Making the Grade

Desperate to earn some money to pay rent, slacker and wannabe rocker, Dewey Finn, poses as a substitute teacher at an elite prep school.  When he learns that his students are excellent musicians, he forms a rock band with them to enter a Battle of the Bands contest, but in the process of preparing for the event, teacher and students help each other to find their voices.  This is School of Rock and it is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Julian Fellowes’ story is really a middle of the line story.  His use of the “discovering your real self” motif doesn’t break any new ground and the story fluctuates from being extremely engaging in any scene with Dewey and the kids to going a bit blasé in most big group adult scenes.  In fairness, that may also be by design as most of the big group adult scenes take place in the rigid environment of Horace Green.  Even Andrew Lloyd Webber’s music seems to lack a certain sizzle.  There’s no real standout with the rock numbers with the exceptions of “You’re in the Band”, “Stick It to the Man” and “School of Rock”, though his softer, slower numbers truly do shine.

The thing about a middle of the line story is that acting becomes the real difference maker.  Strong acting can help elevate it and that’s exactly what happens here.  The ferocious tsunami of energy supplied by the cast and their high quality musical chops move this show from an OK show to a very good one.

Stephen Santa rises to the challenge of directing this show.  He gets everything he can out of the slower paced scenes and the high energy scenes really crackle and pop.  I especially applaud Santa’s work with the children as they were truly natural and believable and brought me back to my own days in elementary school.  Santa also does excellent work guiding his adult actors, especially his two leads who give charming, winning performances.  I also appreciate Santa’s eye for a good gag with the Mission:  Impossible like escape from the school being a particularly good piece of pantomime.

As I previously stated, this show is mostly about the kids and they do a tremendous job.  They seemed utterly comfortable on stage and I loved how they were just willing to play which is the secret to really great acting.  I also tip my hat to their skillful playing of the instruments live onstage (I truly thought they were miming until I was just clued in).  Some of the A+ performances from the class came from Thomas Rogers and Zidyn Burton whose singing voices are angelic and utterly enthralling.  Liam Richardson gives a sweet performance as the reticent and less than cool Lawrence.  Vienna Maas had the audience roaring with some of her histrionics.

I think I burned off a few thousand calories just watching Thomas Gjere tear it up as Dewey Finn.  The man is indefatigable in a role that has almost zero down time.  Finn is always on and definitely has the energy of a hard rocker.  He’s also selfish and childish as he refuses to be a responsible adult and uses the kids to further his own ambitions.  Under the crud beats a pretty good heart as he is willing to listen to the kids and give them all a spot in the band.  Gjere also has a rocking tenor which can belt out a fine tune in “Stick It to the Man” and “You’re in the Band”.

Lauren Krupski is a delight as Horace Green’s principal, Rosalie Mullins.  Krupski nails it as the stiff as a board principal who lost her humanness in the pursuit of being a perfect administrator to satisfy the snooty parents who pay $50K a year to educate their children, but refuse to let the kids be themselves.  I especially enjoyed when Krupski peeled off the layers of the principal to reveal the easy going person underneath whenever she heard music.  And what a voice!  Krupski’s operatic soprano was stunning in “Queen of the Night” and my favorite number “Where Did the Rock Go?”

Vivian Rase gets a gold star for her performance as Summer Hathaway.  Rase is uptight to the extreme as Hathaway who seems bound and determined to skip childhood with her obsession for accomplishments and her blunt directness with adults.  She never really relaxes, but does positively rechannel her traits when she becomes the band’s manager where her fastidiousness keeps things rolling and organized.  Rase does need to watch her articulation a bit, especially at the top of Act II.

Steven Williams has designed one of the most creative sets I’ve seen as he frames the stage with a giant radio complete with speakers and buttons.  His classroom will take you back to your childhood days, especially with the enhancements of Andrew Morgan’s properties.  I loved Josh Wroblewski’s colorful use of lights especially in solo scenes when concert spotlights start highlighting the singers.  Melanie Walters’ choreography is simple, but effective and consists mostly of people rocking out and headbanging.  Jim Boggess and his band couldn’t fail if they tried and add real emotion to the softer numbers and pop for all they can with the rock numbers.  Lindsay Pape’s costumes hit the mark with the sloppy, uncoordinated clothing of Dewey to the stiff business wear of most of the adults to the school uniforms and their rock band counterparts.  Tim Burkhart & John Gibilisco’s sounds add the proper feel and ambiance.

Some actors needed to be a bit more animated and I heard some difficulty hitting notes on the higher and lower ends of the register, but all in all, it’s a light and enjoyable night of theatre and you’re going to have a ball right along with the kids and Dewey.

School of Rock runs at Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 16.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $25 and may be purchased at the OCP Box Office, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T! Audition for this Show, You See!

Omaha Community Playhouse Announces Auditions For:

Respect – The Women, Their Music, Their Stories

Directed by Kathy Tyree
Production Dates: June 10 – 26, 2022

Performances are Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. in the Howard Drew Theatre. Actors are called to the theatre one hour before curtain.

Audition Dates:
Saturday, March 19, 2022 2:30-5:30pm by appointment
Revive Center Omaha
2402 Lizzie Robinson Ave (24th & Lake)
Omaha, NE 68111

Sunday, March 20, 2022 5:00-8:00pm by appointment
Omaha Community Playhouse
6915 Cass St.
Omaha, NE 68132

Monday, March 21, 2022 6:00-10:00pm by appointment
Omaha Community Playhouse
6915 Cass St.
Omaha, NE 68132

Respect…is the acknowledgment of various influential female recording artists for their valuable contributions to the music industry. Respect is a journey that spans the 1960-1980’s music era honoring some of the most iconic women of our time. Together we will travel deeper into their stories and how their dedication and sacrifice paved the way for many who followed in their footsteps and will continue to empower for many years to come.

Characters: 6 singers (not gender or race specific)

Those auditioning should come prepared to sing 16 bars of music from any genre. Auditions may be done acapella or with sheet music. Please bring the sheet music to the audition. Those auditioning should also come prepared to present a 60 second monologue of their choosing.

Please contact Becky at bdeiber@omahaplayhouse.com for an audition appointment.

Please complete an Audition Form: Respect Audition Form

Hot Patootie, Bless My Soul! You’ll Really Love ‘The Rocky Horror Show’

Newly engaged Brad and Janet are in for quite a night when they stumble upon the home of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter, a mad scientist with a yen for cross dressing and sexual deviancy.  It’s The Rocky Horror Show and its running at The Slowdown under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

Rave On Productions ends its freshman season of theatrical productions with a show that I currently consider to be the best of the season.  Richard O’Brien’s cult rock musical requires a very special group of performers who have to be completely dedicated to the over the top, raunchy ode to cheesy, schlocky sci-fi and be able to belt out a tune.  This show has that and far, far more.

It brings back some of the cast and crew from the award-winning Omaha Playhouse production of 2019, but blows that run right out of the water (a highly difficult task) with a nuclear powered version done the way it was meant to be with full audience participation with prop bags and a screen to help prompt newbies when to utilize said props and provide the dialogue to answer the performers.

Kaitlyn McClincy returns to direct the production, but has teamed up with Kimberly Faith Hickman and their teamwork creates something truly formidable.  Their staging utilizes the entire space of The Slowdown.  Their coaching pulls some truly phenomenal performances out of their thespians and the background bits they have the actors doing when they’re not the focus of the scene really fleshes out the tale and makes one forget they were working without a set.

Every single actor should be proud of the work they did in this show as there isn’t a flat tire among them.  Props to Eric Perlstein and Britney Thompson for quite literally being the props and set of the show.  Evelyn Hill slays as the snarky Narrator of the story.  Ryan McGuigan absolutely kills it in a cameo as Dr. Scott with that amazing tenor rocking out in “Eddie’s Teddy”.  Billy McGuigan is spot on as Frank ‘N’ Furter’s new playmate, Rocky, whose own dazzling tenor mesmerized the audience with “The Sword of Damocles”.  Erika Hall-Sieff and Kevin Buswell bring real creepiness and an understated malevolence to their roles as Magenta and Riff Raff plus we got to enjoy Hall-Sieff’s rich alto serenade us with “Science Fiction/Double Feature” plus a long coda in “Planet Schmanet Janet” while Buswell’s high tenor brought the audience to their feet to do the “Time Warp” again.  Courtney Cairncross’ energy is unmeasurable with her take on Columbia and truly shines after she gets her brain zapped with a prolonged series of gyrations and snorts.

Benn Sieff returns to his Fonda-McGuire winning role of Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter and seems to be enjoying himself even more if that was even possible.  His complete dedication to the role makes for a gripping watch and his mammoth presence (physical and energy wise) make certain all eyes are glued to him.  You could feel him feeding off the crowd and fueling his fantastic performance and his ballistic baritone thrilled the audience with “Sweet Transvestite” and “Charles Atlas Song/I Can Make You a Man”.  And he actually almost brought me to tears with his sense of defeat and sadness in “I’m Going Home”.

Jesse White turns in another spectacular performance with his turn as Brad Majors.  White is truly nerdy and a genuine prick (trust me, watch his behavior and attitude towards Janet).  He also has an incredible sense of improv as he was able to work in some musical responses to audience commentary.  But his almost sonic vocals sold me on his work as he belted out “Dammit Janet” and actually made me feel a little sorry for him with his hangdog melancholy in “Once in a While”.

Nina Washington is repression personified with her take on Janet Weiss.  Ostensibly, she starts off as the stereotypical damsel in distress, but she blossoms in an awful hurry after she gets deflowered and develops an instant addiction to sex as she pursues Rocky like a shark in “Toucha Toucha Toucha, Touch Me” and has real wonderment in her alto as she ponders her strange adventures in “Super Heroes”.

Amanda Fehlner’s costumes were absolutely superb especially with the fishnets and lingerie for Frank ‘N’ Furter and others, Magenta’s maid’s outfit, the ill-fitting tuxedo of Riff Raff, and Rocky’s golden shorty shorts.  Kimberly Faith Hickman’s choreography was so much fun especially with “Time Warp” and a rather exuberant dance from Magenta to close out “Planet Schmanet Janet”.  Charlie Ames’ lighting always suited the feel of the scenes with depressing blues of more melancholic numbers and a fiery red for more charged scenes.  Matthew McGuigan does superlative work with his musical direction as he seemed to take influences from different versions of the show and infused it with something from his own soul and he and his band (Ryan McGuigan, Max Meyer, Stan Harper, Jay Hanson, Darren Pettit, and Larell Ware) knocked this score clear out of the ballpark.

You still have three chances to catch this show and I advise you to take advantage while you have the chance for this show is selling out fast.  It’s a megaton of fun.

The Rocky Horror Show runs as the Slowdown through October 31.  Remaining shows are midnight on Oct 30 and 31 and a 7:30pm show on Oct 31.  Tickets start at $30 and can be purchased at https://www.theomahaseries.com/rockyhorror.  Due to mature themes and content, this show is not suitable for children.  The Slowdown is located at 729 N 14th St in Omaha, NE.

Photo created by Carly Frolio

Buddy Storms the Stage

Jesse White stars as Buddy Holly in “Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story”

A teenager in Lubbock, TX completely changes the landscape of rock and roll with his unique sound.  This is the story of Buddy Holly.  It’s the show that’s part biopic and part rock musical.  It’s Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story playing this weekend at several venues under the auspices of Rave On Productions.

It must be cosmic coincidence.  Back in 2002, this show was having its preview night at the Omaha Community Playhouse when inclement weather forced a halt to the show, though the audience members were entertained by Buddy in the Playhouse’s basement.  Nearly 19 years later, the first public performance is again halted by bad weather at the height of the climactic Winter Dance Party concert, but the weather was prophetic as the performers were putting on a storm of their own at SumTur Amphitheatre before the festivities had to be stopped.  And for those of you who were at tonight’s show, you’ll be able to watch the whole thing again tomorrow or Sunday by responding to the Eventbrite e-mail you’ll be receiving.

Billy McGuigan steps away from the role he originated to serve as producer, co-director, and co-musical director this time around.  In tandem with Kimberly Faith Hickman, he serves up a rocking good time with a show as their direction is spot on.  It delivers the fun and the music and hits a couple of Buddy’s serious moments well, especially during his early days when he was struggling to make rock and roll in an area dominated by country music.  McGuigan’s personal experience with the role of Buddy is especially noticeable as his lead performer had every jot and tittle of Holly’s mannerisms and personality down cold.

This show truly does rise and fall on the shoulders of its title character and Jesse White was assuredly the man for the job.  White does a marvelous job in the role of Holly with his flawless accent and he captured Holly’s one of a kind singing style right down to the little hiccup Holly liked to throw in and thrilled the audience with a slew of Holly hits such as “Oh Boy”, “Peggy Sue”, “Every Day”, and “That’ll Be the Day”.  White assuredly makes the role his own, making Holly a very polite and respectful young man who is determined to make his music his way and succeeds beyond his wildest dreams.  When I closed my eyes during “True Love Ways”, I forgot where White ended and Buddy began as his vocals were a perfect match right down to the slight vibrato in his voice.  White did some impressive guitar work and some truly dynamite improv as, in character, he directed audience members to spots of safety during the storm.

Some excellent supporting performances were supplied by Jonathan Berger whose rich baritone made him a superb narrator as Hipockets Duncan.  Ryan McGuigan swipes his scenes with his awesome comedic timing as Joe Maudlin.  Eric Perlstein is a delightful prick as a snotty Decca producer trying to bend Buddy to his will and revved up the audience with his turn as the Big Bopper when he performed “Chantilly Lace”.  And Billy McGuigan has a nice turn as the M.C. for the Winter Dance Party in Clear Lake.

The musical direction of Matthew & Billy McGuigan was right on the money with interpretations so accurate you’d swear you had gone back in time to the 1950s.  Bradley Pesarchick’s costumes took us back to another era and I especially enjoyed the dresses he made for the jingle and backup singers as they invoked memories of sock hops of yesteryear.  Craig Marsh’s sound engineering well balanced the voices and instruments.  Craig Lee’s artistry made me feel like I was really at the Surf Ballroom.

There were a few moments where some of the actors needed to be a bit bolder with their performances.  The interpretation was there, but they needed to just cut loose and go for the gusto.  That aside, this cast did have the audience eating out of the palms of their hands and dancing in their seats and is another home run for Rave On Productions’ freshman season of theatre.

Buddy:  The Buddy Holly Story runs through the end of the weekend.  On Saturday, it performs at Soaring Wings Vineyard in Springfield, NE at 7:30pm and closes Sunday at 7pm at Davies Amphitheatre in Glenwood, IA.  Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased at theomahaseries.com/buddyholly

Omaha Playhouse Announces 96th Season

Omaha, NE.–The Omaha Community Playhouse (OCP) has announced the titles to be produced during their 96th season, which will run from August 2020 through June 2021. Subscriptions for OCP’s 2020/21 season are now available for purchase through the OCP Box Office at 6915 Cass Street, Omaha, NE 68132, by phone at (402) 553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.com.

OMAHA COMMUNITY PLAYHOUSE 2020/21 SEASON PRODUCTIONS

*Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra

Aug. 7–16, 2020

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Featuring Billy McGuigan | Music Director Steve Gomez | ©2007 by Rave On Productions

Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra is a high-energy concert experience packed with rock ‘n’ roll mega hits from the 50s, 60s and 70s. Led by international touring artist Billy McGuigan and backed by the 14-piece Pop Rock Orchestra, these all-star musicians serve up fresh, original arrangements covering everything from the Beach Boys to Billy Joel, and everything in between.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

Clybourne Park

Aug. 21–Sept. 20, 2020

Howard Drew Theatre

By Bruce Norris

Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award®-winning comedy Clybourne Park serves as prequel and sequel to A Raisin in the Sun. A 1950s couple faces sharp backlash from neighbors for selling their home in the all-white Clybourne Park to a black family. Fifty years later, a white couple attempts to purchase the same home in the now predominantly black neighborhood, igniting fears of gentrification.

Disclaimer: Contains adult language and themes of racial tension.

Kinky Boots

Sept. 25–Oct. 25, 2020

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Book by Harvey Fierstein | Music and Lyrics by Cyndi Lauper

Original Broadway Production Directed and Choreographed by Jerry Mitchell

Based on the Miramax motion picture Kinky Boots

Written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth

Flashy, inspiring and downright fun, Kinky Boots is the Tony Award®-winning musical warming hearts around the world. After returning to his hometown to manage his late father’s failing shoe factory, Charlie meets Lola, an outspoken and unapologetic drag queen in need of a sturdy pair of exotic boots. Together, the unlikely pair cobble a heartwarming tale of acceptance and friendship.

Orchestra Sponsor: Woodmen Life

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

Water by the Spoonful

Oct. 16–Nov. 8, 2020

Howard Drew Theatre

By Quiara Alegría Hudes

Winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama, Water by the Spoonful follows Elliott, an Iraq war vet struggling to care for his dying aunt, and Odessa, a recovering drug addict fighting to stay sober with the support of her online companions. When their two worlds unexpectedly collide, everyone’s progress comes crashing down in this thought-provoking and beautifully human tale.

Disclaimer: Contains adult themes and language.

Presenting Sponsor: Conagra Brands Foundation

*A Christmas Carol

Nov. 20–Dec. 23, 2020

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Written by Charles Dickens | Adapted by Charles Jones

Musical Orchestration by John J. Bennett

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 to discover the true meaning of Christmas. Filled with stunning Victorian costumes, festive music and crisp, wintry sets, A Christmas Carol is a beautiful reminder that love and generosity are the heart of the Christmas holiday.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

Presenting Sponsor: First National Bank

Artistic Team Sponsor: Omaha Steaks

Orchestra Sponsor: KPMG

Bakery Shoppe/Special Effects Sponsor: Rotella’s Bakery

*Yesterday and Today:  An Interactive Beatles Experience

Nov. 27–Dec. 31, 2020

Howard Drew Theatre

Featuring Billy McGuigan | Music Director Matthew McGuigan | ©2007 by Rave On Productions

Cap off 2020 with a shot of Beatlemania! Yesterday and Today is the smash hit, all-request Beatles show controlled by the audience. Share your favorite stories and relive your fondest memories with the songs that defined a generation. With no two shows the same, fans will be dancing in the aisles and singing along to all their favorite hits.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

The Miracle Worker

Jan. 15–Feb. 7, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

By William Gibson

The Miracle Worker is the incredible true story of Helen Keller, deaf and blind since age one, and the extraordinary woman who changed her life. Unable to communicate with their daughter, the Keller family enlists the help of Annie Sullivan, a woman determined to rescue Helen from the dark, tortured silence imprisoning her mind. A story that has inspired audiences for generations.

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

The Scottsboro Boys

Feb. 12–March 14, 2021

Howard Drew Theatre

Music and Lyrics by John Kander & Fred Ebb

Book by David Thompson

Original Direction and Choreography by Susan Stroman

The Scottsboro Boys follows the wrongful conviction of nine black teenagers in Scottsboro, Alabama in the 1930s—an infamous case that helped ignite the modern civil rights movement. From the composers of Chicago and Cabaret, this 12-time Tony® Award nominee alternates toe-tapping musical numbers with heart-wrenching ballads to tell a harrowing tale of bravery and strength in the face of great adversity.

Disclaimer: Contains themes and language related to racial tension.

In the Heights

Feb. 26–March 21, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Music and Lyrics by Lin-Manuel Miranda

Book by Quiara Alegría Hudes

Before there was Hamilton, there was In the Heights. From the revolutionary musical mind of Lin-Manuel Miranda, this Tony® Award-winning musical recounts three days in the vibrant Latino neighborhood of Washington Heights, NYC, where the Spanish-speaking residents chase American dreams. This bubbly fusion of rap, salsa, Latin pop and soul music boasts an infectious enthusiasm from beginning to end.

Presenting Sponsor: Heider Family Foundation

Producing Partner: Physicians Mutual

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

*THE CANDY PROJECT PRESENTS:

Gutenberg!  The Musical!

March 18–21, 2021

Howard Drew Theatre

By Anthony King and Scott Brown

Starring Steve Krambeck and Dan Chevalier

Join The Candy Project, friends of OCP, for a special presentation of Gutenberg! The Musical! A pair of aspiring playwrights audition their newest work—a big, splashy musical about the inventor of the printing press—for an audience of potential investors. This two-man musical spoof offers an unending supply of enthusiasm and laughs.

*Special Event—Not part of the regular season series.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express

April 16–May 9, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig

A thrilling whodunit set aboard the world’s most famous luxury locomotive, Murder on the Orient Express will keep you guessing until the very end. When the Orient Express becomes stranded by a snow storm, a passenger is found stabbed to death in his private room. With the murderer still on board, a detective must solve the crime before the train reaches its destination.

Producing Partner: UNMC

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

Outside Mullingar

May 7–30, 2021

Howard Drew Theatre

By John Patrick Shanley

This charming romantic comedy follows Anthony and Rosemary, two introverts who grew up on neighboring farms in rural Ireland. Rosemary secretly fell in love with Anthony at age six, but after a bought with heartbreak, Anthony swore off women forever. The now middle-aged pair must overcome their own aloofness—as well as a family property dispute—to find their way to one another.

Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka

May 28–June 27, 2021

Hawks Mainstage Theatre

Music and Lyrics by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley

Adapted for the Stage by Leslie Bricusse and Timothy Allen McDonald

Based on the Book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

Oompa-Loompa-Doom-Pa-Dee-Doo! We’ve got a family favorite for you! Grab your golden ticket as Willy Wonka takes your family on a whimsical tour of the chocolate factory—with Charlie Bucket, Augustus Gloop, Veruca Salt, and all of your favorite characters. Featuring songs from the hit film, Willy Wonka will open up a world of pure imagination.

Presenting Sponsor: Mutual of Omaha

Orchestra Sponsor: Kiewit

Hawks Series Sponsor: Immanuel Communities

A Melange of McGuigan

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He’s been thrilling crowds since 2002.  Now the master maestro of Omaha, Billy McGuigan, is set to make his 500th performance at the Omaha Community Playhouse and it will happen during his latest run of Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist.

Billy McGuigan was ready to rock tonight and, believe me, that’s really saying something.  Attacking the music with a thunderous energy that never let up and actually increased to something cataclysmic, McGuigan and his Pop Rock Orchestra delivered a fiercely awesome 2+ hour concert that had the audience in the palm of their hands from the first note to the last clap.

If you have never seen Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist before (and if you haven’t, what’s wrong with you?) what you get is a show that offers classic rock songs done with a big band flair.  Even if you have seen this show, you really need to see this incarnation as Billy and company have completely revamped the show with a new set, lights, set up, and an almost completely new set list.  Truthfully, I rank this as one of McGuigan’s best performances to date and I have seen plenty of them over the years.

Few connect with an audience the way McGuigan can with his charming wit and storytelling abilities and when you add in his phenomenal musical abilities, you’re really in for something special.

Versatile seems almost too small a word for a guy who makes everything he plays sound like his own creation.  McGuigan hit the ground running with ELO’s “Evil Woman” and ran through rockers such as The Doors’ “Touch Me” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “Dance to the Music” with his pulse pounding tenor and killed it in a guitar duel with Omaha’s personal Pete Townshend, Max Meyer, in the Everly Brothers’ “Bye Bye Love”.

McGuigan also slowed it down a notch with the Beatles’ beautiful “Yesterday” backed by the string trio of Melissa Holtmeier, Axelle Verboon, and Mindy Zimmerman.  And tears were a flowing when he teamed up with Tara Vaughan to perform an epic take on Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.

Speaking of Tara Vaughan, the mistress of the keyboards also got a fair chance to shine throughout the night with her one of a kind tickling of the ivories and that dreamy alto serenading the crowd with Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots Were Made for Walking”, the Supremes’ “Stop!  In the Name of Love”, and Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”.

Featured performances were supplied by Natalie Thomas who practically had the audience purring with a throaty, sultry interpretation of Ike and Tina Turner’s version of “Proud Mary” that was further bolstered with the almighty tenor of Ryan McGuigan; Steve Gomez made his singing debut with The Champs’ “Tequila” which featured his singular bass playing and a stellar solo from Stan Harper on saxophone; Matthew McGuigan took a moment in the sun with The Temptations’ “My Girl”; Omaha’s legendary jazz musician, Doyle Tipler, soloed on his trademark trumpet as only he could; Patrick Peters and Willie Karpf solidly rounded out the horns while the Doctor, Tomm Roland, kept the beat going on his drums.

The volume of the microphones could have used some slight boosting on a couple of occasions, but the only real disappointment of the night was that it had to end at all.

If you haven’t had a chance to see a show with Billy McGuigan and his band, this is the one to see.  You’ll feel like a million bucks before the night is through and if you strike fast you may be able to snatch up a ticket to see that magical 500th performance on August 17.  But any night of this run is going to be smoking good.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist runs through August 18 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets start at $42 and can be obtained at www.omahaplayhouse.com, by calling 402-553-0800, or visiting the Box Office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Omaha Community Playhouse.

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!

Get Ready to Rock with Tara Vaughan

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Omaha, NETara Vaughan’s She Rocks will open Thursday, June 13 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  The show will run in the Howard Drew Theatre from June 13-30.  Performances will be held Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.

Tara Vaughan’s She Rocks is a celebration of women artists and songwriters from the 60s-80s woven together through songs and stories delivered by Tara Vaughan–a bona fide superstar whose soulful vocal and piano techniques are reminiscent of a bygone era.  Her vocals echo legends like Patsy Cline and Sam Cooke, while her piano skills are seeped in influences like Carole King and Elton John.  Backed by an all-star band, Tara’s set list includes hits from artists like Janis Joplin, Linda Ronstadt, Aretha Franklin, Blondie, Heart, and more.

Tickets are on sale now starting at $30 and vary by performance.  Tickets may be purchased at the OCP Box Office located at 6915 Cass Street, by phone at 402-553-0800 or online at www.omahaplayhouse.com.

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!!!

Macca’s Genius Keeps on Rollin’ in Eclectic “Egypt Station”

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Back in 1989, Paul McCartney’s then manager suggested that he consider calling it a career after the release of Flowers in the Dirt as McCartney had just turned 50, supposedly ancient for a rocker.  Well, it’s 2018.  Sir Paul is 76.  And he’s still just as vital and talented as he was back in 1989.  No, no.  Wait a minute.  As he was back in the heyday of the Beatles.  And that gift for melody and unbridled, indefatigable energy is on proud display in Egypt Station, his 18th solo album (25th post-Beatles album).

Let’s be honest.  McCartney really doesn’t need to do it anymore.  His reputation and legacy are set in diamond.  He certainly doesn’t need the money.  But, like all artists, he still needs to create and he’s as dedicated to his craft now as he was at the beginning.  The result is an album which I personally consider to be one of his absolute best as it combines the intelligence, weightiness, and depth of Chaos and Creation in the Backyard and merges it with the classic Macca formula.

Egypt Station is really a musical travelogue as McCartney has written a set of songs that takes us on a trip through his entire career.  You’ll get Beatleslike rockers such as the nice little foot-stomper, “Come On to You” and the frothy, but fun, “Ceasar Rock”.  You’ll even get a throwback to Abbey Road with the suite number of “Hunt You Down/Naked/C-Link”.  Journey through the era of Wings with the 70s style “Who Cares” and “Despite Repeated Warnings” which is a Band on the Run for today’s political climate.

Paul even takes a jaunt through some of his less than successful records best exemplified with “Back in Brazil” and “Nothing for Free” where he again dabbles in electronica.  While the former is a meh song, the latter is an excellent electronica rocker to close the album.

However, the best songs are the ones where Paul displays raw vulnerability and intelligence.  “I Don’t Know” is an instant classic and shows McCartney at his rawest and most honest.  “Happy With You” is a sweet love song to his wife, Nancy Shevell and “People Want Peace” is a brilliantly constructed anthem.

True, age shows a bit more in his voice as it cracks and creaks, but I think it actually adds potent character to his songs, especially to the softer, more powerful numbers.  But that unmatchable gift of melody is still untouched and functioning at peak capacity.

Take a ride on Egypt Station.  It’s one of the best works from an artist who’s still churning out pleasurable and exciting music after 55 years and shows no signs of slowing down.