OCP Serving Up a Dessert of a Play

Omaha, NE.– The Cake opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Friday, October 7. A celebrated North Carolina baker is thrilled to finally design a wedding cake for her goddaughter. But when she learns the marriage is between two women, she begins to feel conflicted. A surprising and sweet take on a modern-day controversy, seeped in humor and warmth. Disclaimer: Contains adult language and brief nudity.

The show will run on the Howard Drew Stage from October 7 – November 6, with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $36, with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

Directed by: Kim Clark-Kaczmarek

Cast
Kathleen Combs as Della
Doug Rothgeb as Tim
Roz Parr as Jen
Delaney Jackson as Macy

Making the Grade

Desperate to earn some money to pay rent, slacker and wannabe rocker, Dewey Finn, poses as a substitute teacher at an elite prep school.  When he learns that his students are excellent musicians, he forms a rock band with them to enter a Battle of the Bands contest, but in the process of preparing for the event, teacher and students help each other to find their voices.  This is School of Rock and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Julian Fellowes’ story is really a middle of the line story.  His use of the “discovering your real self” motif doesn’t break any new ground and the story fluctuates from being extremely engaging in any scene with Dewey and the kids to going a bit blasé in most big group adult scenes.  In fairness, that may also be by design as most of the big group adult scenes take place in the rigid environment of Horace Green.  Even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music seems to lack a certain sizzle.  There’s no real standout with the rock numbers with the exceptions of “You’re in the Band”, “Stick It to the Man” and “School of Rock”, though his softer, slower numbers truly do shine.

The thing about a middle of the line story is that acting becomes the real difference maker.  Strong acting can help elevate it and that’s exactly what happens here.  The ferocious tsunami of energy supplied by the cast and their high quality musical chops move this show from an OK show to a very good one.

Stephen Santa rises to the challenge of directing this show.  He gets everything he can out of the slower paced scenes and the high energy scenes really crackle and pop.  I especially applaud Santa’s work with the children as they were truly natural and believable and brought me back to my own days in elementary school.  Santa also does excellent work guiding his adult actors, especially his two leads who give charming, winning performances.  I also appreciate Santa’s eye for a good gag with the Mission:  Impossible like escape from the school being a particularly good piece of pantomime.

As I previously stated, this show is mostly about the kids and they do a tremendous job.  They seemed utterly comfortable on stage and I loved how they were just willing to play which is the secret to really great acting.  I also tip my hat to their skillful playing of the instruments live onstage (I truly thought they were miming until I was just clued in).  Some of the A+ performances from the class came from Thomas Rogers and Zidyn Burton whose singing voices are angelic and utterly enthralling.  Liam Richardson gives a sweet performance as the reticent and less than cool Lawrence.  Vienna Maas had the audience roaring with some of her histrionics.

I think I burned off a few thousand calories just watching Thomas Gjere tear it up as Dewey Finn.  The man is indefatigable in a role that has almost zero down time.  Finn is always on and definitely has the energy of a hard rocker.  He’s also selfish and childish as he refuses to be a responsible adult and uses the kids to further his own ambitions.  Under the crud beats a pretty good heart as he is willing to listen to the kids and give them all a spot in the band.  Gjere also has a rocking tenor which can belt out a fine tune in “Stick It to the Man” and “You’re in the Band”.

Lauren Krupski is a delight as Horace Green’s principal, Rosalie Mullins.  Krupski nails it as the stiff as a board principal who lost her humanness in the pursuit of being a perfect administrator to satisfy the snooty parents who pay $50K a year to educate their children, but refuse to let the kids be themselves.  I especially enjoyed when Krupski peeled off the layers of the principal to reveal the easy going person underneath whenever she heard music.  And what a voice!  Krupski’s operatic soprano was stunning in “Queen of the Night” and my favorite number “Where Did the Rock Go?”

Vivian Rase gets a gold star for her performance as Summer Hathaway.  Rase is uptight to the extreme as Hathaway who seems bound and determined to skip childhood with her obsession for accomplishments and her blunt directness with adults.  She never really relaxes, but does positively rechannel her traits when she becomes the band’s manager where her fastidiousness keeps things rolling and organized.  Rase does need to watch her articulation a bit, especially at the top of Act II.

Steven Williams has designed one of the most creative sets I’ve seen as he frames the stage with a giant radio complete with speakers and buttons.  His classroom will take you back to your childhood days, especially with the enhancements of Andrew Morgan’s properties.  I loved Josh Wroblewski’s colorful use of lights especially in solo scenes when concert spotlights start highlighting the singers.  Melanie Walters’ choreography is simple, but effective and consists mostly of people rocking out and headbanging.  Jim Boggess and his band couldn’t fail if they tried and add real emotion to the softer numbers and pop for all they can with the rock numbers.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes hit the mark with the sloppy, uncoordinated clothing of Dewey to the stiff business wear of most of the adults to the school uniforms and their rock band counterparts.  Tim Burkhart & John Gibilisco’s sounds add the proper feel and ambiance.

Some actors needed to be a bit more animated and I heard some difficulty hitting notes on the higher and lower ends of the register, but all in all, it’s a light and enjoyable night of theatre and you’re going to have a ball right along with the kids and Dewey.

School of Rock runs at Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 16.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $25 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Taking You to School

Omaha, NESchool of Rock opens at the Omaha Community Playhouse on Friday, September 16. A middle-aged wannabe rock star lands a new gig as a substitute teacher at a prestigious prep school, where he transforms a group of straight-A students into a face-melting rock band. Based on the hit movie starring Jack Black, School of Rock features a cast of young rock stars who act, sing and perform all of the show’s rock instrumentals live on stage. 

The show will run on the Hawks Mainstage from September 16 through October 16, with performances Wednesdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $25, with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com

Production: School of Rock 

Production Dates: September 16, 2022 – October 16, 2022 

Show Times: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays; 2:00 p.m. Sundays 

Tickets: Starting at $25. Prices vary by performance. Tickets are available for purchase by phone at (402) 553-0800, online at OmahaPlayhouse.com, or in person at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132                                                 

Cast: Thomas Gjere (Dewey Finn) 
Lauren Krupski (Rosalie Mullins) 
Jonathan Berger (Ned Schneebly) 
Elizabeth Avery (Patty Di Marco) 
Logan Graves (Theo/Mr. Noble/Bar Guest) 
Brent Goetzinger (Doug/Mr. Green/Bar Guest) 
Brenden Brown (Bob/Gabe Brown/Policeman) 
Joey Galda (Snake/Mr. Hamilton/Teacher/Bar Guest) 
Mason Jaeger (Stanley/Mr. Sandford/Mr. Sanders) 
Bob Gilmore (Mr. Mooneyham/Mr. Janes) 
Dana Smithberg (Mrs. Hathaway/Ms. Bingham) 
Alex White (Mr. Williams /Mr. Woodard) 
Justin Parsley (Mr. Spencer/Mr. Wagner) 
Kimberly McGreevy (Ms. Sheinkopf) 
Alicia Amedee (Ms. Gordan/Bartender/Mrs. Turner/Security Guard) 
Victoria Krol (Ms. Macapugay/Jill Sanderson/Bar Guest/Mrs. Travis) 
Vivian Rase (Summer Hathaway) 
Oakland Anderson (Zach Mooneyham) 
Zidyn Burton (Tomika) 
Liam Richardson (Lawrence) 
Whitney Ingvoldstad (Katie) 
Johnathon Kreiling (Freddie Hamilton) 
Lily Sanow (Marcy) 
Charlotte Ziegler (Shonelle) 
Cruz Martinez (Mason) 
Thomas Rogers (Billy) 
Samuel Fong (James) 
Anina Frey (Sophie) 
Vienna Mass (Madison) 
Emmitt DeWater (Noah) 
Vivian Rase (Summer Hathaway) 
Oakland Anderson (Zach Mooneyham) 
Zidyn Burton (Tomika) 
Liam Richardson (Lawrence) 
Whitney Ingvoldstad (Katie)  
Johnathon Kreiling (Freddie Hamilton) 
Lily Sanow (Marcy) 
Charlotte Ziegler (Shonelle) 
Cruz Martinez (Mason) 
Thomas Rogers (Billy) 
Samuel Fong (James) 
Anina Frey (Sophie) 
Vienna Mass (Madison) 
Emmitt DeWater (Noah)

A Hunka Hunka Burnin’ Fun

Casey, an Elvis impersonator, loses his performing job at a Panama City nightclub just as he learns he is about to become a father.  In a twist of fate, he suddenly has to sub for one of the drag queens in the act that replaced him and learns that he not only has a knack for this performance style, but that it can pay really well, too.  Determined to provide for his family, Casey forges The Legend of Georgia McBride and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

When I was asked to review this show, I cocked an eyebrow at the synopsis as I wasn’t certain how much mileage could be gotten out of the joke of a drag queen Elvis.  Turns out it was quite a bit as this show flies.  Matthew Lopez has written one of the best comedies I’ve seen as it truly made me laugh out loud with jokes and one-liners I never saw coming, but also has sensitivity and depth with several moving, heart-wrenching moments. 

OCP’s new Associate Artistic Director, Brady D. Patsy, has a fabulous directorial debut with this production.  Patsy has a firm grip on the beat changes of this story which is especially impressive as it often slides from over the top hilarity to raw, heart attack seriousness, sometimes within the span of a few beats.  Patsy does some impressive staging with Jim Othuse’s unique three pronged set (1/3 being the club’s dressing room, 1/3 being the club’s stage, and the other 1/3 being the apartment of Casey and his wife, Jo) as he makes use of each tiny space in such a way that it never feels bunched up or cramped.  Patsy has also led his thespians to platinum performances with nary a weak link in the group.

The show has some singular supporting performances from Dennis Collins as the prickly club owner/manager whose awkward introductions improve as the influx of money into the club increases.  Olivia Howard shines as Ryan’s wife, Jo, the level headed partner who justly frets about the lack of income to cover their living costs, especially with their incoming arrival.  Brock McCullough generates laughs as the soused Anorexia Nervosa whose passion for booze matches her inflated ego, but McCullough also gets one of the most devastating moments of a night with a monologue about true bravery in the face of prejudice.  Giovanni Rivera is a delight as the slightly nerdy best friend of Casey.

Ryan Figgins has one incredible acting debut as Casey.  Figgins has some fine instincts, a sincere delivery, and the guts to just dive into a role.  Figgins gives Casey a very decent nature and a slight immaturity as he’s a big kid who hasn’t fully adapted to adult responsibilities with his obliviousness to the family finances.  But when the pressure is on, he rises to the occasion as he’s willing to become a drag queen to pay the bills.  Figgins has phenomenal facial expressions from his heart in this throat looks when he does his first Edith Piaf number to his extreme confidence once he’s formed the identity of Georgia McBride.  Figgins also has a fine tenor voice with his song “Lost and Found”.  Figgins just needs to be a little louder in his more serious moments and to move the fingers on his left hand when he is playing the guitar to show chord changes.

Ryan Eberhart just eats the role of Miss Tracy Mills.  He is so theatrical and fits the larger than life nature of Mills to a T.  His mentoring of Casey in the art of drag queening are hilarious, but Eberhart is also capable of some serious acting such as when his Mills teaches Casey an important life lesson of figuring out who you are and hopefully to figure it out faster than she did (though Mills is enjoying the third 20 years of her life).

Jim Othuse’s lights help to enhance the show especially with the sometimes failing Cleo’s sign.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes are top of the line especially with the gowns and dresses of the drag queens and Casey’s Elvis costumes.  John Gibilisco’s sounds really suit the mood of the show from the use of Elvis numbers for the scene changes and the songs used in the revue scenes.  Roderick Cotton’s choreography help the realism of the revue scenes and make for a very entertaining curtain call.

If you’re looking for a laugh filled night that will put a squeeze on your heart at the same time, then go see The Legend of Georgia McBride.  It’ll cure what ails you.

The Legend of Georgia McBride runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Sept 18.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $36 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. Due to adult language and themes, this show is not suitable for children. The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Unfortunate Son

An estranged, biracial couple confront their personal feelings, biases, perceptions, and demons on race and bias as they try to uncover the truth about their son’s involvement in an incident with the police.  This is American Son and it is currently playing at Benson Theatre.

Ladies and gentleman, this is theatre at its pinnacle.  At its peak, theatre not only entertains, but also educates and gets you to ask hard questions and look deep into yourself.  Christopher Demos-Brown has written a phenomenal script that raises excellent talking points and presents terrific POVs on race and bias.  Demos-Brown does superior work in showing how experience and reality influence perception and belief and how often we are unable to see the whole of a situation or story because we automatically filter it through said perceptions and beliefs.  Demos-Brown’s dialogue sparks with intensity and believability and you’ll feel as if you were paintbrushed with a brick, then had your stomach punched with a gauntlet from the inside out before the night is through.

This script is fantastic fodder for a great cast and director and this show has that in spades and then some.

Kathy Tyree does some of her finest directorial work to date with her deft handling of the material.  Tyree makes this show move as the performers ride their lines as if they’re riding bucking broncos.  The words don’t just move, they gallop.  Pacing was smooth as silk and the staging was brilliant as the performers are always on the move and take needed energy breaks (as much as they can be in a story this charged) during the quieter moments.  Tyree’s coaching of the cast was top of the line as each gave a spot-on performance with cue pickups as tight as the passing of a baton in a relay race.

Jared Cernousek and Jus. B help anchor the show with dynamite work in supporting roles.  Cernousek is in fine form as the green, newbie police officer who is still polishing his people skills and meticulously following the book as he tries to balance duty and protocol with assisting the concerned and frustrated parents.  Jus. B, who is fast becoming one of the city’s must watch performers, adds another feather to his cap with his portrayal of the polite, but no-nonsense liaison officer who can clearly take command of any situation in which he finds himself and can cut to the heart of a matter with a few well-spoken words.

But this show rides on the shoulders of the couple who have the bulk of the show’s grueling dialogue and Kerri Forrester and Matt Allen deliver the goods all night long.

Kerri Forrester is perfect as Kendra.  Forrester is utterly believable as the concerned mother as she frantically dials and redials her son and his friends in order to learn of his whereabouts and condition.  Forrester’s Kendra can come off as very abrasive, though said abrasiveness is born out of concern for her child and her frustration at the seeming inability of the white characters to understand things from her point of view as a black woman.  Forrester’s versatility is incredible in her numerous scenes with Allen as she vacillates between her anger with him at their separation to intelligent discussions about their different worlds to some very tender moments of love remembered between them.

Matt Allen is as natural as they come in the role of Scott.  An experienced FBI agent, Allen’s Scott comes off as more diplomatic than his estranged wife due to his understanding of the bureaucracy of police work and having likely dealt with high-pressure, life-threatening situations.  But he’s also capable of his own moments of anger and frustration that begin to bubble up into violence.  Allen adeptly carries his end of his conversations with Forrester especially his frustrations as one of the causes of their separation is his belief that she inserts race into situations where he believes it never came into play.

John Forsman is a technical force of nature as he designed a comfortable waiting room in the police department with its couch, chair, coffee table full of magazines, and billboard with announcements and wanted posters.  I was especially impressed with his window which displayed actual rainfall of a storm that intensified with the rising stakes of the story.  Forsman also made good use of sounds with the beep of incoming texts, thunder, and the sound of a video sent to Scott concerning the incident with his son.  Bradley Pesarchick well costumes his actors with the uniform of Officer Larkin, the suits of Scott and Lt. Stokes, to the rumpled clothes of Kendra who clearly had a sleepless night.

Benson Theatre is the newest artistic venue in Omaha and a work of this caliber has me convinced that it has a fine future.  This show asks some powerful questions without being judgmental.  Each character has valid points and each is also wrong at various moments as they let their biases and perceptions prevent them from seeing the whole.  This show is not an easy watch, but you also won’t be able to turn away.

American Son plays at Benson Theatre through August 27.  Showtime is 7:30pm on Friday and Saturday.  Tickets cost $20 and can be purchased at bensontheatre.org.  Due to mature themes and language, this show is not suitable for children.  Benson Theatre is located at 6054 Maple St in Omaha, NE.

OCP Holding Auditions for “Fences”

Omaha, NE–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) is holding in-person auditions for Fences at the Omaha Community Playhouse, located at 6915 Cass St. Omaha, NE 68132 and Pear Tree Performing Arts at 4801 NW Radial Hwy Omaha, NE 68104 on Sunday, August 28 and Monday, August 29. To schedule an audition, please visit the website here.

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

Synopsis
A former African American League baseball player struggles to co-exist with the racial trauma he still
carries from his time in the league. When his frustrations lead to a series of tragic choices, his
relationships with his wife and son suffer the consequences. Set in the 1950s, Fences is the sixth
installment in The American Century Cycle, a series of ten plays by August Wilson that trace the
Black experience through 20th century America.

Directed By: Brady Patsy

Auditions are by appointment only. Please complete the audition form to schedule a time. When
arriving to audition at the Playhouse, please enter through the Stage Door entrance on the West side
of the building. Those auditioning should be prepared to spend 60-90 minutes at the audition.

Audition preparation: Click here for the audition material.
Roles: Click here for character breakdown.

For more information, please visit www.omahaplayhouse.com.

The ‘American Son’ Rises at Benson Theatre

Benson Theatre is pleased to announce the next production in Benson Theatre- Season 1, Coming Home . .

Christopher Demos-Brown’s American Son
Directed by Kathy Tyree

Production Dates: August 18, 19, 20, 21, 25, 26, 27
Curtain Times: 7:30pm Thursdays through Saturdays, 2pm Matinees on Sundays

Synopsis
An estranged bi-racial couple must confront their feelings about race and bias after their son is
detained by the local police following a traffic stop incident. Their disparate histories and
backgrounds inform their assumptions as they try to find out what happened to their son.

Tickets cost $22 and be purchased at http://www.bensontheatre.org.

Benson Theatre is located at 6054 Maple St in Omaha, NE.

A Legend Opens New OCP Season

Omaha, NE– The Omaha Community Playhouse opens its 22/23 Season on Friday, August 19 with The Legend of Georgia McBride by Matthew Lopez. The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre through September 18 with performances Thursdays through Sundays. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $36, with prices varying by performance. Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, 6915 Cass St., Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

SHOW SYNOPSIS: A Southern straight boy and out-of-work Elvis impersonator discovers a hidden talent—and a way to pay his mounting bills—after a drag queen convinces him to fill in on stage for one of her shows. Now if he could only find a way to tell his pregnant wife about his new hobby. A laugh-out-loud comedy filled with music, heart and plenty of sass. Disclaimer: Contains adult language.

Directed by: Brady Patsy

Cast

Ryan Figgins as Casey
Ryan Eberhart as Miss Tracy Mills
Brock McCullough as Anorexia Nervosa
Olivia Howard as Jo
Dennis Collins as Eddie
Giovanni Rivera as Jason

Legal Dose of Love

After being dumped by her boyfriend due to not being perceived as serious enough for the political career he has planned for himself, Elle Woods hatches a plan to win back his love.  She decides to follow him to Harvard Law School.  Initially disdained by her classmates, Elle eventually shows them she’s got what it takes to be Legally Blonde which is currently playing at Lofte Community Theatre.

I had neither seen the movie nor read the original novel, but after seeing this show, I might now do so.  The character of Elle Woods is a fictionalized version of the novel’s author, Amanda Brown, who was inspired to write the book based off her own experiences as a blonde law student at Harvard.

It’s actually a really great tale that reverses the traditional “fish out of water” story.  In this case, the fish is already a highly popular student, but that popularity doesn’t follow her to Harvard due to the highly competitive, ultra-serious nature of her fellow law students.  The show also touches on themes of self-respect and not to judge a book by its cover.  A lot of Elle’s early troubles at Harvard are the result of her bubbly personality and obsession with fashion leading her peers to think she’s an idiot, conveniently ignoring the fact that she was admitted to Harvard which means she is smart (she had a 4.0 grade average as an undergrad).  But when she finally applies herself, her peers’ eyes finally open to that reality.

Kevin Colbert’s direction is truly marvelous in this production.  Energy starts at a fever pitch and manages to be maintained throughout the show.  Pacing was right on the mark and Colbert knew how to merge the serious with the funny, expertly following those beats as those two elements were often in the same scene and, sometimes, the same moment.  Colbert has molded a wonderful set of performances from his actors that were utterly believable and just a load of fun to watch.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, an invested ensemble adds so much to a large scale production and I was extremely impressed as to how much the ensemble was into this show.  In bigger scenes, I kept my eyes on them just to see what little reactions and touches they would add and it really helped this world to blossom. 

Some great performances in the supporting/featured cast include Wade Mumford who nearly got a standing ovation mid-show for the way he simply walked into a salon to make a delivery and let the women ogle him.  Peyton Banks is shallow as the status chasing Warner Huntington III and has a nice falsetto with “Serious”.  Zoe Tien exudes a great superior than thou attitude with her take on Vivienne Kensington, a rival of Elle’s who has a rod up her backside which had a rod up its backside that I strongly suspect had a rod up its backside.  Max Antoine is very convincing as Professor Callahan, a popular law professor who is predatory inside and outside of the courtroom and classroom.

It was great seeing Anna Rebecca Felber grace a stage again as the theatre community has sorely missed her talents.  Felber shines as Paulette Buonofuonte, the hairdresser with hutzpah who befriends Elle.  Felber has comedic timing which can’t be taught and does more with a look or expression than some can with multipage monologues.  Felber has the loyalty and “take no guff” attitude needed for the hard as nails New Englander.  Felber can also belt out a tune like few can with a stirring rendition of “Ireland”.

Alex Rownd makes for a fine everyman as Emmett Forrest.  Normally, he would be the traditional “fish out of water” as he came from the poor side of town and had to make it to Harvard based on grit and grades.  But it’s his “fish out of water” nature that allows him to support Elle as he recognizes that same out of placeness in her and helps her to find that “chip on her shoulder” needed to succeed and quiet the naysayers.  Rownd brings real decency and an honorable nature to the dedicated student and he has a pristine tenor which he can use to humorous effectiveness in “Chip On My Shoulder” to a sweet sadness in “Legally Blonde”.

I rather hope Lofte qualifies for OEA nominations because Olivia Sis’ portrayal of Elle Woods not only deserves a nomination for Leading Actor in a Musical, it was also, for my money, one of the best performances of the season.

Sis just exploded onto the stage and had energy that would light up New York.  She perfectly captures Elle’s essence with that supreme self-confidence, enthusiastic personality, and devotion to fashion.  Most importantly, she doesn’t play her dumb.  Elle is smart, but not always a dedicated student unless the subject matter interests her.  Sis laid out a beautiful arc for Elle as she actually starts this show with a lack of self-respect, though she may not be aware of it as she follows (almost stalks) her ex-boyfriend to Harvard to win him back.  But when she realizes how vapid he is and the joy of using the law to help the underdog, she really begins to peak personally.

Sis also has an incredible singing voice as she consistently knocked balls out of the park with “What You Want, “So Much Better”, “Bend & Snap”, and “Legally Blonde”.

Benjamin Pettiford and his band nailed the peppy score to the floor and I give them bonus points for an item I’ll discuss shortly.  Becca Schmucker has crafted the new best piece of choreography I’ve seen on a metro stage.  It’s fun.  It’s exciting.  It’s inventive.  And the dancing in “Whipped Into Shape” is easily the best dance number ever performed locally.  Mark C. Koski at Sceneographics designed a very ambitious three tiered set with columns painted by Linda Dabbs whose rotations and incoming and outgoing properties of Shila Hansen & The Cast changed locales.  Kevin Colbert’s lights help add some ambiance with the almost pinkish light in Elle’s room to the use of focused spotlights on more serious moments.

For all the great things this show offered, it had one powerful thing working against it and that was microphone volume.  I had a very difficult time hearing the cast during Act I and they would sometimes be drowned out by the music of the band.  And here’s where the bonus points come in as the band picked up on that and lowered the volume in Act II so the actors could be heard more easily and the issues finally cleared by the climax of the show. 

That being said, this is still a virtually perfect night of theatre.  It’s a fun story with some surprising depth fueled by a high powered cast more than up to the challenge.  Take advantage of its last weekend and see a fantastic production.

Legally Blonde performs at Lofte Community Theatre through July 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets cost $24 and can be purchased at www.lofte.org, visiting the Box Office, or by calling 402-234-2553. Lofte Community Theatre is located at 15841 Manley Road in Manley, NE.

The Candy Man Can

From L to R: Bodie Kuzminski, Lennon McGuigan, Jay Hanson, Brinlee Roeder, Lily Sanow, Pieper Roeder star in ‘Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka’

Reclusive confectioner, Willy Wonka, holds a contest to find an heir to his chocolate factory.  Through the discovery of golden tickets hidden in Wonka candies, five children arrive at the factory for a fantastical tour and a series of morality tests to determine who is worthy to succeed the legendary candymaker.  This is Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka and is currently playing at Scottish Rite Masonic Center under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

I’m glad to see Rave On experimenting with their content.  After a series of highly successful maturely themed rock musicals, Rave On does a 180 with a family show highlighting the students of the McGuigan Arts Academy.

Now this is a youth version of Willy Wonka so it runs a bit shorter than the traditional version as well as making a few changes to the story.  For example, in the youth version, only the children take the tour of Wonka’s factory.  The adults are left out.  In either case, Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald’s adaptation of the tale blends Dahl’s novel with the famed 1971 film.  It’s a faithful retelling, though I wish the writers had gone with the film’s climax which, surprisingly, is superior to the novel’s climax.  Bricusse and Anthony Newley also have written a series of fun songs, some original and some lifted directly from the film.

Kimberly Faith Hickman really provides a fine piece of direction and I especially applaud her work with the children.  Their work ranged from promising to excellent with some providing performances that were as good or better than work I’ve seen performed by some adults.  Hickman generates a real sense of whimsy and fun and tosses in a bit of theatre magic along the way with a brisk pacing that just makes the show fly.

Outside of the title character, the adults take a back seat in this production though Brandon Fisher does get to shine with an eccentric Grandpa Joe who fills Charlie’s head with tales of Wonka’s factory and acts as a bulwark to Charlie’s disappointments with “Cheer Up, Charlie”.

But this show is ultimately about the kids and the featured characters admirably carried the weight of the show.  Lennon McGuigan is clearly having a ball, not to mention being round as one, as Augustus Gloop and adds just the right level of theatricality with his number, “I Eat More”.  Pieper Roeder is snidely competitive as Violet Beauregarde who is drawn to gum like a moth to a flame.  Bodie Kuzminski is not only obnoxiously disrespectful as Mike Teavee, but adult actors can take lessons in projection and articulation from him. Lily Sanow has a bright future in theatre ahead of her as evidenced with her turn as Veruca Salt.  Sanow was perfect as the snotty, spoiled rich girl who demands catering to her every whim.  Sanow also has a pretty and powerful voice as she belts out Veruca’s personal anthem, “I Want it Now”.

Brinlee Roeder is very effective as Charlie Bucket.  Roeder brings a real sincerity and decency to the good-hearted Charlie who constantly encourages the family to “Be Positive” even in the most dire of circumstances.  Roeder also has a nice singing voice, shining in “Flying” and reducing the audience to tears of laughter in “Burping Song”. 

For a guy only acting for the second time in his life, Jay Hanson has some potent instincts for storytelling.  Hanson beautifully underplays the role of Willy Wonka, giving him a quiet impishness and a natural sardonic nature useful for bantering with the naughty brats in his tour group.  I was especially impressed with Hanson’s turn as an unnamed candy seller (implied to be an incognito Wonka) who seems to have a bit of magic about him as he helps Charlie obtain the final golden ticket.

Hanson’s singing is in its usual fine form with stellar turns in “Pure Imagination” and a creepy performance of “There’s No Knowing”.

Matthew McGuigan’s musical direction is in rare form.  No pun intended, but he doesn’t kid around with the music.  He keeps it light and fun, but the tunes also have underpinnings of rock with a smidgen of jazz that just gave it a unique and pleasing flavor.  Carly Frolio’s costumes are right on the mark, suiting the personalities of the characters and hearkening back to the film’s depiction of said characters.  I especially liked Wonka’s outlandish outfit of green pants with purple coat, vest, and brown hat and her Oompa Loompa outfits which conjured images of 90s hip hop performers with colorful stocking hats, black shirts, suspenders, and long colored striped socks.  Kate Whitecotton well utilizes the backdrops at Scottish Rite to take us from the poor home of the Buckets to the magnificent innards of Wonka’s factory.  Kyle Toth’s lights help to support the show with his LSD inspired colors for the “There’s No Knowing” number being particularly effective.  His technical skills were also quite impressive especially with the transformation of Violet into a giant blueberry.

There were some technical squoinks as the microphones would go from being so sensitive that I could hear normal breathing to going so soft that I’d lose singing to the instruments, but the cast didn’t let these slight bobbles have an impact on their performances.

If you’re a fan of the film and/or novel, you’re likely going to be a fan of this show as well.  The children put on a fine production with a little help from the adults and you’re going to have a scrumdiddelyumptious time.

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka plays at the Scottish Rite Masonic Center through July 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sunday at 2pm.  Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at https://www.theomahaseries.com/willywonka.  Scottish Rite Masonic Center is located at 202 S 20th St in Omaha, NE.

Photo Credit: Rave On Productions