Monday, March 14, 2016

Caroline, or Change

Once in a while I see a show that literally "blows-me-away".  That is the case of "Caroline, or Change" which is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse.  Combining great music, phenomenal performances by extremely talented singers and actors with inspired direction and support staff makes this a memorable show discussing the social changes of the 1960s. 
"Caroline, or Change" is about a black-maid, Caroline portrayed by Echelle Childers.. She works for a Jewish family in Lake Charles, Louisiana during 1963.  This household has a father, a step-mother and an eight-year-old boy.  The father, Stuart Gellman works as a professional musician playing the clarinet. He is still grieving over the death of his wife who died of cancer even though he has remarried. 
The step-mother, Rose was a close friend of his wife.   She is frustrated by her new life.  Rose who previously lived in New York.  The Southern life is new to her. Added to that, she realizes that her husband is still grieving and withdrawn.   To further complicate life is Noah, the eight-year-old son.  Rose feels as if she is hated by him.  This eight-year-old is also grieving.  Life has changed since his mother's death and the only consistency in his young life is the family maid.
Caroline works in the newly in the basement in this house below sea level.  Her daily life consists of  a special relationship with the washing machine, dryer and sharing a cigarette with the 8-year-old Noah. 
Caroline has enough problems of her own being a divorced mother with four children of which the oldest is serving in Viet Nam.  Her daily challenges causes her to be harsh.  Even though, Noah is completely devoted to her, spending much of his time with her in the basement enjoying their friendship.  At one point in the play, Caroline is compared to being "the salt of the earth where nothing grows".   However, the salt can also make life a little tastier.
Life begins to change with change-pennies, nickels, dimes, and nickels.  Rose is frustrated with the change being found in the washing machine from pockets not being emptied. It appears that Noah does not empty money from his pockets. Caroline keeps a jar for the change but Rose decides that all the change can now go to Caroline.  After all, she only earns $30 a week and this way she can get a little raise, even if the family cannot afford it. 
The change causes change.
This show is unique, maybe ahead of its time.  The washing machine, moon, dryer, and bus are all great performers.  Yes, these inanimate objects are played by great multi-talented performers who are phenomenal singers.  
This type of musical opera combining elements of rock, soul, gospel and blues is an enthralling show that drew a full audience at the Howard Drew Theater at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
This cast and crew are outstanding.   The costumes, hair, acting, singing, props, scenery, music, accompaniment and stage management are top notch and could compete with any professionally performing company.   The show is fast-paced but time seems to stand still as each person tells their story. 
Personally I loved the Radio which was the voices with choreography of Rachel Busse, Dani Cleveland and Erin Florea.  These three Supreme-like performers were delightful with costumes resembling a classy radio.   Also, I loved the washing machine by Zhomontee Watson, bus and dryer by Nik Whitcomb and the moon, Kathy Banta.  All were phenomenal performers showing that they thoroughly enjoyed their roles.
Danny Denenberg was great as Noah Gellman as well Kundai Jacha and Wayne Hudson as Caroline's sons.   These children showed a stage maturity way beyond their years.  All the members of the Gellman family were outstanding.
Aguel Lual was phenomenal in the role of Caroline's daughter, Emmie.   Her singing "blew me away".  Wow!   The grandparents were all wonderful singers and actors.  Jerry Van Horn, Sara Planck, and Council Bluffs' resident, Joseph Dignoti.   
The lead role of Caroline portrayed by Echelle Childers also was a great voice by a very talented actress.
Local pianist, Ben Tweedt commanded the keyboards.
Caroline, or Change continues through Sunday, March 20th at the Omaha Community Playhouse located at 6915 Cass Street     On Wednesdays through Saturday, the curtain raises at 7:30p.m. and at 2 p.m. on Sunday with the cost of a ticket being $30 for adults and $20 for students on Wednesday and $40 for adults and $25 for students from Thursday through Sunday.   For tickets contact the bozx office at 402-553-4890, ext.147 or
How can a washer, dryer, bus, and unquestionably the moon be outstanding characters?  Go see the unique but phenomenal production of "Caroline, or Change".

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Sweeney Todd is the tale of a barber in 19th century London combining dark humor with opera.  Yes, it is in English, funny, adult-oriented and currently being performed at our local Chanticleer Community Theater.
Lust, that is how it all begins.
A barber loved his beautiful wife and daughter.   Unfortunately a judge saw the wife and decided to pursue her.   To get the husband out of the way, he had him arrested and sent to another continent.
Fifteen years later, the barber has returned home and discovers that his wife is dead and the judge adopted his daughter.  Naturally he feels that it is time for justice to prevail.  This is his story of Sweeney Todd, the barber.
Sweeney Todd is unquestionably an adult show.   There is violence and suggestive sexual implications.
The show at Chanticleer is a wonderful show telling the tale of Sweeney Todd.   The production is filled with extremely talented performers explaining the story.  The strength of this show is the story line being beautifully narrated by a variety of voices allowing the audience to view the varying perspectives of each person.
In actuality Sweeney Todd is an urban legend written in stories of various origins which have appeared since the thirteenth century.  No one knows whether or not he really existed.
Our local Chanticleer Community Theater has excelled with this phenomenal production.  Every person on stage, every motion, song, action is well-planned and perfectly enhances this story. 
This is one of those rare production where every person on stage and off is so talented that they could easily be in a major role in any production.  
As with all live performances, each show will be slightly different depending on numerous variables, including the audience.  
On the night I was in the audience, these were my favorite performers.
Unquestionable, the husband and wife team of Chris and Sarah Ebke as Sweeney Todd and Mrs. Lovett was outstanding.  Both masterfully commanded the stage with their acting and singing while maintaining the strained and strange relationship between these two main characters.
Personally, I loved David Ebke as Toby.  As he sang "Nothing's Going to Harm You Not While I'm Around" to Mrs. Lovett, I could feel the devoted love of this unloved young man finally finding a caring adult as an adopted parent.   However, Mrs. Lovett didn't feel quite the same.
As the young couple in love, Johanna portrayed by Megan Kelly and Anthony played by Brandon Fisher were wonderful.  These two invigorated the audience with their love and dreams of hope in their being together.
A small role that stood out was the beggar woman who quickly became one of my favorite characters.   Samantha Shatley was phenomenal with her begging and her suggested sexual invitations. 
D. Laureen Pickle obviously shared her experiences and expertise in directing this massive production.  The sets, costumes, hair, make-up, props, back stage crew, program editor, lighting, and sound were phenomenal allowing the audience to view a production with seamless problems so that the audience directed all their attention to the stage.
Supporting the cast was a wonderful orchestra with many keyboards being played by Laurel Andersen Mack, Victory Sedlacek, Kay Johnson, D. Laureen Pickle along with Janet Ratekin Williams and Kristine Wolfe playing woodwinds and Therese Laux on percussion. 
Also as assistant director, Mark Reid, stage manager Jamie Jarecki and technical director Michael Taylor Stewart were wonderful in their support of the cast.   Everything moved as if one person was narrating the story into a spellbinding thriller surrounded by music.
Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street will continue at Chanticleer Theater located at 830 Franklin Ave. in Council Bluffs through March 20th at 7:30 on Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday.   The price of the tickets for adults is $20, $16 for seniors over 60 years of age and $10 for students.  For more information and to purchase tickets contact the box office at 712-323-9955 or through their website at
For a wonderful and creative show exhibiting the great talented musicians or for a mysterious tale of urban legend or just an enjoyable, fun performance go see Sweeney Todd.  This show of dark humor with phenomenal music is a must-see for everyone.