The year in Omaha theatre was marked by the upheaval of one theatre, the uprooting of another, and strong offerings from many other companies.
The Omaha Community Playhouse’s seemingly calm year was turned upside down with the surprise announcement of (now former) Artistic Director Hilary Adams’ dismissal on December 10th. The announcement came at a time when Adams looked to be finding her footing in the Omaha community, having directed a set of critically successful productions including Spamalot, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, and Man of La Mancha. She also directed the recently slimmed-down 40th anniversary production of A Christmas Carol. Details were scarce from the higher ups at OCP with President Tim Schmad saying that Adams “just wasn’t a good fit”.
“It was a combination of things,” Schmad said. “Hilary is a good director and has a great passion for theatre. But, in my estimation, it just didn’t fit with our overall goal. We appreciate what’s she’s done but there were some issues that we felt, going forward, that we had to make this decision.”
There’s will more to read about Adam’s dismissal including a take by our own Warren Franke you can read online (as well as one of my own forthcoming). For now, let’s focus on the rest of the Playhouse year.
The year started out on the mainstage with a run of the musical Little Women, directed by Susie Baer-Collins, before it headed out on tour with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan. In March, Kimberly Faith Hickman directed Jesus Christ Superstar and Ablan Roblin took the reigns for the comedy I Hate Hamlet in April. The season finished with Monty Python’s Spamalot before kicking back into gear with the aforementioned La Mancha.
In February, the Howard-Drew Theatre saw many new faces perform at the Playhouse with Hands on a Hardbody written by Doug Wright, Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green. Edward Albee’s classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf stirred audiences at the end of the season in May before starting back up in August with Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius directed by Jeff Horger. The year finished out with a guest appearance by the dog & pony dc theatre company bring the audience-interactive Beertown to Omaha. The rest of the season looks to be intriguing as the Playhouse board looks to hire their second Artistic Director in as many years.
The Blue Barn Theatre had a very busy year completing their 26th and last season in their old space on South 11th Street before moving into their brand new facility on 10th and Pacific Street. The year started with Associate Artistic Director Randall Stevens directing the special event Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays featuring a large ensemble of Omaha theatre veterans. Artistic Director Susan Clement-Toberer then directed Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, a play about faith, family, and legacy issues, in March. Toberer then tore out the entire stage and seating units to open the space for Thornton Wilder’s Our Town, a show that received several-end-of-the-season awards with performances from a who’s who of Omaha actors.
The Blue Barn then debuted their new performance space in LIttle Italy with the Humana Festival pick The Grown Up by Jordan Harrison. Patrons had plenty of opportunities throughout the year to tour the new space, featuring huge doors on the backside of the stage, a porchyard area, and a performance space that feels very similar to the former location. Check out Leo Adam Biga’s in-depth feature online.
The rest of the year saw the return of 2003’s hit Little Nelly’s Naughty Noel by local playwrights Tim SIragusa and Jill Anderson and the addition of a new Porchyard Reading Series headed up by Creighton professor Dr. Amy Lane. The fall also marked the return of the special event Walk the Night: Where Madness Lies, the immersive theatrical adaptation of King Lear inside a 100-year-old convent. The Blue Barn seems to have settled into its new home nicely as they prepare for Frost/Nixon, The Christians, and Heathers: The Musical for the rest of the season.
Snap Productions started the year off in March with the Chad Beguelin comedy Harbor about a young girl and her trainwreck of a mother dropping in unannounced to her uncle’s home, directed by Michal Simpson. In June, the theatre produced the critical darling Calendar Girls, a show based on the true story of a group of British women of a certain age who decide to pose for a nude calendar to raise funds for charity. The ensemble featured notable performances from the likes of Sally Neumann Scamfer, Erika Hall-Sieff, Barb Ross, and many others.
The latest season from Snap started off with In the Bones by Cody Daigle-Orians, a drama about a family trying to make sense of their soldier son’s suicide. The year finished with with Marilynn Barner Anselmi’s Mama’s Girls, a show about an 11-year-old transgender child and her family as they struggle through her transition from boy to girl. The show featured several post-show talkback sessions with local experts on the subject of transgender issues. The theatre looks to continue its season of diversity-focused repertoire with Mike Bartlett’s comedy C*ck followed by Madeleine George’s Seven Homeless mammoths Wander New England.
The Shelterbelt Theatre continued its run of locally-written theatre with Jeremy Johnson’s In the Jungle You Must Wait. The show featured a unique mix of both slam poetry and satire revolving around the janitor of an insurance company and its employees. July saw the full production of Beaufield Berry’s Happy Hour after it was featured the in the previous year as a Before the Boards staged reading. Speaking of Before the Boards, the series was marked this year by two notable readings in particular, Slabs by Kaitlyn McClincy and The Motherhood Almanac by Noah Diaz. Time will tell if either of the plays make it to full production in the near future. After wrapping up their year in October with Crystal Jackson’s The Singularity, the Shelterbelt is currently rehearing the newest comedy from Ellen Struve called Untitled Series #7.
The local universities each had strong years with Creighton University producing one of the best musicals of the year, Cabaret. UNO Theatre had a hit on their hands with Freakshow, a play about a group of travelling freaks during the turn of the 20th century finding their place in the world.
The Great Plains Theatre Conference has another strong year highlighted by several popular staged readings and unique performances like Cowles’ Scrimmage Anthology where a whole show unraveled before your eyes during an outdoor baseball game.
The Rose Theater’s year was highlighted by the Disney musical Mary Poppins, featuring songs from the Julie Andrews classic as well as several new numbers. The theatre also featured the premiere of Max Sparber’s original script Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band as well as the return of Balloonacy and Charlotte’s Web before finishing out the year with Peter and the Starcatcher.
Of course, there were many more shows and many more events that happened across the Omaha area, too many mention here. It’s just goes to show how much there is to see and do in Omaha theatre every single year.