Monday, December 15, 2014

You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown

Everyone one has secret dreams.  "I've always wanted to be called Flash."  Who would have this dream?  The unlikely character of Charlie Brown from Charles Schultz's Peanuts shared his secret dream with Lucy.  Of course she would keep his secret safe.
"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" focuses on the frustrations that almost everyone has felt while growing-up.  Whether it is loneliness, tying your shoes, crushes on the little red-haired girl, Valentine's Day, or never winning a ball game, the issues although small to adults are reminscent of everyone's childhood.
Last Friday and Saturday nights at the Chanticleer Theater as part of the Cabaret series six talented individuals became Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty and Sally in the Tony Award winning musical "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."
The purpose of the programs in the Cabaret series are fund raisers for only one weekend. This particular show was different for this series.   Even with only two performances, this delightful family show introduced many new performers and audience members to Chanticleer.
Jack Erbs was wonderful as the socially-challenged Charlie Brown who has to eat lunch by himself and never being part of a winning ball team.  While perfectly wearing the yellow t-shirt, the audience even occassionally had a glimpse of his marvelous singing voice.  As the slightly overbearing Lucy, Elizabeth Huggins was marvelous ruling on the stage with her dreams of being the Queen.  Darin Hemmer was a great dancing Snoopy even with a little acrobatics and moonwalking.  Megan Lane was delightful as Sally, Charlie Brown's little sister.   Linus portrayed by Eric Cavanaugh warmed everyone's hearts as he sang and danced with his blanket showing the vulnerability and brilliance of his character.  Tessie  Flower excelled in the role of Peppermint Patty in her down-to-earth wisdom with a beautiful singing voice.
The minimal sets were completely appropriate considering that the entire cast was on stage all the time.   The lighting, music, sound and direction were outstanding in that the musical appeared seamless and smooth.
Naturally as in all shows there are favorite scenes.  "The Kite" was outstanding with Charlie Brown singing about his frustration a kite that doesn't always want to fly.  However the kite eating tree perfectly matched the song and the action on stage creating a humorous but honest viewpoint from Charlie Brown.
Another of my favorites is "The Book Report" where Lucy, Peppermint Patty, Charlie Brown and Linus are all to write a one-hundred word book report about Peter Rabbit.   Varying from Linus's verbose report, Peppermint Patty comparing the book to Robin Hood and basing her report completely on that book.   Lucy is focused on the one-hundred words and can finally approach the goal but only by listing the vegetables growing in the garden and over-using "very".   Charlie Brown just keeps worrying about not being rested so he continues to procrastinates.
I applaude Chanticleer for taking a chance on a different fund-raiser that was family oriented, humorous, relaxing and enjoyable for everyone.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Joyful Noise

"That's Christmas spelled C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S.  X mas take on a whole different meaning when it's Christmas."

This quote is part of a program featuring the gospel choir from Salem Baptist Church with their program "A Joyful Noise: A Gospel Christmas” last Sunday at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha. This program featured the Grammy-nominated Salem Baptist Church choir located in Omaha with their singers, band, dancers, children and special guests Lecresia Campbell, Jonathan McReynolds, Daniel Martinez, Eric Jordan and Elaine Stoner. This collaborative program combined Omaha Performing Arts with Omaha's Salem Baptist Church members and musical friends.

The choir along with the band was the foundation of this program which was essentially a variety gospel program. The band played various accompaniments while also playing an independent number of "Carol of the Bells' reminiscent of Mannheim Steamroller with "My Favorite Things" blended into this melody. A large screen provided background graphics for the instrumental group as well as the entire program.

The Salem Gospel Choir was amazing.   They obviously knew the music which varied between unison and three-part SAB singing.  Every member of the choir had their eyes on the conductor, not holding their music but knowing their music, barely blinking as every chorus member attentively watched for their cues and cut-offs while all being dressed beautifully in black.

Each solo performer was very different representing their own interpretation and style of gospel music.

Daniel Martinez played an amazing rendition of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" on his acoustical guitar.   This was an invigorating and delightful arrangement.  This international Flamenco guitarist is brilliant in his playing.  He has recorded five solo albums.

Also performing was Jonathan McReynolds singing and playing a reflective song stating what many today believe with words such as "I want to be saved and be cool too."  He sings with a lyrical voice relating to everyday life.   He recently signed with Tehillah Music Group/Light Records label.    

An unusual but meaningful selection was "Christmas Makes Me Cry" sung by Elaine Stoner and Eric Jordan. Christmas is not the same for everyone and this piece was wonderful for showing different perspectives.

Lecresia Campbell sang one song, "Holy, Thou Art Holy" which unquestionably demonstrated why she is considered as one of the best gospel singers in the country.

One of the most outstanding parts of this program was the integration of the children in the show with the dancing and singing while dressed in their holiday best.   It was obvious the these young church members had practiced many hours to dance and sing their songs with such enthusiasm.   The leadership is truly outstanding in allowing each child to be part of this exciting event while being close for the support and redirection if needed.

The dancers were usually from the pre-school aged through teenagers all of which were beautifully and tastefully costumed.  What is seldom seen is that each dancer did not have to fit a particular stereotype. With their gorgeous and flowing costumes, you could tell that each dancer felt their steps as a reflection of their relationship with the music. Obviously much time was taken to work with the youth in this professional quality show with outstanding choreography, music and stagemanship.

The entire cast of this program exemplified stagemanship, respect, beauty, devotion, and professionalism in their performance with minimizing movement between acts and truly finding the beauty for each individual performer.

WOWT sponsored this program this year and along with other sponsors sees this as the beginning of an annual event which is entertaining, respectful, uplifting and puts Christ back in Christmas.

The King's Singers

Six male voices perfectly blending into one well-balanced sound is how to describe The King's Singers. This Grammy winning ensemble performed at the Holland Performing Arts Center last week thrilling the audience with close-harmonies and exciting seasonal madrigals.

The King's Singers is a British a cappella group that was formed in 1968 being named after King's College in Cambridge, England.  It is complied of six choral scholars. Since the group's creation, their sound has not changed. Although the members have changed through the years, their sound has not. For the group, that is the foremost requirement. As the group sings, the focus is on blended intonation as well as precision with minimal use of vibrato into harmonies that sound as if they are coming from one single voice.

The current members of The King's Singers are countertenors David Hurley and Timothy Wayne-Wright, Julian Gregory singing tenor, baritones Christopher Brueton and Christopher Gabbitas and Jonathan Howard as bass.  As they entered the stage, the group was dressed identically in dark blue suits, red ties, tan shoes and at least one foot was wearing a Christmas sock.

Much of the music was sung in another language while the audience relished in the perfectly balanced harmonies of the group.  Musical selections in the first part were the old carols from various parts of Europe with members of the group explaining the meaning of each.  Naturally being British, there were some newer selections by John Rutter and Herbert Howells.  Other selections well-known were "Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen" by Michael Praetorius which is better known to us as "Lo, How a Rose ere Bloometh", "Coventry Carol", and the gorgeous rendition of John Rutter's "There is a Flower".

New to me was the music of Francis Pouleric who wrote a cantata in four movements each of which was shortened and arranged by Goff Richards for the ensemble,  This particular music had lyrics written by Paul Eluard in 1944 while serving in the French resistance. Reflective of a cold winter night in a French forest, the beauty of a wolf being compared to a German soldier, being lost, and finally hiding underground from the Germans combining fear with the feeling of isolation being created into hauntingly beautiful musical selections.

Besides the blend and balance of The King's Singers, their precise intonation was amazing.Their breathing included a minimum of four-bar-phrasing leaving the audience almost breathless at the conclusion of each song.  Complementing this is the concert hall itself, where the audience listened for the resonance pf sound as each selection ended.

Part of what is unique to this group is that no one is attempting to out sing another part. Their blending of voices is perfect. Along with the utilization of quietness, silence, and minimal vibrato creates a serene and peaceful performance while still exciting through using dynamics expressively as each part interweaves into and through each other.

After the intermission, the program changed into more current and seasonal medlies delighting the audience adding a little choreography and showmanship.

The King's Singers is a group I would enjoy seeing again and again.  Why not purchase their songs this Christmas as a perfect gift of music?

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Christmas Carol 2014

"A Christmas Carol" just again opened this year at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  With over 1000 performances, this seasonal favorite is beginning its 39th consecutive season.
Obviously many people in the area have seen this show at some time.  Why see it again?   Omaha Community Playhouse purposely changes the show each year.  Yes, the story is the same but small changes can make enormous differences.
This year's show is outstanding and one that you don't want to miss.
"A Christmas Carol" is not a musical.  Charles Dickens is known for his writing, not his music.   Throughout this play are many traditional British Christmas carols of the time period..  Many of these are gorgeously sung by the cast such as "Coventry Carol", "Susanni", and "O Come, O Come Imanuel"  with rich four-part harmonies.  The children's version of "Away in a Manger" is beautiful and amazingly balanced with their voices perfectly blending.  The dancing is simplistic while being both tasteful and realistic.
As usual the sets, costumes, and props are gorgeous with actors that are all superb with each one possessing a confident stage presence, even the children are mature and experienced performers.  All of this creates the magic in a show combining the talent of the cast and crew while remaining true to the original story.
A noticeable difference is that both the character of Ebenezer Scrooge and Bob Cratchit are allowed time to develop their characters not only through words but actions.  For example, Bob Cratchit portrayed by Steve Krambeck is obviously cold while working at his desk in Scrooge's office.  He is shivering and wrapped in his coat and wearing gloves while he completing his bookkeeping work.  To help warm up he attempts to take coal to add to his small fire in his bucket under his desk.  This small act quickly establishing the character of both the miserly Scrooge and Cratchit.
The sets, props, costumes, wigs and make-up are outstanding.   Some people have more than one part so changing their complete identity is critical but masterfully accomplished.
One adaptive change with this particular performance is the integration of the Christmas story complete with shepherds, three kings and a manger into Ebenezer's past.  This addition blends perfectly into the story.  Why wasn't this is the original story?  It makes sense and adds to the understanding of the relationship between Ebenezer and his sister.
The part of Ebenezer Scrooge is played by Jerry Longe.  For many in the area, it is difficult to imagine or accept a Scrooge who is not the Dick Boyd but Jerry Longe successfully creates a slightly different Scrooge and is wonderful in this part.  Unquestionably Steve Krambeck is one of the best actors portraying Bob Cratchit that I have ever seen.  He spends the time to develop his relationship with Scrooge and his family not always through words but his actions and gestures along with Emily Mokrycki as his wife.  Both are wonderful actors and singers.
Everybody has favorites in this show.  Mr. Fezziwig is delightful in this version as portrayed by Gregg Learned as well as both the Ghost of Christmas Past played by Julie Huff who was also a delight in the bedchamber along with Marguerite Bennett.  Mackenzie Reidy asTiny Tim has a beautiful singing voice.   Dancing as the beggar is the wonderful Jason Delong and as Little Boy Blue and Little Bo Peep are Natalie and Alexis Reynolds creating the wonderful life-sized dolls.
The music perfectly enhances this show with the small orchestra never overwhelming the singers but beautifully setting the mood and complementing the singers.  Also the choreography smoothly blends into the show.  The lighting, sound system, and special effects are perfect creating a supportive crew for the cast and a delight to the audience.
The behind-the-scences directors and stage managers obviously are outstanding for a show to run so seamlessly and professionally.  As always, the Omaha Community Playhouse box office staff,  ticket takers and ushers are courteous, helpful and gracious to everyone.
The shows begin at 7:30 on Wednesdays through Saturdays with the first act lasting seventy minutes and after a fifteen minute intermission, concludes in sixty minutes.   The Christmas carols, dances, and play are mixed throughout keeping a fast-paced and quickly moving performance.
"A Christmas Carol" will continue at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha through December 23rd with shows Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and two shows on Sundays at 2 and 6:30 p.m.   Tickets can be purchased by contacting the box office at (402) 553-0800 or online at www.OmahaPlayhouse. org or Presently the ticket prices are $ 36 for adults and $ 25 for students.   After December 15th, the price increases to $ 40 for adults and $ 29 for students with special rates for groups over twelve people.
Wanting to give a special family gift this year?  The Omaha Community Theater has the solution with a special family gift package for their upcoming show "Little Women" which will open in January 2015.  Contact the box office for additional information.
So why should you see "A Christmas Carol" this year?  This is an outstanding show that will  leave you humming the carols while putting a smile on your face and unquestionably rejuvenating the Christmas spirit in everyone.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mystery at Rolling Dunes
Carson Cunningham
ISBN: 9780990494508
$ 9.99
213 pages

How would someone who lived almost two centuries ago react to waking up today in America? What if that someone was the legendary Huckleberry Finn? Huck had difficulty with the societal rules of his own time period so how is he going to handle the technology and transportation of the 21st-century?
At the conclusion of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the readers find Huckleberry choosing between living his life and following the rules established by his Aunt Sally or to run away to Apache territory.
Naturally Huck chooses the easiest one and explores America’s southwestern region. He quickly discovers that he does not enjoy hot climates.
Seizing an unusual opportunity, Huck invests his money and himself into an expedition to the Arctic.
During this time, there were not successful Arctic explorations. The expedition has their ship wrecked and the survivors set up their camp on a glacier. Exploring the area, the last thing Huck remembers is falling through the ice.
Huck awakens about 170-years later on a table connected to various tubes and wires. A scientific team has successfully thawed and completely revived this teenage-age boy. While the medical staff dreams of how this remarkable feat will change their lives, Huck dreams of his freedom and is feeling confined and imprisoned.
However what the scientists don’t realize is the natural capabilities of Huckleberry Finn. Huck has never handled rules and regulations in his own time. Now a medical team will likely want to continue to study him.
While moving Huck by train, he manages to escape. Life has given him a second chance and he plans to take it.
How does someone from 170-years in the past hide? If anyone can succeed at this task, it would be Huckleberry Finn.
Huck quickly discovers that the world has changed during his deep freeze. Accustomed to being extremely self-sufficient, survival is not difficult for Huck since he knows how to camp, fish, hunt and to live in the wild. How will he stay hidden? How will he fit in?
One of the first lessons for Huck to learn is the people in the twenty-first century wear shoes when in public.
Huck observes three boys playing “rounders” which is similar to the game of softball. Once Huck asks to join the game, he quickly learns that life in the twenty-first century is quite different from daily life in the nineteenth-century.
Huck knows that the medical team will be searching for him. This causes him to adjust to this century so that he doesn’t seem different. Also, he now calls himself Mark Finn.
Dealing with cell phones, high-definition flat screens, automobiles, and life for teen-aged boys in today’s world is a complete shock to Huckleberry. For the never flustered Huckleberry Finn of the 19th-century this is a challenge that he completely understands.
Will he be recaptured and for the rest of his life be studied as a medical experiment? How will he get along with today’s teens?
21st Century Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful adventure in friendship.