An Unusually Rocking Fairy Tale

Resized_DSC_0858It’s the show that lovingly lambasts fairy tales.  A surly ogre named Shrek reluctantly comes to the aid of the fairy tale characters banished to his swamp by evil Lord Farquaad solely to regain his isolation.  Farquaad’s price for removing the characters from Shrek’s swamp is for Shrek to rescue Princess Fiona from a tower guarded by a fire-breathing dragon so Farquaad can marry her and become king.  But love may be blooming between the princess and the ogre when they find they have far more in common than they realize.  It’s Shrek the Musical with book and lyrics by David Lindsay-Abaire and music by Jeanine Tesori and it currently plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

What I am about to say is a lie.  Something that isn’t true.  Shrek the Musical is the most insipid piece of juvenile garbage ever to disgrace a stage and should be shunned by every man, woman, and child.

Truthfully, this show is an out and out joy.  I can’t remember the last time I felt so energized by a play.  Lindsay-Abaire wrote a script that not only well translates the film to the stage, but one that I also believe surpassed the source material on nearly every level.  He even adds a subtle theme of racism and judging books by their covers that adds a surprising amount of heft to the production.  His lyrics and the rock operaesque score by Ms Tesori will have you laughing and bopping and pining for the next number.

Kimberly Faith Hickman’s direction is simply exquisite.  Not only did she guide the cast to superb performances without a weak link in the lot, but she also brought a phantasmagorical staging to the show.  Yes, that is indeed the right word as there was something otherworldly about the staging.  The entire theatre was used to tell this story and I mean the ENTIRE theatre.  Stage, orchestra pit, aisles, rows, you name it.  It was all fair game to share this tale.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a cast as on as this cast was tonight.  Every single member brought their A game to the table and created a production that has instantly vaulted into my top ten list.  Some standouts among the standouts were Kerri Forrester whose presence devoured the theatre and whose mighty voice thrilled the crowd with her take as Dragon in “Forever”; Maddie Smith who delights as Young Fiona as she pines for her Prince Charming in “I Know It’s Today”; and J. Isaiah Smith who gleefully chews the scenery as Lord Farquaad.

Jordan Smith triumphs as Donkey, the wise-cracking sidekick of Shrek.  Smith strikes a perfect balance between being the loyal friend and the hyperactive annoying chatterbox that just might test the patience of saints.  His tenor voice is stupendous and he excelled in numbers such as “Make A Move” and “Don’t Let Me Go”.  He completed his triple threat with his fluid and nimble hoofing which was made all the more impressive as he was doing it with hooves.

Mackenzie Dehmer makes for an absolutely perfect Fiona.  She ain’t your ordinary fairy tale princess.  She’s temperamental.  She’s high-strung.  She’s got a singing voice that can literally make birds explode.  She can be sweet, but also incredibly crude and crass as she happily engages Shrek in belching and farting contests.  Ms Dehmer possesses a deadly alto which can inflect ultra competiveness in “I Think I Got You Beat”, be excessively cheerful and caffeinated in “Morning Person”, or just flat out rock out in “I’m A Believer”.

I’m going to steal a descriptor from a friend and say that Steve Krambeck “ogre”achieves as Shrek.  Krambeck manages to capture the many layers of Shrek from his outer hide of irritability and crabbiness to his inner core of sensitivity and loneliness.  I don’t think I’ve ever heard Krambeck’s tenor in finer form than tonight as he managed a combination of hopefulness and sadness in “Who I’d Be” as he confesses to wanting to be a hero, despite being destined to being an ogre and the beautiful “When Words Fail” as he sweetly tries to work out a way to tell Fiona he loves her.  He handled the difficult Scottish accent well, though it did weaken at a few points, especially when he sang.

Lindsay Pape’s costumes set a new bar with spot-on reproductions from the film for Shrek, Fiona, and the other fairy tale denizens and beautifully creative outfits such as Donkey’s furry bodysuit.  Paul Pape’s prosthetic for Shrek was brilliant as it was built around Krambeck’s face and allowed him to emote with both face and eyes.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco crafted some truly unique sounds, especially for the “emissions” battle between Fiona and Shrek.  Melanie Walters supplied some stunning choreography especially with the company numbers of “What’s Up, Duloc?”, “Make A Move”, and “Freak Flag”.  Jim Othuse’s sets will take you from a quiet forest to a lonely tower to a dragon’s lair to the castle of a would-be king.  His lights will give you beautiful sunrises and romantic forest evenings.  Jim Boggess and his orchestra truly score with this score as they not only played it perfectly, but you could hear the fun they were having as well.

If you miss this show, you truly don’t know what you’re missing.  It’s fun.  It’s memorable.  It has something for the whole family with jokes aplenty for the adults and cartoony enough for the kids.   And it even teaches a little something about accepting yourself and the uniqueness of others.

Shrek the Musical performs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through Oct 14.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.   Tickets start at $42 and can be purchased at www.ticketomaha.com or at the Omaha Community Playhouse box office.  Contact the box office at 402-553-0800.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Sioux Empire Community Theatre Presents ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’

Jesus Christ Superstar

Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics by Tim Rice

Location:  Sioux Empire Community Theatre (315 N Phillips Ave, Sioux Falls, SD)

Performance Dates:  May 5-21 (Showtimes are 7pm Thurs-Sat, 2pm on Sun)

Ticket Prices:  $30

Box Office:  605-360-4800 or visit www.siouxfallstheatre.com

Description

It seems especially fitting that the first rock opera, created as a concept album at the end of the turbulent ’60s, should have at its center a social and political rebel. Jesus’ meteor-like rise in renown provides, as the title suggests, a parallel to contemporary celebrity worship. As his radical teachings are evermore embraced, Judas increasingly questions the enlightened motives of this new prophet, resulting in betrayal. Christ’s final days are dramatized with emotional intensity, thought-provoking edge and explosive theatricality. Propelled by a stirring score, by turns driving and majestic, satirical and tender, Jesus Christ Superstar illuminates the transcendent power of the human spirit with a passion that goes straight to the heart.

Cast

Raine Jerke as Jesus

Ryan Harr as Judas

Jenn Lee as Mary Magdalene

Rick Weiland as Pilate

James C. Van Oort as Caiaphas

Devin Basart as Annas

Darren Lee as Peter

Paul Ridgway as Simon

Robin Byrne as Herod

Abigail Chapdelaine and Lenora Hintze as the Soul Girls

Ensemble features Tyler Johnson, Dennis H. Berger, Landon Javers, Brandon Tople, Megan Davis, and Cecily Fogarty

Sing a Song of Death

This is the story of Sara.  Sara was kind of a wild child who dated a bad boy bartender named Tom.  One day, Sara tires of Tom and meets Michael who is kind, stable, and safe.  Sara and Michael marry.  After a few years, Sara yearns for her former life and contacts Tom and that’s when things take a turn.  This is Murder Ballad, a rock opera written and with lyrics by Julia Jordan with music and lyrics by Juliana Nash and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

I could make this the quickest review in history and just say it’s phenomenal.  Go see it.

But you’d probably like to know a little more.

While I was intrigued by the plot of this play, little did I know I would end up watching one of the 5 best shows ever produced at the Playhouse.  Ms Jordan has written a tight, crisp story full of little twists and tragedies and Ms Nash’s music is one of the best musical soundtracks I have ever had the pleasure to hear.

The direction of Jeff Horger is utterly beyond reproach.  The energy of his actors never wanes and his staging is impeccable with his performers never taking a static moment and making use of the entire theatre for their movements.  Horger has also guided his thespians to universally marvelous performances with each actor not only being a top flight singer, but possessed of the ability to act through the songs of this opera.

The highest compliment I can pay to Leanne Hill Carlson’s portrayal of Sara is that I felt not one ounce of sympathy for her.  Zip.  Nada.  Zero.  Ms Hill Carlson has complete mastery of her character as she neatly travels the labyrinth of Sara’s arc.

She begins as the party girl living a vapid existence of partying and sex with Tom.  Then she longs for something of substance and meets Michael.  She seems quite content with a life of domesticity, but still has the appetites of her previous life to which she all too readily succumbs. The guilt of her poor choices clearly weighs on her shoulders, but it’s hard to feel much sympathy for her with her tendency to jerk around both men in her life.

Ms Hill Carlson also has a terrific higher alto/lower soprano voice with which she emotes the heck out of her songs.  From a bit of sultriness when she tries to seduce Michael when she first meets him, to her boredom of family life, to her regrets at her lousy decisions, Ms Hill Carlson was just a joy to listen to.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a character I wanted to put my arm around and buck up more than John E. Jones’ Michael.  Jones has a sweet and haunting tenor voice that added such an emotional purity to his characterization of Michael.  His portrayal of Michael was so full of decency and goodness that I felt my heart drop when Sara began cheating on him and he still sang about how much he loved her and wanted to fix whatever was wrong with their marriage.

But watch out when he learns the truth of his wife’s liaisons.  Then Jones is perfectly believable with his righteous anger at being cuckolded and his determination for vengeance against Tom.

Thomas Gjere’s Tom is a most complex character, indeed.  What I liked most about Tom was that he truly was the reverse of Michael.  Where Michael was all about stability, Tom is instability at its peak.  He begins as being not too bad of a person except for his lust for Sara and I actually felt sympathy for him when he was still toiling away as a bartender regretting not fighting for Sara when she left him.

But that decency rapidly vanishes when he engages in a tawdry affair with a now married Sara and becomes quite the obsessed stalker oozing danger and menace as he darkly tells Sara she belongs to him.  Like Jones, Gjere also has a fantastic tenor voice but he makes certain to mine it for all the malevolence of which it’s capable.

Last, but certainly not least, is Mackenzie Dehmer who makes a stunning debut at the Playhouse with her role of the Narrator.  Trust me, Ms Dehmer is no mere storyteller.  Her Narrator is an integral part of this play as she involves herself in the lives of these characters.  I found myself often watching her just to see her reactions to the events swirling around her.  Ms Dehmer’s Narrator is a pretty dark character, often seeming to enjoy the chaos going on around her, yet seems to have a soft spot for Michael’s plight.  Ms Dehmer also has a powerful alto as she belted out her numbers and her movements were so lithe and smooth.

Technically this show was also a perfect ten.  Jim Othuse has turned the Howard Drew into a perfect dive bar while Darin Kuehler’s properties complete the picture.  And, believe it or not, the audience can order drinks from the bar and play billiards and pinball before the show starts.  Chris Wood’s lighting design was brilliant as his lights transformed with the emotional beats ranging from a sad blue to a hostile red.  Amanda Fehlner costumed her actors precisely to their personalities from Michael’s white collar nature to Tom’s blue collar dangerousness to Sara’s seductiveness and finally to the Narrator’s fun, but dark essence.  Doran Schmidt and her house band rocked all night long.

This is a truly can’t miss spectacle.  In fact, I liked it so much I just may go see it again.  If you want to see a well sung story with compelling characters, you must see Murder Ballad.  It’s the most original and rewarding play produced in years.

Murder Ballad plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through November 20.  Showtimes are Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  Due to some strong language and adult situations, Murder Ballad is not suitable for children.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.