The Price of Family

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Upper row from L to R: Faushia R. Weeden, David Terrell Green, and Olivia Howard. Lower row from L to R: Karen S. Fox and Brodhi McClymont

A poor family in Chicago’s South Side gains a windfall of $10,000.  Amidst thoughts of dreams granted and a happier life, the money serves to deepen cracks in an already fractured unit and prove that the love of money is the root of all evil.  But the love of family still has the power to conquer all.  This is A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry and it is playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Hansberry’s script has its ups and downs.  It introduces powerful themes of family, racism, poverty, generational changes, personal identity, perseverance, hope, and self-respect, but also has some structural weaknesses.  The first act introduces several storylines for the show, but moves terribly slowly and doesn’t provide adequate build for the stories.  By the second act, the primary story of the money gains center stage, a potentially interesting subplot about a surprise, possibly unwanted, pregnancy is all, but forgotten, and a story about a young woman seeking her own identity gets a bit of short shrift.  On the other hand, the second act does provide some incredibly strong monologues and conversational moments that are a treasure trove for performers.

Tyrone Beasley’s direction is quite effective.  This show is driven solely by dialogue which can become quite dry, if not handled just right.  Beasley handles it well by having his actors make natural movements that animate the, often lengthy, conversations.  He understands the emotional beats and his actors always hit those moments subtly and organically.  He’s coached his actors to performances ranging from solid to deeply adept and I tip my hat to his superior guidance of the debuting Karen S. Fox.  That being said, I also thought the show could have benefited from a brisker pace.

Good supporting performances are given by Faushia R. Weeden who projects a spiritual weariness as Ruth Younger as she goes through the motions of life with a crumbling marriage and a hopeless future until the promise of a new home in a better neighborhood relights her candle.  Brodhi McClymont has a real naturalness for this work and provides some lighthearted moments as Travis Younger.  Christopher Scott provides a suitably subtle, polite, and slimy performance as a racist trying to engineer a buyout of the Younger’s new home in Clybourne Park so “those people” won’t move in.

David Terrell Green gives a gripping performance in his Playhouse debut as Walter Lee Younger.  At his core, Walter Lee is a good man.  He wants nothing more than to provide the best, possible life for his family, but has been so beaten down by life that he copes with his perceived failures with alcohol and sometimes takes reckless gambles in an attempt to provide that better life.  Green is dead on target with Walter Lee’s brokenness, but still shows that inner decency and drive to do better for his family.  He really sizzles in the second act when he makes an awful mistake in attempting to grab the brass ring and shows the depths of his love for his family with a performance demonstrating the utter humiliation he’s willing to undergo to rectify that error.

Karen S. Fox really dove into the deep end as she makes her acting debut with the heavy role of the Younger matriarch, Lena.  For someone who’s never performed before, Fox did an exceptional job.  She portrayed a good, Southern woman with strong faith in God and desperately fighting to hold her family together as it falls apart.  She hits the emotional beats well, reaching just the right level of anger when the bulk of her money is misused and being a bulwark for her son as she understands the impact of the blows life has dealt him.  Fox does need to make some minor fixes in volume, projection, and not upstaging herself.

Steven Williams has designed a dilapidated apartment whose spaces between the boards help to communicate the poverty in which the Youngers live.  Tim Vallier has composed a haunting score for the show which is sure to stir your heart.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes well display the social status of the various characters from the cheaper quality clothes of the Youngers to the more elegant wear of the wealthier Karl Lindner and the more educated Joseph Asagai and George Murchison.

This preview night performance did have some difficulties.  Pacing was quite slow.  Pickups for internal and regular cues needed to be much, much quicker.  Energy was sorely lacking for stretches, but when it was there, the dialogue sparkled and popped.  There was also an x factor missing from the performance.  Actors know that feeling.  It’s that magical something that causes the show to take on the fullness of its own life and it is an intangible.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  When it’s not there, the show feels like a rehearsal.  When it’s there, that’s when the show reaches maximum potential.

At the end, this is a story about family.  Its highs and lows.  Its joys and trials.  Its hopes and dreams.  A night with the Youngers just may give you a new perspective on life.

A Raisin in the Sun plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Feb 9.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $24 ($16 for students) and vary by performance.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office. Due to some adult language, parental discretion is advised.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

An Open Letter to Omaha

An Open Letter to Omaha

by Daena Schweiger

First, thank you for taking the time to read this. I debated long and hard before doing this. It may not help. It may, in the end, not be a good thing. But it comes from the heart. If I didn’t feel as I did, I would keep my thoughts to myself. And these are MY THOUGHTS. Mine alone. Want to be clear about that.

Okay. Let’s get real.

The reality is SNAP! Productions and The Shelterbelt Theatre need your help if we are to find a home in 2020. If we don’t find a home in 2020, that’s it. No more. We will have given it our best shot for two years. The longer we stay away the harder it is to come back. We had a shot at a space a year ago. A legit shot. And we lost it. Not because of anything we did or did not do. We lost it because the landlord walked away at the 11th hour. Literally.

We have searched high and low for a space that meets updated code requirements that a 25 year grandfathered status no longer affords us. Finding a space that had things that we ABSOLUTELY NEED – ADA bathrooms, HVAC system – at a rent price that was at a level we could afford is a daunting task.

We looked at gutted spaces but other building codes kept us at bay, not to mention a hefty price tag to add those absolute needs that our former space didn’t have, and didn’t require. 2019 was as depressing as 2018 when it came to finding what we needed.

Okay. Let’s get more real. *SPOILER ALERT *

We have a space. Some of you out there know about this. Despite the fact that the boards were sworn to secrecy. So, it’s not truly a spoiler. We have a space. Well, technically it’s not OURS. YET. But we have one. All we need to do is sign a Letter of Intent. It has everything we need – ADA bathrooms, HVAC systems, a PARKING LOT… everything you could want in a theatre… except… well, a theatre space in the space.

And therein lies the rub.

Renovations.

We need to renovate the space to make it a theatre. It’s move in ready. Except we need to make a theatre. And a rehearsal space. And a green-room. And the cost to do those renovations are a lot. How much? High five-figure to low six-figure depending on what we determine are high / low needs vs wants. It’s the difference between a wall separating a rehearsal space and curtains, light trees vs a light grid, wooden platforms or flex seating.

Those numbers are for a move-in ready space that will provide our patrons with a serviceable theatre space with upgraded amenities.

SIGN. THE. LEASE. You say. We do too. But the funding…

Both theatres have skin in the game. But, we need some assurances from our community that you will help with the rest. Yep, we’re working out the details for a capital campaign. We’re doing this the right way.

But, we survived for 25 years through grants, ticket sales and donations. Fundraising will take time for us. And time is something we don’t have.

We can’t sign a letter of intent unless we know how much we can put into renovations. We can’t announce the location because we don’t have a signed letter of intent. We can’t fundraise until we announce a location and sign a Letter of Intent.

You see a pattern here? A chicken-egg scenario.

So, there it is. That’s the scenario both theatres are dealing with as I type this.

Many of you have spoken to members of both theatres lamenting the loss in the community. We feel it too. 8 productions lost. No place for actors, playwrights, directors, designers to cut their teeth. No place to produce new works or produce works that mirror the changing climate in our communities.

We need sustained financial support from you to make this a reality in 2020.

We lost a space a year ago. Please help us to keep from losing what may well be our last shot.

How Can You Help?

RENT SPONSORS

Make a 5 year commitment to become a rent sponsor for one of the theatres. 5 years at whatever level you can contribute. Our suggestion is between $500 – $2,000 each year for 5 years. Why a rent sponsor? A Rent sponsor allows us to build our audience without worrying about paying the rent and build a rent account to draw from year 6 on so that we’re always working ahead of the game.

“GET US OFF THE GROUND” DONATIONS

Help us get to the point where we can effectively run a capital campaign. 20 people making a donation pledge of $5,000 or more would help us secure the renovations we need to sign the letter of intent and move us into the space so we may begin producing again. 40 people making a $2,000 pledge or more would help us secure the renovations we need. 60 people… well, you get the idea.

MATCHING GIFTS

If you belong to a company willing to provide us with a matching gift, please have them contact me.

That’s it. That’s the pitch.

I am passionate (to a fault) about these two spaces. I have been on both boards, cut my teeth doing productions at both theatres, and am feeling all the feels now that they are gone. I felt like I needed to address the elephant in the room after two years.

I have no development background. Don’t claim to. I don’t believe this will hurt our chances. I’m gambling it will help. If nothing else, at least you’ll understand that we’ve actually been trying to do SOMETHING to keep it going.

If you can help, please send me an email at daena.schweiger@gmail.com.

Let me reiterate – while I once served as a board member for Shelterbelt, and am at present a board member for SNAP! Productions, I am not speaking as a board member. I am speaking as a playwright, an actor, a stage director, a lighting designer, and a box office volunteer. These theatres lasted for 25 years before losing their space through no fault of their own. We need these two theatres to survive. And we need your help, and the help of others you may know, to help get us up and running so we can move forward for the next 25 years.

Thank you.

‘A Raisin in the Sun’ Launches 2nd Half of OCP Season

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) production of A Raisin in the Sun will open Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at OCP from Jan. 17 through Feb. 9. Performances will be held Wednesdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $24 for adults and $16 for students, with ticket prices varying by performance. 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.

SHOW SYNOPSIS

Winner of five Tony Awards®, A Raisin in the Sun confronts life in South Side Chicago through the eyes of the Younger family. After years of battling poverty and racism, the Youngers hope an unexpected insurance check will be their ticket to a better life. With the looming fear that this may be their only chance, the family is torn apart as they struggle to agree on the most effective way to use the money.

Directed By:  Tyrone Beasley

Cast

Brandon Williams as George Murchison

Brodhi McClymont as Travis Younger

Chris Scott as Karl Lindner

Darcell Trotter as Bobo

David Terrell Green as Walter Lee Younger

Donté Lee Plunkett as Joseph Asagai

Faushia Weeden as Ruth Younger

Karen Fox as Lena Younger

Olivia Howard as Beneatha Younger

Richard Borg as Moving Man

 

OCP Invites You to Join Peter Pan’s Party

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Auditions for For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday

Dates:  1/11/2020 at 11am and 1/12/20 at 6pm

Location:  6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE  68132

Director:  Kimberly Faith Hickman

Written By:  Sarah Ruhl

Synopsis

For Peter Pan On Her 70th Birthday follows 70-year-old Ann and her four siblings as they face the loss of their father. As the siblings revisit their childhood and upbringing—including Ann’s adventures onstage as the star of Peter Pan—the audience gets a sentimental glimpse at what it truly means to grow up and a touching reminder that you’re never too old to fly.

Characters

Ann: Between sixty and seventy. Plays Peter Pan.
John: Late sixties. Plays John in Peter Pan.
Jim: Mid-sixties. Plays Captain James Hook in Peter Pan.
Michael: Early sixties. Plays Michael in Peter Pan.
Wendy: Late fifties. Plays Wendy in Peter Pan.
George: Eighties. In Movement One, a dying man; in Movement Two, a ghost; in Movement Three, himself.
Those auditioning will be asked to read from the script provided at auditions.

All contact information, personal schedules and a list of rehearsal conflicts with which to fill out an audition form.

To expedite the check-in process – please bring a recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.

 For additional information, please contact Tiffany, at (402) 661-8539.

Have Yourself a Plaidful Little Christmas

A musical group returns to life. . .again. . . to spread some holiday cheer.  This is Plaid Tidings by Stuart Ross and is currently playing at the PART Theatre.

This show is less musical and more musical revue as the group, Forever Plaid, spend the evening entertaining the audience (sometimes even involving the audience) with a series of Christmas songs, standards, and pop tunes.  The revue is tied together by the story that Forever Plaid was a musical group that died en route to their big break.  They got to come back once to do the show they never got to do and now have mysteriously returned again for a new mission:  spreading the joy of Christmas.

Since this show doesn’t have the traditional narrative track, there isn’t much acting in the sense of storytelling though those playing Forever Plaid are truly characters with delightful idiosyncrasies and quirks.  Smooth, this group is not.  Forever Plaid definitely has a raw talent musically, but they lack polish which leads to much of the show’s humor.  But this show also has some deeply sensitive, bittersweet, and sad moments that will give your heartstrings a little tug.

Gordon Cantiello provides admirable direction with the piece.  He has staged the production almost as a tiny club or lounge performance and well utilizes the theatre space as Forever Plaid engages with the audience and sings throughout the performance area.  He well defines each member of the group as each person has a distinct and unique personality and history.  Cantiello has also created some of the most amusing choreography I have ever seen with some of the dance moves of Forever Plaid.

The key to this show is casting as those playing Forever Plaid need a vibrant chemistry plus be able to powerfully play off each other along with performing well musically.  Well, this cast certainly has that in spades as I genuinely believed this group had been together for years due to how well they bantered with each other.

In a group of sad sacks, Justin Dehmer’s Smudge was definitely the saddest sack of all.  Projecting the image of a high-strung nerd with his taped-up glasses and complaints about his ulcer.  Dehmer has good vocal range and usually sang the deeper parts of the harmony on the night’s many numbers.  Dehmer also has the acting moment of the night as his Smudge shares the tearjerking story of why Christmas was his favorite time of the year.  The centerpiece of his story is his using the emotion of it to turn one of the most jubilant Christmas songs, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”, into a moving heartbreaker.

Jon Hickerson’s Frankie struck me as the de facto leader of the group as he was the one pushing the team to keep focus on their mission.  He has an excellent 2nd tenor voice and a good grip on humor as he had the most amusing monologue of the night with his psychological and emotional observations on Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman.  Hickerson also led the night’s most entertaining number, “Matilda”.

Roger Bunnell’s Jinx just might have the potential to be the breakout member of Forever Plaid.  Jinx is the shyest member of the group with a propensity for nose bleeds, but once he gets into the music, his is a rare talent.  Bunnell’s singing voice evokes images of Gene Pitney in natural setting and range, Michael Crawford in timbre, and Lou Christie for sheer falsetto power.  Some of his standout moments are his solo scene when he busts out “Besame Mucho” and “Kiss of Fire” and shows some Gene Kellyish dancing skill when he hoofs it up with “Singin’ in the Snow”.

Josh Dewberry’s Sparky is a human joke machine.  Dewberry has a superior sense of comedic timing and knows how to be physical with his comedy, especially with his rendition of “Fever”.  His lovely tenor was also featured well in “We Wish You a Perry Christmas” which was a segue from the story Sparky shared about the night Forever Plaid met Perry Como.  He does need to be careful with his diction on that lengthy story as it got a bit mushy at some points.

Peggy Holloway’s musical direction is top of line and she does excellent song interpretation on the piano and is ably supported by Bud Phillips on bass.  Mary Mullen Ferzely and Rob Lohman did a wonderful job decorating the theatre and making it feel like the perfect setting for a festive holiday show.  Jackson Hatcher’s sound effects were spot on, especially his ominous claps of thunder.  Josh Dewberry pulled double duty with a nifty bit of lighting design.  Lee Meyer and Gentleman’s Choice teamed up to properly costume Forever Plaid with tastefully gaudy plaid tuxedos and Comoish Christmas sweaters.

If you are a fan of standards and pop tunes, you are going to enjoy this show.  And if you’re a fan of Christmas songs (and I know I am) you are REALLY going to enjoy this show.  Spend a bit of the Yuletide season with Forever Plaid.

Plaid Tidings runs at the PART Theatre through Dec 15.  Showtimes are 7pm Thurs-Sat and 2pm Sat-Sun.  Tickets cost $35 ($30 for seniors and $25 for students).  For ticket information, contact 402-706-0778.  PART Theatre is located inside Crossroads Mall at 7400 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.

Join ‘A Chorus Line’

BLUEBARN THEATRE announces auditions for 

A Chorus Line    

Sunday, January 5th from 3pm-6pm

& Monday, January 6th from 6-9pm

Auditions will be held at the theatre: 1106 S. 10th St Omaha, NE 

The BLUEBARN will hold auditions for A Chorus Line in two sessions. Participants are asked to choose either the Sunday or Monday session and be available for the entire three-hour block.

Auditions will consist of cold readings, singing and dancing.

Please wear comfortable clothing and appropriate footwear. Formal dance training not specifically required, but confidence in learning and executing a variety of dance styles, along with visible fluidity of movement, is necessary.

Please prepare 16 to 32 bars of music (or about 1 minute of singing) that showcases your vocal and storytelling abilities. Given the deeply personal and biographical content of A Chorus Line, we are specifically looking for physical and emotional connection to your material. Please do not choose a song from A Chorus Line. An accompanist will be provided. Please bring printed sheet music, double-sided, and in a three-ring binder. If your audition cut is two pages, single-sided and side-by-side in a three-ring binder is preferred.

Actors of all ethnicities and gender identities over the age of 16 are encouraged to audition. Please contact Barry, at bcarman@bluebarn.org, to sign up for a session.

A Chorus Line runs May 14th through June 14th, 2020. Rehearsals begin April 13th.

For a casting breakdown please visit us at www.bluebarn.org/auditions.

THE CUT DANCERS (18-40) All Genders & Ethnicities.  Perform entire opening sequence until cut. Dance in “At The Ballet” (looking for 2 women who can dance on point). Some may be asked to understudy. Entire ensemble will be off stage singers throughout the show.

Yesterday and Today. . .Forever

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It’s that time of year when Omaha’s greatest musical act teams up with history’s greatest band.  Yes, indeed, it’s Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience and it has returned for its twelfth season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It’s amazing the massive effects one small change can have on something.  After twelve years, Billy McGuigan had felt the band had become a little too complacent with the show and were only playing their favorite requests and veering away from the original spirit of the production.  Lead guitarist Jay Hanson then hit upon an idea that would completely reinvent the show.

Why didn’t they just pick the songs live on stage and then play them?

As hard as it is to believe, that idea has evolved Omaha’s premier holiday tradition into something even greater.

The McGuigans (Billy, Ryan, and Matthew) and their band were energized in a way I’d never seen before due to the element of danger in walking this musical tightrope. Would they be up to the challenge of playing any Beatles song suggested?

The answer was a most emphatic YES!!!

I had wondered how well this new format would work as there are three kinds of Beatles fans.  You’ll have your casual fan who would know their biggest hits like “Yesterday” and “Hey Jude”; your more knowledgeable fan who will know their more successful works like “Eight Days a Week” and “We Can Work it Out”; and finally the hardcore megafans who have the library imprinted on their minds and want to hear “Dear Prudence” and “I’m Only Sleeping”.

Would there be enough variety to satisfy these three groups?

Again, a most emphatic YES as the night was filled with a plethora of famed hits and a few obscure delights that were picked right on stage or flashed directly onto monitors behind the band.

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Billy McGuigan

Billy McGuigan once again ruled the night with a supercharged performance.  Billy seemed imbued with an almost unearthly energy and that’s saying something for this indefatigable engine of talent.  Billy and his devastating tenor ripped through rockers such as “Roll Over Beethoven” and “The Night Before”, sweetly sang “Let it Be”, and was melancholically vibrant with “Things We Said Today”.

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Ryan McGuigan

Ryan McGuigan got to be the most versatile performer of the night as he and his other worldly raw tenor voice went through a mini-history of the Beatles library as he belted out classics like “Ticket to Ride”, nailed the 50+ year masterpiece that is “A Day in the Life”, and visited the Beatles’ flower power phase with “All You Need is Love”.

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Matthew McGuigan

Matthew McGuigan supported the numbers with his pluperfect bass playing and had his own impressive run when he came out roaring on “Revolution”, dominated the stage with “Hey Bulldog”, and revved up the crowd with a particularly peppy “Paperback Writer”.

The McGuigans were once more aided by their incredibly talented band who each got their moments in the spotlight.  Jay Hanson had the audience riveted with his phenomenal guitar work and was in fine voice on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the obscure gem, “For You Blue”.  Rich Miller was the rock with his flawless rhythm on the drums and on a simple box during a segment where the band performed Beatles songs acoustically.  He also shone in a solo as his strong baritone entertained the crowd with “Yellow Submarine”.  Tara Vaughan masterfully played the keyboards as only she can and dazzled with a musical solo mimicking the piccolo trumpet part in “Penny Lane” and she belted out “Oh Darling!” with an alto that would have had Paul McCartney’s jaw dropping.

I’d also like to salute the guitar genius of Max Meyer as he warmed up the crowd with soft instrumental versions of the Beatles’ songs.  Eleven year old Ciaran McGuigan also showed he will be more than capable of leading the next generation of this show as he showed some potent skill with his own guitar playing on instrumental versions of “Blackbird” and “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” as well as supporting his dad, Billy, with pitch perfect playing on “Yesterday”.

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The present and future of Yesterday and Today

It was obvious that the crowd hungered for more as they lingered about after an encore hoping that the band would return to grace us with another tune or twenty, but they and you can certainly get another dose of the one of a kind talent of this group as the show will run through New Year’s Eve.  But I’d get tickets mighty quick if I were you as the sellouts have already started.

It’s hard to believe that Yesterday and Today has been going strong for twelve years and continues to strengthen with each passing year.  With the talent of the McGuigans and their all-star band and the blossoming skill of the next generation, we may very well see Yesterday and Today. ..forever.

Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience plays at the Omaha Playhouse through Dec 31.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets begin at $40 and can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the box office.  On New Year’s Eve, a double performance will be held with shows at 7pm and 10pm.  Tickets for these shows will be $60 for the 7pm show and $80 for the 10pm show.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

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Yesterday and Today. . .Forever