World Premiere of ‘Red Summer’ Kicks Off Blue Barn Season


BLUEBARN THEATRE presents:

The World Premiere Production of

RED SUMMER

By Beaufield Berry

September 26th – October 21, 2019

Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm

Sunday 10/6 & 10/20 at 2:00pm | Sunday 10/13 at 6pm

About the play:  In commemoration of the centenary of the Omaha race riots of 1919, BLUEBARN presents the world premiere of Beaufield Berry’s evocative account of our city’s past centered on the story of William Brown. Accused of a crime he couldn’t physically have committed, the infamous torture and lynching of this 40 yr old factory worker is a stain on America’s heartland. Red Summer presents a compelling portrait of the black migrant experience, grounded by a deeply affecting vision of Will’s life and relationships before he became a tragic headline.

About the production:. Red Summer features Antonio Duke, Xena Broaden, Brendan Brown, Raydell Cordell III, Devel Crisp, Haley Haas, Dara Hogan, Regina Palmer, and Brandi Smith. Directed by Susan Clement-Toberer. Assistant Directed by Barry Carman. Sound and Projection Design by Bill Kirby. Properties by Amy Reiner. Dramaturgy by Denise Chapman. Set Design by Marty Marchitto. Lighting Design by Jamie Roderick. Costume Design by Kendra Newby.

This production is generously sponsored by

Vernie and Carter Jones

Jannette Davis

Tickets:  General Admission ($35) and Senior ($30) tickets are available at bluebarn.org. Educator, Military, and BLUCrew tickets are available through the box office (402) 345-1576.

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

‘Sweat’ing Bullets

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From left to right, Laura Leininger-Campbell as Tracey. Brandon Williams as Chris. Josh Peyton as Jason. Kathy Tyree as Cynthia.

A steel mill in Reading, PA begins to shut down.  Suddenly lifelong employees set to retire on fat pensions are facing joblessness with no nest egg and no hope.  As their very survival is threatened, friends become enemies, latent racist and xenophobic tendencies take over minds, and a mountain of emotional kindling is laid that only needs one small spark to set off a raging conflagration.  This is Lynn Nottage’s Sweat and it has kicked off the latest season at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

There is certainly nothing subtle about Nottage’s script.  From the very beginning, it grabs the viewer by the throat and gleefully paintbrushes her or him for the better part of 2 ½ hours.  The play is chock full of devastating themes such as betrayal, racism, xenophobia, entitlement, corporate greed, depression, and the danger of having one’s sense of self defined solely by a job.  It also skillfully presents a mindset that demonstrates just how our political climate might have reached its current volatile state without making any judgment calls.

From an actor’s perspective, this show is a treasure trove.  Every character is unique and well-defined.  It is truly an ensemble piece with each character getting a moment in the sun and no true leading role.  With a perfectly cast group of magnificent talent, OCP’s season gets an explosive start with a drama for our time.

Susan Baer-Collins returns to the Playhouse to direct this powerful piece.  Her knowledge of the story is deep and certain which allows her to fully explore every beat and help each performer realize his or her fullest potential and become fully formed and realistic persons.  The staging is pretty strong for the most part with the actors making full use of the performance space and constant movement to animate the dialogue.  However, the performance space of the Howard Drew is a bit of a mixed blessing as its intimacy is crucial to pulling the audience in, but the way the characters have to interact makes it difficult to play to the entire audience at various points.

In a night of outstanding interpretations, a stellar performance is provided by Emmanuel Oñate who makes an excellent debut as Oscar, a likable young man trying to make his way in the world who draws the ire of locked out steel mill workers due to the double whammy of his crossing the picket line and the perception that he is stealing work from “real” Americans due to his Hispanic heritage.  Thomas Becker also shines as Stan, the manager of the local bar who serves as a sounding board to everyone’s issues and also acts as a voice of reason to the burgeoning turmoil bubbling up from the plant’s lockout.  L. “James” Wright gives a tragic performance as Brucie whose sense of identity was completely wrapped up in his job.  Robbed of his ability to provide, he sinks into a deep abyss of depression and addiction.

Kathy Tyree is a geyser of talent with her rendition of Cynthia.  Tyree’s Cynthia is a rock and tough as nails.  She is the friend who will have your back no matter what, but also knows when to draw the line as she has to keep her husband, Brucie, at arm’s length while he battles his personal demons and refuses to take any garbage from her friends after winning a promotion to warehouse supervisor that has her perceived as one of “them” due to a combination of jealousy and things going south at the mill.  What I liked best about Tyree’s take is that she never made an obvious choice or reaction.  She was so extemporaneous, it was almost as if she was writing her own dialogue on the spot as opposed to reciting learned lines.

Laura Leininger-Campbell is a firecracker as Tracey.  Tracey strikes me as a person who isn’t easy to friend, but, if you manage to do so, you have a friend for life.  She is brusque, mouthy, and has a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush.  She can also be fiercely loyal, but watch out if you cross her as she holds grudges.  Leininger-Campbell is incredibly effective as this complex character.  She well communicates Tracey’s latent racism that gains strength when she loses a promotion and is further fueled by Oscar’s crossing of the picket line.  Leininger-Campbell is particularly mesmerizing in two scenes.  One where she is arguing with Cynthia and manages to convey the sense that she loves and hates her simultaneously with her on the dime emotional beat changes.  And a second where the show leaps into the future and she is having a conversation with her estranged son, Jason, and seems to age years before your eyes with pure body language that seems to bow her back, make lines appear on her face, and add a few pounds.

Josh Peyton succeeds with his handling of the role of Jason.  Arguably, this may be the show’s most difficult character to play due to the two widely different personalities he has depending on when the show is in the past or the present.  Peyton gives past Jason a happy go lucky personality.  He’s a pretty decent guy who doesn’t give much thought to tomorrow and just likes having fun, though he does exhibit some of the personality traits and thinking of his mother, Tracey.  Present Jason is an angry, bitter, potentially violent man whose facial tattoos suggest that he might have been part of a white supremacist group.  Peyton not only does good work in playing the two variations of his character, but he also succeeds in showing the transition from one to the other and planting the seed that past Jason’s good qualities may overpower his present’s darkness.

Brandon Williams has a dandy debut as Chris.  This is the play’s most positive character as he is a good man in both past and present.  Williams has a great likability as Chris who is good to his parents, a hard worker, and has a plan for his life all mapped out.  His one weakness is that he might be too loyal to Jason as that loyalty leads him into a truly bad moment in the past.  In the present, Chris is an even better man who has found Jesus and now shares that faith to bolster others and gives him the strength to right some past wrongs and to try to have closure with Jason.  In the present, Williams exudes a confidence granted by faith and well executes the determination to correct a past error even while he clearly feels guilt and embarrassment over it.

Jim Othuse has designed a nice little local bar that is clean, welcoming, and comfy and is further enhanced by the properties of Darin Kuehler whose bottles of liquor and hanging chips make it feel like a real hangout.  Othuse has also well lit the production especially with his use of darkness and light.  The past was always bright and got a little darker as things went bad and the present is shrouded in darkness until a literal light of hope at the end.  John Gibilisco brings some great sounds especially the creepy effect as present transitions to past and the use of a TV showing news footage of the day when our country slid into the Great Recession.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes are quite realistic with the work overalls, the everyman clothes of the working class, and the somewhat poorer garb of the present version of some of the characters.  Timothy Vallier provides a sad and moving score.  I did think a fight scene could have used a bit more speed and a crucial moment needs to be cleaner as I wasn’t sure exactly what happened until the final moments of the show.

Sweat is definitely a play for our time.  You won’t be able to turn your eyes away from it and it might give you a better idea of how we reached our present state of affairs.  And understanding the past is always the first step to making a better tomorrow.

Sweat plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Sept 15.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $36 and can be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  Due to strong language and mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Colin Conces Photography

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)

There’s Hope on ‘The Mountaintop’

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Donte Plunkett as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Catie Zaleski as Camae

On the night before his death, a mysterious woman helps Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. face his mortality and the future of his cause.  This is The Mountaintop by Katori Hall and playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Ms Hall has written one of the most uniquely constructed scripts I have seen in quite a spell.  Whether by coincidence or design, the script is actually built as if it is a trek up and down a mountain.  It is a long, sometimes laborious, climb to the summit.  But once the peak is reached, the play really begins to pop and rapidly races down to the finale.  While the first half of the play could be a little dry, the second half provides some compelling viewpoints on racial harmony, faith, mortality, how far we’ve come as a people in overcoming our hatred and biases, and how much further we still have to climb.

Denise Chapman has provided an admirable and nuanced piece of direction to the production.  She has staged the play well, keeping her 2 actors animated with a constant moving about of King’s hotel room.  She also has a good instinct for maximizing the play’s twists and surprises and really makes those moments stand out and sing.  Ms Chapman has also guided her thespians to a pair of solid performances.

Donte Plunkett gives a worthy performance as Martin Luther King, Jr.  His features not only bear a remarkable similarity to the real King, but he also managed to tap into a great deal of his essence.  Plunkett exudes a confidence, authority, and gentleness suiting the great Civil Rights leader.  But he also shows a quiet sense of humor and a tragic vulnerability especially when he has a conversation with God about his mortality.  I was also impressed with how well Plunkett carried off a less than savory aspect of King’s personality, his reported weakness for women, with his charming and eyeballing of Camae.

Catie Zaleski’s take on Camae is a master class in putting on faces.  It’s hard to know what to make of Camae at first.  She seems to be so many things.  She readily flirts with Dr. King.  She curses like a sailor and then apologizes for cursing in front of the famed Baptist minister.  She can be very blue collar and seemingly uneducated in one moment, then start spitting out college level words and improvising a Kingesque speech in the next.  At one moment, she seems fully aligned with King’s mission, then diametrically opposed in the next.

When the truth behind this chameleon like behavior is revealed, Ms Zaleski nails the tragic hopefulness of a character who is looking to expiate her own sins.

I thought the performances could be further enhanced with a brisker pace and a bit more energy to kick off the show.  Volume and diction were also off at a couple of early points in the show.

I was exceptionally impressed with the show’s technical elements.  Jim Othuse has designed a clean and comfortable motel room at the Lorraine Motel.  John Gibilisco’s constant claps of thunder well communicated the oncoming storm in King’s life.  I loved Herman Montero’s use of lighting, especially the starlight at the play’s conclusion.  Amanda Fehlner’s costuming captured the essence of the well-dressed man of God and the blue collar housekeeper.

It takes a little patience to get to the play’s core, but it is worth the wait as it touches on themes of race and equality that are still important today.  We have grown quite a bit as a people, but there is still a lot of growing to do.

The Mountaintop plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through May 27.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $36 for adults and $22 for students.  For tickets, contact the Playhouse at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to strong language and some mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Grave Injustice

On the morning of April 27, 1913 in Atlanta, GA, the body of a 13 year old girl named Mary Phagan was found brutally murdered in the basement of the pencil factory where she had recently been laid off.  In a desperate attempt to close the books on the crime, her boss, Leo Frank, was indicted and convicted for the crime.  Frank was an ideal fall guy due to his being Jewish and a northerner.  This outsider status triggered a bloodlust and savagery in the community of Atlanta that led to the most devastating and tragic results.  This is the story of Parade written by Alfred Uhry with music and lyrics by Jason Robert Brown.  It opens tonight at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I’ve seen and been involved with good shows, bad shows, and great shows.  Above these categories lies a fourth category.  To be in this category, the show must transcend the normal theatregoing experience with a uniqueness that can’t be defined.  It’s either there or it isn’t.  But when it’s there, it transforms the show into something truly magical.  After last night’s show, I have added Parade to that fourth category.

Alfred Uhry has written an eminently tragic tale about the trial of Leo Frank.  It is unafraid; boldly tackling ideas such as social justice, racism, anti-Semitism, and blind vengeance.  While it is clearly a drama, it’s also a very realistic show as there are moments of happiness, fun, and laughter mixed in with the grief and tragedy.  Uhry’s script is infinitely strengthened by the score of Jason Robert Brown who has infused the musical with some of the most haunting melodies I have ever heard.

Jeff Horger has helmed what might be the season’s best production with second to none direction and a nearly flawless cast.  What I especially appreciated about Horger’s direction is that the focus is on the community.  Yes, this is Leo Frank’s story, but the community is the central character as it’s the mentality and reactions of the citizenry that drives this series of events.  The audience becomes part of this community through Horger’s staging which has the characters of the play sitting with them, melding them into one unit.

This cast is so loaded with talent that I would like nothing more than to write a 10 page review extolling all of their virtues.  With that being said, some of the remarkable performances you’ll see are Adam Hogston as Brit Craig, a boozy, slimy reporter who sensationalizes the murder to the point where Frank would be unable to get a fair trial; Chloe Irwin who gives a spot on performance as Mary Phagan.  Ms Irwin has an impressive range for one so young as she can be such a kid at one moment and move you to tears with her reactions during Mary’s funeral in the next.

Other mighty performances come from Melissa King as Mrs. Phagan who gives a tortured performance as the grieving mother highlighted by an incredible solo with “My Child Will Forgive Me”; Grant Mannschreck as Frankie Epps, Mary’s friend and suitor.  Mannschreck has a strong, bright tenor that brought tears to my eyes with “It Don’t Make Sense”.  Mike Palmreuter also shines as John Slaton, the governor who sets the chain of events into motion for political reasons, but tries to do the right thing in the end.  Brian Priesman is menacing as Tom Watson, a hypocritical Bible thumper who knows how to stir up the masses.

One of the actors to watch out for is J. Isaiah Smith as Jim Conley.  Smith just bleeds talent and charisma with his take on Conley.  Smith’s Conley is a snarky, conniving piece of human garbage whose testimony is crucial to the conviction of Frank, but he just might be hiding secrets of his own.  Smith darn near steals the show with two showstopping numbers:  “That’s What He Said” and “Blues:  Feel the Rain Fall’”.  The latter song allows Smith to hit some searing and awesome falsettos.

Michael Markey gives a multilayered performance as Hugh Dorsey, Atlanta’s D.A. and prosecutor for Frank’s trial.  Markey gives you the sense that he does want to see justice done, but he’s more worried about the political ramifications should he fail to find and convict a killer.  When Frank is served up to him, he has absolutely no qualms about using coached testimony and suborned perjury to doom him.  Markey also has a facile baritone well used in “Twenty Miles from Marietta” and “The Glory”.

Megan Kelly blew me away as Lucille Frank.  Aptly described as “Jewish and southern”, Ms Kelly is every bit the Southern belle, but with a devout faith as well.  She is also very real as her reactions and fears about Frank’s trial and the public’s reactions to her are dead on the mark.  Ms Kelly also gets to show real strength as she overcomes those fears to stand by her husband’s side, best shown with her lovely alto in “You Don’t Know This Man”.  Not only does she overcome her own fears, but she also overcomes Frank’s pigheadedness which she wonderfully describes in “Do It Alone” to give him the help he so desperately needs to obtain his freedom.

And in midst of all of this chaos is Leo Frank, incredibly essayed by James Verderamo.  Verderamo is uncanny as Frank as he walks that line of making him a decent man, but not a likable man.  Verderamo’s Frank is definitely a square peg in a round hole.  He’s unhappy in Atlanta and would rather be back home in Brooklyn, NY.  He’s a workaholic, anal, a bit arrogant, and easily flustered and frustrated.  He is also smart, a gentleman, and well-mannered.

Verderamo depicts Frank’s high strung nature with a perpetual hunch in his shoulders and a constant massaging of his hands.  He also has a scintillating tenor voice best used in “All The Wasted Time” and “Sh’ma”.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra find gold once more with a brilliant rendering of the score, not to mention the clever staging of their being on a balcony over the town to make them a band in the parade.  Tim Burkhart & John Giblisco score with their sounds especially the wavy sound effects of an era microphone.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes evoke the memories of early 1900s southern gear with the long dresses, three piece suits, and old time prison garb.  Jim Othuse has designed a simple town square with lamps, crumbling wall, and balcony.  And his lights suit the play’s emotions down to the ground with sad blues, angry reds, and dark shadows.  Melanie Walters’ choreography shines especially in “Pretty Music” and “That’s What He Said”.

This is what theatre is all about.  When it operates at its pinnacle, theatre is a galvanizing force for action.  In his notes, Jeff Horger called this a historical piece and that is absolutely correct.  For what is history, but a chance to learn from our mistakes so that we don’t repeat them.

Parade plays at the Omaha Playhouse from Feb 9-Mar 11.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Due to mature themes, this show is not recommended for children.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

You Say You Want a Musical Revolution

Tony and Maria are in love, but their love faces numerous obstacles.  Her brother and his best friend are the leaders of rival gangs that refuse to let them be together.  The world also tries to keep them apart due to its racism as they come from different cultures.  When they try to rise above these problems, they get dragged back down and crash to a hideous reality.  This is West Side Story based on a concept by Jerome Robbins, written by Arthur Laurents, with music by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim.  It is currently playing at Springfield Little Theatre.

It isn’t often that I find myself tongue-tied when I start to write a review, but I am still in a state of glorious shock at what I just saw.  Prior to tonight, I had never seen West Side Story in any capacity though I had read that the original mounting of the show revolutionized what could be done with choreography.  While I have no real comment to make on that, I can say that SLT’s take on this show completely revolutionized what I considered possible with musical theatre.  This was, by far, the single best musical I have seen mounted on any community theatre stage.

Lorianne Dunn does double duty as both director and choreographer and excels in both aspects.  As director, she has put together an absolute masterpiece of a production.  Her direction is certain as she expertly maneuvers her actors through the emotional beats of the stories and songs and leads them to sterling performances.  Her staging is impeccable.  It makes full use of the performance space and none of her actors upstaged themselves or others.

Her choreography is genius.  Never have I seen such lavish dance numbers especially standouts such as “America”, the prologue, and “The Rumble”.  Her work is all the more impressive given the youth of her cast who absolutely nail their performances with a polish and poise that experienced veterans would envy.

This cast is just amazing.  Their energy (and fitness levels) was off the charts.  They were clearly having fun and that added further fuel to nearly flawless performances.  The chorus remained in each and every moment adding vital life and reality to this staged world.  Exceptional supporting performances were supplied by Richard Bogue as the racist and thuggish Lt. Schrank; Lysander Abadia as Bernardo, the leader of the Sharks; Robert Hazlette as the always angry Action and he also gets the lead on the night’s funniest number, “Gee, Officer Krupke”; and Miriam Stein as Anita, Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend.  Ms Stein especially shines with a velvet lower soprano in “America” and “A Boy Like That”.

Asa Charles Leininger stuns as Riff, the leader of the Jets.  Leininger makes Riff far more than a brainless brute with his multilayered take on the character.  His Riff started the Jets to have a sense of belonging.  He’s proud of his gang because of the support they provide.  He’s tough.  He’s loyal, remaining friends with Tony despite his walking away from the gang.  His Riff even has a code of honor as he’s willing to settle his issues with the Sharks with one fistfight.  He even has some common sense as he refuses to react to those that call him and his gang hoodlums and prefers to stay cool.  Leininger’s New York accent is spot on and he retains it as his lower tenor entertains us with “Jet Song” and “Cool”.

Tanner Johnson is scary smooth as Tony.  Johnson takes the audience by the hand and gracefully leads it through Tony’s emotional journey.  He’s got the perfect personality for the likable Tony who is trying to escape his former world of violence by holding down a job and finding love.  You will be swept along with him as he experiences the highs of love, the horror at his violent actions when he gets dragged back into the gang world, and his heartbreak when he thinks he has lost Maria.

Johnson also has a gorgeous tenor voice.  More importantly, he knows how to act through the songs, striking each emotional beat with unerring accuracy.  Some of his best moments were his joyous “Maria” and his beautiful take on “Somewhere”.

Genevieve Fulks is a powerhouse of talent and will steal your hearts as Maria.  She has such innocence and sweetness in the role and you can believe she has the power to evolve Tony into a better person.  But she just as easily handles anger and pain when her world begins to fall apart due to the lifestyle of violence lived by her loved ones.  And, my word, what a heavenly voice she has.  Ms Fulks’ operatic soprano gave a performance for the angels with showstopping turns in “I Feel Pretty”, “I Have Love”, and “Tonight”.

Susan Gravatt and her orchestra perfectly play the score of this musical.  John R. “Chuck” Rogers has designed a magnificent set of fences, crumbling tenements, and fire escapes.  Jamie Bowers’ lights and sounds enhance the story.  Kris Haik and Ginny Herfkens are winners with their precise costuming with the t-shirts, jackets, and jeans of the gangs and the elegant dresses for the ladies.

As I said earlier, this is the best community theatre musical I have ever seen staged in nearly a quarter century of theatre involvement. I have seen professional productions that couldn’t hold a stick to this show.  It’s just a blitzkrieg of perfection from the fantastic story to grade A direction to stunning choreography to flawless acting and entrancing singing.  If you love theatre and live in or near the Springfield, MO area, buy a ticket to see this show.  You will be blown away.

West Side Story plays at Springfield Little Theatre through Feb 4.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets range from $16-$36.  For tickets visit http://www.springfieldlittletheatre.org or call the Box Office at 417-869-1334.  Parental discretion is advised for coarse language and gestures and some scenes of violence.  Springfield Little Theatre is located at 311 E Walnut St in Springfield, MO.

‘To Kill a Mockingbird’Opens OCP Season

OCP_Mockingbird_group

To Kill a Mockingbird

Opens Aug. 19, 2016 at the Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, Neb. – To Kill a Mockingbird will open the 2016-17 Omaha Community Playhouse season with an August 19 – September 18, 2016 run in the Howard Drew Theatre. Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved stories of all time. In this moving and heartfelt tale, a quiet Southern town is rocked by a crisis of morality. Despite threats to himself and his family, lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man wrongly accused of a grave crime. Contains language and situations related to racial tension and mob violence.

Production:        To Kill a Mockingbird

Credits:                By Christopher Sergel

Director:              Ablan Roblin

Cast

Thomas Becker as Atticus Finch

Chloe Irwin as Scout Finch

Daniel Denenberg as Jem Finch

Kian Roblin as Dill Harris

Rusheaa Smith-Turner as Calpurnia

Julie Fitzgerald Ryan as Maudie Atkinson

Connie Lee as Stephanie Crawford

Ruth Rath as Mrs. Dubose

Tony Schick as Boo Radley

Raydell Cordell III as Tom Robinson

Alyson Malone as Mayella Ewell

John Hatcher as Bob Ewell

Rob Baker as Heck Tate

Kevin Barratt as Horace Gilmer

Don Keelan-White as Judge John Taylor

Christopher Scott as Walter Cunningham

Jude Glaser and Mackenzie Reidy as Youth Ensemble

L. James Wright as Reverend Sykes 

Show Dates:       Aug. 19-Sept. 18, 2016 (Thursday – Sat at 7:30pm.  Sun at 2pm)

Tickets:   At the OCP Box Office, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.org or www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $40 for adults and $22 for students. Tickets for groups of 12 or more are $24 for adults and $16 for students.

Discounts:  Twilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability.

Sponsored by:   Heider Family Foundation, Valmont and KETV (media sponsor)

Location:  Howard Drew Theatre | Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass Street) Omaha, NE