One Man’s Truth

Adam Richardson stars as Malcolm X in Opera Omaha’s X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X

Hardened by anger at racism, personal tragedy, and a criminal lifestyle in his youth, Malcolm Little loses his sense of self and purpose.  He discovers the Nation of Islam while serving a prison sentence and emerges as Malcolm X with an inner fire and a sense of purpose that took the world by storm.  Come discover his life and times in X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X which is playing at the Orpheum Theater under the auspices of Opera Omaha.

While I’ve seen a few rock operas, this was my first experience at watching a true opera and it is definitely a very different style of performing.  It’s a bit more stoic and less animated than traditional theatre.  There’s definitely an element of acting, but it gets a bit trickier as nuancing a song is a touch harder than nuancing dialogue due to having to be able to do it on key.  But there’s nothing like music to sweep you away to another world and this cast does a phenomenal job in taking you through the complex life of Malcolm X.

It assuredly takes a village to create an opera and that starts with getting the right music, words, and story together.  This show has a mighty triumvirate in the forms of Anthony Davis, Thulani Davis, and Christopher Davis.  Anthony Davis’ music crackles with an intensity and has the feel of traditional opera from the times of Wagner and Mozart, yet he can also contemporize it when it segues into a light, jazzy feel.  Thulani Davis (librettist) and Christopher Davis (story author) create the structure and words of the tale and I admired the truly honest way they portrayed Malcolm X.  They don’t try to romanticize him.  They paint a realistic picture of who he was and the influences that shaped him.  They even use actual quotations from Malcolm X to paint that real and true portrait.

Robert O’Hara does some amazing direction with the piece.  His staging is so skillful and has some of the most precise placement of performers I have ever come across.  Never was there a moment when I couldn’t see the face of each and every performer.  He makes an opening meeting in the house of the Littles seem relaxed and welcoming.  A scene in prison feels controlled and regimented, especially with the vision of iron bars separating the prisoners.  O’Hara makes certain his actors are fueled with an intensity that just leaps out and grabs you by the throat and hits the emotional beats of the story with deadeye accuracy.

In opera, as in theatre, the value of an ensemble is key as they form the backbone of the staged world.  Each was always in the moment and their beautiful voices added some heavenly harmonies to the show.  But I’d like to especially cite the work of Charles Dennis whose presence is always felt as Young Malcolm Little.  Outside from having to get the show up and running, Dennis also often pops up in scenes with his adult self as a reminder of innocence lost and, perhaps, regained after Malcolm X’s hajj.  Dorse Brown, Christopher Jackson, Corde Young, Jay Staten, and Mikhail Calliste also form a Greek chorus to help move the story along with their lithe and exemplary dancing which was stunningly choreographed by Rickey Tripp.  Whitney Morrison gives a haunting portrayal of Louise Little, Malcolm’s mother, who succumbs to madness after the untimely death of her husband.  You can just see her sense of life and self fade from her body as it sags and goes limp after the news of her husband’s passing.

I was blown away by the work and voice of Victor Robertson.  Robertson shows some true versatility with his disparate performances of Street and Elijah Muhammad.  As Street, Robertson oozes an oily charm as he takes Malcolm under his wing, but leads him down an ill path of drugs and crime.  As Elijah Muhammad, the leader of the Nation of Islam, he exudes authority and an iron fist and woe betide any who disobey his orders.  Robertson is blessed with an otherworldly tenor that can hit and sustain sonic high notes with an effortless ease.

Adam Richardson is a force to be reckoned with as Malcolm X.  His powerful baritone is well suited to the serious and driven Muslim minister and activist.  Richardson captures the intensity of Malcolm X well as he never smiles and rarely reacts to outside stimuli.  By that I mean he never swallowed bait designed to get him angry.  Malcolm X always believed in preaching the truth as he saw it and didn’t shy away from the consequences of doing so.  Richardson presents a man truly committed to his cause and his ability to act with his eyes gives you a glimpse into Malcolm’s thought processes and feelings.  You can see and feel his hurt when he is silenced by the Nation of Islam after speaking on JFK’s assassination.  You understand his disillusionment with Elijah Muhammad when he learns of his less than strict adherence to the Law.  And you can see his inner transformation and sense of peace after his hajj where he comes to believe that Sunni Islam is the key to true brotherhood.

Gil Rose’s conducting is right on the mark and his musicians are always precisely on point with the notes and power of the score.  Clint Ramos has designed a seemingly simple set, yet there’s such detail about it.  He uses a background stage for public talks, battered walls for street corners, and has a banner running across the top of the stage on which Yee Eun Nam is able to project images of the KKK, the names of racism victims, and flashes of lightning.  Dede Ayite’s costumes are elegant and eye-catching from the zoot suits of Malcolm’s younger days to the simple dark suit he often wore to the suit, bowtie, and distinctive hat of Elijah Muhammad.  Alex Jainchill’s lighting added that emotional je ne sais quoi to the opera especially with the softer focus on Malcolm X in his more contemplative moments.

Omaha was fortunate to host the Midwest premiere of this opera and the New York Met better ready itself because this opera is going to go nova and have people coming in droves.  You still have one last chance to see it locally before it heads out, but act fast as the Sunday show is nearly sold out.

The final show of Opera Omaha’s X, The Life and Times of Malcolm X takes place on Nov 6 at 2pm at the Orpheum Theater.  Tickets range from $19-$99 and can be purchased at Ticket Omaha or by calling the Box Office 90 minutes before showtime at 402-345-0606 or 866-434-8587.  The Orpheum Theatre is located at 409 S 16th St in Omaha, NE.

Photo by Opera Omaha-Tom Grady

It Came Upon a Midnight Drear

Schoolmaster Ichabod Crane arrives in the village of Sleepy Hollow to instruct students and direct the church choir.  While there, he sets his eyes on the fortune of Baltus Van Tassel and his beautiful daughter, Katrina.  In his path lay a formidable rival and the headless ghost of a Hessian soldier.  This is The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and it is currently playing at BlueBarn Theatre.

As normalcy continues to return to the world, I’ve found myself returning to a lot of things that I did before the pandemic.  So it seems apropos that I get another chance at reviewing a version of this story.  Washington Irving’s gothic tale is one of my favorite short stories.  Both times I heard about a production of this story I had the same question, “How does one take a 20-30 minute tale and spin it into a full length production?”  The first version I saw went wide of the mark.

Ben Beck and Jill Anderson hit a dead center bullseye.

Beck and Anderson’s version of the classic ghost story is completely faithful to the original even to the point of using Irving’s own lines.  How did they expand it into a full show?  Not by adding unnecessary scenes, but by expanding Irving’s references.  When Ichabod is invited to a fall harvest at the Van Tassel’s, they do a formal invitation scene.  When they say they’re going to tell ghost stories at the party, they tell some ghost stories.  Thus, Beck and Anderson retain the story’s original intention and are able to present its full power to the public, greatly boosted by top of the line direction and acting.

Jill Anderson has taken on a very unique challenge with her direction of this production.  This is not a regular play.  Rather it blends several styles of performing.  There most assuredly is acting, but there is also puppetry, pantomime, and storytelling.  That final point is crucial because there is a difference between acting and storytelling.  Acting is presenting the truth of a character, but storytelling is exactly what it sounds like and provides a certain leeway in being a bit bigger and over the top.  Anderson effortlessly fuses the multiple styles of performing to create a gripping tale, adds some icing with her coaching of the cast, and tops it with the cherry of her staging which uses the whole theatre and I mean the WHOLE theatre.  Watch out when Ichabod starts wandering through the woods.

This show is primarily narration with the actors occasionally becoming characters (with the exception of Ichabod) to help propel the story along.  As such it eschews normal analysis, but the ensemble does excellent work in presenting the story.  Where needed, they give it humor, drama, and even chilling tension.  Each performer gets a chance to shine such as Abz Cameron’s take on the coquettish (I say shallow and manipulative) Katrina Van Tassel.  Raydell Cordell III generates some of the show’s biggest laughs as an uneducated, uncouth farmer plus Crane’s housing host, Hans Van Ripper.  Rodger Gerberding makes for a surprisingly convincing mistress as Van Tassel’s wife.  Roderick Hickman has a voice made for narration.  Theresa Sindelar provides laughs as a bratty student in Ichabod’s class and exudes authority as Baltus Van Tassel. 

Brandon Williams is a standout with his key role of Ichabod’s rival, Brom Bones.  Williams’ powerful baritone perfectly suits the athletic and confident Brom and he gives Brom that important quality of likability.  Sure, he’s a bit of a rowdy, but has “more mischief than ill-will in his composition”.  And I like how his facial expressions and snarling make clear he’d like to drive his fist into Ichabod’s beaked nose, but settles for juvenile pranks and perhaps one not quite so juvenile.

Josh Peyton is perfect as Ichabod Crane.  Peyton gets Ichabod and realizes he’s no hero.  Crane is actually a very unlikable person.  He’s smug.  He’s vain.  He’s superstitious.  He’s a craven coward.  He flaunts his education.  He ingratiates himself to the local women to share gossip and to feed his face (and he’s a gluttonous pig) and, while he may truly be smitten with Katrina, is more attracted to her father’s wealth.  Peyton embodies all of these traits and enhances them with a loose-limbed walk and dilletante voice to emphasize Crane’s reediness.

This particular show relies on its technical aspects more than most shows I’ve seen and their support is solid as an oak.  Olga Smola has composed an original score that can spook you or make you feel like you’re in a frolic and done solely with her fierce violin playing and Julia Williams’ dandy accordion work.  Sarah Rowe has designed a set of cardboard trees and fanciful overhang with a horse’s head and crescent moon suitable for a bit of storytelling and fleshed out by Craig Lee’s artistry and Amy Reiner’s properties.  Bill Kirby’s lights really pump up the story with some of my favorite moments being when Ichabod is riding through the woods alone in the deep, dark night and the final lighting effect of the Headless Horseman’s pursuit of Crane.  Jill Anderson’s knowledge of period accurate costumes is second to none as all of the characters look like they stepped out of the late 1700s with frock coats, three pointed hats, and frilled shirts.

This is a show made for the Halloween season and is a faithful rendition of one of the all-time classic gothic tales in American history.  Sellouts have already begun so grab a ticket before they’re just a wisp of a memory.

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow plays at BlueBarn Theatre through Oct 31.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Thurs-Sat and Sundays at 6pm (no show on Oct 9 and 2pm matinee on Oct 23 in lieu of 6pm show).  The show will close on Monday, Oct 31 with a 7:30pm show.  Tickets cost $37 and can be purchased by calling 402-345-1576 or visiting www.bluebarn.org. BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

Deck the Halls or Die Hard

BLUEBARN THEATRE Proudly Presents:

The Return of Our Holiday Smash Hit

A Very Die Hard Christmas
by Jeff Schell and the Habit

November 26th-December 19th, 2021
Wednesdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm
Sundays: 11/28 at 2pm| 12/5 at 2pm & 6pm | 12/12 & 12/19 at 2pm
No show Thursday 12/2

Forty Floors of Sheer Adventure!

Tickets
General Admission($35) and Educator|Healthcare|Military($30)

Tickets are available at bluebarn.org or through the box office @ (402) 345-1576.

About the Play
The Best. Holiday Show. Ever. Based on the Best. Christmas. Movie. Of All Time. Is. Back! Join us once again at Nakatomi Plaza! It’s John McClane versus Hans Gruber with Christmas itself on the line! Grab your Twinkies, your cocaine, and your favorite explosive device for our star-studded remount of A Very Die Hard Christmas.

About the Production
A Very Die Hard Christmas features Hughston Walkinshaw, Katie Becker-Colón, Theresa Sindelar, Josh Peyton, Jonathan Purcell, Ronnie Shelley-Perez, Diane Watson, Raydell Cordell III, Bill Grennan, Todd Brooks, Kerron Stark, Don Harris, Therese Rennels, J.J. Davis, and Wai Yim. Directed by Susan Clement. Dramaturgy by Barry Carman. Sound Design by Bill Kirby. Properties by Amy Reiner. Set Design by Bob Donlan. Lighting Design by Josh Mullady. Costume Design by Jenny Pool. Choreography by Melanie Walters. Fight Direction by Ezra Colón.

ASL interpreted performance Thursday, Dec. 16th.

BlueBarn Theatre is located at 1106 S 10th St in Omaha, NE.

That Meddlesome, Magical Matchmaker

Matchmaker (and jane of all trades) Mrs. Dolly Gallagher Levi schemes to marry half a millionaire Horace Vandergelder and make a few more happy couples while she’s at it.  This is Hello, Dolly! with book by Michael Stewart and music and lyrics by Jerry Herman and it is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

If I ever relocate, I’m going to make certain Springfield is one of the cities I consider due to the sheer quality of entertainment available here.  I heard Broadway grinding its teeth as SLT’s production of Hello, Dolly! blows away anything currently playing on The Great White Way.  If you want a great night of theatre, catch a showing of this production.  Costumes?  Gorgeous!  Set?  Fabulous!  Orchestra?  Pluperfect!!  Singing?  Phenomenal!!!  Acting?  Superlative!!

Chyrel Love Miller takes on the grueling double role of director and choreographer for this production and comes up aces on both counts.  Miller’s direction is of shining quality.  She knows every beat of the show, both musically and theatrically and nuances the tar out of it while keeping a brisk pace.  Her staging is top of the line and makes maximum use of the space which was doubly impressive in this case as the actors had to navigate around the orchestra pit for a great many of the musical’s showstopping numbers.  Her actors are all sublime and have crafted well-developed characters from the leading performers to the ensemble roles.

The only word I can think of to describe her choreography is epic.  This show has huge, flashy numbers and a lot of them.  But each is an original delight and the performers nail the dancing with nary a mistake.  Some especially impressive numbers include “Put On Your Sunday Clothes”, “Dancing”, “Hello, Dolly”, and “Polka”.

I give a standing ovation to the ensemble of the show.  I can never stress enough how a committed ensemble adds so much life and vitality to a production and they helped this show blossom.  All were having a good time and that sense of fun really communicates itself well to an audience.  They harmonized perfectly on the numbers and their dancing was entrancing.

Some especially strong supporting performances were provided by Heath Hillhouse who makes a stellar debut at SLT with his potentially tyrannical take on Rudolph Reisenweber, the head waiter at Harmonia Gardens; Hayden Gish as Minnie Fay, the milliner’s assistant whose nosiness clashes with her attempts to be proper; and Wyatt Munsey whose energy as Barnaby Tucker could light up a city.

Kim Crosby IS Dolly Levi!  I don’t mean she plays the role.  She IS the role.  Crosby had the audience in the palm of her hand from her first word and didn’t let go for one nanosecond.  Crosby’s delivery is satin smooth which is essential to the silver and glib tongued matchmaker who has a positive genius for meddling, but always uses it as a force for good with her heart of gold.  Crosby uses stage space like few performers I’ve seen and it always gives her Dolly an animated, realistic feel.  She also has a lovely alto which she modulates according to number from her confidence in her abilities to do just about anything in “I Put My Hand In” to her determination to start living life again in “Before the Parade Passes By” to her joy at returning to Harmonia Gardens in “Hello, Dolly”.

Eric Eichenberger is a likable grump as Horace Vandergelder.  He claims that 99% of society is foolish, but does have a soft spot once you peel away enough layers.  Eichenberger does superb work walking the fine line of keeping Vandergelder a curmudgeon while also showing that he’s still decent even if he is a bit rough around the edges.  Eichenberger also has a fine upper baritone which he utilizes to explain why he needs a wife in “It Takes a Woman”.

Gene Kelly once described the role of Cornelius Hackl as an attractive idiot and I believe that description suits Clayton Avery’s interpretation of the role.  Avery’s Hackl is a bit repressed and has lived a sheltered life.  At 33, he’s never even talked to a girl.  Avery does superior work communicating Hackl’s inexperience around women and has a remarkably sincere delivery.  He also well displays Hackl’s lack of mental swiftness.  It’s not that Cornelius is dumb.  He just improvises poorly when the pressure is on.

Avery has a dandy, crystal clear tenor which was quite entertaining with “Put On Your Sunday Clothes” and genuinely moving in “It Only Takes a Moment”.

Kassandra Wright is both sweet and tart as Irene Molloy.  At one moment, she’s delighting in a potential bit of devilry as she plans to flirt with Cornelius before dropping him cold and then wistfully remembering the real love she shared with her late husband, Peter, in “Ribbons Down My Back”.  This song is sung with a heavenly soprano that nearly brought me to tears.

John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed a winning set with backdrops that bring one to the cobblestoned streets of turn of the century New York and drills the sheer elegance of Harmonia Gardens with a massive staircase and a pair of curtained, private dining rooms.  Ginny Herfkens and Sandy Balsters designed some brightly colored, period appropriate costumes sometimes bordering on the pastel.  The elegant gowns of the ladies and snappy suits of the men evoke memories of a long ago era.   Parker Payne and his orchestra provide a night of musical ambrosia and I’d like to note Lysander Abadia’s particularly meticulous work in his choreography of “Waiters’ Gallop”.

As I said earlier, if you’re looking for a musical that ticks all the boxes for a great night of entertainment, then this is the one for you.  And as much as we hope, “Dolly’ll never go away”, you’d best grab a ticket before she does.

Hello, Dolly! plays at Springfield Little Theatre in the historic Landers Theatre through Feb 23.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $16-$32.   For tickets visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

I’ll Take the High Road, Days 1-2: Honored Feasgar Math (Good Afternoon)

Oh, I’ll take the high road and you’ll take the low road and I’ll get to Scotland before you. . .unless of course you’ve already been to Scotland.

It was time for another international excursion and this time the road was taking me to Scotland through the courtesy of Globus Journeys once more.

I was in for another long day of travel with 2 layovers of 3 hours and 2 hours apiece.  Actually, it ended up being a little bit longer as both of my flights arrived early.

This time around I used Delta Airlines to travel and all 3 of my flights were itty bitty.  The first two legs used regional jets that were only 4 seats across and the international leg utilized a single decker plane with rows that were only 6 seats across (what I would have expected for a domestic flight).

As I wrote earlier, Delta was exceptionally timely as my first flight got me to Detroit 45 minutes early giving me a nearly 4 hour layover.

I have never been to Detroit Metro Airport before, but it is either remarkably well-maintained or I was in a new or recently remodeled terminal.  I got a little exercise by walking from one end of the terminal to the other while I noted things to do and attempted to find a place to eat.

Since I had the time, I stopped in at the Be Relax Spa where I decided to get a 15 minute chair massage as my shoulders were feeling a bit cramped (the common complaint of a writer).  I didn’t know how cramped until Shelby started working my shoulders and said, “Oh, they are tight.”  As Shelby rubbed, elbowed, and forearmed my shoulders, I felt (and heard) them snap, crackle, and pop back into place.

With my shoulders now out of my ears, I decided it was time to find some dinner.  I wanted something a bit different and opted for Popeye’s.  They were out of the bread needed to make po’boys, so I had a 2 piece spicy chicken dinner and it truly hit the spot.

With a full stomach, I waited at the gate and read a Nero Wolfe mystery until it was time to jet to New York City.

Delta was 45 minutes early with this flight as well, so I spent the time reading at the gate and marveled at how busy the airport was at such a late hour.  I was taking my first true red-eye flight as it was leaving at nearly midnight, but the airport was still hopping.

I landed the money seat for my flight to Glasgow as I got a window seat plus was seated at the rear of the section which meant I could recline the chair as far as possible without fear of disturbing the person behind me.

While I enjoyed the seat, it wasn’t quite what I hoped as the seat was pretty much up against the wall so reclining wasn’t an option and my window wouldn’t close which meant I got a blast of sunshine in the kisser which, while enjoyable, isn’t that well received when I’m trying to rest and nap.  I plastered my pillow across the window to try to block the light with mixed results.

The flight was very smooth and I was surprised that they actually served a meal shortly into the flight as I figured they might wait and serve it closer to breakfast time as it was so late.  I declined the meal and instead watched Green Book, an excellent film about the friendship of jazz pianist, Dr. Donald Shirley and his driver, Tony “Lip” Vallelonga starring Mahershala Ali and Viggo Mortensen.

When the movie ended, I exhaled a mighty yawn, snuggled up in my blanket, and leaned my pillow against the window for some shut-eye.  I slept for about 90 minutes before some turbulence shook me awake.  Knowing I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, I watched Lost in Translation with Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, played Texas Hold Em Poker (winning two tables in the process), and had a light meal of orange juice, peach muffin, and honey yogurt around breakfast time.

Soon we began our descent and as we burst through the clouds, I was greeted by prime and lush farmland that was just pretty as a picture.  Shortly afterwards, we flew over a couple of golf courses and finally landed at Glasgow International.

I was able to grab my suitcase and blasted through Customs as Glasgow uses a passport scanner to speed up the process.  I figured I had another hour to wait as the shuttle to the hotel wasn’t scheduled to leave until 12:30pm.  I was delighted to find that it was waiting for us and I, along with 8 other group memebers, were able to be taken to our first hotel of the trip:  Doubletree.

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Doubletree Hotel in Glasgow City Centre

Upon arriving, I was informed that check-in time would not be until 3pm unless you were a Hilton Honors Member.  Since I wasn’t I was looking at 3 hours of waiting time, so I decided to explore the area.

 

I walked around nearby Sauchiehall Street, a famed area in Glasgow filled with shops and restaurants.  I passed a department store called Marks & Spencer which I’ve learned is the place to exchange currency as they charge no commission, so you get almost market value for your money.

Spying a grocery store, Sainsbury’s, I stopped in to see if I could once more find Mountain Dew for my friend, David Sundberg, and there it was right off the bat.  After getting the photographic evidence, I decided not to buy the bottle as it was large and it was written in English.

I decided to get a small snack to keep my stomach clock on a normal schedule and stopped in at a Taco Bell mainly because I was shocked to see one outside of America.  I ordered a Cheesy Double Decker Taco and learned that getting something “to go” here is getting it for “take away”.

The meat was seasoned differently than the American version.  Not spicier, but somehow sharper.  I also noted that the regional menu also included the Volcano Burrito, a favorite of Dave’s (heck, Taco Bell is his go-to joint in general).  So if you’re reading this Dave, here’s another reason to join me in my travels.

I shortly realized that my exhaustion was winning out, so I decided to sign up for Hilton Honors so I could check in early.  Not only did I get the benefit of checking in early, but it has already proven a wise decision as I will more likely than not be utilizing a Hilton property for an upcoming visit to Arizona so I’m guaranteed a better rate, early check-in, and free Wi-Fi.  Even better, it took a bit to get me a room, so the clerk offered me comps for drinks at the hotel bar.

Once I got my bags in place, I collapsed on the bed and took a two hour catnap.  I felt remarkably better upon waking as the edge was taken off the jet lag.  I wandered around the hotel a bit and then took a long, hot bath and dressed for dinner.

Dinner was held in The Brisket at the Doubletree.  Already I met quite a few new friends and enjoyed some splendid conversation with a fabulous dinner that included a pureed mushroom soup, grilled ham with a sweet glaize, new potatoes, carrots, squash, sugar snap peas, with sticky toffee pudding and ice cream for dessert.

 

I drank a Guiness with my dinner and I used one of comps to enjoy a Grandbois.  It’s a honey whiskey.  I was hoping to get an Atholl Brose, a Scottish drink consisting of whiskey, oatmeal brose, honey, and cream, but they didn’t have the fixings, but perhaps another time.  With the Grandbois, I toasted my friends, Val and Marty O’Brien whom I hoped would also be on this tour, but they will get to enjoy this tour in early 2020.

With a fine dinner digesting, I figured it was time to write and rest in order to be ready for the adventure that would begin in earnest the next day.

The Night the Music Lived

Buddy Holly Story

Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly

His career spanned a year and a half, but in that time he revolutionized rock and roll and left an indelible fingerprint that would inspire some of the greatest performers of all time.  His story is the focus of Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story by Alan Janes and currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

Janes’ script falls somewhere between a play and a jukebox musical.  Precious little of Holly’s life is covered in the show.  The play part focuses on certain key points in his life from his struggles as a teenager trying to become a rock star in the country music meccas of Texas and Nashville to his nabbing a recording contract with an open minded producer to his legendary Apollo performance to his whirlwind marriage to his break-up with the Crickets and, finally, to his final concert at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, IA.  Needless to say, the jukebox part focuses on Holly’s hits as well as numerous other hits of the day.

Tim Seib masterfully handles the dual direction required of the production.  He musters every ounce of story, nuance, and emotion from the story portion of the production.  In fact, I was incredibly impressed with his work for the romance between Holly and his wife, Maria Elena Santiago, which is the richest part of the story from an acting perspective.  Seib nabs an easy A+ directing the action of the musical part of the show which is good, old fashioned, pulse pounding rock and roll.

Some wonderful featured performances were supplied by Alan Gillespie as Norman Petty, the producer willing to allow Holly the chance to record music his way, but also lives up to his last name by attempting to screw Holly over by keeping the Crickets and taking the band name when Holly decides to change labels; Garrick Vaughan and Nissi Shalome as a pair of Apollo performers who give a rousing rendition of “Shout” and mercilessly heckle Holly and his band before their performance; Mike Brennan is an indefatigable cauldron of energy as J.P. “The Big Bopper” Richardson and excels with his solo in “Chantilly Lace”.

I’d also like to give some special notice to Alix Rhode who gives a subtle and moving performance as Maria Elena Santiago.  She is strong, bold, and so loving and supportive of Buddy and your heart breaks as you know her fears for Holly’s safety are all too true.

This show lives or dies by the performer playing Buddy Holly and Michael Perrie, Jr. admirably carries the load of this show on his shoulders.

Perrie IS Buddy Holly and practically reincarnates him in front of the eyes of the audience.  Not only does Perrie bear a remarkable physical similarity to the late singer, but he also effortlessly emulates his look, assumes his accent and speech cadences, and even gets that unique hiccup in his voice when he sings.

Perrie brings some serious acting chops to the role.  He manages to show Holly’s politeness and decency, but also his toughness as Holly wouldn’t back down from anyone when it came to his music.  He also well plays Holly’s free-spirited nature.  This was a man who always marched to his own beat no matter what anyone thought about his choices.  He also expertly handles the heartache of Buddy’s life, shedding real tears when the Crickets abandon him and, more or less, yank the band name from him.

Musically, Perrie is also outstanding.  He’s a guitar player par excellence and easily handled rock numbers such as “Not Fade Away”, “Oh, Boy!”, and “That’ll Be the Day”, but he was just as nimble and moving on the softer numbers such as “True Love Ways”, “Words of Love”, and “Heartbeat”.

Cullen Law’s musical direction was exceptional as he and his performers made these classic tunes their own.  Jack Smith’s costumes were superb, from the elegant suits for the men to the pretty gowns for the ladies. Ali Strelchun has created a nice three sided set with a massive band area at center stage, a small radio station at house left, and Petty’s tiny recording studio at house right.  Jess Fialko’s lights are spot on with colors and intensity matching the energy and emotions of the songs and an incredibly poignant blackout for The Day the Music Died.

I want to take a moment and applaud all of the actors for showing great poise under pressure as they battled microphone issues throughout the night, but steamrolled right over them.

Some music experts have argued that, had Holly’s life not been cut short, Buddymania may have ruled the world due to the breakthroughs he was making with music.  Though his life was tragically short, he left behind an amazing legacy that is still inspiring musicians today.  And if you want a taste of musical history and a fun filled time, go see this show.

Music Lived

The Day the Music Died (Left to right: Mike Brennan as the Big Bopper, Michael Perrie, Jr. as Buddy Holly, & Chase Tucker as Ritchie Valens)

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through August 11.  Performances are at 2pm on July 28, 31 and August 2-4, 6, 10, 11 and 7:30pm on July 31, August 2, 4, 7, 9-10.  Tickets start at $24 and can be obtained at www.maplesrep.com or contacting the Box Office at 660-385-2924.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Pictures supplied through courtesy of Maples Repertory Theatre

This review is dedicated to the memory of Kay McGuigan.  We miss you, friend!

American Dreams & Nightmares

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A housewife and mother of her time.  A Latvian immigrant struggling to realize the American Dream.  A ragtime musician about to have his life torn asunder by the blight of racism.  These are three people living life in America at the turn of the 20th century and their stories and the intersecting of their lives forms the plot of Ragtime by Terrence McNally with music and lyrics by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens and based off the novel by E.L. Doctorow. It is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This has been one of the more uniquely crafted musicals I’ve seen.  Usually, it seems like the songs are worked around the story of the show.  This production goes the opposite direction.  Due to the sheer size of the score, Ragtime is more like an opera and the story is worked between the songs.  And it works because the story part of the show is actually three meticulously crafted short stories which are skillfully woven together with a blend of fictional and real-life characters.

I can see why the score won a Tony Award as Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens crafted a doozy which has something for everyone.  There’s some foot stomping fun, tender love songs, and haunting numbers that will reach right in and squeeze the emotion out of your heart.  I was particularly impressed by the constant use of a singular ragtime number which either served as a springboard from which other songs would emerge or be changed up emotionally to suit the particular moment of the show.

Kimberly Faith Hickman supplies a devastating bit of direction to the production.  Hitting the beats of this show is quite tricky due to the multiple storylines which constantly trade places, but Ms Hickman manages to do so with an effortless ease.  The staging is precisely on point as it utilizes the entire stage and never is there a point where I wasn’t seeing the face of an actor.  The work of her performers is deadly accurate as they never miss a trick.

The night was loaded with sterling performances such as those provided by Jon Flower as Younger Brother, a carefree young man who transforms into a fighter for equal rights, though he doesn’t go about it in the best way.  Flower is particularly moving with his singing in “He Wanted to Say” as he tries to support Coalhouse Walker.  Joey Hartshorn is gripping as the anarchist Emma Goldman who wants to better the lives of the poor workers and bring down the rich and powerful.  Dara Hogan is going to make you cry with her turn as Sarah, the lover of Coalhouse Walker.  Ms Hogan begins as a broken, mute mother whose life has fallen apart along with her relationship with Walker.  She blooms to life as she and Walker rekindle their love before tragedy blows their lives apart due to racism’s malevolent hand.  Ms Hogan has a wonderful upper alto which shines in “New Music” and “Wheels of a Dream”.

Jodi Vaccaro is stunning as Mother.  Ms Vaccaro’s Mother is the nexus character as her life intersects with those of Coalhouse Walker and Tateh and her experiences with them change and deepen her.  When the show starts, Mother is very much a woman of her era.  She takes care of the home and raises the children and her husband is the boss.  But that begins to change when she takes in the homeless Sarah and her illegitimate child.  This breaking of the social and racial barriers of her time opens her eyes to how things are in their world and begin her journey of personal growth as she stomps those barriers flat.

Ms Vaccaro brings a genuine warmth and kindness to the role of Mother and I loved her slow and steady realization to the hardness of life outside of her upper-class walls as it made her character arc truly satisfying.  Ms Vaccaro also has a sweet and beautiful singing voice with shining moments in the touching “Our Children” and the revelatory “Back to Before”.

Mike Palmreuter gives an amazingly realistic performance as Tateh.  Palmreuter’s Tateh provides a very frank look at the plight of immigrants who came to America for the promise of the streets paved with gold only to discover a very different reality.  Palmreuter is brilliant as he plays a man struggling to realize the American Dream.  He begins as bright eyed and determined to reap the promises of the New World only to be beaten down by its harsh realities where the only thing that keeps him going is his daughter’s survival.  But it’s all worth it as his struggles do yield the promised fruit due to his perseverance.  Palmreuter has a great lower tenor and he knows how to use it emotionally from the hopeful “Success” to the bittersweet “Nothing Like the City” to the triumphant “Buffalo Nickel Photoplay, Inc.”

Over the past few seasons, J. Isaiah Smith has evolved into one of the city’s most dynamic talents.  He can sing, dance, and act and his performance as Coalhouse Walker, Jr. allows him to excel at all three at once as well as turn in a performance that puts him in the running for a second straight Fonda-McGuire Award.

In many ways, Smith’s Walker is already living the American Dream.  He’s a successful musician, a new father, his relationship with his lover is on the mend, and he can even afford a Model T Ford.  But he realizes the American Nightmare when racism not only takes away all that he’s worked for, but also denies him an avenue to justice until he feels compelled to take matters into his own hands.

Smith’s interpretation of Walker is a bit of elegant mastery.  Before his life is blasted, he’s a sweet, sensitive, happy go lucky man determined to fix his broken relationship with his lover and be a father.  After the fall, he becomes a smoldering cauldron of anger whose rampage is still tempered by a bit of honor as he’s limiting it to the bigot and the entity that bigot represents and will gladly stop once he metes out justice.  What I liked best was that he doesn’t completely lose his humanity and still makes the right choice in the end.

Smith has a mighty vocal range that soars between deeply baritone notes to high tenor ones.  Some of his best numbers were the raucous “Getting’ Ready Rag”, “Justice”, and the determined “Make Them Hear You”.

Lindsay Pape’s costumes provided an accurate depiction of life at the turn of the century with the short pants of the boys, the double- breasted suits, hats and bowlers, and the almost Victorian gowns of the wealthy women.  Jim Othuse has designed a series of set bits that could easily be moved in and out from the burgundy sitting room of Mother’s home to Coalhouse Walker’s nightclub to the posters and seaside of Atlantic City.  Michelle Garrity provides some scintillating choreography especially with “Getting’ Ready Rag”.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco have cooked up some crucial sounds from the lolling waves outside Atlantic City to the puttering of Walker’s Model T to the gunshots and explosions of Walker’s rampage.  Jim Boggess and his orchestra never miss a note with their fun and energetic take on this show’s score.

In the end, Ragtime not only provides a great night of entertainment, but it also provides an honest look at the lives of all classes of people at turn of the century America and I think it serves as a potent reminder that we have come a long way as a people, but there’s still a bit of road left to travel.

Ragtime plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through June 30.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $32 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800, or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Some parental discretion is advised due to racial epithets and a little strong language.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

(Photo supplied by Robertson Photgraphy)

PART to Present ‘The Last Five Years’

Performing Artists Repertory Theatre presents
The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown

Location:  7400 Dodge Street, Omaha, NE 68114

Curtain Times: Friday and Saturdays, March 24, 25, 31 and April 1 at 7pm; Sundays, March 26 and April 2 at 2pm.

Ticket Costs: $35 Regular Admission, $30 Seniors, $25 Students and Military

Theatre/Box Office contact info: 402-706-0778

Summary

The Last Five Years tells the powerful story of Cathy and Jamie, two twenty-something New Yorkers who dive headfirst into a marriage fueled by the optimism that comes from finding “the one.” But in a city where professional and personal passions collide and only the strongest relationships survive, Cathy’s journey is told from ending to beginning, and Jamie’s from beginning to end. Funny, honest, and intimate, and with an exuberantly romantic The Last Five Years takes a bold look at one young couple’s hope that love endures the test of time.

Cast: Leanne Hill Carlson and John Jones.

Musical Direction by Doran Schmidt

Directed by Gordon P. Cantiello

Lighting by Sandy Hatcher

Production Stage Manager:  John Flemming

Sound by Doug Huggins

House Manager:  Erron Antisdel.

Dance Theatre of Harlem to Perform at Orpheum Theatre on February 25

DANCE THEATRE OF HARLEM TO PERFORM AT ORPHEUM THEATER FEBRUARY 25

Company To Take Part in Community Engagement & Educational Activities While In Omaha, Including Master Class, Talkback, Student Matinee

Omaha, Neb. (January 14, 2016) – Hailed as bold and “unequivocally cool,” Dance Theatre of Harlem is a leading dance institution of unparalleled global acclaim with a commitment toward enriching the lives of young people and adults around the world through the arts. Omaha Performing Arts presents the renowned dance company on Thursday, February 25, 2016 at 7:30 p.m. in Slosburg Hall at Omaha’s Orpheum Theater, 409 S. 16th St. Tickets start at $20 through Ticket Omaha* at 402.345.0606, TicketOmaha.com or the Ticket Omaha office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center at 13th and Douglas streets. Special thanks to hospitality sponsor Hotel Deco XV.

The dance company’s program at Omaha’s Orpheum will include “Return,” a contemporary piece with music by James Brown and Aretha Franklin. In addition to the public performance at the Orpheum, company members will share their message of empowerment through the arts at community engagement and education activities coordinated by Omaha Performing Arts, including a lecture/demonstration during a student matinee performance, a master class for advance dancers, and a talkback following their public performance.

Founded in 1969 by Arthur Mitchell and Karel Shook, Dance Theatre of Harlem was considered “one of ballet’s most exciting undertakings” (The New York Times, 1971). Shortly after the assassination of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Mitchell was inspired to start a school that would offer children – especially those in Harlem, the community in which he was born – the opportunity to learn about dance and the allied arts. At that time, African American artists were barred from U.S. ballet companies because of the color of their skin. The company became an expression of human excellence that broke down barriers and inspired millions.

More than 40 years later, Dance Theatre of Harlem has grown into a multi-cultural dance institution known for its thrilling performances that successfully challenge preconceived notions. The company consists of 14 racially-diverse dance artists who perform an eclectic repertoire. Dance Theatre of Harlem runs a leading arts education center and Dancing Through Barriers®, a national and international education and community outreach program.

“Yankee Tavern” to Open Circle Theatre’s Season

The Circle Theatre Presents:

Yankee Tavern by Steve Dietz

​Ever wonder what REALLY happened on 9/11?  Well, just when you thought you’d heard every crazy conspiracy theory imaginable, a mysterious stranger walks into the Yankee Tavern in New York City and nothing is ever the same…for anybody.  Yankee Tavern is a fiercely funny play that will keep you guessing long after you’ve left the theatre.

Dates:  October 16, 17, 23, 24, 30, 31

Showtime:  8pm

Tickets:  $15 for adults.  $13 for seniors.  $10 for students, active military, and T.A.G. members.  Contact dlmarr@cox.net or 402-553-4715 for reservations.

Location:  First United Methodist Church (7020 Cass St in Omaha, NE)