Pretty Powerful Poison

Molina and Valentin are as different as night and day.  Molina is a flamboyant homosexual imprisoned for corrupting a minor.  Valentin is a young revolutionary full of piss and vinegar.  Yet an unlikely friendship grows between them which will be tested by a cruel warden.  And over all of this looms the specter of the Spider Woman in Kiss of the Spider Woman currently playing at the Barn Players.

Turning Manuel Puig’s heavily dramatic novel into a musical is certainly a tall order.  But Terrence McNally’s script combined with the incredible score of John Kander and Fred Ebb and the amazingly talented cast of the production makes for much much more than an effective musical.  It makes for one of the best shows I’ve seen in over 20 years of being involved with theatre.

Eric Magnus doesn’t miss a trick with a masterful piece of direction.  The staging is the strongest I’ve ever seen with Magnus’ cast making full use of Doug Schroeder’s simple and beautiful set of bars and stairs.  Magnus has pulled nearly perfect performances out of his entire cast and decisively navigates the multiple twists and turns of the plot with pinpoint accuracy.

Rarely have I seen a nuanced performance the likes of the one supplied by Joell Ramsdell as Molina.  As Molina, Ramsdell is unabashedly and unashamedly gay.  But his flamboyance covers a desperate loneliness.  All he wants is a friend.  He survives the hell of this prison by escaping into fantasy.  He thinks of his mother.  He fondly recalls the numerous movies he’s seen.  He remembers lavish musical numbers with his favorite actress, Aurora.  But he fears Aurora’s character of the Spider Woman who is Death incarnate and that character he often sees in his daily life.

The depth and range of Ramsdell’s acting is truly astonishing.  Starting off as a coward, he shows small signs of strength as he helps Valentin survive his imprisonment.  A strength that grows as his friendship with Valentin blossoms.  This leads to some of the show’s best scenes as Ramsdell shows the intense agony of a man forced to choose between his friend and his mother before making a choice that shows the meaning of courage.

Ramsdell also has a fabulous tenor which he adapts easily to comedy in “Dressing Them Up” or heart-wrenching drama in “Mama, It’s Me”.

Paul Brennan III matches Ramsdell step for step with his stirring rendering of Valentin.  Valentin is an angry revolutionary who fully believes in his cause and wants nothing to do with his new cellmate at first.  As he slowly accepts Molina’s friendship, Brennan beautifully evolves his character to show him capable of love, humor, and a bit of shocking Machiavellism.  Up until the end of the show, Valentin’s cause and desires still are the most important things in his life and he manipulates Molina’s feelings for him with an act that is both tender and selfish to get him to do what he wants.  But Molina’s choice at the play’s climax finally pushes Valentin to look beyond himself.

Brennan’s tenor will make your insides turn to jelly with a velvet voice that effortlessly knocks emotional pitches out of the park with numbers such as “Marta”, “Anything for Him” and “The Day After That”.

JC Dresslaer gets the show’s most interesting character in the form of Aurora/Spider Woman.  She’s mostly a fictional character in this world whose purpose is to help Molina, later Valentin, maintain sanity in the nightmare world in which they live.  But this allows her to do some brilliant character acting as she portrays Aurora’s various characters.  Most notably a wild rumba number (“Gimme Love”) to close out Act I and a hilarious piece of melodrama complete with over the top Russian accent to open Act II.

But Ms Dresslaer’s character of the Spider Woman haunts the world of the show with a most eerie reality and finality.  Dressed in a simple black dress, the Spider Woman exudes menace and, dare I say, gentleness with every appearance.  Yes, her appearances mean death, but she also wants to show that death is not something to be feared.

Ms Dresslaer’s dancing is so silky smooth, it makes all of her musical numbers showstoppers.  She also has a pitch-perfect alto used to excellent effect in “Come” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman”.

I was extraordinarily impressed with the mileage Emerson Rapp got out of the role of the Warden.  It’s not a big role, but the evil which Rapp imbued into the character made sure the audience was spellbound each time he appeared on stage.  He clearly considers the prisoners animals suitable for torture and murder.  He will do anything and I mean ANYTHING to get what he wants.  Poisonings, beatings, emotional manipulation, bribery. . .it’s all fair game to one of the most insidious characters I’ve seen brought to life on stage.

Paul Secor Morrel and his orchestra deftly handle the varied score with an evening of precise instrumentation.  The costumes of Fran Kapono-Kuzila are well suited to the show from the tattered rags of the prisoners to Molina’s kimono and scarves to Aurora’s numerous costumes for her numbers.  The ensemble cast also stayed in every moment to add crucial life to the story as well as adding strong voices to the chorus.

Musicals often get flak for being shallow on substance, but Kiss of the Spider Woman proves that a musical can be just as challenging and deep as straight theatre if given a chance.  If you love great theatre then you need to go and see this show.  Then you need to tell others to go get a ticket so they can see this show as it deserves a sold out run.

Kiss of the Spider Woman plays at the Barn Players through October 2.  Showtimes are Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and Sun at 2pm. There will be an Industry Night performance on Sept 26. Tickets cost $18 for adults, $15 for seniors, and $12 for students (w/ID), and groups of 10 or more.  Industry Night tickets will be $12 at the door.  To order tickets, visit the website at www.thebarnplayers.org or call 913-432-9100.  Due to sensitive thematic material and some strong language, this show is not suitable for children.  The Barn Players is located at 6219 Martway in Mission, KS.

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Diana Ross to Perform at Orpheum Theater

EXCEPTIONAL ARTISTS PRESENTS

DIANA ROSS

Friday, July 22, 2016 | 8:00 p.m. at Orpheum Theater

OMAHA, Neb. (March 28, 2016) – One of the most iconic female singers of all time, Diana Ross performs in Omaha for the first time in over 30 years – Friday, July 22, 2016; 8:00 p.m. at the Orpheum Theater.

Tickets priced $129.50, $89.50, and $69.50 will be available to the public Friday, April 1 at 10:00 a.m. exclusively through Ticket Omaha, (402) 345-0606, ticketomaha.com, or at the box office, 13th and Douglas streets.

Her musical repertoire encompasses R&B, soul, pop, disco and jazz, and includes Stop! In The Name of Love, Where Did Our Love Go, You Keep Me Hangin’ On, You Can’t Hurry Love and Endless Love, which remains one of the most successful duets in pop history.

Her lustrous career was celebrated by the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in 2007 and the Grammys acknowledged her with a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. The Guinness Book of Records has named her the “Most Successful Female Vocalist of All Time”.

Diana Ross helped shape the sound of popular music and continues to perform as one of the most identifiable, unique, beloved and influential singers of successive pop generations.

Buyers beware: Ticket Omaha is the only authorized vendor for Holland Center and Orpheum performances; tickets purchased from other sources will be more expensive with higher handling fees and carry no guarantee of delivery or being honored for admission to the performance.

For more information, visit http://www.dianaross.com/

Biography

Diana Ross’ famed and remarkable career spanning almost five decades has resulted with major awards and accolades and music history milestones. Diana Ross is a consummate performer as well as one of the most iconic female singers of all time and one of the most prominent women in popular music history and pop culture of the late 20th century.

Her international achievements were acknowledged by the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors in December 2007 in Washington, DC. The honor celebrated her lustrous career of excellence in music, film, television and theatre, as well as her cultural influences, humanitarian work and her contributions to American culture. The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (Grammys™) celebrated her remarkable career in 2012 with their highest honor, The Life Time Achievement Award.

The entertainment industry saluted her portrayal of Billie Holliday in the film Lady Sings the Blues with top awards and nominations. The Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences bestowed an Oscar nomination for her extraordinary performance as Best Actress and The Golden Globe Awards gave her a trophy for that same role. Diana Ross went on to star in further films, Mahogany and The Wiz. Ross won Broadway’s top honor with a Tony Award for her one-woman show, An Evening with Diana Ross. The same show was later broadcast as a television special.

Career milestones include induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, The Songwriters Hall of Fame, National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences Hero Award, NAACP Entertainer Award, Billboard’s Female Entertainer of the Century Award, The Soul Train Legend Award and International Lifetime Achievement at the World Music Awards. The icon is forever cemented in history with two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Stop! In The Name of Love, Where Did Our Love Go and You Keep Me Hangin’ On have all been inducted into the NARAS Hall of Fame. Stop! In The Name of Love and You Can’t Hurry Love are among The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame’s Songs that Shaped Rock & Roll. In February 2012, The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences will bestow one of its highest honors to Ms. Ross by presenting to her the Grammy’s Life Time Achievement Award.

The Guinness Book of Records jointly awarded her with its Lifetime Achievement Award and the title of “Most Successful Female Vocalist of All Time.” She first reached the No.1 position on both the U.S. and UK charts with Where Did Our Love Go. This was the first of a number of consecutive No.1 hits in the U.S.

Beginning in the 60s, as lead singer of the world renowned group, The Supremes, Ross achieved the unprecedented feat of 12 number-one singles in the U.S. becoming the most successful American group in history and rivaled only by The Beatles for the position of the biggest hit group of that generation. Diana Ross went on to achieve six number-one single as a solo artist amassing a total of 18 number-ones. Diana Ross phenomenal music career is marked by chart and commercial successes. In the U.S. alone, to date, she has tallied 31 Top Ten singles and 14 Top Ten Albums selling over 100 million units around the globe.

When Endless Love hit number-one in 1981, Ross became the first female artist in music history to place six single at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart. Endless Love remains one of the most successful duets in pop history.

Diana Ross’ musical repertoire encompasses R&B, soul, pop, disco and jazz, the recently released I Love You CD, jumped onto the chart as Billboard Magazine’s Hot Shot Debut title.

As lead singer of The Supremes, in the 60s, Diana Ross helped shape the sound of popular music, changing the landscape and paved way for contemporary music. Her love of life, never-ending wonder, the appreciation of goals and achievements and sheer human spirit define the artist that is Diana Ross and continue to make her one of the most identifiable, unique, beloved and influential singers of successive pop generations.

Hal Holbrook Brings Mark Twain to Holland Center

AWARD-WINNING ACTOR HAL HOLBROOK BRINGS MARK TWAIN TONIGHT! TO HOLLAND CENTER

Timeless Laugh-Out-Loud Humor Makes This One-Man Show a Treasure of the American Theatre

Omaha, Neb., March 3, 2016 – Emmy®- and Tony®- award winning actor Hal Holbrook brings the longest running show in American Theatre history, Mark Twain Tonight!, to the Kiewit Hall at the Holland Performing Arts Center, 1200 Douglas Street, Friday, April 8, 2016, at 8 p.m. Tickets start at $30 through Ticket Omaha at 402.345.0606, TicketOmaha.com, or the Ticket Omaha Box Office inside the Holland Performing Arts Center. Special thanks to hospitality sponsor Hotel Deco.

Once called “America’s Voltaire,” Samuel Clemens, known by the pen name Mark Twain, preceded today’s social critics with scathing but humorous satires focusing on the corruption and lies of 19th Century politicians and journalists. Twain’s novels Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer top the lists of American classics and have weathered the tests of time and include subjects that still seem significantly relevant today.

Holbrook portrays Twain as the aging character that we recognize – the white hair, brows and mustache; white suit; and the illusion that Twain is speaking in his time. “Let the audience update him,” Holbrook said. “That has made the show more powerful because human behavior doesn’t change. Neither does its foolishness. That’s the joke.”

The Washington Post said, “Holbrook’s characterization of the great novelist and raconteur is, to this day, a work in progress. The transformation is so complete as to be unsettling at times. The combination of Holbrook’s physical and vocal talents and the potency of Twain’s words is a mesmerizing thing to behold.”

A legendary star of television, movies and the stage, Holbrook has built his career on a variety of roles with no connection to Mark Twain, including Don Quixote, King Lear, Shylock, Abe Lincoln, Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman and more than 50 feature films.

He won the Tony Award for Mark Twain Tonight! in 1966 and was nominated for an Emmy Award for the show in 1967. Since then, he has received five Emmy Awards between 1971 and 1989. Holbrook was presented the National Medal of the Humanities in 2003 by President George Bush. In 2008, he was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting role in Into the Wild.

Haunting Albee Drama to End Playhouse’s Howard Drew Season

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

by Edward Albee

May 8–June 7, 2015 (Wed-Sat at 7:30pm & Sundays at 2pm)

The Tony Award-winning drama, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, is one of the greatest theatrical masterpieces of all time. As George and Martha’s marriage falls apart, their new friends, Nick and Honey, become pawns in their cruel mind games. A war of words and exercises of wits drive Edward Albee’s revolutionary play.

This production contains adult content and strong language and is intended for mature audiences.

Tickets go on sale April 28.  Tickets prices are $36 for adults and $22 for students.  Tickets can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cast Street in Omaha, NE.

media sponsor: Cox

Directed by Hilary Adams

Stage Managed by Lara Marsh

Cast

Charleen Willoughby as Martha

Brennan Thomas as George

Steve Hartman as Nick

Megan Friend as Honey