Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Secret Garden

A girl loses her parents and her uncle has lost his wife ten years ago. This common feeling of loss only separates the two more. Everyone deals with grief differently. So how can a piece of earth help both to overcome their pasts and give them hope?

In 1906 many British soldiers and their families are residing in India. However, there were numerous challenges in this English colony and besides uprisings, disease was a common problem resulting frequently in death.

For Mary Lennox the death of her parents due to cholera has left her in a foreign country without anyone caring for her. Her only surviving relative is in England and is still grieving from the loss of his wife many years ago.

Her uncle's housekeeper travels to India to escort Mary back to her new home in England. Although a new residence can be exciting, her grief and anger blind her.

Both are holding onto the past, finding no easy path into the world of the living.

"They are only a ghost if someone alive is holding onto them."

For Mary and her uncle, Archibald, clinging to these ghosts is their life.

This is The Secret Garden based on the book of the same title by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story is a classic with a story with a rich tradition and a tapestry intertwining the language. Adding a beautiful musical backdrop to a well-written story makes this a phenomenal production.

The music is rich and lush with melodic lines blending into this harmonious story revealing much of the story through song.

The chorus in this particular production is one of the best anywhere. Every voice is very capable to solo in any lead role. With these well-trained ensemble singers, their music is as intricate and important as the lead roles. My only problem was not really being able to identify who actually sings each beautiful solo.

In the lead role of Mary Lennox, Emma Johnson is the perfectly spoiled and resentful British child of privilege. She even maintains a proper posh English accent throughout the entire production. She sings well as a girl, not a woman's voice while commanding a presence of her character while on the stage.

The other child role of Colin Craven is portrayed by Danny Denenberg who is definitely a young actor with a very promising future. This boy has a beautiful voice and possesses a tremendous talent for acting.

As Colin's dead mother, Ariel Ibsen beautifully became Lily. Her acting demonstrated her love for both her husband and her child. Unfortunately, some of the songs seemed to stretch her singing range. Fortunately many of the chorus members were able to reach these notes.

In the roles of the hunchback Archibald Craven, Chris Ebke is wonderful. He excels as the grief-ridden widower consumed with memories of this wife. As his brother, Dr. Neville Craven, Jesse Black was perfect as expressing his frustration in love and jealousy with his singing.

Numerous other roles are outstanding such as Sarah Query as Martha the maid, Mark Haufle as the gardener Ben Weatherstaff, Travis Walker as Captain Albert Lennox and Hannah Hyer as Rose Lennox. I would have enjoyed hearing more from all of these talented individuals.

Not mentioned in the program is the band under the musical director, Jerry Brabec. This group is masterful with the constant musical demands of fifteen songs sung by the cast in the first act and twelve in the second. The band includes Larry Frederickson on bass, Darci Gamerl playing the oboe and English horn, Jennifer Novak Haar and Joseph Lorenzen playing keyboard, Ken Janek on the clarinet and bass clarinet, and Christine Price playing the flute, piccolo, recorder, and penny whistle. The capabilities of these talented musicians greatly enhanced the show.

Along with this once-in-a-lifetime cast, the costumes, make-up, wigs, scenery, sets, props, choreography, music, light, sound, management, production, and direction were all evidence of one of the best productions in this area rivaling any Broadway production.

The Secret Garden is a massively wonderful musical and is a phenomenal finale for this season at the Chanticleer Theater. This show is for older children, ones capable of reading the book and being seated for two and a half hours. With death, grieving, and ghosts being themes, this show is for mature children and adults. That said, there are other themes throughout such as hope, life and an appreciation of wonderful music.

The show lasts nearly two and a half hours with a fifteen-minute intermission.

The Secret Garden continues through this weekend at the Chanticleer Community Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs with shows at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and at 2 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets can be purchased through the box office by calling (712) 323-9955 costing $20 for adults, $ 16 for students, and $10 for students.

What a wonderful way of concluding this year's Chanticleer season with this phenomenal finale featuring the many talented performers of our community.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Mamma Mia

"I want the perfect wedding and I want my dad to give me away."

For most brides, this is a requirement. However for Sophie, this is problematic. She doesn't know who is her father. Her mother never married and raised Sophie as a single parent.

Being proactive and wanting perfection on her wedding day, Sophie finds her mother's diary and discovers that there are three men who had relationships with her mother. So which of the three is her father? To be certain, Sophie invites all three to her wedding in the hopes that her mother will reveal the truth, she hopes. Won't her mother be surprised?

Donna Sheridan has fulfilled her lifetime dream. She has built a little hotel on a Greek island. The work is constant but she is doing what she loving and raising her daughter her way.

She is excited for the wedding and is delighted when her two-long time friends arrive. The threesome were part of a girl band years ago. Tanya has done well maintaining her youth by marrying money to support her plastic surgery. Rosie is short and stout and still looking for love.

The day before the wedding these three are reunited. Shockingly, arriving on the island are Donna's three former boyfriends shortly afterwards. They are concerned when they discover that Donna did not write their letter. Sophie did.

So who will walk Sophie down the aisle, Bill, Harry or Sam? Now her mother has to finally reveal the true identity of her father, or does she? As Tanya grasps what is inevitable, she states "I hope it's a wide aisle".

This is the story for Mamma Mia last weekend for five performances at the Orpheum Theater in Omaha. To accompany this awkward situation is the music of ABBA. This group was well-known and loved in the disco era of the 70s and 80s creating a delightfully humorous and light-hearted musical.

The leading roles excelled with ruling the stage while being certain that all cast members were included in the recognition and the spotlight. As Sophie, Chelsea Williams was delightful. Her mother was portrayed by Georgia Kate Haege who was perfect as the mother-of-the-bride. Unquestionably Donna's long-time friends, Rosie portrayed by Sarah Smith and as Tanya, Bailey Purvis were outstanding bringing numerous episodes of laughter. These two characters were the favorites of the audience. All three men, the former boyfriends of Donna, had beautiful tenor voices with each one being very different expressing their individual characters. These parts were played by Andrew Tebo, Michael Colavolpe, and Jeff Drushal.

The sets are fairly simplistic and easily moved for scene changes. Costumes, make-up, and hair were very basic but contrasted with the ensemble frequently being very colorful creating additional images and sensations for the audience. All the supporting, back-stage crew made the program completely seamless. The dancing was great with the audience frequently tapping their feet and even at times raising their arms to be included with those on stage. The only problem was the sound system with the band frequently being too loud for the soloists but back to the appropriate levels for the ensembles

Who would most enjoy this musical? By the audience response, middle-aged women. The ABBA songs of the 70s and 80s were obviously known by most of the audience. With the shiny clothes of the disco-era complete with wide-shouldered jackets and platform boots brought numerous laughs along with the shirtless young men, the mostly middle-aged female audience delighted in this fast-paced romantic comedy.

The show is a natural crowd pleaser with a standing ovation and encores. What is unusual is that the encores were actually extensions of the musical with additional costumes and laughter leaving the audience singing "Dancing Queen" and "Mamma Mia" as they exited the theater.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

I Hate Hamlet

"It's Shakespeare. It's like algebra on stage," as quoted by the character of John Barrymore in Omaha Community Playhouse's latest production, I Love Hamlet.

Real estate broker, Deirdre McDavey, knows that she has the perfect New York apartment for the Hollywood actor whose show was just cancelled. The apartment was once the residence of John Barrymore. What actor wouldn't be thrilled to live in the actual space inhabited by the legendary man. Added to that, his actor has agreed to play the lead in "Hamlet" for the upcoming Shakespeare in the Park. However, Andrew is not certain that he is capable of portraying this character, knows that he really does not want to play this part, and is definitely not thrilled with this apartment.

Being that Andrew is a television actor. He really does not have the training and experience to understand and play and Hamlet. Even when his girlfriend, agent, promoter, and even the ghost of John Barrymore encourage him, he really doesn't believe he can be successful in this role and still just doesn't want it.

As Andrew Rally, Ben Beck is perfect as the television/commercial actor who doesn't view himself as a talented individual. He has thoroughly enjoyed his five years as the lead on L.A. Medical, the long running successful television show which has now been cancelled.

His girlfriend, Felicia Dantine is portrayed by Julie Fitzgerald Ryan. She is delightful as the 29-year-old-virgin with her firm belief that she will have absolutely no sexual relationship until she is married.

In the role of John Barrymore, the ghost, is Kevin Barratt. He wonderfully captures the dignity of the legendary actor while still being realistic character that is known as an alcoholic, seducer and experienced Shakespearean actor whose reputation as Hamlet is considered one of the best of all time. He successfully became the larger than life Barrymore while still being obviously flawed.

Kim Jubenville is in the role of Lillian Troy. She is Rally's agent who unquestionably wants him in this role. However years ago she had a fling with Barrymore in that actual apartment.

As the real estate broker/psychic Deirdre McDavey, Kim Jubenville possesses the New York accent. With her high-heeled, short-skirted, flashy clothes she is delightful as the flirtatious real estate broker.

Rounding out the cast is Dave Wingert as Gary Peter Lefkowitz who has the Hollywood connections for Rally's future and fortune. He truly became the sleazy promoter looking for the best moment to optimize every opportunity.

This adult play is a fast-paced, delightfully humorous journey accompanying a present day television heartthrob who needs to find a new acting gig. Being thrust into the world of John Barrymore is more than a little unsettling for Andrew. The apartment is styled from the first half of the twentieth-century and definitely not one that a television star would value. Added to that, Andrew learns from the actual ghost of Barrymore who must stay within the walls of the apartment as he both educates and entertains Andrew along with the audience and most of the cast.

The sets, costumes, hair, props, lighting, sound, and direction are perfect. Obviously this behind-the-scenes support crew is outstanding with this well-organized and well-managed production with the actual scene for the entire play being only the living room of the apartment.

Additionally, the two lead male roles needed to interact while fencing. This was effective and masterfully done with no obvious injuries.

The play consists of two acts of about an hour separated by an intermission.

I Hate Hamlet continues at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha through May 10th, 2015. Shows are Wednesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m.

Ticket prices are $ 36 for adults and $ 22 for students with special group prices available and can be purchased of the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office by calling (402) 553-0800 or online at or

I Love Hamlet is a delightfully humorous show for those who enjoy Shakespeare, those who feel a little intimidated with Shakespeare, those who would like to better understand Shakespeare and for any adult that enjoys a light-hearted humorous show.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Meluhhan Oracle

The Meluhhan Oracle
I. J. Roy
Scorpio Books
Charleston, South Carolina
$ 12.99
324 pages

The words of a storyteller can magically weave images of places far away and times long past. However, the people in these tales are memorable while still being realistically human with their personal errors in judgments, selfishness, and risk taking. These stories, even adult ones as in this novel, still reveal life lessons while revealing the people and everyday life of the culture.

The Meluhhan Oracle is the creation of author I. J. Roy who envisions the world of long ago in the lands between Meluhha and Sumer which is now known as the Indus Valley Civilization currently recognized as Northwest India and Pakistan. He utilized information from archeological finds to construct this tale.

Each chapter builds upon the characters and consequences of the previous ones, all revolving around a few central figures as their quests filled with learning experiences and adventures. These characters believe in their fates, each one fulfilling their personal destiny and purpose in life. The mastery of interweaving of the characters throughout the entire novel is phenomenal.

The first character is a woman who has light hair and light skin making her different from her family and others. An albino is usually not safe and is endangered in any species. Zayaa fortunately survives and has a daughter, Tiraa.  When her daughter draws the attraction of the Chief High Priest, Zayaa knows that her family now has to make a crucial decision.   By being proclaimed by the gods, The-Dreamer-of-Truths-Yet-to-Come, she knows that she is The Meluhhan Oracle. How can she be saved from her destiny? Who decides your fate? 

 The second involves a man who dreams of being a trader while in search of the White Gods of the Great Northern White Mountains. He possesses a knowledge of people, problem solving and uncommonly common sense which breaks through the barrier of being an outsider. He seems to magically penetrate communities that need to be inclusive for their survival. However, there is always a price to pay and risks.

Even with evidence of active trading in these areas, the residents of the numerous cities were distrustful of outsiders and besides having their own languages, oftentimes also had mannerisms and customs unique to that individual community. Building trust and close friendships is integral for the success of each character.

Finally the last is a servant to the second, caring for the sick man through his death. He is burdened with not listening attentively for the one thing that he needs.

The Meluhhan Oracle is an adult novel. The intended audience needs to be adults due to the imagery of the tortures and sexual content.

These vignettes which comprise this novel resemble the tales of past cultures that have passed through generations but are actually the fiction created by I. J. Roy.

The Meluhhan Oracle is a treasure of stories revealing small snapshots of the past about people who have lived in an area with a rich heritage and numerous conflicts endured throughout time from a masterful storyteller, I. J. Roy.

Monday, March 9, 2015

"One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" - Chanticleer

"There's such alot of things that are true, even if they don't really happen."

Think about the truth in that statement.

Can a group of men who individually have problems with their everyday lives learn to help themselves and each other? The answer can be found at the Chanticleer Community Theater this weekend in the current show, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest".

In the domineering and demanding role of Nurse Ratched, Debbie Bertelsen is wonderful being despicable and overbearing tyrannical ruler in this group of dysfunctional men. As one character states about life in this room, "You'll be safe as long as you keep HER temper."

Even with Nurse Ratched the eight men in the mental ward command this stage. In this small microcosm of society, each character has their own individual problems and learns more about themselves and each other as they join together in helping each other.

As the innocent and inexperienced Billy Bibbit who stutters and who still needs his mother's approval, Brandyn Burget is phenomenal.  He perfectly embraces this role. Joseph Eddie excelled in the role of the catatonic Ruckley. Chief Bromden is portrayed by Frank Insolera Jr. as the mute Native American descendant of a peaceful tribe who imparts wisdom through his visions to the audience. As the leader of the group, Randy Vest wonderfully becomes Dale Harding whose problem is having a younger wife with urges, desires, and expectations that he has difficulty fulfilling. Charles Cheswick III as portrayed by David Sindelar was glorious as the wimpy, insecure cowardly lion character. Both Jim Farmer as Anthony Martini and Tom Steffes as Frank Scanlon are marvelous in roles that showed their individual peculiarities while allowing their characters to evolve throughout the play.  Craig Bond is an outstanding in the role of Randle P. McMurphy, the small time criminal who is just searching for an easy way out of prison work and an easy path in life.

The small parts were outstanding with the aides, doctor, hookers all being outstanding even during their short time on stage.

The uncomfortable part of this show is the humanity of the story. Everyone one of us can somewhat see ourselves in at least one of the characters at some time. The use of laughter and making the best out of an unpleasant situation are daily life lessons for everyone.

The support crew is absolutely marvelous with every aspect being perfect in adding to the production rather than being a distraction from the sets, costumes, make-up, direction, sound, lighting, management, and program.

This is one play where I unquestionably expect nominations from the area Theater Arts Guild. I expect much recognition for this particular production.

The stage version of "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" is different from both the movie. Both the play and the movie were adapted the novel focusing on the best for each rather than a consistent story..

The actual timing of the show is an hour for each act with a fifteen-minute intermission separating the two. The content of this play is definitely adult oriented and not intended for children.

The show continues this weekend with show times at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights and a matinee Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets can be purchased at the box office by calling (712) 323-9955. The price of tickets is $ 20 for adults, $ 16 for seniors, and $ 10 for older students. Please keep in mind that this is an adult program.

Which character did you enjoy the most? Which character is most like you?