Rave On Productions’ Omaha Series Set to Debut with ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’

Rave On Productions Presents:

Hedwig and the Angry Inch
Music and lyrics by Stephen Trask & John Cameron Mitchell

Directed by: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast
Jesse White as Hedwig
Evelyn Hill as Yitzhak
Matthew McGuigan, Ryan McGuigan, Larell Ware, Max Meyer and Jay Hanson as The Angry Inch

The Story
This groundbreaking Obie-winning Off-Broadway smash also won multiple awards for its hit film adaptation. It tells the story of “internationally ignored song stylist” Hedwig Schmidt, a fourth-wall smashing East German rock ‘n’ roll goddess who also happens to be the victim of a botched sex-change operation, which has left her with just “an angry inch.” This outrageous and unexpectedly hilarious story is dazzlingly performed by Hedwig (née Hansel) in the form of a rock gig/stand-up comedy routine backed by the hard-rocking band “The Angry Inch.” 

Using songs and monologues, Hedwig tells her story, which began in the former East Berlin where as Hansel he meets Luther, an American GI who promises to take the young man to the States on the condition that he switch his sex. After the bungled operation, Luther abandons newly named Hedwig in a Kansas trailer park where she turns to music and meets geeky Tommy Speck, whom she takes under her wing and soon falls for. Tommy steals her songs, achieves rock star fame, and Hedwig is once again cast aside. She decides to demand redress and stalks Tommy’s world tour, performing in the T.G.I. Friday’s that are situated next door to his stadiums. Hedwig describes her life’s search for “The Origin of Love” and her other half. It’s a rocking ride, funny, touching and ultimately inspiring to anyone who has felt life gave them an inch when they deserved a mile. 

Performances to be held at Waiting Room Lounge (6212 Maple St, Omaha, NE 68104). Ticket prices are $35 and can be purchased at https://www.etix.com/ticket/e/1016517/hedwig-omaha-the-waiting-room. Performances will run Feb 19-27 and showtimes are Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fri-Sat at 7:30pm and 10pm and Sundays at 7pm.

AUDIENCE SAFETY PRECAUTIONS
Venue will be sold at 25% capacity.
This is a seated event and seats will be assigned on a first come, first serve basis each show.
Parties will be seated a minimum 6-foot distance from other parties.
Masks are required everywhere inside the venue. Masks may be removed only when you are seated at your own table.
All high-touch surfaces are sanitized frequently throughout the night by staff.
Hand sanitizer is provided at all high-traffic areas throughout the venue.

PARKING TIPS
–Public Parking Lot at 2729 N 61st Street
–On street parking with a 2-hour max from 8am – 5pm, no time restrictions from 5pm – 2am.

Business lots available for parking at select times
– Cavanaugh Law Firm, 6035 Binney Street – Evening and Weekends only
– Immanuel Lutheran Church, 2725 N 60th Ave – Mon – Sun between 7pm – 12am

Don’t Stop Them Now

From L to R: Jonathan Berger, Evelyn Hill, Jesse White (back row), Eric Perlstein, Brittney Thompson, Ejanae Hume

Look!  Up on the stage!  It’s a chord!  It’s a bard!  No, it’s Don’t Stop Me Now!  A Celebration of Rock Musicals.  This joint production between Rave On Productions and the Omaha Community Playhouse is currently playing in the Storz Parking Lot at OCP.

This rollicking revue of rock musicals is a rather ambitious production and hits the right notes (pun intended) for the most part.  Rave On and OCP give the audience a potpourri of tunes ranging from hard rockers to soft ballads to some pretty emotional works.  I especially enjoyed the fact that not only were classic well-known numbers and shows utilized, but they also selected songs from lesser known productions which really spiced up the evening.

Kimberly Faith Hickman’s direction brought some fun theatricality to the night while Matthew McGuigan’s musical direction was utterly flawless.  He and his band were in fine fettle as they played with a rich gusto and energy that gave the songs a familiar feel, but imbued them with a unique vibrancy.

The show is blessed with a talented troupe of troubadours who each get their moments in the sun and occasionally blend in glorious harmony.  Some shining moments were Brittney Thompson’s rendition of the power ballad “And I Am Telling You I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls and Ejanae Hume’s killer take on “Take Me or Leave Me” from Rent.  Eric Perlstein kicked things off with the sonorous “Heaven On Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar, gave us a little Four Seasons with “December, 1963 (Oh What a Night), but his shining moment was his interpretation of “Boulevard of Broken Dreams” from American Idiot with his sensational, soulful emoting.  Jonathan Berger’s lower tenor got to glow with Billy Joel’s “Movin’ Out” and “Tear Me Down” from Hedwig and the Angry Inch.

But in a group of standout performers, Evelyn Hill and Jesse White really stole the show.  Hill is a worthy successor to Brenda Lee’s moniker of Little Miss Dynamite as her talent is explosive.  Hill threw herself into her numbers and stunned with performances including a high powered rendition of ABBA’s “Mamma Mia” and her half of “Suddenly, Seymour” from Little Shop of Horrors

White is a performer’s performer with his own animated performances.  His tenor is both soaring and searing as he tore through the night outdoing Frankie Valli’s falsetto in “Sherry”, was shyly comforting in his half of “Suddenly, Seymour”, nailed David Bowie’s “Changes” from Lazarus to the floor, and capped the night with Queen’s “Don’t Stop Me Now”.

But the night’s capstone number came from Ryan McGuigan with his tragically haunting version of “Gethsemane” from Jesus Christ Superstar.  Aside from his formidable musical chops, McGuigan brought a little top notch acting as he was shedding real tears by the end of the song and if you can listen to it without your soul stirring, then you probably don’t have one.

But I can’t end this review without mentioning the splendid work of Jim Boggess who hosted the festivities.  His wit, warmth, and humor really enhanced the night and his introduction of each number was a real aid for those who may not be familiar with each song and show.

There were some moments of singers not having enough breath for certain notes and numbers that were fine technically, but needed a bit more commitment to bring them to that next level, but these were minor quibbles in a thoroughly entertaining night.

It’s a rocking good time and a pleasant, and socially distant, way to get out and have some fun.  Take a break from these strange times and get a ticket to see this one before it’s too late.

Don’t Stop Me Now! A Celebration of Rock Musicals plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Sept 20. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7pm and Sundays at 6pm. Tickets cost $35 and can be purchased online at www.omahaplayhouse.com or by phone at 402-553-0800.  This is a cashless event and reservations are required.  CDC guidelines are being followed and parking spaces will be assigned upon arrival.  Please do not arrive earlier than 60 minutes before showtime.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Zach Wagner Photography

The Death of Innocence

A group of youths in provincial Germany experience the thrill of their emerging adulthood and the pain of losing their childhood innocence.  This is Spring Awakening with book and lyrics by Steven Sater and music by Duncan Sheik based off of Frank Wedekind’s original play of the same name.  It is currently playing at the UNO Theatre.

I’m not familiar with Wedekind’s original play, but have read praise for Sater remaining reasonably faithful to the original work.  Wedekind’s tale poses some very challenging ideas and themes that still resonate today.  The theme of emerging adulthood takes the form of their sexual awakening and the youths are thrilled and unnerved by the changes taking place within them.  However, this awakening comes at a price.

The change into adulthood comes at the cost of their innocence and hope.  Even worse, they are ill equipped to handle these changes due to a society of adults which refuses to educate and help them cope with these changes.  Instead they label the youths’ burgeoning desires as evil and hypocritically hide their own evil and cruelty to maintain a world that suits their vision.

Sater does a fine job updating Wedekind’s work for a modern audience and Sheik has written a punchy score full of catchy, memorable tunes.

It’s unusual to see two directors at the helm of a show, but Doran Schmidt and Wai Yim do quality work in guiding this musical.  Clearly both are on the exact same page with their vision, fusing their unique talents to create a strong show.  Their performers know what they are doing with their roles and where they are going.  Ms Schmidt’s musical direction is spot on and Yim’s gift for designing movement keeps this story going as there is never a static movement.  The actors make full use of the performance space in an effortless and unceasing flow of movement and action.

The supporting cast is skilled and unified.  They harmonize well.  They play well off each other.  All manage to find the ebbs and flows and the humorous and serious moments of the production.  But I’d like to single out Bethany Bresnahan for a memorable cameo performance as Ilse.  Ms Bresnahan’s Ilse is the lone character who seems to retain her childhood innocence as she transitions into adulthood.  She had a dynamic presence, beautiful animation, and a haunting sequence in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind”.

Ryan McCann is wonderful as Melchior.  McCann well plays the duality of this character as Melchior is both the angel and the devil.  He is a playful, intelligent wit and loyal friend.  But he also has the makings of a fiend within him with his whipping (albeit requested) and possible raping of a childhood friend.  Truly, he seems to be the character in the most danger of becoming part of the cruel, hypocritical society he lives in until he finds the strength to overcome it with a little help from his spiritual friends.

McCann’s tenor was in fine form all night.  His voice captured all of the important nuances both musically and orally.  He especially shone in “The Guilty Ones”, “Those You’ve Known”, and the night’s best number, “Totally F@!#ed”.

Seldom have I felt the kind of empathy for a character as I did for Nick Jansen’s Moritz.  Moritz has pressures on him that few adults could be expected to handle, let alone a child.  His parents demand perfection from him.  He studies beyond the point of exhaustion.  He’s uncomfortable with his new “sticky dreams”.  Jansen does superior work in communicating the ever mounting weight on Moritz’s shoulders until he collapses under the pressure.  Jansen also has a fine tenor and falsetto best utilized in “Don’t Do Sadness/Blue Wind” and “And Then There Were None”.

Roni Shelley-Perez soars as Wendla.  Wendla may be the show’s most tragic character as her innocence makes her truly childlike.  An overprotective mother refuses to help her understand her transition into adulthood.  Her safe lifestyle has rendered her unable to feel, pushing her to request to get whipped by Melchior so she can empathize with a classmate who is routinely beaten by her father.  Due to her safety and immaturity, Wendla simply does not know how to protect herself and those who should protect her fail utterly.

Ms Shelley-Perez brilliantly essays the confusion and innocence of Wendla.  I was especially impressed with her facial expressions during her moment of intimacy with Melchior which left it beautifully ambiguous as to whether or not it was rape.

Ms Shelley-Perez can also belt out a tune with a monstrously strong soprano in “Mama Who Bore Me” and “The Word of Your Body”.

Steven Williams has designed a simple, yet imposing set of black pillars and balcony with chalk drawings all over it.  Audrey Wardian’s lights were incredible with strobe flashes and emotional colors which were all variations of the rainbow leading to subtler shades of meaning.  Valerie St Pierre Smith’s costumes invoked the sedate elegance of 19th century school uniforms and clothing.

At this preview night performance, the cast started off a bit hesitantly and quietly.  Once they reached “Totally F@!#ed” they were firing on all cylinders and the theatre was overflowing with their confidence and I do believe they are on to something quite magical.  Sound also suffered a touch from either microphone issues or dead spots on the stage.

Growing up is hard to do, especially when there isn’t an instruction book or a person with experience to lend a helping hand.  Spring Awakening does a dandy job in sharing the difficulty and pain of growing up, but it also leaves a glimmer of hope that the current generation will fix the mistakes of the previous.

Spring Awakening plays at the UNO Theatre in the Weber Fine Arts Building through Dec 2.  Showtimes are 7:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays.  Tickets cost $16 (a 2nd preview night performance on Nov 16 will be $6).  UNO students can attend the show for free.  For tickets, call 402-554-PLAY or visit www.unomaha.edu/unotheatre.  Due to strong language and sensitive themes, Spring Awakening is not suitable for children.  The UNO Theatre is located at 6001 Dodge St in Omaha, NE.