Strength of Soul

Celie lives a tragic life.  She was forced to give up her children.  She was basically sold to a tyrant as a wife.  She believes her sister to be dead and her faith lies in tatters.  But with a new friendship, she slowly begins to regain herself and to live life to the fullest.  Watch her remarkable story in The Color Purple which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This is unquestionably one of the most challenging shows I’ve ever seen.  Marsha Norman deals with some dark and ugly themes in this script.  Racism, physical and mental abuse, lust, abandonment, and loss of faith are just some of the themes explored and that’s just in the first act.  But themes of love, family, hope, perseverance, and redemption are also visited in the show’s second act.  This gives the show an incredible multifaceted nature.  Throw in a score that spans genres from Gospel to blues to jazz to swing to African along with a cast that was more than up to the challenge and you have one awe inspiring night of theatre.

Kathy Tyree’s direction is truly to be lauded.  Guiding a performer through an emotionally charged scene is always a difficult and nuanced task.  But to guide multiple performers through numerous emotionally charged scenes requires the hand of a master and Tyree has such a hand.  Not only does she lead her performers through the almost uncountable nuances and beat changes of this tale, but she also stages it immaculately using a surprisingly simple Jim Othuse set of steps, slatted beams which depict African tribal masks on the reverse, and a large screen of scribbles that flash colors to suit the emotions of the scenes.

The ensemble does a masterful job of always being in the moment to add the spark of life to group scenes, but you’ll also be treated to some stellar performances from Doriette Jordan who is full of sass and fire as one of the Church Ladies.  Anthony Holmes provides some levity as the sweet, but hapless Harpo.  Brandi Mercedes Smith is awesome as the tough as nails and brutally honest Sofia who gets one of the show’s most tragic scenes due to her refusal to take garbage from anyone.  Brittany Thompson provides some real sweetness and loving support as Celie’s younger sister, Nettie.

TammyRa’s performance as Celie is so heartfelt and moving that it stirs the dead.  I admit I was blown away by the power and nuance of her interpretation and TammyRa’ is going to be swarmed in award nominations and you can take that to the bank. 

TammyRa’ is so meek and pitiable at the show’s start and she makes you feel Celie’s pain and brokenness with each haunted look and reaction.  But her growing happiness when she begins to claim her life makes your heart soar.  And what an angelic alto!  TammyRa’ belts out a tune like few others can and it communicates the subtlest of emotions.  Some of my favorite numbers were her tortured “Dear God”, her magnificent “What About Love?”, and her confident “I’m Here”.

Jus. B is an utterly worthless piece of humanity as Mister.  This is a cruel, cruel man who does not have one redemptive value in him.  He practically salivates over Nettie, but takes Celie as a “wife” just for a free cow and treats her like a virtual slave as he demands she cook, clean, and satisfy his urges.  Jus. B has an incredible gift of acting with his eyes and you can feel the heat of his anger radiating from them while he smokes a pipe with such intensity that I feared he would snap its stem in two.  He is just as potent on the singing side when that powerful baritone hits you with “Mister Song”.

Dara Hogan has the energy of a dozen people and a magnetic presence as Shug Avery.  She’s the bad girl with a heart of gold and has loyalty to spare with her dedication to her friendship with Celie.  Hogan is truly a triple threat who can sing, dance, and act with numbers such as the heavenly “The Color Purple”, the humorous “In Miss Celie’s Pants”, and especially the showstopping “Push Da Button”.

Jim Boggess and his orchestra are superlative as they play the multiple genres of the score.  Jim Othuse’s lights really add to the production with the depressing darks of Act I and the hopeful colors and brightness of Act II.  Tim Burkhart and John Gibilisco’s sounds seamlessly blend in and enhance the production with my favorite being the singing birds at a picnic.  LaTryce Anderson and DJ Tyree provide some smooth choreography with my favorite dancing sequences being “Big Dog” and “Push Da Button”.  Lindsey Pape’s costumes show the passage of time from 1910-1940 with the gingham dress of Celie giving way to the flapper dress of Shug Avery to the bright and colorful pants that Celie creates.  I was also highly impressed with the tribal masks painted by Janet Morr.

This is a show that is going to grip you by the throat in ways you never thought possible as indicated by the running commentary I heard from various audience members in Act II.  Due to its heavy themes and mild language, I’d suggest some parental discretion, but this is an artistic triumph for Kathy Tyree, her cast, and the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Buy a ticket and learn why The Color Purple is the color of passion.

The Color Purple runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through March 27. Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets start at $25 and can be purchased by calling 402-553-0800, visiting www.omahaplayhouse.com, or at the box office.  The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

Photo provided by Robertson Photography

These Sisters Got Soul

Struggling singer Deloris Van Cartier witnesses her gangster boyfriend commit murder.  To protect her until the trial, Deloris is placed in a convent under the guise of Sister Mary Clarence.  Her antics and personality bring her into conflict with the staid, old school Mother Superior as well as inspires the other nuns to get their Jesus on by jazzing up their lousy and archaic singing.  This is Sister Act written by Cheri & Bill Steinkellner with music by Alan Menken and lyrics by Glenn Slater and currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  It is inspired by the hit comedy starring Whoopi Goldberg.

The singing and dancing are worth the price of admission on their own.  Menken’s peppy music is enhanced by another stellar performance from Jim Boggess (who also has a nice cameo as Pope Paul VI) and his orchestra who deftly handle the 70s style soul and gospel rock score.  Melanie Walters surpasses herself with choreography that was original, perfectly precise for the show’s era, and utterly flawless.  No dancer missed a step and they were so skillful and smooth, you’d think you were watching a professional troupe.

Kimberly Faith Hickman nails her debut as the Playhouse’s Artistic Director to the floor with her directorial work for this piece.  Scene changes were smooth as silk.  The energy of the cast was sky high.  She managed to cull the very best work out of her performers from the experienced veterans to the fresh newbies and misses nary a beat in her coaching.

Ms Hickman’s directing is especially impressive as the script did not give her a lot to work with.  I’m not sure what the Steinkellners were thinking when they wrote this show, but they took the story of the movie and shaved it to its barest bones.  Important supporting characters had their roles cut to next to nothing and so much of the story was stripped away that the show’s second act is, more or less, a sung through musical with just a touch of dialogue here and there.  For those who know the movie and are expecting rocked up hymns, expel that notion.  None of those songs are in the play.

Zhomontee Watson stuns as Deloris Van Cartier/Sister Mary Clarence.  In Act II, she is everything that you’d expect Deloris to be.  She’s got sass, swagger, and razzmatazz.  She also does a nice job showing Deloris’ transformation from diva loner to soul sister.  Ms Watson has a really strong alto voice which she uses well in “Take Me to Heaven” and in a fine dramatic turn in “Sister Act”.  Now Ms Watson just needs to do all the things she did in Act II and move it to Act I.

Likely due to opening night nerves, Ms Watson was a little slow getting out of the gate.  Her diction was a bit mushy and she needed to project more.  But that improved markedly as her confidence grew and had mostly vanished by Act II.  I’d also suggest for her to be even bigger and take things just a little bit farther in her interpretation of the role.

Even with some time to think, I’m not sure how I feel about Judy Anderson as the Mother Superior.  Not that she was weak.  From a technical standpoint, her work was quite solid.  Her own alto voice did justice to showing Mother Superior’s fears about the world in “Here Within these Walls” and her frustration with Deloris shaking up the convent in “Haven’t Got a Prayer”.  But something about her character seemed off.  As an old schooI nun, I thought the role needed to be more of a straight man and it seemed too jokey and I’m not sure if the problem lies in the writing or the acting choices, but I tend to lean towards the former.

Brian Priesman milks the role of Curtis for everything that it’s worth.  As Deloris’ gangster boyfriend, Priesman is a bullying brute who easily cows his underlings.  Priesman’s diction and projection are of excellent quality and his light tenor easily handled the show’s best number “When I Find My Baby” with just the right touch of grim humor.

Marcel Daly does a pretty serviceable job as Eddie, the police officer who protects Deloris.  He needs to loosen up a bit as some of his dialogue sounded stiff and memorized, but he did have a nice meekness to him.  He also fakes bad dancing really well in “I Could Be That Guy” which is also strengthened by his beautiful tenor.

The supporting cast does terrific work in bolstering the story by always staying within the thick of the action.  Special notice goes to Sally Neumann Scamfer who is delightfully acidic and acerbic as Sister Mary Lazarus and Sara Mattix who is just so sweet and innocent as Sister Mary Patrick.  But I want to stand up and bow to Justin Eller, Jonathan Smith, and Adam Fulbright who steal every scene that they are in as Curtis’ lackeys Joey, TJ, and Pablo.  Their comedic timing is spot on.  Their dancing is so effortless.  And I was extremely pleased by the falsetto work of Smith and Fulbright.

I think the light and scenic work of Jim Othuse for this show ranks among his best.  I loved the gorgeous church interiors with its wood textures and the red light district of Philadelphia.  Georgiann Regan should be proud of her costumes especially the performing habits of the nuns.

I’d highly recommend getting a ticket as quick as you can because the Playhouse has another hit on its hands as evidenced by a nearly full house for this preview night performance.  Any shortcomings in the story are more than overcome by the songs and presentation and you’ll want to get your praise on before the night is done.

Sister Act plays at the Omaha Community Playhouse through October 16.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $42 for adults and $25 for students.  Wednesday night shows are $32 for adults and $20 for students.  For tickets call 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.

Soulful Show Launches OCP’s Mainstage Season

SISTER ACT

Opens Sept. 16, 2016 at the Omaha Community Playhouse

Omaha, Neb.Sister Act, running September 16 – October 16, 2016 in the Hawks Mainstage Theatre at Omaha Community Playhouse, is Broadway’s smash musical comedy based on the 1992 blockbuster movie starring Whoopi Goldberg. The musical features all original music by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, Newsies) and is filled with toe-tapping songs, show-stopping dance numbers and a truly touching story. After witnessing her mafia boyfriend commit a crime, night club singer Deloris Van Cartier seeks help from the local police. She is placed in the witness protection program in the last spot her boyfriend would think to find her—a convent! Struggling to fit in with a group of nuns, Deloris finds her calling working with the convent choir. As she helps her fellow sisters find their voices, she unexpectedly rediscovers her own. Nominated for five Tony Awards, Sister Act is a reason to rejoice!

Oscar- and Tony-winning composer Alan Menken wanted to inspire his score off of 1970s music, specifically disco and gospel. As a result, the setting was changed from the original in the movie (Reno and San Francisco in the 1990s) to Philadelphia in the 1970s. USA Today proclaims, “Composer Alan Menken and lyricist Glenn Slater provide original tunes that nod cheekily, but with genuine affection, to that pop era while also propelling the story with a style and exuberance specific to well-crafted musical theater. Librettists Cheri and Bill Steinkellner, enlisting additional material from Douglas Carter Beane, adapt the screenplay with disarming wryness.”

Production:        Sister Act

Music by Alan Menken | Lyrics by Glenn Slater | Book by Cheri Steinkellner and Bill Steinkellner | Additional book material by Douglas Carter Beane | Based on the Touchstone Pictures Motion Picture, Sister Act, written by Joseph Howard

Director:              Kimberly Faith Hickman

Cast

Zhomontee Wilson as Deloris Van Cartier

Marcel Daly as Eddie

Daron Tyree as Curtis

Justin Eller as Joey

Jonathan Smith as TJ

Adam Fulbright as Pablo

Brendan Brown as Ernie

Cork Ramer as Monsignor O’Hara

Judy Anderson as Mother Superior

Melissa King as Sister Mary Robert

Sara Mattix as Sister Mary Patrick

Sally Neumann Scamfer as Sister Mary Lazarus

Marguerite Bennett as Sister Mary Martin-of-Tours

Kim Alger as Sister Mary Theresa

Lauren Johnson as Michelle

Rachel Busse as Tina

Ensemble:  Lauren Anderson, Jennifer Ettinger, Janet Goodman, Jessie Kellerman, Caitlin Mabon, and Megan Morrisey

Show Dates:  Sept. 16 – Oct. 16, 2016 (Wed-Sat at 7:30pm.  Sundays at 2pm)

Tickets: At the OCP Box Office at 69th & Cass, by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse.com or http://www.TicketOmaha.com. Single tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for students (Thursdays – Sundays) and $32 for adults and $20 for students (Wednesdays). Tickets for groups of 12 or more are $30 for adults and $20 for students (Thursdays – Sundays) and $24 for adults and $16 for students (Wednesdays).

Twilight Tickets – A limited number of tickets are available at half price after noon the day of the performance at the Box Office. Cash or check only. Subject to availability. Wednesday Performances – Discounted tickets are available for Wednesday performances only at $32 for adults and $20 for students.

Whatta Deal Wednesday – Discounted tickets for $10 will be available for the first Wednesday performance on Wednesday, September 21. $10 tickets will be available in person at the box office starting at 4:00 p.m. the day of the show

OCP Holding Auditions for 16-17 Season Openers

Both auditions at Omaha Community Playhouse (6915 Cass St, Omaha, NE)

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

Production Dates: August 19-September 18, 2016
Performs in: Howard Drew Theatre
Director: Ablan Roblin

Synopsis: Based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the most beloved stories of all time. In this moving and heartfelt tale, a quiet Southern town is rocked by a crisis of morality. Despite threats to himself and his family, lawyer Atticus Finch defends a black man wrongly accused of a grave crime. With the recent release of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the newly discovered sequel, this is a wonderful opportunity to revisit To Kill a Mockingbird.Winner of 12 Tony Awards. Contains language and situations related to racial tension and mob violence.

Audition Dates: Sunday, June 5 at 7:00 PM and Monday, June 6 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:

Atticus Finch: Quietly impressive, reserved and civilized. Atticus is courageous and just without the heroics or fanfare. Atticus understands people and their needs without judgment or blame. He is a loving father who cares very deeply for his children.
Age Range 40-55

Scout Finch: Courageous, forthright, and curious. If she has a question she will ask, She is a young girl about to experience the events that will shape the rest of her life.
Age range 9-12

Jem Finch: Scout’s older brother, is a thoughtful protective young boy who will also be facing events that shape his life. Jem is reaching out trying to communicate and understand his father and how he relates to the events that effect his family and their town.
Age Range 11-14

Dill (Charles Baker Harris): Friend to Scout and Jem, who is wise beyond his years. Dill possesses a sense of sophistication, curiosity and adventure. His home life lacks and he develops a connection with the Finches.
Age Range 11-13

Calpurnia: Mother figure to Scout and Jem. She is an African American woman who takes care of the children and the Finch household. She is a self educated, proud, disciplined woman who cares very deeply for the Finches, although she may not show it all the time.
Age Range: 30-45

Maudie Atkinson: Neighbor to the Finches. She is a loving, sensitive woman, who possesses wisdom, and a sharp sense of humor. Mrs. Maudie also shares the same sense of moral conviction as Atticus. She exemplifies a sense of the south, and southern women.
Age Range: 40-55

Stephanie Crawford: Neighbor to the Finches. The neighborhood gossip, who takes an enormous amount of pleasure and enthusiasm in stirring things up in a simple humorous way.
Age Range:30-50

Mrs. Dubose: Neighbor to the Finches. She is older and ill and has great difficulty and pain walking. She is bitter and biting and is struggling with an addiction which is revealed later in the play.
Age range: 55-70

Boo Radley (Arthur Radley): Neighbor to the Finches. He has not been out of his house in 15 years and has become the mystery of the town. He has been emotionally damaged by his cruel father but develops a fondness for Jem, Scout and Dill.
Age Range:
30-40

Tom Robinson: A handsome vital African American farm hand who has been accused of raping Mayella Ewell. He is thoughtful and sensitive and maintains a sense of quiet dignity. Although he has a disabled arm he is a strong and able worker.
Age Range: 25-35

Mayella Ewell: The oldest daughter of Bob Ewell. She is the oldest daughter and takes care of her seven younger siblings. Mayella is overworked, lonely and uneducated. She is very poor and desperate for connection and companionship.
Age Range: 19-25

Bob Ewell: The father of Mayella Ewell and seven other children. He is extremely poor, uneducated, bitter and has a drinking problem. He spends his relief checks on alcohol and cares very little about the well being of his eight children.
Age Range 40-50

Heck Tate: The town sheriff, who does his duty as he sees it, but struggles with the events of the play. He believes in protecting the innocent but is reluctant to show it.
Age Range: 35-55

Horace Gilmer: He is the public prosecutor. He can be hurtful and cruel in his cross examination of Tom Robinson, using racial tension as a tactic.
Age Range: 40-50

Judge John Taylor: He is the Judge presiding over the Tom Robinson case. Judge Taylor has done his best in offering a fair trial to Tom by appointing Atticus as his legal counsel. He is evenhanded and objective.
Age Range: 45-60

Reverend Sykes: African American minister of the First Purchase Church. He is a proud concerned preacher who cares deeply about his congregation and the upcoming trial.
Age Range: 30-55

Walter Cunningham: An honest hard-up farmer who has fallen on hard times. He shares the prejudices of this time and place, but can be reached and reasoned with.
Age Range: 35-50

SISTER ACT
Production Dates: September 16-October 16, 2016
Performs in: Hawks Mainstage Theatre
Director: Kimberly Faith Hickman

Synopsis: Broadway’s smash musical comedy Sister Act will make you jump for joy! Based on the 1992 blockbuster movie and featuring original music by eight-time Oscar winner Alan Menken (Beauty and The Beast, The Little Mermaid, Newsies), this uplifting musical is filled with toe-tapping songs, show-stopping dance numbers and a truly touching story. After witnessing her mafia boyfriend commit a crime, night club singer Deloris Van Cartier seeks help from the local police. She is placed in the witness protection program in the last spot her boyfriend would think to find her—a convent! Struggling to fit in with a group of nuns, Deloris finds her calling working with the convent choir. As she helps her fellow sisters find their voices, she unexpectedly rediscovers her own. Nominated for five Tony Awards, Sister Act is a reason to rejoice!

Audition Dates: Monday, June 13 at 7:00 PM and Tuesday, June 14 at 7:00 PM

Character Descriptions:

Seeking an ethnically diverse cast of men and women high school age and up!

Deloris Van Cartier -­ Philadelphia showgirl hiding as a nun after witnessing a murder. Confident, sexy, fantastic singer. Determined, doesn’t take no for an answer, likes to make mischief and have a good time. She’s got the personality of Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Beyonce all rolled into one. (African­American)

Eddie -­ A good guy and cop (who doesn’t carry a gun) in charge of putting Deloris in witness protection. Has had a crush on Deloris since they were in high school which made him sweat a lot. As a result, she nicknamed him “Sweaty Eddie”. Tries really hard to be smooth and macho. He usually fails ­ but there is a knight in shining armor hiding inside.

Curtis -­ Deloris’s criminal boyfriend, also a club owner. Violent, slimy, sleazy and controlling but with a sense of humor. The kind of guy that gives his girlfriend his wife’s coat as a gift.

Joey -­ one of Curtis’s henchmen. Loves his boss. Thinks he’s a ladies man.

TJ -­ one of Curtis’s henchmen and his nephew. “Smart”. Really thinks he’s a ladies man.

Pablo -­ one of Curtis’s henchmen. Speaks Spanish. Is the best at being a ladies man.

Ernie -­ one of Curtis’s henchmen. He’s also an informant to the cops.

Monsignor O’Hara ­- Older, mature, traditional but finds secular music appealing. Is doing his best to keep his church from closing.

Mother Superior ­– Head nun. Older, mature, loves tradition, solid as a rock. Unwavering in her beliefs but has a huge heart. Is doing her best to keep her church from closing.

Sister Mary Robert -­ The youngest of the nuns. Sweet, innocent, not used to standing up for herself. Buried within a mountain of shyness and insecurities is a confident young woman.

Sister Mary Patrick -­ Also one of the youngest. She’s very cheerful! All of the time! A little adventurous, loves music.

Sister Mary Lazarus -­ The current choir director. Queen of sarcasm. Has hidden rap skills.

Sister Mary Martin­-Of­-Tours -­ Older, mature, doesn’t always know what’s going on. Off in her own little world. Has a secret skill of being able to interpret Spanish.

Sister Mary Theresa ­ The oldest nun, but always knows what’s going on and has excellent
hearing.

Michelle -­ Deloris’s back up singer and close friend. Confident, sassy, great singer and dancer. If Deloris is Diana Ross, Michelle is one of the Supremes.

Tina -­ Deloris’s back up singer and close friend. Confident, sassy, follows the rules, great singer and dancer. If Deloris is Diana Ross, Tina is one of the Supremes.

Ensemble: Nuns, Cops, Hookers, Bar Patrons, Waitresses, Pool Player, Drag Queen, Homeless People, Cab Driver, Newscaster, Fantasy Dancers, etc.

What to Bring for Sister Act:

• Please come prepared with 16 bars of music prepared to sing. An accompanist will be provided.

• There will be a dance audition, pleased come dressed ready to move or bring a change of clothes with you. Boots, sandals, flip-flips, slick shoes, etc. should not be worn during the dance audition.

What to Bring for Both Shows:

• You will be asked to fill out an audition form, please have all necessary contact information and personal schedules handy in order to complete the form.

• A recent photo if you have one available. Please note, photos will not be returned.