Broken Dreams

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From left to right, Tony Schik as Lennie and Josh Peyton as George

George and Lennie have a simple dream.  They just want a piece of land of their own where they can grow some vegetables, tend some rabbits, and live life as they please.  On the cusp of realizing that dream, the ground suddenly threatens to fall away from under their feet with the most cataclysmic reality.  This is John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men currently running at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Reviewing this show is a true pleasure as it is not only the best show I’ve seen this season, but also the best local show I’ve seen in the past few years.

I’m truly grateful that Steinbeck chose to translate his classic novel to the stage himself as I do not think any writer would have been able to properly communicate his ideas and themes as well as he could.  What made Steinbeck’s writing so beautiful is that he was able to present an incredible amount of themes and power, but kept it wrapped up in a relatively simple story.  At its heart, this is a story of friendship and loyalty, but Steinbeck also introduces themes of greed, poverty, infidelity, hope, frustration, love, and racism.  And he presents these ideas through ordinary, realistic conversation.

A great work needs great direction to properly relay the story to an audience and Ablan Roblin’s direction is a piece of art.  Rarely have I seen such skillful handling of a dialogue driven play.  Roblin keeps the words energized and moving.  He never allows the scenes to become static as he inserts just enough movement and animation to keep them lively and real.  His understanding of the turns and twists of the plot allows him to make sequoias bloom from the tiniest moments.  And the coaching of his cast is championship caliber.  Each actor is fully aware of her or his function and utterly confident in his or her abilities.  This allows them to come together as a whole and create something that is truly greater than the sum of its parts.

There isn’t a weak link in this cast, but some exceptional performances from the supporting cast include Donte Plunkett as a broken, acerbic ranch hand forced to live separately from his working class brethren due to the color of his skin; Mallory Vallier as the lonely, man-hungry wife of The Boss’ son, Curley; and Nick Zadina as the tough, but level headed bunkhouse leader, Slim.

Dennis Collins has a powerful turn as the one handed ranch hand, Candy.  Collins well essays the loneliness and feelings of uselessness of this character.  He’s an older man approaching the end of his days, barely able to work due to his missing appendage, and friendless except for his beloved hound.  The utter joy Collins displays through his eyes and inflection when he is allowed the opportunity to share in George and Lennie’s dream is a true treat for the audience.

Josh Peyton’s handling of George is so effortless that it almost doesn’t seem like he’s acting.  One can actually feel his bond of brotherhood with Lennie and all that entails.  Yes, you can see George’s love for Lennie as he cares for him and stands up for him, but you can also really feel his frustration at the difficulties of caring for Lennie.  Peyton’s emotional choices with his words and body language are always spot on and he is especially compelling when he has to make a crucial decision about Lennie in the play’s final moments.

I was leveled by Tony Schik’s portrayal of Lennie.  It is truly a revelatory performance that’s certain to place him in the running for the Playhouse’s prestigious Fonda-McGuire Award.  He is so utterly believable as the simple, childlike man whose intelligence and maturity is incapable of handling his incredible strength.  Shick brilliantly communicates Lennie’s essence with a slack jaw, veiled eyes, constant excited giggling, and a delivery that shows that Lennie really has to think about what he wants to say before he can say it.  You can’t help but love this big kid, yet ache at the fact that his immaturity and unpredictability make him hard to handle, though life is certainly never dull with him around.

Jim Othuse has crafted another winner with his bunkhouse set.  It is exactly what it needs to be:  simple, dilapidated, but functional for working men.  His lights enhance the moments from darkening at climactic moments to the night sky in the opening scene.  Darin Kuehler’s props add to the effect with his bunk beds and authentic bales of hay.  John Gibilisco’s sounds strongly support the work with sounds of ranch hands talking and the clink of horseshoe playing.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are perfect from the elegant dress of Curley’s Wife to the rich clothing of The Boss to the gear of the ranch hands and the poor, common clothing of George and Lennie.  An original score by Timothy Vallier helps to sweep the audience into this world.

John Steinbeck was truly one of America’s greatest writers and this is one of his finest works.  It may not be the feel good play of the year, but it could very well be the best play of the year.

Of Mice and Men plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 17.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $40 ($24 for students) and can be obtained at the OCP box office, online at www.omahaplayhouse.com, or by calling the box office at 402-553-0800.  Parental discretion is advised due to some strong language and a few scenes of violence.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

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American Classic on Tap for OCP

Of Mice and Men Opens Feb 15 at Omaha Community Playhouse

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

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

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

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

Production:  Of Mice and Men

Written By:  John Steinbeck

Directed By:  Ablan Roblin

Cast

Josh Peyton as George

Tony Schik as Lennie

Dennis Collins as Candy

Nick Zadina as Slim

Mike Leamen as Carlson

Steve Catron as Curley

Mallory Vallier as Curley’s Wife

Donte Plunkett as Crooks

Randy Vest as The Boss

Benjamin Battafarano as Whit

 

The McGuigan Invasion

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On Feb 9, 1964, a group known as The Beatles made an appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.  Their triumphant American debut not only forever altered the course of American music, but triggered an event known as The British Invasion as a slew of English bands would find their way to our shores to dominate the pop charts.  Last night at the Wilson Performing Arts Center in Red Oak, IA, people got a chance to either relive that era or experience it for the first time with Billy McGuigan’s latest show, The British Invasion.

Like the Beatles, Billy McGuigan continues to churn out hit after hit and his latest show is certainly no exception.  With his one of a kind energy and ability, Billy and his band, the Downliners, took the audience on a blitzkrieg tour of the British Invasion as they snapped out a wide arrangement of songs from a variety of bands such as The Who, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Petula Clark, The Dave Clark 5, Herman’s Hermits, Cream, Them, The Rolling Stones, and, of course, The Beatles.

Billy McGuigan was in especially good voice last night and set the tone for the night with his opening number of The Who’s “Pinball Wizard” complete with some pinwheel guitar playing ala Pete Townshend. From there, he gave his rich tenor quite the hefty workout.  Whether he was belting out hard rocking numbers such as “Under My Thumb” and “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” from the Rolling Stones complete with Mick Jaggeresque dancing and strutting to singing lighter rock numbers such as Herman’s Hermits’ “Something Tells Me I’m Into Something Good” to gently emoting tender tunes like Peter and Gordon’s “I Go to Pieces”, McGuigan could simply do no wrong.

McGuigan also proved his remarkable versatility by tackling The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun” with a take that would make Eric Burdon proud.  And he actually made me like a Van Morrison song (my favorite number of the night, actually) with his interpretation of Them’s “Here Comes the Night”.

Billy McGuigan was powerfully supported by his multitalented band, the Downliners, including his brothers, Ryan and Matthew McGuigan, on percussion, bass, and backing vocals who shined in their own numbers.  Matthew worked some magic with The Kinks’ “Tired of Waiting of You” while Ryan was in full John Lennon mode with The Beatles’ “Twist and Shout” before the two joined forces on the awesome “Revolution”.  Tara Vaughan tickled the ivories as only she can and was featured in several numbers as her, oh so gorgeous, alto attacked Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man” and Petula Clark’s “Downtown”.  Omaha’s answer to Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, dazzled the audience with skillful lead guitar playing and solos while Adam Stoltenberg’s drumming was the unbreakable foundation for these numbers.

Early in the night, Billy told the audience that for a fraction of the cost of a Rolling Stones ticket we were actually hearing the same songs complete with lyrics and sung in tune.  Well, the ticket may have been a fraction of the cost, but the talent is absolutely priceless as Billy and the Downliners make these classic songs their own and you should certainly get a ticket the next time you hear that Billy McGuigan and The British Invasion is coming your way.

Locally, Billy McGuigan will be back in action on March 30,2019 when he teams up with the Omaha Symphony at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha, NE with yet another new show, America Rocks the 60s.  Ticket prices start at $19 and can be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

This summer, Billy’s keyboardist, Tara Vaughan, formally debuts her own show, She Rocks!, over at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  This production features the legendary hits of female singers and songwriters and will run for 3 weeks beginning on June 13, 2019.  Tickets begin at $30 and can also be purchased at Ticket Omaha.

A Mystery Opens Up Second Half of Playhouse Season

Omaha, NE–The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will open Friday, Jan 18 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre from Jan 18 through Feb 10, 2019.  Performances will be held Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Winner of five Tony Awards including Best Play and based on the best-selling mystery novel by Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time tells the emotional story of Christopher, a 15 year old boy with an autism spectrum condition who sets out to solve the mysterious death of a neighbor’s dog.

Directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman, the play’s vusually stunning design and innovative staging boldly conveys the point of view of the young protagonist on an incredible adventure and finds his perceptions of trust and reality turned upside-down.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $24 and prices may vary by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office located at 6915 Cass St, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

Cast

Dominic Torres as Christopher

Mike Palmreuter as Ed

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Siobhan

Karri Forrester as Judy

Amanda Stalnaker as Voice 1

Steve Denenberg as Voice 2

Sheldon Ledbetter as Voice 3

Matthew Kischer as Voice 4

Daisy Friedman as Voice 5

Silvia Conley as Voice 6

Peter Frampton as Sandy

OCP Needs Some Sailors

Omaha, NE— The Omaha Community Playhouse is holding auditions for its production of Men on Boats on Saturday, January 12 at 2pm at the Playhouse and Sunday, January 13 at 6pm at Girls, Inc.

Production: Men on Boats

Show Dates: May 3-26, 2019

Rehearsals: Begin March 24

Description: Adventure, bravery, and humorous absurdity–led by an all female cast. Men on Boats is the trueish story of ten explorers on four boats charting the course of the Colorado River in 1869. Guided by a one-armed captain, the outlandish, but loyal, crew encounter various disasters, conflicts, and harrowing adventures along the way.

Auditions: Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE) at 2pm on Saturday, Jan 12. Those auditioning should enter through the west “Stage Door” entrance and proceed to the check-in table.

Girls, Inc. (2811 N 45th St in Omaha, NE) at 6pm on Sunday, Jan 13.

Actors need only attend one audition session for consideration. Those auditioning will be asked to read from a script at auditions. If special accommodations are needed, please contact OCP prior to auditions.

Please bring 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 physical copy of a headshot or recent photo of yourself. Please note, photos will not be returned.

For more information, please contact Breanna Carodine at bcarodine@omahaplayhouse.com or 402-553-4890, ext. 164.

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

A Christmas Carol Opens Friday at Omaha Community Playhouse

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

It just isn’t Christmas without A Christmas Carol.  Experience Omaha’s favorite holiday tradition as Ebenezer Scrooge takes us on a life-changing journey filled with lovely costumes, exquisite music, beautifully crafted sets and special effects second to none.  Perfect for the whole family!

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

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

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

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

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

Directors:  Kimberly Faith Hickman and Ablan Roblin

Choreographer:  Michelle Garrity

Featuring

Jerry Longe as Ebenezer Scrooge

Chris Berger as Bob Cratchit

Madison White as Tim Cratchit

Don Keelan-White as Jacob Marley

Lori Lynn Ahrends as Ghost of Christmas Past

Bob Gilmore as Ghost of Christmas Present

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

She Rocks! She Rocks, Indeed!!

World, Tara Vaughan has arrived and she is tearing it up at the Omaha Community Playhouse in her new show, Tara Vaughan’s She Rocks.

Produced under the auspices of Rave On Productions, Tara Vaughan’s She Rocks is a killer revue focusing on the legendary female artists and/or songwriters of the 60s-80s with a splash of the 90s and today thrown in for good measure.  In a thrilling night of rock and roll suitable for people of all ages and presenting artists of all eras, you’ll hear numbers from Linda Ronstadt, Heart, The Go-Gos, Fleetwood Mac, Sandie Shaw, Amy Winehouse, Sheryl Crow, and even an original tune written by Ms Vaughan herself.

Long known as a talented singer/songwriter (and the keyboardist & vocalist for the Rave On Productions), Ms Vaughan’s talent explodes in a stunning tour de force performance for this revue.  Tara Vaughan does not play music. . .she exudes it.  It’s as if the notes just come from the very depths of her soul and she then shares it with the audience with every fiber of her being and her incredible alto voice.

Kicking it off with the sweet, but melancholic “When Will I Be Loved?” by Linda Ronstadt, Ms Vaughan proceeded to demonstrate an unmatched versatility with an extremely diverse set that included the Sandie Shaw version of “Always Something There to Remind Me”, Dusty Springfield’s “Son of a Preacher Man”, Heart’s “Barracuda”, and Blondie’s “Call Me”.  But she could also slow it down with sensitive and moving songs such as a little Cass Elliot in “Dream a Little Dream of Me”, Amy Winehouse’s “Valerie”, and Fifth Dimension’s “Wedding Bell Blues”.  However, I thought two of her best numbers in a night full of great ones were her take on Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” (a personal favorite song of mine) and her own original number written “in a similar vein of “You’re So Vain’”, “Blame it On My Youth”.

In between numbers, Ms Vaughan shared stories with the audience about the creation of the show, memories of her life, and gentle ribbing of her mother with a soft-spoken, almost shy stage presence that hooked the audience in from the first word.

The arrangement of the numbers gave the night’s music a familiar, but fresh feel and Ms Vaughan was epically supported by a powerful band which included Ryan McGuigan on keyboards, percussion, and backing vocals; Matthew McGuigan on bass and backing vocals (and a solo on The Supremes’ “Can’t Hurry Love”); Jess Errett on electric acoustic guitar and backing vocals (plus a solo with The Go-Gos “Head Over Heels”); Max Meyer, who provided some stellar solos on lead guitar, and Adam Stoltenberg on drums.  The night even included a guest appearance from Billy McGuigan who teamed up with Ms Vaughan to belt out Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell’s “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”.

This is just a taste of what those of you lucky enough to have tickets to tonight’s sold out performance have in store for you.  And if you don’t have a ticket, don’t worry.  Tara Vaughan and She Rocks will return to the Omaha Community Playhouse in late June 2019 for a three week engagement.  Tickets go on sale November 20.  I promise you an experience you won’t forget and you will find that Tara Vaughan most.  Definitely.  Rocks!!!