Masterful Musicians Make Magnificent Music

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Billy McGuigan and the Downliners (From left to right: Tara Vaughan, Ryan McGuigan, Matthew McGuigan, Billy McGuigan, Adam Stoltenberg, and Max Meyer)

Take a tour through the history of classic rock and roll as Billy McGuigan and his band play the hits from the 50s through the 70s in Rock Legends.  Last night Billy and his band, the Downliners, played a sold out, tour de force performance at the Davies Amphitheater in Glenwood, IA.

The show was actually billed as Rock Show, but was a variation of McGuigan’s Rock Legends production.  Billy McGuigan once more demonstrated his seemingly limitless musical talent with a pulse pounding, non-stop 90 minute ride that displays an encyclopedic knowledge of classic rock.  Billy and the Downliners played some of the biggest hits of the best known bands of the 50s-70s, but also included several one hit wonders and hits that simply don’t get much airplay nowadays.  Imbued with that inimitable McGuigan energy, one would swear that Billy and the band wrote all of these tunes themselves as the music seems so fresh and extemporaneous.

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Mark Irvin

The night’s entertainment opened up with Omaha singer/songwriter, Mark Irvin.  Irvin has a voice reminiscent of Bryan Adams and a stage presence similar to Roy Orbison.  It’s just a man, his guitar, and his music.  Irvin is a powerhouse talent whose warm tenor haunted the audience with original numbers such as “I Will Surrender to You”, “I Finally Got it Right”, and “Fly With Me”.  He also did an impressive cover of Kenny Loggins’ “Danny’s Song” that had the audience singing right along with him.  If you want to get a taste of Irvin’s talent, his music is available on Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon.

Then it was time for the featured act and Billy and company hit the ground running and never let up.

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Billy McGuigan

Billy McGuigan drove the night with his trademark wit and indefatigable energy.  He and his potent tenor went through an impressive range of high octane songs from “Bye, Bye Love” by the Everly Brothers to “Good Lovin’” by the Rascals to the first rock song, Bill Haley’s “Rock Around the Clock”.  How he does this without wearing out, I’ll never know, but he did give himself a bit of a breather with a small set of slower songs capped with a particularly touching rendition of “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying” by Gerry and the Pacemakers.

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Tara Vaughan

It’s as much fun to watch Tara Vaughan perform as it is to listen to her sing.  Performance wise, she reminds me of Bob Marley in the sense that, like him, she is totally immersed in the music.  She doesn’t just play the keyboards with her fingers, she plays with her whole body, heart, and soul.  And that sultry alto had me looking for a cold drink after some of her numbers.  Notable turns from her came with Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love”, a rocking rendition of the Gene Pitney penned Crystals hit, “He’s a Rebel”, and a dazzling take on “A Little Piece of My Heart” that would have made Janis Joplin proud.

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Ryan & Matthew McGuigan

Ryan & Matthew McGuigan nailed it in their time in the spotlight.  Ryan paid homage to John Lennon and the Beatles with his takes on “I Feel Fine” and the Lennon solo in “This Boy”.  Matthew got a chance to show some impressive versatility as he did The Monkees’ “I’m a Believer” before segueing into Elvis soundalike Terry Stafford’s one hit wonder, “Suspicions”.

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Adam Stoltenberg & Max Meyer

Solid support was provided in the forms of Max Meyer and Adam Stoltenberg.  Meyer provided a series of superb solos on lead guitar while Stoltenberg’s drum work set a crucial backbeat.  Both also got a moment to sing when they each took some verses in The Band’s “The Weight” which was sung by the entire band.

When people hear the name Billy McGuigan, some think Buddy Holly while others may think the Beatles.  When I hear the name, I think he’s one of the best musicians Omaha has ever produced.  Normally, this is the point where I encourage you to get a ticket.  Sadly this was a one night only concert, but fear not.  You have another chance to catch Bily and company in action when Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist opens at the Omaha Playhouse on August 1.  The show runs through August 12 with performances running Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Contact OCP at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com for tickets.

But take my advice, when Rock Legends performs again, don’t miss it.  It’s awesome!

A Season of Deja Vu

Déjà vu:  The sensation that you are doing something that you have done before.

It’s almost eerie how much this season mirrored the last one.  Like last year, it ended quite early and I only was able to audition for a couple of shows.

This season actually began unusually early.  Back in March, to be precise.

I had attended the Omaha Playhouse’s announcement of the 2017-18 season and they announced the season premiere would also be a world premiere as they would kick off with an original play called Eminent Domain written by local actress/playwright, Laura Leininger-Campbell.  They further announced that the auditions for this show would take place the next week as the actors would be helping to refine the show.

I managed to get a PDF of the script from Laura and found it to be a fascinating read.  The play explores themes of family with the framing device of a Nebraska farm family being threatened by an oil company claiming eminent domain to annex part of their property to lay a pipeline.

I was especially drawn to the character of the autistic Evan MacLeod whom I found to be a deep well of character acting.  I spent the next week taking a crash course in autism in order to properly present my take on Evan.

When I went to the auditions next week, I found that Laura’s play had really struck a chord with the community.  It seems as if the entire theatre community had come out to audition.  Not only was I up against some of the brightest names in Omaha theatre, but I was also up against much of the original cast who had been part of the show back when it was a staged reading.

My old shipmate, Frank Insolera, was one of the hopefuls and we started catching up on old times.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Christina Rohling, whom you might remember as the director of Elephant’s Graveyard and A Heavy Rain, heading in our direction.  Frank and I reached a pause in our conversation and both looked her way.

Addressing me, she said, “I just want you to know that you made my job (for Elephant’s Graveyard) very difficult.  It just came down to the 2 different energy levels between you and the guy I chose.”

Once more, I felt that strange mixture of pride and melancholy as I added another story to my ever growing pile of “good” rejections.  It only lasted for a moment as I thanked her for the compliment and then found out I would actually be reading with her when I made my stab at Evan.

Christina also happens to be one of the top talents in Omaha, so I was glad for the opportunity to bounce ideas of the scene as I explained to her my vision of Evan.  She seemed surprised at my attention to detail as she said, “It sounds like you’ve done some serious homework.”

We walked into the conference room on the 2nd floor of the Playhouse under the scrutinizing eyes of director Amy Lane and Laura.  Christina and I sat on the floor and I immediately started becoming Evan.  From my research, I decided that Evan was on the more severe side of the autism spectrum and had developed physicality and vocal patterns to suit that.  I adopted an awkward sitting position as I twisted my legs together and thrust my right hand between them, resting my hand on my left knee.  I slightly tilted my head and avoided any eye contact with Christina.  I also adopted a monotone, sing-song cadence for my speech.

I was actually extremely pleased with my take and felt as if I were hitting the right notes.  It also ended up being my best bite at the apple as my second read was for a different character who didn’t have a lot to do in that side.

Intellectually, I knew that I was up against a formidable challenge, but I still hoped against hope that I mustered up enough magic for a callback.

Alas, that hope was dashed shortly afterwards.

For the first time in a long while, I really felt the bitter disappointment of defeat.  I was surprised, yet not surprised at the same time.  With the extra effort I had put into it and with the full power of my heart behind it, I think it would have been more of a surprise had I not felt stung by the rejection.  And, of course, the lack of a callback made me wonder, “Did my efforts make any sort of an impact?”

Nowadays, I don’t dwell on those moments for long and I was quickly back to my old self.

I would next read for the staged readings of Angels in America and In the Heat of the Night, but there isn’t much of a story there.  Solid reads and no casting.  Que sera, sera.

Then came Ripcord.

I knew that I had to read for this show from the moment I read the synopsis.  The thrust of the story is that Abby and Marilyn share a room at the nursing home.  Abby had had the room to herself for a long while and wasn’t particularly keen on getting a new roommate.  Even worse, Marilyn’s sunshiney nature really grates on Abby’s curmudgeonly personality.  When Marilyn claims never to get angry and Abby claims never to get scared, the two women make a bet.  If Abby can anger Marilyn, Marilyn will get another room so Abby can be on her own again.  But if Marilyn can scare Abby, then Marilyn gets Abby’s bed because she likes it better than hers.  The result is an increasingly dangerous game of one-upsmanship.

There were 3 roles for men which included the nurse, Scotty, and two character actors who would play 3 distinct characters apiece.  I felt a little too old to play Scotty and relished the idea of the two character roles as I would get the rare opportunity to go completely over the top.

This play would mark my second reading for Kimberly Faith Hickman, the new artistic director of the Omaha Playhouse.  The first had been Angels in America.

I was surprised when my first side was for Scotty, but figured it was because not many men showed up to that first day of auditions.  Then I stepped inside the dance hall and it happened.

I felt the magic.

This was my most enjoyable audition in several years.  I didn’t care about getting cast.  I just wanted to go in and have some fun and I did just that.  I understood Scotty from the get-go and felt strong as I read the role.

When I finished the read and went back outside, I was given a side for one of the character actors.  After reading this side, I have come to the conclusion that I must project a natural aura of niceness as my side was for one of the regular roles performed by the character actors.  I actually felt a twinge of disappointment as I had been hoping to sink my teeth into one of the broader sides.

Not that the side I had was dull, but it was the same type of character I often find myself reading for and I just wanted to show that I could do more than essentially play myself.

Imagine my surprise when I was asked to stick around for a third read.  Once more I read as Scotty and varied my performance a bit from the first read.  After this read, I was let go, but there was also only one more group to read after I had finished.

Needless to say, I had quite a bit of hope as it had been ages since I had been at an audition from start to finish.  A few days later, my hope was rewarded when I got the call asking me to come to callbacks where I would be considered for the role of Scotty.  I laughed at the irony as the role I thought I had the least chance for ended up being the only role I would be considered for. . .or so I thought.

At the callbacks, I was given a side for Scotty that would FINALLY allow me a chance to go over the top.  I felt so giddy, I nearly broke into a soft shoe routine.  I had been chomping at the bit for this for eons and I let loose for all I was worth when I read the side.  I won’t spoil the scene, but I will say that I unleashed a scream not unlike the one emitted by Daniel Stern when he was mugged by the pigeons in Home Alone 2.

Immediately after finishing the read, Kimberly said, “I know I said I was only considering you for Scotty, but I want you to read this side for Benjamin.”

I was floored by the side.  It was a tremendously powerful and poignant scene as Benjamin is the estranged son of Abby and this was a complete 180 from the previous side and I looked forward to performing it.

When I went back in, I gave the most honest and heartfelt read I could muster and was really feeling Benjamin’s angst and heartache.  Shortly after this read, I was dismissed.

A few days later, I found an e-mail waiting for me from Kimberly.  The fact of the e-mail told me I did not make it in, but the fact that it was from the director told me that it was also something more.  I opened it up and read the following message:

Hi Chris!

I wanted to personally thank you for attending auditions and callbacks for RIPCORD.  I really enjoyed watching you and your work throughout the process.  This was a very difficult play to cast as so many talented people came to the auditions.  I ended up going with another actor for the roles of Scotty/Benjamin, but I wanted to let you know of that decision from me personally rather than a general notification e-mail.  I also want to encourage you to continue auditioning at OCP.  You have tremendous talent and I look forward to the next opportunity we may have to work together.

I was proud of this message and moved it to my scrapbook.  I had no regrets and had thoroughly enjoyed myself and I had made an impact.  You can’t ask for more than that.

We’ll talk again next season.

Just Around the Riverbend to River’s Bend

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Why, hello again, and welcome to my one year anniversary article spectacular.

I decided I needed a truly special bed and breakfast to visit for my one year anniversary and I certainly found it at River’s Bend Bed and Breakfast; owned by Dr. Rita Schoeneman and located in the rural town of Iowa Falls, IA.

The weather was certainly cooperating with me on this fine summer day.  It had a rather springy feel to it with moderate temperatures, a sunny sky, singing birds, and clouds that were looking especially fluffy.  I was so excited about this trip that I had awoken at 4am and could not get back to sleep.  Shortly before 9am, I had hopped into my car and before I knew it I had reached Iowa Falls.

Iowa Falls is the biggest small town I have visited since I began this project.  It seems to have quite a few things to do and, as I would later learn, is jam packed with history.  It’s also the town where Kansas Jayhawks basketball legend and current NBA star, Nick Collison, began his rise to prominence.  Fun fact:  I attended school with Nick in elementary school (mind you, I was 4 years older and don’t know if we ever met) and was taught by his father, Dave, in junior high school.

As I drove around the city (yes, this city was big enough for me to drive around), I found a couple of nice scenic drives as well as a fairly impressive aquatic center that housed a decent looking miniature golf course.  I silently lamented the fact that my good friend and perennial rival, Mat O’Donnell, was not present for a duel.  Then again, the course was closed so it was a moot point.

Eventually, I parked in the town square and began to wander about the downtown area.  One of the more spectacular sights was the Metropolitan Opera House.  When first built, it was actually an opera house and had brought in some of the biggest names of the day like John Phillip Sousa.  Now it was a movie theater and I really wish I had had an opportunity to get inside the place and look around.

The Metropolitan Opera House.  This is now the local movie theater.

The Metropolitan Opera House. This is now the local movie theater.

About 2pm, I passed a boat club which had a riverboat moored on the Iowa River called the Scenic City Empress.  I saw some people getting onto the ship and I immediately parked my car and asked if I could purchase a ticket.  I would later discover that I had actually earned a free ticket for this cruise by booking at River’s Bend, but I was glad to make the $7 donation.

The Scenic City Empress

The Scenic City Empress

It was a very relaxing cruise on the Iowa River (which actually starts and ends in Iowa).  The whole journey took about an hour and fifteen minutes and I learned quite a bit about the local history from how the town was founded, to some of the powerful families who had lived there, to a lot of significant events that had occurred in the town’s history.  Once the cruise ended, I headed on over to River’s Bend.

For the first time since the project began, I actually had company for the trip.  Originally, my best friend, Josh Kudron, and his wife, Malissa, were supposed to join me on the journey.  Regrettably, complications arose which prevented them from making the trip.  Luckily, my parents, Bob & Virginia, whom I’ve long tried to convince to try a bed and breakfast, said they would like to come along.

We were warmly greeted by Rita, a former national director of the US Forest Service, who gave us the grand tour.

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The Bliss Suite AKA the Honeymoon Suite

The Bliss Suite AKA the Honeymoon Suite

Garden Room

Garden Room

Evergreen Room

Evergreen Room

This place is impressive.  It’s a Greek Revival house and the biggest bed and breakfast I have visited.  The rooms are incredibly spacious with the exception of the intimate Garden Suite.  I was quite surprised that the place only had 4 guest bedrooms considering how much house existed.  We had taken the Riverview Suite, which was a combination of the Riverview room and the Library which housed an eclectic amount of reading material from forestry to manga.  I gladly took the Library because I wanted to be able to get out on the balcony in the morning and watch the sun rise.

The Riverview Room

The Riverview Room

The Library.  This also forms part of the Riverview Suite.

The Library. This also forms part of the Riverview Suite.

After getting settled, we got into my car to travel to the nearby town of Eldora to attend worship services at St Mary’s parish.  On the drive over, my pop had me turn on the radio so he could listen to the Iowa vs. Ball State football game.  There are few things as entertaining as listening to my father watch or listen to an Iowa Hawkeyes sporting event.  Dad isn’t the most demonstrative of people. . .unless he’s watching his beloved Hawkeyes.  Then he’s the most animated person on the planet.  And he had plenty to be animated about as the Hawkeyes looked like they would be upset by the Cardinals as they were leading 13-3 as we headed into the church.

Father Tony, a very energetic and animated man, attempted to set a land speed record in delivering the service.  Apparently, he was suffering from post-concussion syndrome and was feeling a little ill, so he worked through the service as quickly as possible.  All that I can say is, he must be unbelievable when he’s feeling great given how much energy he had feeling sick.

After services, Dad hesitantly asked me to turn the radio back on and he must have done some serious praying, for now the Hawkeyes were about to, and did, in fact, win by a score of 17-13.  “They didn’t deserve to win,” said Dad, the relief evident in his voice.  We headed back to Iowa Falls where, under Rita’s suggestion, we went to Porter’s on Main for supper.

The place was a little dim, but the food was excellent.  I munched on a Diablo Chicken sandwich with a side of chicken gumbo.  Dad supped on a terrific New York Strip (which looked bigger than the 10 oz it was supposed to be), a side of chicken gumbo, and a baked potato.  And Mom enjoyed hamburger steak with some superior American fries (I know because I sampled some) and a salad.

After supper, we returned to the inn where I had to help my lovable Luddite of a father with the TV in the living room so he and Mom could watch the movie “Sneakers”.  I went to the suite to post some pictures, have a long hot soak, and curl up with my latest Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Spirit Box”.

Mom and Dad settle down to watch a movie.

Mom and Dad settle down to watch a movie.

I grew drowsy as I read and soon fell asleep for the night.  I awoke the next morning and did go out on the balcony to watch the sunrise, then immediately rushed back inside because it was darn chilly out there in my shorts.  I grabbed my Kindle and headed down to the 2nd living room to listen to music and continue Mr. Holmes’ adventure.  Dad had gotten up earlier to go buy a newspaper and he came back just as Mom was coming downstairs so we headed into the dining room for breakfast.

With all of the fancy, gourmet breakfasts I have eaten at bed and breakfasts, it was a nice change of pace to have a hearty, traditional breakfast.  Beginning with a dish of mixed fruit, Rita brought out some wonderfully crisp bacon and a stack of small pancakes which were quite fluffy and delicious.  Cups of coffee along with glasses of milk and OJ made for delicious breakfast beverages.

Rita came out partway through the meal and began to share with us some of the history of the house.  Then she asked about my B & B project as well as my theatrical background.  When I started talking about theatre, Rita shared this amazing tale of the time Hugh Jackman visited the house.  She even had photographic proof of the encounter.

As the story went, the previous owner of the movie theater had to sell out because he couldn’t afford the new digital projectors that would be needed to stay in business.  The new owner bought the needed projectors, but wanted to have a reopening worthy of the theater’s past as the Metropolitan Opera House.  As it happened, the new owner’s son happened to be an entertainment lawyer in Los Angeles and was the agent for Hugh Jackman and Halle Berry.  When the owner’s son told Hugh about his dad’s desire, Hugh readily volunteered to come to Iowa Falls to make it a red carpet event.

Hugh and his family stayed in the room that my family had stayed in and Rita said he was an absolutely perfect gentleman and down to earth guy, though his entourage was annoying.  In between signing posters for the event, Hugh helped his son with his homework, played with his daughter, and even made his children carry the breakfast dishes into the kitchen for cleaning.

The time passed much too quickly and soon it was time to check out and head back to reality.  It was truly a grand event and I easily rank this place in my top three bed and breakfasts that I have visited for this project.  If you find yourself in Iowa Falls, take some time out there.  Soak up the local culture.  Take a ride on the Scenic City Empress.  Most importantly, spend a night at River’s Bend.  You’ll get a great meal and enjoy some great conversation from an excellent hostess.  Heck, you’ll probably learn something, too.