OCP Ends Season with a Little “Ragtime”

Omaha, NE–Tony Award winning musical, Ragtime, will open Friday, May 31 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from May 31-June 30.  Performances will be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

A tragic, yet hopeful, tale, four time Tony Award winning musical, Ragtime, explores the pursuit of the American Dream and the meaning of family.  Set in the melting pot of New York City at the turn of the century, the lives of a wealthy white couple, a determined Jewish immigrant, and an African American ragtime musician intertwine, creating a rich tapestry of American life.  With soaring ballads and a stunning score, these characters are connected by their compassion, belief, and resolution that they, too, will find their place in the world.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $32 with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800, or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  Ragtime (Written by Terrence McNally and based on the novel by E.L. Doctorow

Music and Lyrics By:  Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens

Directed By:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Paul Tranisi as Father

Jodi Vaccaro as Mother

J. Isaiah Smith as Coalhouse Walker

Dara Hogan as Sarah

Mike Palmreuter as Tateh

Pieper Roeder as Little Girl

Dominic Torres as Little Boy

Jon Flower as Younger Brother

Nelson Lampe as Grandfather

Megan Kelly as Evelyn Nesbit

Jordan Smith as Booker T Washington

Zhomontee Watson as Sarah’s Friend

Mark Haufle as J.P. Morgan

Brandon Fisher as Henry Ford

Kevin Olsen as Harry Thaw

Jay Srygley as Stanford White

Bob Gilmore as Admiral Peary

Brendan Brown as Hensen

Bowen Peterson as Harry Houdini

Joey Hartshorn as Emma Goldman

Justin Dehmer as Willie Conklin

Amanda Srygley as Brigit

Julia Ervin as Kathleen

Taylor Plank as Chorine

Lauren Taylor Anderson, Janet Goodman, and Elizabeth Planck as Sob Sisters

Ensemble features Sheldon Ledbetter, Ejanae Hume, Erin Florea, Olivia Howard, Olivia Bryant, Serena Johnson, Cody Girouex, Lynn Ramert, Alex Nilius, Danny Denenberg

 

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A Love Cursed

Out of tragedy is born love.  And out of that love arises another tragedy. . .and a bit of hope.  Come discover the story of the Tin Woodsman of Oz before he became the Tin Woodsman in the Strangemen Theatre Company’s production of The Woodsman by James Ortiz with music by Edward W. Hardy and lyrics by Claire Karpen.  It is currently playing at the Blue Barn Theatre.

The hardest thing about writing an article is coming up with a good conclusion.  This time, it’s a piece of cake.  Go see this show.

OK, now let’s get to that analytical stuff.

I knew I was going to see something different when I saw this show, but what I didn’t know was just how good it was going to be.  Ortiz has written a sensational tale about the pre-metal life of the Tin Woodsman.  It’s sweet.  It’s moving.  It’s even a little spooky at times and you’ll likely shed a tear or two before it’s all through.  For the purists, the transformation to the Tin Woodsman is very faithful to L Frank Baum’s description from the original Oz novels.  For those thinking of bringing kids, it means it’s a little grim, but not overly violent.

Ortiz draws from a wide variety of performance styles such as straight dialogue, pantomime, puppetry, and musical.  Outside of a prologue, a song, and a rare word here and there, this show is done with no dialogue and I think that’s where its real power lies.  The actors have to tell a highly nuanced tale with naught but facial expressions, body language, and little expostulations of sound.  The result is a production that ranks as one of my favorite shows of the season.

James Ortiz and Claire Karpen co-direct this singular tale and their control and execution of the story is like watching a master painter create a masterpiece from scratch.  Finding beats in dialogue is tricky enough, but finding beats without the spoken word is another beast all together and the two directors expertly strike each and every one without effort.  Under their coaching, the performers “tell” this story with crystal clear expressions and body language that let me “read” this story just as easily as I read novels.  Their direction combined with movement direction from William Gallacher creates a story that really invokes all of your senses.  You can almost smell the campfire, hear the pounding of a panicked heart, and feel the texture of a warm hand on a body that no longer has sensation.

The ensemble is a critical part of this production as they literally become the world.  They are the trees of the forest.  Their whistles are the songs of birds.  Their snaps are the pop of a fire.  Their slaps are the blows of an ax.  They also play a variety of supporting parts and I was especially impressed by the work of Barry Carman and Stephanie Jacobson as Pa and Ma Chopper as they tell an excellent story about their courtship and their life together complete with posture changes to signify their aging.  I was also floored by the work of Michael Burns, Caulene Hudson, and Be Louis with their puppetry of the Wicked Witch of the East.  Their skilled manipulations made the Witch seem like an otherworldly force of nature and a truly vile villain.

The beauty of Anna Jordan’s performance as Nimmee made me want to weep.  She has an absolutely phenomenal physicality that makes for great pantomime.  You can feel and see the fear in her tense body whenever the Witch is around.  Her selling of the routine physical abuse dealt to her by the Witch is spot on.  The slow opening of her heart to Nick Chopper is wondrous to behold.  And a bit where she and Nick try to subtly cozy up to each other by a fire is sweet and funny.

Matthew Olsen’s portrayal of Nick Chopper (the flesh and blood version of the Tin Woodsman) is equally powerful.  His love for his family is palpable and it was a joy watching his childish antics as he grew up especially as he learns to fight from his father and properly wield an ax.  His courage is inspiring as he battles a forest monster to protect Nimmee.  And his anguish is haunting as he slowly loses his human nature.

Never before have I seen a show where light was so crucial to its telling and Jamie Roderick’s work is of superior quality.  His lighting is so atmospheric as he takes you to the depths of a pitch black forest with just a wisp of sunlight peeking through to the magical charges of Nick Chopper’s amulet to the dankness of the Witch’s lair.  Jenny Pool’s costumes had a nice old fashioned flair of a long forgotten time.  The set was pretty much bare bones though I thought the tree branches hanging about the theatre and the old fashioned lights set above the stage (and a bit out into the seating area) was a very nice touch.  And the violin score provided by Samantha Perkins was heavenly especially with the haunting song of the Tin Woodsman at the end.

This is storytelling at its finest.  It’s an achingly beautiful and well told love story guaranteed to melt the coldest of hearts.  At the risk of repeating myself, go see this show.

The Woodsman plays at the Blue Barn Theatre through June 16.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6pm.  On June 9, there will be an additional 2pm matinee and Jun 16 will have only a 2pm matinee.  Tickets are $35 ($30 for seniors) and can be obtained at www.bluebarn.org or by calling at 402-345-1576.  The Blue Barn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

‘The Woodsman’ to Close Blue Barn Season

BLUEBARN THEATRE presents:

Strangemen Theatre Company’s Obie Award-Winning The Woodsman by James Ortiz with Music by Edward W. Hardy and Lyrics by Jen Loring May 16th, 2019- June 16th, 2019.

Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm

Sunday 5/26 at 6pm| 2 Shows Sunday 6/2 & 6/9 at 2pm & 6pm | Sunday 6/16 at 2pm

About the Play

Based on the forgotten writings of L. Frank Baum, The Woodsman tells the origin story of the Tin Man from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. This hauntingly beautiful love story is told through original music, physical storytelling, and innovative puppetry. Members of Strangemen Theatre Company re-create their Obie Award-winning experience with an ensemble of Omaha professionals. Follow ‘Nick Chopper’ on a magical adventure filled with dangers and wonders that are breathtaking to behold.

About the Production

The performance ensemble for The Woodsman features MoiraMangiameli, Matt Olsen, Anna Jordan, Stephanie Jacobson, Barry Carman, Be Louis, Caulene Hudson, Michael Burns, Beau Fisher, and Samantha Perkins(violinist).  The original creative team behind The Woodsman is in Omaha to work with our incredible local talent in bringing this haunting tale to life.

The Strangemen Theatre Company and the BLUEBARN share another origin story- each company was formed by graduates of the same acting conservatory, SUNY-Purchase.

Strangemen mainstays James Ortiz(Director/Playwright/SetDesign), Claire Karpen(Director), Will Gallacher(MovementDirector), and Amanda Lederer (Associate Director) will lead the BLUEBARN ensemble. The Woodsman features lighting design by Jamie Roderick, costume design b yJennifer Pool , scenic painting by Craig Lee,original sound design by Adam Salberg, and stage management by Meghan Boucher.

Tickets

General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org.  Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

A Bridge Between Them

Francesca Johnson, an Iowa housewife originally from Italy, looks forward to a few days to herself when her family heads off to the 4H Nationals at the Indiana State Fair.  When her family leaves, a well-traveled National Geographic photographer, Robert Kincaid, arrives to ask for directions to the Roseman Bridge to complete his photo assignment.  Robert has recently visited Italy which sparks a fast friendship between himself and Francesca which evolves into something more and forces the two to make some life altering choices.  This is The Bridges of Madison County by Marsha Norman with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown and based on Robert James Waller’s novel.  It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I was quite surprised by this show.  I had been expecting a schmaltzy love story, but what I got was a well framed tale that built slowly, organically, and subtly.  This story is about much, much more than a man and a woman falling in love.  It’s about the circumstances that brought them together, the forces that drive them, and the hard choices they have to make about their respective futures.  I especially liked how natural the affair comes about.  There’s nothing forced about it.  It was just something that happened which leaves it up to the viewer to decide on the morality of what goes down.  The show is aided by Brown’s score, especially as interpreted by Jim Boggess and his splendid orchestra.  The songs are almost internal monologues and span a series of emotions that I have never seen before in a musical.

A story that builds as methodically as this one requires a very gentle touch with the direction and Kimberly Faith Hickman provides that touch and then some.  Ms Hickman strikes each emotional beat dead on the mark.  It’s never too much or too little.  The pacing is phenomenal and keeps the attention of the audience with every gradual revelation of the plot.  She also has a killer set of performers to tell this story, especially in her 4 leads.

That previous sentence may have made you take pause, but there are 4 leads for this production.  Kimberly Faith Hickman made the decision to double cast the two leads and each pairing takes one down a very interesting variant of the story.  In order to give readers a complete vision of this play, I watched the show twice so I could see how each set of leads interpreted the tale.

Mackenzie Dehmer is deadly accurate with her character choices in the role of Francesca.  She seems. . .not happy, but settled in her role as a farm wife.  She loves her children.  She loves her friends.  She even loves her husband, but it isn’t the same love that she once shared with him.  Her body language indicates that there is a void in her life that she doesn’t know how to fill.

Then Robert comes into her life.

Suddenly Ms Dehmer just lights up with passion and life as she now has someone with whom she can truly relate.  As their friendship grows, Ms Dehmer really makes you see the happiness blooming in her soul, yet it is still tinged with a thorn as she is always constantly aware of the potential effect on her family.  Her anguish as she wrestles with the decision to be with Robert or her family is heartbreakingly real and well essayed.

I think Ms Dehmer would have a fine career in opera with her devastating vocal range.  A natural alto who effortlessly hits soprano notes, Ms Dehmer shone musically as she wonders about Robert in “What Do You Call a Man Like That?”, consummates her relationship with him in “Falling Into You”, and sings about her haunting final decision in “Before and After You/One Second and a Million Miles”.

Angela Jenson-Frey gives us a Francesca who is actually quite happy with her life.  Yes, she misses her native country, but is comfortable with her life in Iowa and is mostly satisfied with her choices in life.  When Robert appears in her life, there isn’t that immediate spark of attraction.  It is a friendship that quickly transforms into a passionate love.  Ms Jenson-Frey’s Francesca also seems a bit more assured in her decisions as her final choice seems to come a bit more easily and confidently.

Ms Jenson-Frey also has a beautiful soprano singing voice which she uses to full emotional potential in her numbers whether she’s gladly telling the audience part of her life story in “To Build a Home”, tenderly asking Robert to simply “Look At Me”, or sharing the rest of her life story with Robert in “Almost Real”.

I was crushed by James Verderamo’s take on Robert.  He projects a palpable aura of loneliness.  His Robert is a man who lives apart from the rest of the world.  He’s never in one place very long and has made the decision not to get involved with people because he always has to get to the next assignment.  His chemistry with Mackenzie Dehmer is pitch perfect as each truly seems to fill a missing part of the other.  When he falls for Francesca, you really feel the wonder of a man who is experiencing happiness for, perhaps, the first time in his life.

Verderamo’s tenor is velvet smooth and allowed him to emote his songs to the fullest.  Whether he is “Wondering” about Francesca or describing the life of a photographer in “The World Inside a Frame” or musing about his own mortality in “It All Fades Away”, Verderamo never failed to let the audience see his true thoughts and emotions.

Thomas Gjere’s Robert is far more content in his life.  While he is a bit of a wanderer, he is comfortable with the life he has chosen though he believes he isn’t the greatest company in the world.  What I liked best about this take is that Gjere’s Robert is quite likable and charming, but seems completely unaware of that fact due to his always focusing on the next assignment.  When he falls for Francesca, it seems to truly awaken himself to himself for the first time.

Gjere has a mellow low tenor that you could listen to for hours.  His phrasing is always perfectly precise and he makes you feel his budding happiness in “Temporarily Lost” and the full joy of his personal awakening in “Who We Are and Who We Want to Be”.

While this is primarily a two person show, a supporting cast does periodically appear to show what is going on outside Francesca & Robert’s world and sometimes get involved in it.  Kevin Olsen and Joey Hartshorn provide some levity as an older married couple who are neighbors of the Johnsons.  Ms Hartshorn is especially amusing as the busybody with a heart of gold and has a hilarious solo in “Get Closer”.  Mary Trecek belts out a great hoedown in “State Road 21/The Real World” and Analisa Peyton has a moving solo as Robert’s ex-wife in“Another Life” where she explains why she left him.

Jim Othuse crafts a realistic small town with the farmhouse of the Johnsons and a spot on replica of the Roseman Bridge.  I also liked how he created bars and other homes through the use of windows and bar counters.  Aja Jackson’s lights brilliantly support the story with sunrises, sunsets, and proper mood lighting during the show’s weightier and emotional moments.  Megan Kuehler’s costumes well suit a small town farming community with simple dresses for the adult women and t shirts and jeans for the men and kids.

As I said in the beginning, this is far more than a love story.  This is a story about two people who were missing something vital and found that missing piece in the other.  It is not about their love.  It is about what they will do with that love and it makes for a profound tale indeed.

The Bridges of Madison County continues through March 24.  Tickets start at $24 and vary by performance and seating zone.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or calling the OCP box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

‘The Bridges of Madison County’ Set to Open at OCP

The Bridges of Madison County
Opens March 1 at Omaha Community Playhouse
Omaha, NEThe Bridges of Madison County will open Friday, March 1 at the Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP). The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from March 1 through March 24. Performances will be held Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.
The Bridges of Madison County is a sweeping love story about an emotional yet brief love affair. Robert, a National Geographic photographer, seeks directions to an iconic covered bridge from local Iowa housewife, Francesca. Their immediate connection takes them both by surprise, and ultimately changes them forever. Featuring a Tony Award-winning score by Jason Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five Years), The Bridges of Madison County heartbreakingly explores the “what if” in life and will leave audiences breathless.
Tickets are on sale now starting at $24, with ticket prices varying by performance and seating zone. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, located at 6915 Cass Street, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.
DOUBLE CASTING
The two lead roles in OCP’s production of The Bridges of Madison County
have been double cast, with Mackenzie Dehmer and Angela Jenson Frey playing the role of Francesca and James Verderamo and Thomas Gjere playing the role of Robert. These
actors will alternate performance dates. The schedule of actors by performance is as follows:
Friday, March 1 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Saturday, March 2 – Frey & Gjere
Sunday, March 3 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Wednesday, March 6 – Frey & Gjere
Thursday, March 7 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Friday, March 8 – Frey & Gjere
Saturday, March 9 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Sunday, March 10 – Frey & Gjere
Wednesday, March 13 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Thursday, March 14 – Frey & Gjere
Friday, March 15 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Saturday, March 16 – Frey & Gjere
Sunday, March 17 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Wednesday, March 20 – Frey & Gjere
Thursday, March 21 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Friday, March 22 – Frey & Gjere
Saturday, March 23 – Dehmer & Verderamo
Sunday, March 24 – Frey & Gjere
SPECIAL EVENTS
Opening Night State Fair Party
OCP will host a special state fair-themed party to celebrate opening night of
The Bridges of Madison County on Friday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. for guests attending the opening night performance. The celebration will include traditional state fair
concessions and activities. To purchase tickets to opening night, please call the OCP Box Office at (402) 553-0800 or visit OmahaPlayhouse.com.
Directed by:  Kimberly Faith Hickman
Cast
Francesca – Mackenzie Dehmer and Angela Jenson Frey
Robert – James Verderamo and Thomas Gjere
Bud – Mike Palmreuter
Michael – Matthew Tolliver
Carolyn – Julianna Cooper
Chiara/Marian – Analisa Peyton
Marge – Joey Hartshorn
Charlie – Kevin Olsen
Young Bud/Ensemble – Brandon Fisher
State Fair Singer/Ensemble – Mary Trecek
Paolo/Ensemble – Bowen Peterson
Ginny/Ensemble – Brooke Fencl
Ensemble – Brendan Brown, Justin Eller, Katie Miller, Amanda Vyhlanek

Forget About Tomorrow, “Annie” Shines Today

At the height of the Great Depression, Little Orphan Annie is giving hope to the populace one song and optimistic outlook at a time as she searches for her own parents.  When she meets crusty billionaire Oliver Warbucks, there may be a light at the end of the tunnel. . .for both of them.  This is Annie:  The Musical by Thomas Meehan with music by Charles Strouse and lyrics by Martin Charnin.  It is currently playing at the Rochester Civic Theatre.

The script and score of this show almost feel like a draft as opposed to a final product.  The script is definitely cute and has several amusing, breaking the fourth wall moments.  Likewise, most of the songs are catchy and memorable, if reprised a bit much.  With that being said, the script also lacks a little in character development and fails to further several ideas it introduces.  For example, it’s clear that Annie has a transformative effect on the lives of the people she meets, but we only get to see the aftermath of her charm on people and never the transformative process itself.

Fortunately, the cast and crew are able to perform a bit of Annie magic on the script’s shortcomings.

Under the steady direction of Lee Gundersheimer, this show assuredly becomes more than the sum of its parts.  Gundersheimer guided his troupe to solid, effective performances.  He also has a sure sense of staging with good utilization of the theatre space.  One of the strongest staging moments was the orphans entering Warbucks’ house for Christmas.  Every possible entrance point was used including the auditorium and orchestra pit.

I salute the chorus of this production as they helped to animate the group scenes with the little bits of business crucial to creating this world.  Some standout performances came from Alyssa Keller who shines in a solo (and demonstrates unbelievable breath control) in “N.Y.C.”; Chad Campbell and Gabrielle Hensrud as the slimy, swindling couple, Rooster and Lilly St Regis; Rocco Ruggeri is spot on as the puppeteer for Sandy the dog; and I was especially impressed with Jessica Carey’s performance as Molly.  Though she be tiny, she is fierce as she has an exceptional sense of comedic timing and a larger than life presence.

Shea Morrey makes for an utterly natural Annie.  She’s adventurous.  She’s friendly.  She’s gutsy.  She’s feisty.  She’s determined.  She’s sweet.  I couldn’t help but smile at her nearly limitless optimism and she has a deadly accurate singing voice which soared in “Tomorrow” and “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here”.  She just needs to be certain to keep up the breath support in some of her higher registers.

Mark Morrey is pretty darn good as Oliver Warbucks.  I liked his firm, but fair take on the character.  Arguably, Warbucks is the most developed character in the show as he begins as being focused solely on his business, but peels off the layers to show a terribly lonely man who has a lot more in common with Annie than one would think.  Morrey is permitted to give Warbucks some surprisingly deep moments with “Something Was Missing”.  I also liked how he adapted his singing to the character voice he used for Warbucks, managing to be on key, yet sound as if he were off key at the same time.

Emily Watkins very nearly steals the show as Miss Hannigan.  Ms Watkins clearly had a ball with the role as the drunken, cruel head of the orphanage who forces her wards to clean the orphanage every single day, works them in a sweatshop, and shamelessly throws herself at any man with a pulse who walks through the door.  Ms Watkins skillfully takes this role right to the very brim to the cup, but never goes over the top.

Ellen Huston has supplied a pretty nifty piece of choreography, especially in two show stopping numbers with the children, “It’s a Hard Knock Life” and “Fully Dressed”.  Sarah Wood Lieske and her orchestra provided a spritely night of music.  Kevin Dobbe and Doug Sween make for a good tandem with the set.  Dobbe’s projections of NYC, alleys, and bridges melded well with Sween’s bunk beds, lavish Warbucks mansion, and conference table of FDR’s Cabinet room.  Marco Magno’s costumes were of excellent quality with the rags of the homeless, the cheap clothes of the orphans, and the elegance of the Warbucks household.  Paul Sund’s lights were exceptional and well suited to each scene and emotional beat of the play.

The show definitely needed much tighter cue pickups last night, but the warm and winning cast has provided a real crowd pleaser for the holiday season.

Annie:  The Musical plays at the Rochester Civic Theatre through December 16.  The show is sold out for the remainder of the run.  Rochester Civic Theatre is located at 3773, 20 Civic Center Dr in Rochester, MN.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas. . .At the OCP

A Christmas Carol Opens Friday at Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, NEA Christmas Carol opens this Friday, Nov 16, at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Nov 16 through Dec 23.

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!

Tickets for A Christmas Carol are available at TicketOmaha.com or through the Omaha Community Playhouse box office by calling 402-553-0800 or visiting 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE  68132. For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Production:  A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  Adapted by Charles Jones with musical orchestration by John J. Bennett.

Dates:  Nov 16-Dec 23, 2018 on the Hawks Mainstage Theatre (There are no performances on Nov 21 or Nov 22)

Show Times:  7pm on Wednesdays.  7:30pm Thurs-Sat.  2pm and 6:30pm on Sundays.

Tickets:  Tickets start at $40.  Prices may vary by performance.  Tickets available for purchase at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office, 6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE  68132, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at http://www.ticketomaha.com.

Directors:  Kimberly Faith Hickman and Ablan Roblin

Choreographer:  Michelle Garrity

Featuring

Jerry Longe as Ebenezer Scrooge

Chris Berger as Bob Cratchit

Madison White as Tim Cratchit

Don Keelan-White as Jacob Marley

Lori Lynn Ahrends as Ghost of Christmas Past

Bob Gilmore as Ghost of Christmas Present

And a slew of Omaha’s finest theatrical talent!!