That Beloved Blockhead

It’s a day in the lives of the Peanuts gang.  Join them in their adventures of life in You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown currently playing at Great Plains Theatre.

This show is what theatre is all about.  After viewing this production, I think it should be the first show any performer should undertake because it offers actors the opportunity to completely embrace their inner child and just get into the simple enjoyment of pretending and that is the place from which great acting arises.  And, believe me, this ensemble cast understands that and blasts the ball right out of the park with a merry, fun filled production suitable for the entire family.

Clark Goeser’s script does a remarkable job capturing the spirit of the original comic strip.  Astonishingly, this show holds together despite the fact that there is no singular plot.  It’s like watching a series of comics come to life before your eyes.  In fact, some of the interstitials and scenes were pulled straight from the newspaper.  And, yet, it all flows so naturally and truly feels like just another day in the neighborhood.

Goeser’s songs are also a great deal of fun, sometimes incredibly sad and sweet and the additional dialogue of Michael Mayer and songs of Andrew Lippa seamlessly merge into Goeser’s original story.

Directors Mitchell Aiello and Melissa Ford effortlessly bring this production to life.  It’s clear they understand the spirits of Charles Schulz’s characters and bring them to colorful and vibrant life.  They nail the beats of each individual scene and use the power of imagination (the show has very little staging) to pull the audience into the world of the Peanuts gang.  They’ve also guided their performers to pitch perfect depictions of Schulz’s iconic characters making them all instantly believable and recognizable.

Some of the terrific performances you’ll see in this production come from Emi Fishman who is a delight as Charlie Brown’s sister, Sally.  Fishman truly shines as the obnoxious younger sister as she wrestles with stupid jump ropes and develops new philosophies to shift blame away from her poor work in school.  Ben Jaeger is also right on the money with his take on Schroeder.  Jaeger’s Schroeder has that slightly snooty attitude needed for the Beethoven loving piano player.  His bare tolerance for Lucy’s constant presence at his piano is spot on and he is quite the athletic dancer with his backflips in “Beethoven Day”.  Nolan Hall brings a cute charm as Snoopy’s best friend, Woodstock.

Matthew Cox brings real intelligence and wisdom to the role of Linus.  Cox’s Linus has that even keeled nature one would expect from the gang’s resident philosopher and would especially be required of the younger brother of the combustible Lucy.  Cox’s Linus does have a tendency to be too smart for his own good as demonstrated by his doctoral level psychological analysis of the characters of Peter Rabbit, but I especially enjoyed his dependency on his blanket and the little things he did with it.  He didn’t simply drag it around.  He wore it, cuddled it, and even had an impressive tap routine with it in “My Blanket and Me”.

Given how much I disliked the character growing up, I’m amazed at what I’m about to say next.  Erica Lee Bigelow made Lucy my favorite character in this show.  Her commitment to the role is staggering and she perfectly captures the bullying, crabby, bellicose, arrogant, self-centered, selfish, overbearing nature of the neighborhood fussbudget.  Whether she’s doling out questionable advice to Charlie Brown, dreaming of being a queen, or simply pushing around her younger brother, Bigelow is just a scream as the resident brat of the group.

Mitchell Aiello is a hoot as Snoopy.  Aiello perfectly captures Snoopy’s free spirited nature as he truly marches to his own beat.  With Snoopy it’s hard to tell who’s the master and who’s the pet with his refusal to do traditional dog things like fetching and chasing rabbits (though he acquiesces on the latter to get Sally to stop bugging him) and harbors a certain disdain combined with a fierce loyalty to his beloved round-headed kid.  Highlights of Aiello’s performance were his interpretation of Snoopy gleefully escaping into his imagination to battle the Red Baron as the World War I Flying Ace and his showstopping performance in “Suppertime” as Snoopy’s well known mealtime dance morphs into a Broadway dance production.

Ultimately, the show needs to be anchored by its central character and Billy Eric Robinson is the Charlie Brown required for this show.  Robinson ably shows Charlie’s doubts, fears, and insecurities.  But he also shows his decency, his purity of heart, and his perseverance.  While Charlie never notices his more positive traits, it’s those traits that his friends admire most about him.  They may often chide him for his foibles, but they also gladly tell him that he is truly a good man.

Susie Jolink’s musical direction is a pristine piece of precision and having her onstage playing the piano for the musical pieces was an inspired bit of creativity.  Becky Dibben’s costumes look like they were taken right out of the comic strip with bright colors that just pop and match the clothing of the characters’ comic strip counterparts.  Jim Wohler Restorations provides a set that appears simple, but may be a bit more complex than this show typically gets.  Restorations sucks the viewer into the world of the show with the pillars of comic strips, the top of Snoopy’s doghouse, and Lucy’s psychiatric booth.  Mitchell Aiello’s lights also had that needed X factor with the lonely spotlight of Charlie’s sadder and more contemplative moments and the pizzazz of the flashing lights for the equally flashy “Suppertime”.

Great Plains Theatre has conjured a real gem with this production and you should get a ticket to enjoy it.  Bring the family.  Bring your friends.  Revel in your childhood once again and experience theatre in its purest and fullest sense.

You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown runs at Great Plains Theatre through August 22. Showtimes are Wed, Sat-Sun at 2pm and Thurs-Sat at 7:30pm.  Tickets cost $40 ($20 for students) and can be purchased at  Great Plains Theatre is located at 215 N Campbell St in Abilene, KS.

A Cavalcade of Christmas, Part III: Welcome to Christmas Wonderland

Outside of Ponca’s Christmas House, owned by Gene Watchorn and Julie McDowell.

Today the road has brought me to Ponca, NE.

Unlike most of these articles, a bed and breakfast is not involved with this story.  However, a very unique house is involved.  I went to Ponca to visit the home of Gene Watchorn and Julie McDowell.

If the names sound familiar to you, it’s because they are the recent winners of “The Great Christmas Light Fight” televised on ABC for their incredibly festive lights and Christmas display.  Their story made most of the newspapers and news outlets in Nebraska and when I read their story, I knew I had to visit their home for the Cavalcade of Christmas.

I was enjoying some unseasonably nice weather as I began my drive to the little town of Ponca.  En route to Ponca, I passed through the town of Jackson where I decided to stop for church at St. Patrick’s.

St Patrick’s Catholic Church

Father had quite a good sermon as he talked about the gift of Jesus and how He wants to share everything He has with His people.  It provided some very loaded food for thought as I left the small church and continued my drive to Ponca.

I was testing out a GPS system and now I don’t think I’ll ever go back to paper maps.  This was so handy as the system told me where and when to turn right down to what lane I should be in.  This was especially useful as Gene & Julie’s house is located on a large acreage out in the country.

If I had any doubts that I was on the right road, they were quickly dissipated when I found the large line of traffic waiting to reach the house.  It just seemed to go on forever.

I turned into a field nearby the house and parked and just stared in amazement at the home and the line of people waiting to visit.

According to Julie, Gene started the tradition, originally for his children, about 20 years ago.  Fifteen years ago, Gene and Julie let some students tour the house and then it was decided to open the doors to the public.  Now thousands of people visit this monument to Christmas each year.

Gene loves Christmas and is dubbed a “Christmas hoarder” by Julie.  He is also a one man operation for this Christmas wonderland.  Gene does all of the designing and setting up.  He begins the day after Labor Day and finishes the entire project about mid-November.  From that point through the end of December, the couple holds open houses from 6pm-9pm each Fri-Sun.  Private tours can also be arranged through Gene and Julie.

The Christmas house contains 100,000 Christmas lights, 90 inflatables, 19 Christmas trees, and 6,000-7,000 Christmas figurines and animations.  Budget some time to really appreciate this house because it took me nearly 2.5 hours to get through the whole abode due to foot traffic and the sheer level of detail to observe.

Here are some scenes from outside the house:

The inside of the house is just as beautiful.  Julie and Gene are warm, welcoming people.  Julie greeted people at the front door while Gene mingled with the visitors.  Helpers were also on hand to give out free candy canes to the visitors.

I could have spent all night marveling at this cacophony of Christmas, but I did have to return home.  

There’s still a little time to visit the house this season and I highly recommend making the visit if you’re able to do so.  There’s nothing cheesy or kitschy about this Christmas house.  It’s a reverent, awe-inspiring display from two people who love the holiday and whose generosity and hospitality truly exemplify the reason for the season.  Visiting the house is free, but donations are cheerfully accepted.

For directions or a private tour, please call Gene or Julie at 402-755-2655.

Until the next time. . .happy travels.

July is a Hot Month for Area Auditions

At the Circle Theatre

Circle Theatre is holding auditions for its Dec 2016 Holiday Production A Charlie Brown Christmas. Performances run weekends December 2-17. Auditions will be held July 5 and 6th at 7:00p.m. at the  Urban Abby at 1026 Jackson Street in the Old Market.  The production calls for actors ages 8-50 who can sing and dance. Those auditioning will be asked to bring a prepared song to sing.  Auditions are by appointment only. To schedule an audition or for more info please e-mail

At the Chanticleer Community Theatre

  • Elf – The Musical Jr.
  • Sunday, July 10 and Monday, July 11 @ 6:00 p.m.
  • Production Dates: September 16 – 25, 2016
  • Rehearsal Dates: Looking to begin Wednesday, July 13.
  • Bring sheet music and come prepared to sing 16 measures. Accompanist provided.  Wear shoes comfortable for dancing.  May be asked to read from script.
  • Show Summary: The Chanticleer Children’s Theater presents a modern-day holiday classic that’s sure to make you embrace your “inner elf”. This hilarious fish-out-of-water comedy follows Buddy the Elf in his quest to find his true identity.
  • Contact Information: 712-323-9955 or
  • Director and/or Production Team: Denise Putman, Director, Jerry Gray, Musical Director & Ariel Ibsen-Bauer, Choreographer
  • Location:  830 Franklin Ave in Council Bluffs, IA


At Bellevue Little Theatre

Be a part of a time honored tradition!  Auditions for the Bellevue Little Theater’s production of The Music Man will be held on Sunday, July 10th and Monday, July 11th at 7:00 PM.

D. Laureen Pickle is the stage director with Chris Ebke serving as music director, Kerri Jo Watts as choreographer, and Jamie Jarecki as stage manager. Sandy Thompson, assisted by Kerri Jo Watts, is serving as producer.

Numerous roles are available for youth and adult singers, actors, and dancers, ages 8-108. Please prepare 16-32 measures of music with accompaniment. No acappella, please. An accompanist will be available for auditions. Also, bring clothing and shoes appropriate for dance auditions. Finally, please be prepared to list any conflicts during the rehearsal period. We will begin rehearsing July 17th, with productions on September 16th-October 2nd. Questions? Please email the director at or call the BLT at 402-291-1554.

The Music Man is set in the small town of River City, Iowa, and follows the adventures of Professor Harold Hill, a fast talking traveling salesman,  as he attempts to convince town members to buy instruments and uniforms for a boy’s band he ‘intends to form’. Of course Hill intends to skip town with all the money and never form the band….a scheme the local librarian, Marian, suspects.

Before the play’s end Marian has transformed Hill and the boy’s band. You will see where it winds up as the Music Man concludes with a heartwarming finale.

Location:  203 W Mission Rd in Bellevue, NE