Rock Twist and Shout

It’s rock numbers done with a big band flair.  It’s big band numbers done rock style.  It’s Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist and it is rocking out at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

If there is anyone out there who harbors any doubts about the talent of Billy McGuigan, they will surely be dispelled after watching this show.  Putting it simply, this man is a musical and performing savant.  There isn’t a genre of music he can’t play.  He has stage presence for which directors would kill.  He has a charming affability which makes you feel like an old friend spending an evening at his house.

Even I, who has had the pleasure of listening to Billy’s shows pretty regularly over the past 15 years, was completely blown away by this production.  It has something for everyone.  Do you like rock?  Well, you’ll get to hear the Beatles, the Who, the Beach Boys, Elvis, and Billy Joel.  Is adult contemporary/jazz your bag?  You’ll hear some Frank Sinatra and Harry Connick, Jr.  And each song has a unique arrangement that will make it seem like you’re hearing it for the first time all over again.

From the opening number of Billy Joel’s “Scenes From an Italian Restaurant”, Billy had the crowd eating out of the palm of his hand.  His pure tenor soared throughout the night as he sang renditions of “Yesterday”, “Luck be a Lady”, “God Only Knows”, “Time Won’t Let Me”, “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Pinball Wizard” and a cover of “Here, There, and Everywhere” supported only by bass and percussion that was so moving that I started to tear up a bit.

Billy was just as adept keeping the audience’s attention between numbers with a low key storytelling style as he shared stories behind the numbers, regaled us with some humorous anecdotes, and told a couple of tender tales about his career and life.

Every good front man needs an excellent band and McGuigan’s band brought it and then some.  Steve Gomez’s bass hummed all night long and his musical direction was so precise and on target.  Andrew Janak stunned on the tenor saxophone and I tip my hat to him for arranging all of these sensational numbers.  Max Meyer’s lead guitar work was the feat of a prodigy.  Tomm Roland’s drum work never missed a beat.  Omaha legend, Doyle Tipler, never fell flat with his trumpeting.  Patrick Brown shined on the alto sax and Patrick Peters’ trombone playing couldn’t have been any tighter.  Tara Vaughan’s piano playing is always a treat for the ears and her rich alto got its own moment to shine with a medley of “Downtown” and “To Sir, With Love”.  Backup vocals were supplied by the multitalented trio of Matthew and Ryan McGuigan and Jessica Errett who dazzled in their own featured songs, “634-5789” and “We’re Going to a Go-Go”.  And I’d like to give special notice to Steve Wheeldon whose lighting was so atmospheric and enhanced every song.

To be frank, when I first heard about Billy’s new show I thought he had taken on a real challenge for himself by putting new twists on old classics.  But he proved why he is Omaha’s premiere entertainer with this brand new show that will undoubtedly be another roaring success.  My only disappointment was that there wasn’t another hour to this show.  Or two.  Perhaps five.  Well, you get the idea.  This show only has a limited run, so get your tickets fast and prepare yourselves for an amazing time.

Billy McGuigan’s Rock Twist plays at the Omaha Playhouse from July 12-23.  Showtimes are Wed-Sat at 7:30pm and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets cost $40 or $35 for groups of 12 or more.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit www.omahaplayhouse.com or www.ticketomaha.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha, NE.

The Beatles Would Pay to See the McGuigans

This is the story of three boys who were bestowed the great gift of love for the Beatles by their father.  When their father died tragically young, playing the music of their father’s favorite band helped bring closure and healing.  Now these three boys have taken this great gift and pay tribute to both their father and the greatest band in the history of rock with Yesterday and Today, an interactive Beatles experience currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Let’s get one thing straight right now.  Though Billy McGuigan and his brothers, Ryan and Matthew, pay tribute to the Beatles with this all request show, they are not a Beatles tribute band.  They don’t wear wigs or adopt Liverpudlian accents.  What they do is present the music of a legendary group that sounds distinctly familiar yet is enhanced by an original feel and energy that is uniquely the McGuigans.

I am a Beatles nut and I make no bones about it.  I own all of their albums, am well versed in their history, and am chock full of obscure knowledge that makes me a devastating Beatles Trivial Pursuit player.  Needless to say, I hold those who cover Beatles songs to exceedingly high standards and the McGuigans and their band shattered those standards and then some in a high energy two plus hour concert that literally had us dancing in the aisles.  If you love the Beatles, you will love this show.

What makes this show so enjoyable is not only the great music, but the incredible camaraderie between the three brothers.  Like the Beatles, the McGuigans have a natural banter with each other and the audience that is full of fun and wit.  These guys can also play.  All three men are multi-instrumentalists with precise musicianship and a minute and exact understanding of all, and I stress ALL, of the Beatles’ work.  They play the well known numbers at your request, but they also know the lesser known numbers as demonstrated with performances of Maxwell’s Silver Hammer and, for the first time in their 8 year history, Baby, You’re a Rich Man which blew the roof off.

Billy McGuigan is the emcee of the show.  He’s also a natural showman and raconteur who revels in the energy of a live crowd and is able to take it and redirect it into the music and back to the audience with something more.  He’s also got a mighty rock tenor voice that shone in numbers such as Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da and I Saw Her Standing There.  Billy is equally as strong on the slower numbers, especially with his haunting performance of Yesterday.

Matthew McGuigan got quite a vocal workout in this evening’s performance as he sang lead on a large number of the night’s tunes in addition to his nimble and flawless bass playing.  Matthew started the night off hot with the ferocious Revolution, had a superb turn with Hey Jude, and nailed the falsetto line in Baby, You’re a Rich Man.  But his capstone number was his pudding sweet solo performance of Blackbird which sent chills down spines.

John Lennon would be proud of Ryan McGuigan’s voice.  Like Lennon, Ryan has a unique vinegar sour singing voice that lends itself beautifully to subtle nuance and emotion.  That incredible instrument was put to excellent use in Come Together, I Am the Walrus (with a little theatricality thrown in for good measure), I Feel Fine, and especially with his solo sequence in This Boy.

The McGuigans are also supported by a band that loves this music every bit as much as they do and even got their own turns in the spotlight.

Jay Hanson was phenomenal on lead guitar and fired off some sensational licks on While My Guitar Gently Weeps and had a remarkable vocal similarity to George Harrison on his rendition of Do You Want to Know a Secret?  Tara Vaughan’s fingers flew across the keyboard and she glowed in a solo during Oh, Darling.  Rich Miller’s drumming fueled the performances with a rock solid backbeat and Aaron Slagle’s cowbell had the crowd roaring for more in A Hard Day’s Night.

As I stated at the beginning of this review, Yesterday and Today is far more than a tribute to the Beatles.  It’s also a tribute to the McGuigans’ father, Bill, who died too soon from leukemia at the age of 42.  Bill can be proud of the legacy he’s left in his sons who do him proud by sharing their father’s love of a band that was simply the best with an act that is nothing but the best.  If tonight’s crowd was any indication, this show is going to be a long series of sellouts.  Do not delay.  Buy a ticket to see this city’s best musical act before the tickets fly out the window.

Yesterday and Today runs at the Omaha Community Playhouse through December 31.  Performances are Thursday-Saturday at 7:30pm and Sundays at 6:30pm.  There will be a 2pm performance on Sunday, November 29 and a special double performance on New Year’s Eve at 7pm and 10pm.  Tickets cost $40 except for the New Year’s performances which will be $50 for the 7pm show and $75 for the 10pm show.  For tickets, contact the box office at 402-553-0800 or visit the Playhouse’s web site at www.omahaplayhouse.com.  The Omaha Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass St in Omaha, NE.