Monday, November 19, 2012

Trans-Siberian Orchestra

Why would over nine thousand people all go to the Mid America Center last Thursday night? One reason, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra was performing.

For those not acquainted with this group, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra combines
hard rock music with classical tunes including an elaborate light show. This is a very simplistic description for this group and TSO is anything but simplistic.

The program began with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra's new Christmas show, "The Lost Christmas Eve". This program was narrated as a poem very similar in style and rhyme to Dr. Seuss by a wonderful baritone voice. With an always moving light show enhancing the setting elements of the story, many well-known Christmas carols became part of this tale. What was amazing was how well this story was written with obviously music and lighting being the strength of this group, the story itself was a marvel. "How could this man have carried this wound so long in his life?" or "Is there a wrong so bad in life that it undoes everything right?" The combination of the story, music, and lighting excelled any of my expectations.

The second half of the show included songs from previous records and
performances. Always there are multiple aspects in lights, music, dancing,
singing, fires, as well as parts of the stage elevating and the platforms holding musicians over the crowds. The actual lighting movements with multiple screens worked with military precision. The immense support crew to those performing was
phenomenal in creating this magical show for everyone of all ages. This audience for the Trans-Siberian Orchestra included those from the age of eight to eighty.

As part of TSO, there were string players from Council Bluffs who were part of
this elaborate production. For these young adults, this had to be an unusual as well as a memorable experience.

With each show every year, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra always tries to make
their productions better and bigger than previous years. They definitely
excelled in this area with the entire show, almost three hours long, being
enjoyed from an audience of all ages.

A Christmas Carol

ow can anyone make a particular show special when its almost reached its
one-thousandth performance? Ask the people at the Omaha Playhouse as "A
Christmas Carol" will accomplish this on Friday, November 30th. This show has been an annual event since 1976 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

It is amazing that each year the show is slightly different just to keep it fresh as well as many new performers, especially children, to fulfill the various roles.
This year's cast of "A Christmas Carol" was energetic, talented, and a completely
delightful. Jerry Longe is in his seventh year as the miserly Scrooge in this
"Bah, Humbug" role. Both Little Bo Peep played by Camille Adair and Brooke Gustafson as Little Boy Blue were outstanding while seldom blinking as they both portrayed mechanized toys that needed to be wound up. All the children sang magnificently and were well prepared as the various characters. The Crachit family were excelled in their interactions but especially with Kian Roblin as Tim warming the hearts of everyone with his clear singing voice. Outstanding also was Matthew Hemingway as Fred with his wonderfully resonant tenor voice.
The costumes were perfect, the sets were detailed but easily moved to help establish the time and place, the make-up was perfect, the lighting was complicated but was well plan and perfect, the sound system was well-balance, the wigs were excellent especially when an actress had to become another person, the orchestra never missed a note, and definitely special effects were all perfectly timed. Of course, this show has been almost performed one-thousand times at this theater.
Even with that many performances, the story still was entrancing to the audience. thralled. Any story that can captivate young children to be glued to their seats during a performance speaks for itself. The story still has a message that we all need to hear.
Personally, I found it amazing that so many details with the sets were onstage without it being crowded and people could easily maneuver. All the songs were
beautifully harmonized but especially "Coventry Carol". This song's haunting melody perfectly matched the blended voices of the adults.
“A Christmas Carol” in at the Omaha Playhouse through December 23rd. The tickets are $35 for adults and $24 for students through December 15th. As of December 16th, the tickets are $39 for adults and $28 for students. The shows are Wednesday-Saturday nights at 7:30 p.m. Beginning in December and at 2:00 p.m. And 6:30 p.m. on Sunday afternoons.
How long has it been since you have seen any version of “A Christmas Carol”? Maybe it's time to go see it at the Omaha Playhouse.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Wedding Gift

The Wedding Gift
Kathleen McKenna
Bell Bridge Books
October 7, 201I
ISBN: 978-16119405287
246 pages
$ 14.95

Some people are fortunate that they were born beautiful. All their lives, they are judged as wonderful because of their outward appearance. That is Leeann.

Leeann was only a baby when one of her brothers died. Due to the family tragedy, her mother completely indulged her as a princess with the entire family enraptured with her beauty and charm.

However, the death of her brother was always an unresolved family issue. An
oil-rich family lived in this Oklahoma small town and one night, the mother of
five children who had married into this family, slaughtered her children, husband, and then took her own life. The family kept this house as if those dead would return any moment.

Leeann's brother, along with his best friend, chose to have an adventure in the haunted house. Her brother died from falling out of a tree into the empty swimming pool, landing on his head and the friend survived with broken bones. No one really talked much about the event. Why would they?

Leeann had won every beauty pageant and beginning her senior year, she had
planned to marry her deceased brother's best friend, Donnie. However, Donnie
suddenly married another girl.

Leeann found herself meeting and encouraging the oil-rich heir in the Winthrop
family, especially when she became pregnant. Their plan was to marry after her
graduation and to live in a townhouse.

However, George had an idea. Why not live in the deserted mansion?

The wedding gift, yes, the mansion where all the murders had happened and Leeann's brother had died was to be given to the newlyweds.

The Wedding Gift is told from the perspective of a haughty teen-aged girl. Even though Leeann is not always likable, she is realistic in being very “me” centered.
The tale is haunting and well-developed with the intended audience being females from the ages of fifteen to thirty.

Kathleen McKenna hails from Alaska and currently resides in New Mexico working now as an author. The Wedding Gift is her debut novel. She plans a sequel to this novel.


Hard Twisted
C. Joseph Greaves
Bloombury, USA
November 13, 2012
ISBN: 978-1608198559
304 Pages

Dilllard Garrett is just trying to survive and raise his thirteen-year-old
daughter. After his wife dies, he finds himself homeless in the year 1934 during the Great Depression hand-to-mouth in Oklahoma. Lucille, his daughter, nick
named Lottie, is always agreeable and helpful. That is just her personality.

Life consists of day-to-day survival until they meet Clint Palmer, a convicted felon recently released from Fort Leavenworth in Kansas. Clint never completely tells anyone the truth about himself. The fictional person is easier to believe than the true to life psychotic one.

With the threesome combining into an easy friendship, smooth-talking Clint
masterfully twists all facts into his convenient realities as they travel throughout Oklahoma, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas. What the Garretts are unaware about is the psychotic twisted mind of Clint. With the Garrett's dream of living a normal life, Clint quickly maneuvers his stories as the group drifts from town-to-town hearing of the recent deaths of the notorious Bonnie and Clyde.

When Lottie's father disappears, she accept Clint's explanation. She continues to accept additional ones as time progresses and the stories become more complicated. For survival, Lottie is forced to have her hair cut so that she looks like a boy and even to being Clint's common-law wife. She quickly learns not to question him but just to be supportive.

While the author, C. Joseph Greaves and his wife were hiking in a remote Utah canyon many years ago, they discovered two human skulls. This led to the research on this real event and this novel about the “skeleton murders” of 1935 in Texas. This story became Hard-Twisted and won the Best Historical Novel of 2010 by the Southwest Writers recognizing C. Joseph Greaves with the coveted
Storyteller Award.

Hard-Twisted might have happened years ago but the story is relevant today in dealing with anyone who seems to have an answer to everything, logical or not, and what happened to those who chose to challenge the psychotic mind.

The Walnut Tree

The Walnut Tree
Charles Todd
William Morrow
Harper Collins Publishers
New York, New York
October 30, 2012
$ 16.99
ISBN: 978-0-06-223699-9
248 pages

For those people who were born into the upper echelons of the classes in England
and Scotland, World War I was more than a war, it was a permanent change in their daily life. With the influences of the suffrage movement and the industrial revolution the lives of everyone were permanently and irrevocably altered. Gone were the days of the great houses with the downstairs staff meeting all the needs and desires of those born into the wealth.

Lady Elspeth, although orphaned, has lived a conventional life of the nobility, even though she is a ward of her uncle until her thirtieth birthday. However, she is given the freedom of an adult woman of class and wealth in her twenties while still having the closeness of her family, her cousins.

Being the year is 1914, Elspeth plans to go to France to assist her longtime close friend, Madeleine Villard with the birth of her first child. Henri, Madeleine's husband is distracted by the nearby German forces after the assassination of Kaiser Wilhelm as they invade Belgium and begin to occupy parts of France. Also, Elspeth has been attracted to Madeleine's brother, Alain, for years. Even though he is without a title, he does come from wealth. He gives her his mother's ruby ring as a promise to ask her uncle for her hand in marriage. As the men become involved in fighting, Elspeth wonders if she should go home.

After observing life in France, Elspeth feels the need to do more. She asks a nurse about how to become involved. Knowing the her uncle would not give his permission, Espeth hides her true rank and identity, as learns to become a competent and caring nurse. Spending much of her time near the battles in France, she is constantly looking for her family, Henri, and Alain.

The Walnut Tree is a novel about life during WWI from Elspeth's perspective. Seeing through the eyes of both the French and the Scottish gives an unusual viewpoint as the class differences begin to overlap in this changing time. This historical fictional novel is also is romance with the reader knowing from page one that Elspeth will get her man, just not which one.

Charles Todd is the name used by the mother/son writing team of Charlotte and Charles Todd. This team has written numerous historical mystery novels throughout the years that excel in placing the reader in the middle of their well-researched settings.

The Walnut Tree is a quick, but enthralling book that actually transports you to
another time and place. With believable characters and a strong sense of both time and place, this small novel is superb with the details of the time period.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall
Jill Koenigsdorf
October 26, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-59692-383-6
380 pages

Many artists literally "squeak by" financially. Yes, the talent is there.
Yes, the diligence and productivity is there. However, starving artists seem
to connect more with their art and talent when times are difficult. It seems that many artists connect better with their inner self when times a re rough. Of course, even an artist could benefit from a helpful ghost who seems almost like a guardian angel who had previously been the masterful artist, Marc Chagall.

Phoebe Rosen is an artist who designs wine bottle labels. Since the economic
downturn, the winery has cut her hours which causes her to fall behind on her
house payments. This is her dream house which seems to perfectly match her artistic nature. She loves this house which she shares with her teenaged daughter ready to leave for college.

Her daughter plans a surprise birthday party for Phoebe but what surprises her
most is the lone guest in the corner. An older man in a paint shirt with gray curly hair who looks curiously familiar. No one else seems to notice him. No, it can't be one of her favorite artists, Marc Chagall. He has been dead for years but it certainly looks like him?

Why would Marc Chagall be sent to help someone? What can a ghost do? How can a deceased artist assist in any way?

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall is a well-thought-out tale interweaving the
stolen art from World War II, the Russian rebellion, the Jewish issues in
Russia, the black market of stolen and hidden art by private collectors, the
life of an artist, lessons about Chagall and his life and interactions with
other artists, while solving a mystery with a touch of romance.
Even with all this, this story is engrossing especially about the history of
Marc Chagall while exploring the French countryside at a rural bed and breakfast
complete with local witches, bee keeping, and guilt about a choice made as a
child during the German occupation of the past war.

Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall is the debut novel for Jill Koenigsdorf.
Previously, Ms. Koenigsdorf has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has
published various fictional short stories as well as non-fiction. She resides
in Sonoma, California and Santa Fe, Mexico.

How about reading an intriguing novel that is a page turner while also learning about the artistry of a true master? Read Phoebe and the Ghost of Chagall.

Music Man Junior

How do you perform a well-known legendary musical and adapt to only actors and
actresses who are aged eighteen or younger? Ask the Chanticleer Theater with
their latest musical, "Music Man Junior".
This version has shortened songs, abbreviated scenes, and dialogue so that
the entire production lasts about an hour while still singing and dancing the
best known of the songs and maintaining the story line.
As the con man, Professor Harold Hill, Eric Koch commanded the stage with this
demanding role. As Marian Paroo, Rolena Hatfield, beautifully maintained the
dignity of this demur female role. Wyatt Sargent who is only twelve, perfectly
played Hill's con man partner of Marcellus. Tommy Djilas was perfect as
the ornery boyfriend of the mayor's daughter. Kyle Schnitker demonstrated
poise and composure as one of the mature cast members as the mayor while adding
harmony and depth to many of the songs. Paris Fulbright and Molly Schnitker
were excellent in their roles of the wife and daughter of the mayor.
As in any production, there are always outstanding performances on particular
nights. On the night that I saw this delightful show, Audrey Schnitker,
portrayed Marian's mother perfectly with her dress, hair, acting, and definitely
commanding her part with a strong and beautiful voice. Unquestionably the
crowd favorite was seven-year-old Chase Sargent acting as the lisping Winthrop Paroo who actually charmed the entire audience as his character transitioned from almost mute or singing and playing an instrument.
The costumes perfectly fit the characters,the time period, and those on stage with some bizarre and delightful hats completing the outfits. The lighting, sets, and production crews were outstanding with only a few problems with the sound system. Jerry Gray was outstanding as the musical director with Rachael Schnitker being responsible for the clever choreography in this energetic show.
The unison voices is the major production numbers were perfectly matching and
well-balanced with simple, but accurate harmonies.
This particular audience was thrilled with the performance and rewarded the production with joyous applause and a standing ovation.
The Music Man Junior continues through next weekend, November 18th. On Friday
and Saturday, the show opens at 7:30 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday. Ticket costs
are $13 for adults, $10 for seniors, and $6 for students and children. For
reservations call (712) 323-9955 or e-mail the box office at

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play

"One man's life touches so many others." This is a quote from the
radio play, "It's a Wonderful Life", a story that truly transcends
the times.
Why would anyone want to see a show that is based on the classic
movie, "It's a Wonderful Life" that you have probably seen many times?
Simple, the theater version has something special and different that
actually lets the audience view the play in a different way. Imagine
"It's a Wonderful Life" as being read as a radio show being broadcast at a
station in December of 1946.
What makes this particular production so delightful is the attention to
the details that places the audience back into 1946. Between the
wonderful background music of Perry Como, the blues, and
Christmas music of the 1940s to the superb costumes, props, and
fascination of the creation of the sound effects, even though the story
was well known, the message seemed more relevant and applicable to
Four actors and three actresses magnificently became numerous
characters with a variety of voices, accents, and personalities while
visibly creating a multitude of sound effects. In this feel good play, the
dialogue and interactions as well as numerous characters, kept the
audience enthralled.
Pat O'Neil was delightful as Freddie Filmore and many other characters. Jake
Laurents truly became George in this legendary Jimmy Stewart role. Harry
Heywood and Vincent Simpson definitely showed their talents
through their many varied characters. Sally Applewhite was wonderful as
Mary with Lana Sherwood as the seductive Violet as well as other parts. Gloria
Taylor was Mrs. Bailey while masterfully controlling numerous
sounds, being a Bailey child playing piano without having a piano, and
singing the commercials.
The entire staff and production crews were outstanding in making this
production appear completely seamless.
"It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play is at Bellevue Little Theater
through November 18th. The theater is located at 203 Mission Ave. in Bellevue.
Shows are Friday and Saturday nights at 8 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday with ticket
costs at $15, for Seniors over 60 the cost is $13 and $9 for students. For
tickets call 402-291-1554.
Why not enjoy a great theatrical show with a wonderful cast as you
begin this holiday season. See "It's a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play."