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 TicketOmaha.com. 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.

Assassins


What is the difference between an assassination and a murder? An assassination is the killing of a political leader.

Now name all the assassins in American history. Most of us would immediately have Oswald, Boothe, and probably one or two more.

Now think about these people and imagine a musical about who they were before they possessed a gun. Would these people be considered mentally ill? Misguided? Educated? Respected? What were they missing that made them believe that killing another person was the solution to their problems?

Steven Sondheim thought this after reading John Weidman's book by the same title. Could he utilize this book and miraculously turn it into a musical? Would people be interested in these murderers as people?

Intrigued by common traits shared by assassins, successful and unsuccessful this show is a lesson in history and humanity.

Sondheim musicals tend to be thought provoking and at times a little humorous which can sometimes be uncomfortable.

With the issue of gun-control and mental illness surrounding the characters, what is fascinating is that each one truly believed that their actions were justified, correcting whatever was wrong with their life and the world. This musical is about the reasons for each of these people becoming an assassin.

This show has no one star, but many performers as the legendary assassins John Wilkes Booth who assassinated Lincoln along with his co-conspirator David Herold, Leon Czolgosz who shot President William McKinley, Samuel Byck who attempted to hijack an airplane which he planned to fly into the White House where Nixon was residing, Giuuseppe Zangara who shot Chicago's mayor, Cermak and barely missed President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles Guiteau who assassinated President Garfield, Sarah Jane Moore and Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme who both attempted to kill Gerald Ford, political anarchist Emma Goldman who unsuccessfully shot industrialist and financier Henry Clay Frick, John Hinckley Jr. while obsessed with Jodi Foster attempted to kill President Ronald Reagan, and Lee Harvey Oswald who shot John Fitzgerald Kennedy. These assassins were portrayed by David Ebke, Nate Simons, Jesse Black, Zachary Kloppenborg, Joey Galda, Adam Hogston, Sarah Query, Angie Heim, Sara Mattix, Chris Scott, and Dan Whitehouse along with cameos of Artie Bremmer who shot and paralyzed Geoge Wallace by Dave Podendorf and Sirhan Sirhan who killed Robert Kennedy by Keefer Podendorf. Each individual thoroughly became their character learning the personalities, oddities, and the physical resemblances. Added to these characters are a Propreitor portrayed by Steve Ebke and the Balladeer who is the marvelous Roderick Cotton. These ringmasters wonderfully commanded the stage and elaborated the circus rings of each assassin.

What makes Assassins unusual is the interactions that transcend time as these infamous personalities discuss their issues with each other allowing the audience to have a possible insight into the individuals and their actions. So yes, John Wilkes Booth actually does interact with Lee Harvey Oswald.

Also demonstrating immense talent and support is the ensemble of Brooke Fencl, Danielle Smith, Mary Slater, Mark Reid, and Jim Farmer.

The behind-the-scenes crew is outstanding in Assassins. As director Keefer Peterson excelled with Chris Ebke perfectly directing the orchestra of Janet Williams, Kristine Wolfe, Dave Black, Kay Johnson, Machelle Mitchell, and Ben Samson. The orchestra beautifully creates the music and excels in both accompaniment without overpowering the soloist. The lights, sound system, sets, props, costumes all blended artistically with this unusual show.

The show with eighteen scenes lasts almost two hours with no intermission. Due to the content and the length, "Assassins" is an adult performance.

"Assassins" continues at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and on Sunday at 2 p.m. through November 23rd with ticket costs as $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 10 for students.   This is an adult play that could be upsetting for children.  Tickets can be purchased by contacting the box office at 712-323-9955.

This is a show that although few people leave humming the tunes, you will leave thinking more about what we can do to prevent the mistakes in history from ever repeating.


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Little Shop of Horrors


Owning a successful flower shop can be a challenging business but when your shop is located on Skid Row where only the drunk, homeless and the poor reside, the idea of selling any flowers seems impossible.

That will quickly change when one of the store employees purchases an exotic plant. Little do they know that this small purchase will change their lives (and deaths) forever.

Welcome to "Little Shop of Horrors" which will continue Friday and Saturday through November 15th with show times at 7:30 p.m. at the Iowa Western Community College Lied Performing Arts Center.

This is a cult-classic, comical, horror musical with catchy tunes, great Doo-Wop music, and rhythm and blues music from a plant with a lot of attitude as a blood-loving puppet.

As the trampy bleached-blond Audrey in tight skirts and high-spiked heels, Kelsi Weston is delightful with her beautiful high voice. She is the not so secret love of Seymour who named the plant after her. Landry Matthews is perfect as the wimpy Seymour who dreams of Audrey. Dan Luethke portrays the perfectly villainous, vain and sadistic dentist with a James Dean look. As the overnight successful business owner Mushnik, Jordan Rudningen clearly embraces this role expressing his frustrations and triumphs. As the Wino, Thomas Bennett has a beautiful singing voice which can almost stop the show.

Each of the trio of girl singers of Chiffon, Crystal, and Ronnette known in real-life as Stephanie Parris, Alia Sedlacek, and Brittany Allen have great solo voices but on opening night, they were not blending as a trio.

The backstage crew is outstanding with the lighting perfectly matching the storyline. The sets, props, costumes, hair and make-up were all wonderful as well as the small orchestra which was unseen but both supportive and leading while enhancing the story and the songs. The choreography by Michelle Garrity was simple but complimentary to the story and the dancing abilities of the cast. The sound system was overall good but was uneven in places.

The star of the show, Audrey II was controlled by puppeteer Adam Long with the deep-voice of Caleb James. This team obviously thoroughly enjoys their creation of Audrey II.

The show begins at 7:30 with a fifteen-minute intermission after the first hour. Including the bows, the show concludes around 9:15. This is not a show for small children but teens and adults will completely enjoy the performance.

Tickets can be purchased contacting the Arts Center box office at 712-388-7140 with $8 for adults and $5 for students and seniors.

Overall, Little Shop of Horrors performed by the IWCC students is a fun show for a great price.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

The Whipping Man


When most people think about slavery, they think of Southern plantations during the Civil War, we think of masters resembling Scarlet O'Hara's family with slaves working in the houses and the fields.   However that is a not a complete viewpoint.

Although rare, a few Southern plantations had Jewish owners who were immigrants fleeing their homelands of Germany, Russia, and Poland searching for religious freedom and a better life. About 1.5% of the slave-owners were in this category.  When the War began, some of these people chose to move North to become abolitionists while a few chose to fight for the Confederacy in the belief that they were defending their homes and preserving the economy.  Some actually bought slaves with the intention of giving them a better life and to keep them from the harsh plantation life of their neighbors.

The Whipping Man offers an interesting perspective.  The Confederate forces had just surrendered, Caleb DeLeon is a wounded Confederate soldier who arrives at his family plantation house.  As with all the large mansions of the time, they were in ruins from being looted, burned, and vandelized.

Caleb has been shot in the leg and is shocked to discover that his home is also in ruins.

Still living at the home is one faithful slave, Simon who has attempted to keep the entire estate as livable as possible. With the house surviving a fire, the furniture and valuables had been stolen, windows and mirrors broken, holes had been made in the walls and the floors where looters searched for hidden gems, and water damages from leaks in the roofs and ceilings.

The Civil War is now over and Caleb has returned to his childhood home.  What is his relationship with the family's  former slaves?  Will they help him now that he is wounded?

As Simon, Carl Brooks is masterful as the older, faithful servant who has been promised his freedom.   Andy Prescott portrays Caleb as the privileged Jewish heir who is aware of the changes since the War began but still does not completely understand them.   Luther R.  Simon is John was understands the changes and is an opportunist while reluctantly providing for both Simon and Caleb. All three are outstanding in becoming and completely becoming their character.

The Whipping Man is an exquisite play observing how the world had changed around these three men and their challenges in adjusting to this new world.  This is an unusual play regarding the differences of love, friendship, loyalty and ownership.  Can these occur simulataneously?   Can they overlap or can they always be mutually exclusive?

This play has sets and costumes which perfectly fit the time period.   The props, lighting, sound system, and stage direction also perfectly blended into an outstanding show.

The Whipping Man.is eighty minutes for the first part of the program with a fifteen minute intermission concluding with the final forty minutes.

The Whipping Man continues Thursdays through Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sundays at the Howard Drew Theater in the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Ticket prices are $ 36 for adults and $ 22 for students and can be obtained by calling 402-553-0800 or online at OmahaPlayhouse.org or TicketOmaha.com.

This adult show shows creativity and ingenuity in a thought-provoking show facing changes in lives and how to make peace with the past to live for the future.