55K.

After settling in, I did my explorations.  And there is a lot to explore.  Not only is this place one of the most beautiful and luxurious inns I have visited, but it is also one of the largest.  The first floor gives you a sense of history as the furniture is original to the home.  The entire property is remarkably preserved which I attribute to the small number of owners which the property has had.  The Rolsens are only the sixth owners.  Pretty impressive for a 100 plus year old mansion.

I had scheduled a ghost tour for 7pm, so I headed to downtown Hannibal for an early dinner before learning about the haunted history of Hannibal.

I opted to try the Mark Twain Dinette and it was a bit of a mixed bag.  The ambiance is quite nice, but the food was just OK.  I had a Roughin It burger which included pepper jack, chili ranch, and bacon which did fill the cavity.

Afterwards, I explored the main street area.  Though I, to my chagrin, failed to observe them, take a look at the artistic fire hydrants.  They were all painted by Julie.

Downtown Hannibal is pretty compact and most of the interesting sites are all pretty close to one another.  I went down to the Hannibal History Museum and picked up my ticket for the tour.  As the trolley wouldn’t load until 6:50pm, I continued looking around the downtown area and found the Bluff City Theater and City Hall.  Believe it or not, the two buildings are actually connected for my upcoming play review as the theatre is producing the show, but the play is being presented environmentally at City Hall in the council room located on the second floor.

About 6:50, I returned to the museum where I boarded the trolley.  Ghost tours are always an interesting way to learn about a town’s history and Hannibal is reportedly one of the most haunted cities in the country.  The tour consists of traveling to various buildings and hearing about the hauntings and there were some very interesting tales.

One such tale was the story of three boys who disappeared when they went off to explore one of the numerous caves under Hannibal.  In spite of an intense search costing over one million dollars and lasting over a month, the boys were never found as the caves under the town are deep and labyrinthine.

One of the boys reportedly haunts a family, but it is a good haunting.  The ghost is the friend of the family’s little girl, who calls him Shippa.  Our guide showed us a photo of Shippa taken by the little girl on her fake tablet and even I admit that it is a pretty impressive piece of evidence that bears a remarkable similarity to one of the missing boys.

The other tale was a sensitive point in the history of Hannibal.  There was a wealthy businessman named Amos Stillwell who had a younger wife named Fanny who was the belle of the ball.  One winter’s night, Fanny was asleep with her children and her husband came home late from a card party held at the home from his good friend, Captain Munger.  Not wanting to disturb his wife and children, Stillwell retired to his bedroom.

Around midnight, Fanny heard her husband stir in the other room and say, “Fanny?  Is that you?”  At that point a hidden intruder rose out of the darkness and killed Stillwell with a double bladed axe.   Fanny stayed hidden with the children until she was certain the coast was clear, left the children with the maid, and rushed to get their family friend, a doctor, who lived a few blocks away.

The doctor told Fanny he’d be over immediately and that’s when things started getting weird.  Instead of going to the police who were next door to the doctor, Fanny returned home and started cleaning up the gruesome crime scene.  The doctor came over and was shocked at Fanny’s actions and called the police.

The police came with the city physician.  Needless to say, the police were very upset that the crime scene had been tampered with.  Then another strange thing happened.  The city physician refused to let the police question Fanny Stillwell, saying she was too distraught.  This further angered the police as they now had a useless crime scene and a witness whom they couldn’t question.  Even with the help of the Pinkertons, the police were never able to gather much evidence in the mystery.

Nine months later, Fanny married the city physician which was very suspicious and enraged the citizens of Hannibal who literally chased the couple out of town.  The couple would return to visit friends several years later and were arrested for the crime.  However, with the passage of several years, there was even less evidence than before and the city physician was found not guilty and charges against Fanny were dropped.

A book was written about the case and one of the last remaining copies exists at the Hannibal Public Library.  The reason for the book being out of print is that the writer did not get permission from all family members and printing was halted.

Today, it’s reported that the ghost of Amos Stillwell roams the old home of Captain Munger which is now a restaurant known as LaBinnah Bistro.  The reason for this being is that Stillwell spent many happy hours at card parties here and his original home was demolished in the hopes of stopping hauntings there.

Our tour ended in an old Baptist cemetery where we were given dowsing rods to sense paranormal activity.  Allegedly, spirits exude a magnetic field and the rods will be pulled towards it and cross at the point of activity.  Honestly, I did feel the tug and the rods did cross, but dowsing rods also locate water, so while interesting I leave it for the reader to decide if it was science or spirits.

Still, it was a very interesting experience and, as I’ve said, always a good way to learn about local history.

From there it was back to the mansion, where the day’s long drive and activity finally caught up with me.  I drew a bath in the clawfoot tub that was just the perfect temperature, soaked, then curled up in my bed to get a $55K sleep.

I awoke refreshed and hungry.  About 9am, I headed downstairs to breakfast.  John and Julie were clearly born to the B & B business.  Both are natural hosts, chatting with guests and making sure they are provided for.  I sat down to a goblet of Garth Juice.  As John says, “It tastes good and it’s good for you.”  Julie prepared a hot chocolate for me and John also brought me water and milk while I worked through a dish of fruit and a muffin.

The main entrée was a quiche filled with broccoli, cheese, eggs, and ham.  It was a tasty way to start the day and provided needed fuel for a day filled with activities.

I got things going immediately after breakfast with a visit to Mark Twain Cave.

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This name isn’t an attempt to cash in on Twain’s name.  Twain often explored this cave as a boy and he uses this cave in several of his books.  It’s an entertaining and informative little tour, but you may want to bring a jacket as the cave stays at 53 degrees year round.

I really wanted to explore Cameron Cave as well, but the next available tour wasn’t until noon and that tour is 90 minutes and I had an appointment at 1:30.  So, it’s something to look forward to in another visit, especially since you’re provided your own lantern to explore this cave.

From Mark Twain Cave, I headed to the Haunted House on Hill Street.  They were offering a special where for $10 I could tour the house and Karlocks Kars and Pop Culture.  I took them up on the offer.

There isn’t much to the haunted house.  It actually opens with a room filled with 25 intricately sculpted wax figures of Mark Twain, his family, and characters.  Narration is provided giving a history of Mark Twain, his family, and the inspiration for his characters.  Afterwards, you go through a cheesy little haunted house not unlike ones you’d find at a county fair.

Karlocks was a bit more interesting.  It’s a museum filled with vintage cars and sundry pop culture items.  There’s even a bit of a vintage arcade, but playing the games costs quarters.

After my brief tours, I headed over to the Mark Twain Riverboat for a little cruise on the Mississippi.

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The Mark Twain

I took a seat on the top deck outside the pilot house.  Before setting sail, several blasts are made on the whistle and those by the pilot house need to cover your ears.  It was quite a relaxing jaunt as Captain Steve pointed out several points of interests such as Lover’s Leap and Jackson Island which also found its way into the stories of Mark Twain.

During the ride you will actually cross the state line into Illinois and you may just see some wild life.  I saw a couple of alligators silently swimming in the Mississippi and I finally understood just how dangerous they could be as the way they swim do make them seem like sticks or logs.

After a journey on the mighty Mississippi, I returned to Garth Woodside to get cleaned up for church and the show.

I attended services at Holy Family Catholic Church and I would like to clone this church and replicate it for all of my journeys.  This is what worship needs to be like.  Everyone was happy to be there and was ready for Jesus.  You could genuinely feel His presence.  And they were so welcoming.  Father Jim Wheeler asked if there were any visitors and asked us where we were from.  The congregation was so welcoming as I had several brief conversations after church.  Father Jim also gave a great sermon about us needing to be Jesus with skin on which provided a lot of inspiration and food for thought.

Worship certainly prepped me for the faith inspired play, Cotton Patch Gospel, which was being performed at Hannibal City Hall.  It was an interesting and original take on the story and you can read my review here.

After the show, it was back to Garth Woodside and another good night’s sleep.

Somehow the alarm on my clock was turned on and buzzed me up at 6am.  Getting back to sleep wasn’t happening so I wrote my review on the play and got back to work on this article.  I got to this point and went downstairs to breakfast.

OK, I’m back.  Today’s meal consisted of Garth juice, milk, fruit, peach muffin, and breakfast pizza which consisted of egg whites, bacon, sausage, and a pita or sourdough crust.  Julie also made me a mug of English Toffee hot chocolate topped with crushed Heath bits because chocolate makes everything better.

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Breakfast pizza

I ended up having a lively little conversation with the Rolsen family before returning to my room to finish the article and dilly dally until checkout time at Julie’s insistence.  😉

And that about wraps it up for this edition.  If you’re in the Hannibal area, get a room at Garth Woodside Mansion.  It’s a wonderful inn hosted by great people in a private locale and the food is fantastic.

Until the next time, happy travels.

Grave Injustice

On the morning of April 27, 1913 in Atlanta, GA, the body of a 13 year old girl named Mary Phagan was found brutally murdered in the basement of the pencil factory where she had recently been laid off.  In a desperate attempt to close the books on the crime, her boss, Leo Frank, was indicted and convicted for the crime.  Frank was an ideal fall guy due to his being Jewish and a northerner.  This outsider status triggered a bloodlust and savagery in the community of Atlanta that led to the most devastating and tragic results.  This is the story of Parade written by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown.  It opens tonight at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I’ve seen and been involved with good shows, bad shows, and great shows.  Above these categories lies a fourth category.  To be in this category, the show must transcend the normal theatregoing experience with a uniqueness that can’t be defined.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  But when it’s there, it transforms the show into something truly magical.  After last night’s show, I have added Parade to that fourth category.

Alfred Uhry has written an eminently tragic tale about the trial of Leo Frank.  It is unafraid; boldly tackling ideas such as social justice, racism, anti-Semitism, and blind vengeance.  While it is clearly a drama, it’s also a very realistic show as there are moments of happiness, fun, and laughter mixed in with the grief and tragedy.  Uhry’s script is infinitely strengthened by the score of Jason Robert Brown who has infused the musical with some of the most haunting melodies I have ever heard.

Jeff Horger has helmed what might be the season’s best production with second to none direction and a nearly flawless cast.  What I especially appreciated about Horger’s direction is that the focus is on the community.  Yes, this is Leo Frank’s story, but the community is the central character as it’s the mentality and reactions of the citizenry that drives this series of events.  The audience becomes part of this community through Horger’s staging which has the characters of the play sitting with them, melding them into one unit.

This cast is so loaded with talent that I would like nothing more than to write a 10 page review extolling all of their virtues.  With that being said, some of the remarkable performances you’ll see are Adam Hogston as Brit Craig, a boozy, slimy reporter who sensationalizes the murder to the point where Frank would be unable to get a fair trial; Chloe Irwin who gives a spot on performance as Mary Phagan.  Ms Irwin has an impressive range for one so young as she can be such a kid at one moment and move you to tears with her reactions during Mary’s funeral in the next.

Other mighty performances come from Melissa King as Mrs. Phagan who gives a tortured performance as the grieving mother highlighted by an incredible solo with “My Child Will Forgive Me”; Grant Mannschreck as Frankie Epps, Mary’s friend and suitor.  Mannschreck has a strong, bright tenor that brought tears to my eyes with “It Don’t Make Sense”.  Mike Palmreuter also shines as John Slaton, the governor who sets the chain of events into motion for political reasons, but tries to do the right thing in the end.  Brian Priesman is menacing as Tom Watson, a hypocritical Bible thumper who knows how to stir up the masses.

One of the actors to watch out for is J. Isaiah Smith as Jim Conley.  Smith just bleeds talent and charisma with his take on Conley.  Smith’s Conley is a snarky, conniving piece of human garbage whose testimony is crucial to the conviction of Frank, but he just might be hiding secrets of his own.  Smith darn near steals the show with two showstopping numbers:  “That’s What He Said” and “Blues:  Feel the Rain Fall’”.  The latter song allows Smith to hit some searing and awesome falsettos.

Michael Markey gives a multilayered performance as Hugh Dorsey, Atlanta’s D.A. and prosecutor for Frank’s trial.  Markey gives you the sense that he does want to see justice done, but he’s more worried about the political ramifications should he fail to find and convict a killer.  When Frank is served up to him, he has absolutely no qualms about using coached testimony and suborned perjury to doom him.  Markey also has a facile baritone well used in “Twenty Miles from Marietta” and “The Glory”.

Megan Kelly blew me away as Lucille Frank.  Aptly described as “Jewish and southern”, Ms Kelly is every bit the Southern belle, but with a devout faith as well.  She is also very real as her reactions and fears about Frank’s trial and the public’s reactions to her are dead on the mark.  Ms Kelly also gets to show real strength as she overcomes those fears to stand by her husband’s side, best shown with her lovely alto in “You Don’t Know This Man”.  Not only does she overcome her own fears, but she also overcomes Frank’s pigheadedness which she wonderfully describes in “Do It Alone” to give him the help he so desperately needs to obtain his freedom.

And in midst of all of this chaos is Leo Frank, incredibly essayed by James Verderamo.  Verderamo is uncanny as Frank as he walks that line of making him a decent man, but not a likable man.  Verderamo’s Frank is definitely a square peg in a round hole.  He’s unhappy in Atlanta and would rather be back home in Brooklyn, NY.  He’s a workaholic, anal, a bit arrogant, and easily flustered and frustrated.  He is also smart, a gentleman, and well-mannered.

Verderamo depicts Frank’s high strung nature with a perpetual hunch in his shoulders and a constant massaging of his hands.  He also has a scintillating tenor voice best used in “All The Wasted Time” and “Sh’ma”.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra find gold once more with a brilliant rendering of the score, not to mention the clever staging of their being on a balcony over the town to make them a band in the parade.  Tim Burkhart & John Giblisco score with their sounds especially the wavy sound effects of an era microphone.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes evoke the memories of early 1900s southern gear with the long dresses, three piece suits, and old time prison garb.  Jim Othuse has designed a simple town square with lamps, crumbling wall, and balcony.  And his lights suit the play’s emotions down to the ground with sad blues, angry reds, and dark shadows.  Melanie Walters’ choreography shines especially in “Pretty Music” and “That’s What He Said”.

This is what theatre is all about.  When it operates at its pinnacle, theatre is a galvanizing force for action.  In his notes, Jeff Horger called this a historical piece and that is absolutely correct.  For what is history, but a chance to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them.

Parade plays at the Omaha Playhouse from Feb 9-Mar 11.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Due to mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  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.

A Tragic ‘Parade’ Performs at OCP

PARADE

Opens February 9, 2018 at the Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, Neb. – Parade, the true story of a Jewish man wrongfully accused of murdering a young girl in a small Southern town, will run at the Omaha Community Playhouse February 9 – March 11, 2018 in the Howard Drew Theatre.

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.

The events surrounding the investigation and the trial of Leo Frank led to the birth of the Jewish civil rights organization, the Anti-Defamation League.  Following the Sunday, February 25 performance, staff members from the Omaha chapter of the Anti-Defamation League will participate in a post-show discussion about the history of the ADL. Open to all attendees of that day’s performance

Production:  Parade

Credits:  Book by Alfred Uhry.  Music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown.  Co-conceived and directed on Broadway by Harold Prince.

Director:  Jeff Horger

Cast

Brendan Brown as Riley

Breanna Carodine as Minnie

Brooke Fencl as Essie

Adam Hogston as Brit Craig

Chloe Irwin as Mary Phagan

Megan Kelly as Lucille Frank

Melissa King as Mrs. Phagan

Nelson Lampe as Judge Roan

Grant Mannschreck as Frankie Epps

Michael Markey as Hugh Dorsey

Rebecca Noble as Sally Slaton

Mike Palmreuter as John Slaton

Joshua Lloyd Parker as Ivey

Brian Priesman as Tom Watson

Tony Schneider as Mr. Turner

Christopher Scott as Luther Rosser

Jonathan Smith as Jim Conley

Jill Solano as Lizzie Phagan

Grace Titus as Iola

Scott Van Den Top as Starnes

Catherine Vazquez as Monteen

James Verderamo as Leo Frank

Randy Wallace as Mr. Peavey

L. James Wright as Newt Lee

Show Dates:  Feb 9-Mar 11, 2018; Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm

Tickets:  At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets start at $42 for adults and $25 for students. Ticket prices are subject to change based on performance date, seat location and ticket demand. Call the OCP box office for current prices. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students.

DiscountsTwilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability.

Sponsored by:  Carter and Vernie Jones

Location:  Omaha Community Playhouse, Howard Drew Theatre (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE  68132)

When Darkness Falls

Three con men are trying to get hold of a doll stuffed with $50K worth of heroin.  They believe the doll to be in the possession of a photographer and his blind wife and believe the wife will be an easy touch.  But they’re about to discover how blind that assumption is.  This is Frederick Knotts’ Wait Until Dark and it is currently playing at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre.

Knotts has a real gift for crime drama.  His scripts tend to build slowly to create delicious tension as the plot works its way up brick by brick and then having the hammer drop when the tension is at its peak.  This play is no exception to that rule, but it also has a terrific thrust and parry as the three con men trade off control of the situation with the blind woman until the final, epic confrontation where only one will win.

Jean Meachum’s direction is quite admirable.  Due to the con game, this play is quite talky, but Ms Meachum prevents the play from being static by having the actors constantly moving about the stage, physically representing the ever present tension of the situation.  She has also guided her thespians to solid performances and I loved the staging of the piece, especially the fact that the three con men tend to always be in the room with their blind target as their facial expressions and actions show how easy they think their victory will be.

Strong supporting performances are given by Ryan Drew as “Sgt. Carlino” and Libby Matthews as Gloria.  Drew is so natural and extemporaneous as the not so mentally swift con man who constantly wipes off his fingerprints.  Ms Matthews is perfectly bratty as the obnoxious child who lives upstairs, but proves she’s got a good heart when real danger threatens.

Colonsay Selby gives a stunning performance as the blind Suzy Hendrix.  Ms Selby excellently conveys Suzy’s blindness with a thousand yard stare and never making eye contact with the other cast members.  She also does it physically as her movements show that she is familiar with her apartment, but not overly so.

Ms Selby’s acting is also top quality as she well communicates the helplessness Suzy feels as she is still not used to her blindness, but also summons the grit, courage, and brains needed to survive this dangerous game with these 3 criminals.

David Shewell brings intelligence and smoothness to his portrayal of “Mike Talman”.  This is a man who knows how to get what he wants from his marks and prides himself that he doesn’t need to resort to violence to get it.  Shewell’s velvety rich baritone makes it easy to see how women (his usual targets) are taken in by him.  But Shewell also gives a kernel of decency to his con man as he relents from using his obvious physical advantage over Suzy when she is at his mercy.

Joe Caronia is downright terrifying as “Mr. Roat”.  Caronia’s “Roat” brims with confidence and you always have the sense that he is one step ahead of everybody else which allows him to take control of any situation.  But what’s so spooky about him is how soft-spoken he is.  All of his quiet words are tinged with an edge of menace that should put anyone he speaks to on guard.  Justifiably so, as Caronia is such an awesome physical specimen that there is little doubt that his “Roat” could inflict great damage when the whim strikes.  I also enjoyed Caronia’s versatility as he plays a couple of characters as part of the con who are night and day different from the menacing “Roat”.

The program lacked a credit for set design, but it was a splendid construct which had the look and feel of a basement apartment.  The props of Sarah Oldham and Ernie Snyder really made the set seem like a real home.

There were a few line bobbles in the night’s performance and pacing and cue pickups needed stepping up to add to the play’s crucial tension.  That being said, it didn’t put a damper on this thriller especially in the electrifying finale.

Wait Until Dark is an exciting nailbiter and it will keep you on the edge of your seat.  Get a box of popcorn and ready your spine for tingling.

Wait Until Dark plays at the Slightly Off Broadway Theatre through Oct 1.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 5pm.  Tickets cost $12 for adults and $6 for children.  For tickets, contact the theatre at 816-637-3728 or visit www.sobtheatre.org.  Parental discretion is advised for this show.  The Slightly Off Broadway Theatre is located at 114 N Marietta St in Excelsior Springs, MO.

Get a Clue

The classic board game comes to life.  Six people at Boddy Manor have motive to kill Mr. Boddy.  One of them did.  Can you figure out who done it before the show ends?  It’s Clue:  The Musical by Peter DePietro with music by Galen Blum, Wayne Barker, and Vinnie Martucci and lyrics by Tom Chido.  It is currently playing at the Bellevue Little Theatre.

Theatre doesn’t always have to be high art and Tony Award winners.  Sometimes a hokey, fun filled good time makes for the best night of theatre and this show is a shining example of that type of show.  DePietro’s script is very intriguing in that the show is actually a game.  Just as in the board game, a killer, weapon, and room are drawn at the top of the show and placed into a confidential envelope.  During the show, Mr. Boddy provides clues to help the audience deduce who done it, with what, and where.  And it does take a bit of careful listening and observational ability to figure it out.  This tactic helps to make for a pretty engaging production and ensures a different denouement almost every time.

With that being said, the focus on the game results in the loss of plot.  There really isn’t much of a story.  Rather there are little vignettes showing a bit about these characters and their connection to Mr. Boddy, an interrogation, the denouement, and then a real ending which feels unnecessarily tacked on.  On the other hand, I appreciate the use of meta as the characters are aware they are part of a board game and have done this on many occasions.  I also liked the rather catchy, occasionally hilarious, musical numbers.

Daena Schweiger’s direction makes full use of the play’s strengths and masks its weaknesses.  She understands the play’s farcical nature resulting in some really great caricatures from her actors.  The play is also well staged with the characters constantly moving about, making full use of the space.  I was especially impressed with a search scene immediately before Boddy’s murder with the actors running hither, thither, and non and was the show’s best moment.

It’s hard to analyze the performances of the actors as they can only be caricatures and the story does not allow them to develop in depth characters.  But there were several performances that did stand out.

Jesse Black plays Mr. Boddy, our host and murder victim.  I thought he came off a little too nice in Act I due to his underplaying of the role.  Boddy is a rather unlikable chap and Black had the room to go big and ram home that unlikability.  However, he has wonderful facial expressions which he used to the fullest in Act II as he is almost like an ever present spirit manipulating events and I rather enjoyed watching his reactions to the events swirling about.  He’s also got a very pleasant tenor voice best utilized in his keynote number “The Game”.

Patrick Wolfe delightfully chews the scenery as Colonel Mustard, an army man limited to administrative duty due to a condition where he sees living people as inanimate objects.  Wolfe has fantastic bluster and bombast as his off kilter Mustard always wants to play war games, even as foreplay.  Wolfe also has a great lower tenor voice as he joyfully declares “Do Unto Your Enemies” and searches for a good weapon in “Everyday Devices”.  Wolfe also has tremendous projection power, easily overcoming the black boxy acoustics of the theatre.

Sarah Ebke clearly is having fun as Mrs. Peacock, the wife of Mr. Boddy.  She is the one true villain of the piece as she is an unconvicted murderer which she gleefully admits to in “Once a Widow” as her alto tells us the story of the deaths of her five previous husbands.  Ms Ebke’s Peacock is a scheming, vile piece of work and one of the best characters of the night.

Carrie Beth Stickrod got the night’s biggest laughs with her rendition of Mrs. White, the put upon housekeeper of Mr. Boddy.  Ms Stickrod is beautifully acerbic as the housekeeper desperately searching for a way to escape the crushing debt she owes her employer.  I also loved her uneducated nature as her constant misspellings made for the best running gag of the show.  She’s also got a powerful soprano which kept the audience in stitches when she lamented “Life is a Bowl of Pits”.

Lindsey Tierney-Jack is all woman and then some in her portrayal of Miss Scarlet.  Ms Tierney-Jack brings a great sultriness to the role.  This is a woman fully aware of her sensuality and knows how to use it to get what she wants.  Ms Tierney-Jack also really emphasizes Scarlet’s performing heart as she breaks into random dance numbers during the chase scene in Act I.

Chris Ebke and his orchestra (Kim Hansen, Kyle Moeller, and Christina Allred) do justice to the musical score as Boddy Manor’s house band.  Gary Bosanek’s costume coordination was spot on with the bright, vibrant colors matching the character’s names.  Joshua Mullady’s lights enhanced each moment.  And Chris Ebke’s set is an awesome reproduction of the board game.

The energy of the cast seemed at a low ebb in tonight’s performance, resulting in a slow pace and loose cue pickups.  With the exception of Mr. Wolfe, the cast also needed to put the same projection of their singing into their dialogue.

Clue:  The Musical is definitely worth a watch, especially with the added thrill of getting to play the game during the show.  You’ll get some catchy music, some scene chewing hilarity, and a fun spectacle.

Clue:  The Musical runs at the Bellevue Little Theatre through April 9.  Performances are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 2pm.  Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, and $10 for students with proper identification.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

 

BLT Holding Auditions for ‘CLUE: The Musical’

Auditions for Bellevue Little Theatre’s production of CLUE: The Musical will be held on Sunday, January 22 and Monday, January 23 at 7:00 PM at St. Timothy Lutheran Church (510 N 93rd Street – 93rd and Dodge) in Omaha and will consist of a music audition (1 minute of music appropriate to the style of the show – an accompanist will be provided), a dance audition, and cold readings from the script. Please come dressed to move. 4 Men and 4 Women (of various ages) are needed.


PLEASE NOTE THAT AUDITIONS ARE NOT BEING HELD AT THE BELLEVUE LITTLE THEATRE. Callbacks, if needed, are scheduled for Tuesday, January 24th at 7:00 p.m., also at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. A read thru with the cast is tentatively scheduled for Sunday, January 29th , and rehearsals will begin on Monday, January 23rd (lasting 8 weeks). The show runs from March 24 – April 9, 2017. Please bring a calendar so you can list ALL conflicts from January 15 – April 9, 2017 on your audition form. The show will be directed by Daena Schweiger, with music direction by Chris Ebke and choreography by Kerri Jo Watts. Pam Matney serves as producer. Questions about auditions, the rehearsal process, or the show can be directed to daena.schweiger@gmail.com.

Characters

Mr. Boddy (B Flat 2 to F Sharp 4)

Professor Plum (B Flat 2 to F 4)

Colonel Mustard (B Flat 2 to E Flat 4 (#7))

Mr. Green (G Sharp 2 to F Sharp 4)

Mrs. Peacock (B Flat 3 to D Flat 5)

Miss Scarlet (G Sharp 3 to F 5)

Mrs. White (B Flat 3 to F 5 (#4))

Detective (no set vocal range)