Wednesday, April 9, 2014

War Horse

Puppet horses operated by a three man team to create the main character of a Tony Award winning Broadway Play, who could imagine?
Just ask the 1972 audience members at the Orpheum Theater last Tuesday night when War Horse opened.
War Horse is a stage production about a thoroughbred horse. Joey, who eventually was part of the cavalry unit for the British forces in France during World War I and the special relationship he had with his teenaged owner, Albert Narracott.
The story takes you back to 1914 when the war began in a small English village where people are bidding on a young horse, a thoroughbred, hunter, and the lead character in this play.
War Horse far exceeded my expectations.   I have never seen sound or lighting as such an integral and creative part of any stage production while also being magical in this realistic story. The set itself is simple but outstanding with lighting and film extending the actual stage along with sound throughout the theater. The costumes were true to the time period and the use of music truly complemented the storyline.
The three puppeteers Danny Yoreges, Adam Cunningham, and Dayna Tietzen were outstanding in creating Joey, the lead horse with an obstinate personality and love for Albert.   For all three to move and act as a single unit in the body of a finicky horse is phenomenal not to mention the strength and balance needed to handle the puppet when someone is riding the horse.  It is amazing to visually see each horse as a puppet but at the same time, you view Joey as a real horse.   You could even see Joey as a young foal breathing.  The puppeteers are alternated from show to show due to the physical demands of this part.
War Horse focuses on many of the horrors of WWI such as the mustard gas and tear gas as well as the change in how a war is fought with the common usage of machine guns and the introduction of tanks in battle. Because of this, it is recommended that the audience members be at least nine-years-old.  You need to see the unique way a handling a tank on stage with horses and troops.
As Albert Narracott, Michael Wyatt Cox was excellent.   I loved the singing of John Milosich along with the accordion accompaniment whose brilliant tenor voice beautifully rang through the show reminiscent of a bard.
Also, this show is adult because of its length.  The first part lasted about 75 minutes with a little over an hour after the intermission.
Performances will continue at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha through April 13th with shows on Thursday night at 7:30 p.m., Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Tickets prices begin at $ 35 through or calling (402) 345-0606, or at the Holland Performing Arts Center Box Office located at 1200 Douglas Street in Omaha.
For a different show, that educates, entertains, enlightens, and unquestionably memorable, go see War Horse.  

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Cold Nowhere

The Cold Nowhere
Brian Freeman
New York, New York
ISBN: 978-1-62365-131-2
April 2014
$ 24.95
432 pages

Have you ever been drawn to a particular person?   Have you wondered why someone gets and holds your attention but you don't completely understand why? That is the problem Detective Jonathan Stride has with Catalina Mateo, a sixteen-year-old runaway who happens to be pregnant.  However, there is a history between these two.
About ten years ago, Detective Stride met Catalina's mother, Michaela.   The two had a special relationship.  Both were married but not to each other.
The nightmare for Cat began the night when her mother was brutally stabbed to death by her father who then shot himself.   She was only six-years-old and fortunately was not in the house when the murder happened but hid under the porch, hearing the entire nightmare. How does anyone stop this from haunting them?
Orphaned, Cat lived with her aunt who worked as a prostitute to pay for her personal drug usage and then went into the foster care system.  This was not much bettered and Cat became a runaway.  She wants a better life so she is selective about men, but also turns to prostitution in order to live.   What chance does Cat have of ever having a normal life?
Catalina appears at Detective Stride's home one night, soaking wet and terrified, believing that someone is chasing her, wanting to kill her.   Stride wants to believe her but his partner, Maggie, is very suspicious.
The Cold Nowhere is a riveting tale where you feel that you are discovering the details along side of Detective Stride.  However, you don't know about his past relationship with Michaela or Cat that is unveiled by Maggie and his former wife. It seems that the more that is found out, the more dangerous the situations become with people dying around them.
The story is well-organized and intense with well-developed characters. This psychological thriller keeps the reader engaged past the last page.
Author Brian Freeman has written many novels featuring Detective Jonathan Stride and Serena Dials winning a Macavity Award for his Best First Novel, Immoral and nominated for the Edgar Award.
The Cold Nowhere is a masterful tale written by a phenomenal storyteller.

Soweto Gospel Choir

Mixing African spirituals with American gospel songs is what makes the Soweto Gospel Choir special..  It is also what has earned this group an Emmy Award, two Grammy Awards, three South African Music Association Awards and even an Oscar nomination.
Last Thursday, the Soweto Gospel Choir proved that the deserve all these awards.  Their unusual musical approach delighted the audience for ninety minutes with an assortment of selections from both South Africa and America.  Much of the music was not in English but the melodies and rhythms transcended any language barriers.  
What also surprised me with the Soweto Gospel Choir was the amount of dance integrated into the songs.   The dances were not conventional in what I usually think of us African or American dance but perfectly matched the selections with enthusiasm and a fresh perspective of original choreography as an added expression of the song.  
With about a 25 member choir who also were members of the band, no two were dressed the same.  For the females, all of them wore a white skirt with a pattern in the front near the bottom and a black shirt covered with a lined-colorful shawl that covered one shoulder and had a matching scarf used in a variety of ways in the hair.   In the second half, the black and white remained with each one wearing a different robe and a decorative trim on the top section.   The men wore black pants with two different shirts also in different colors but the same style.
Unquestionably the acapella singing with only a djimba, a native drum, is where this group excels.   This allowed the audience to better hear the wonderful four-part harmonies in their songs along with solo parts which seemed to feature every member of the group at some time.
For the songs with accompaniment, members of the choir also played the keyboard, guitar, bass guitar, and drum. Unfortunately, many times the band overwhelmed the choir in volume.  As the show progressed, this seemed to improve.
For the audience, the favored songs were unquestionably the ones well-known.  "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" began with the choir singing their back-up music for the entire refrain while soloists joining in this expressive rendition which was beautiful and inspiring.  Also well received was when Mandla Modawa demonstrated how a true bass voice should sound in "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot". This was one of those times where the audience wondered about how low could he sing musically without rumbling.
Two particular selections were show stoppers with the audience immediately rising to standing ovations.   "This Little Light of Mine" combined American gospel music with the African enunciation delighted the audience with dancing, singing, and toe-tapping.   Unquestionably "Arms of an Angel" was a wonderful experience and the balance with the instruments was much improved from earlier. This is one song that could have been repeated for hours.

Unfortunately, the Soweto Gospel Choir only performed for ninety minutes on stage.   The first half lasted a little over 45 minutes and then had almost a 30 minute intermission.  The ninety minutes included the encores.  Members of the audience did complain about the shortness of the program.

Soweto Gospel Choir is an energetic group of talented performers who sing and dance of variety of music that is African and American creating a wonderful experience that is both visual and auditory. 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Story of Sassy Sweetwater

The Story of Sassy Sweetwater
Vera Jane Cook
Musa Publishing
Lancaster, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-61937-0272
e-book format
December 4, 2013
$ 5.99
320 pages

Sassy Sweetwater's mother told her that she was named after the nearby Sweetwater Creek, not her father.   As Sassy's mother, Violet McLaughlin has decided that it is time to return home with her daughter.  She left thirteen years ago as a pregnant seventeen-year-old.  Sassy has never met her family.
Life in Carter's Crossing, South Carolina during the year of 1962 has many secrets which Violet's family would prefer to keep hidden. The entire family has been a leading family in the community for generations enough to have their own versions of justice, morality, and obeying the laws.  1962 was before the Civil Rights changed society and the real law frequently varied depending on the color of your skin, the money within your family, and the influence of your status within the community or family.
To Sassy all this is new and a completely different world.  With her beautiful mother, Violet, and her bewitching dark looks, Sassy feels strange as a pimply redheaded teenager.  She doesn't completely understand life in this closed community.  The rules and values are strange to her not to mention that no one completely explains the past events and relationships to her. 
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is a page-turner with the viewpoint of a curious teenager who doesn't feel that she belongs with this family.  Even though she is related to this family, the secrets from years ago have permanently changed people's lives are not easily or willingly revealed to her.
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is unquestionably adult oriented.  The story involves many delicate family events that require mature readers. This is also what makes this story fascinating in talking about uncomfortable and unspeakable family events and how the individuals handled these situations without involving law enforcement and attempting to maintain their lives as uncomplicated or normal.
This particular novel would best be categorized as woman's fiction with some history and romance intermixed.   The story is well-written and organized by an author who obviously loves her believable characters whether protagonists or antagonists.          
Vera Jane Cook is an Award-winning author of ten novels.   Although born and raised in New York City, she was unquestionably influence by her beautiful Southern mother while living in the Upper East Side of Manhattan.
The Story of Sassy Sweetwater is a wonderful story of Sassy learning the secrets of her family and her own past.

Peter Pan

"If you believe in fairies, clap your hands."
Last weekend, Peter Pan opened at the Chanticleer Theater in Council Bluffs to a full house of enthusiastic youngsters and for those of us who have never completely grown up or are just young in heart.
This particular production has many outstanding performers.  Caroline Hinrichs as Peter Pan has a phenomenal singing voice and perfectly creates a character conflicted with the responsibilities of growing up and having fun.   Amanda Biller was the picture perfect Wendy with an angelic voice along with the responsibility of being the oldest in the family and becoming a mother to the Lost Boys.   As her brothers John and Michael, both Kevin Mikuls and Austin Lempke are great singers and talented actors.  Patrick Wolfe as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook and Sarah Query as Mrs. Darling and the adult Wendy, were also outstanding with their performances.   
The entire brigade of pirates were an inspiration with their villainy, comedy, and choreography.   Who could not enjoy the enthusiasm of the Lost Boys with many of the younger audience members dreaming of joining them? Tinkerbell was outstanding with her non-verbal lighted character.   Mackenzie Storey as Nana, the dog nanny, was delightful with her protection of her children.
Peter Pan excelled with outstanding sets and props and all the characters wearing gloriously detailed costumes which had to be a challenge with this immense cast.   The support production crews were superb with utilizing the space to create additional performance areas within the theater both high and low and within the audience.  
D. Laureen Pickle excelled with coordinating and directing this massive production along with W. Jerald Brabec as music director, Michael Deatz on keyboard and Kristine Wolfe playing the oboe and English Horn.  Kerri Jo Richardson-Watts demonstrated creativity in her choreography.
With opening night jitters there are always some areas that need tweaking.   First there was a lack of continuity with the story.  I don't know if some lines were missed, or if there were some gaps in the script, but there were a few "huh?" areas for the audience.   Also, the flying seemed awkward and limiting while the harnesses were visible to the audience. 
Peter Pan requires a large cast along with an attentive support crew which is outstanding in sound amplification, sound effects and lighting.  Also wonderful is the volunteer staff assisting the audience in finding seats and assisting the guests throughout the theater. The show lasts about two hours with two intermissions.  
You will want to arrive early to have the best places to park your vehicle. Tickets cost $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 10 for students and children and can be reserved by calling Chanticleer's box office at 712-323-9955.   Also available are souvenirs being sold in the lobby.
Peter Pan is a fun-family show for children of all ages.