It’s said theater is the truest, most direct window into the human condition. By that measure, Omaha has a kaleidoscopic view of comedy and tragedy courtesy of a depleted but still robust theater landscape for 2023.
Though the Shelterbelt and SNAP Productions! have yet to recover from losing their shared space, the Union for Contemporary Art theater series is on hiatus until its new digs open and Nebraska Shakespeare is regrettably no more, Omaha’s still rich in all-the-world’s-a-stage offerings.
Three new players bolster the scene. Anastasis Theatre Co. develops community-based work. Benson Theatre is both a venue and presenting group. Omaha Mobile Stage offers a movable feast.
Not to be forgotten, Opera Omaha stages world-class productions of new and classic operatic works.
The Omaha Performing Arts (OPA) 2021-2022 Broadway touring season brought one mega show after another, including “Cats,” “Hamilton,” “Hadestown” featuring Omaha native Kevyn Morrow, “Wicked” and “Anastasia.” The 2022-2023 season is equally loaded, highlighted by Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Feb. 7-12, starring Richard Thomas as Atticus Finch.
The rest of the Broadway season at the Orpheum Theater is a parade of past and present hit musicals:
“Six” Jan 3 – 8
“Les Miserables” March 7-12
“Disney’s Frozen” April 19-30
“Hairspray” June 6-11
OPA brings Omaha native Broadway talents home for workshops and special commissions. Last year Morrow, Q Smith and Ray Mercer brought their stagecraft back. Q’s primed to return for OPA programs. Mercer’s coming again, this time to choreograph “Dreamgirls” at the Omaha Community Playhouse (March. 3-26).
The Playhouse, whose “Ain’t Misbehavin’” under Kathy Tyree’s direction dominated the Omaha Entertainment and Art Awards, is extending diversity-equity-inclusion to its first staging of an August Wilson play, “Fences,” Jan. 20-Feb. 12. Special programming is scheduled around the play (see story on page ).
The remainder of the Playhouse season features a pair of Mainstage blockbusters and a more adventurous work in the Howard Drew Theatre:
“Rent” Feb. 10-March 19 (Howard Drew)
“Little Shop of Horrors” April 14-May 7 (Mainstage)
“Pretty Fire” April 28-May 21 (Howard Drew)
Playwright and actress Charlayne Woodard’s one-woman celebration of life, her own, is a relatively little-known but acclaimed work that won L.A. Drama Critics and NAACP awards for best play and best playwright.
“In the Heights” June 2-25 (Mainstage)
The BlueBarn Theatre is Omaha’s way-stop for those fancying something other than mainstream, and it shouldn’t disappoint in 2023.
“What the Constitution Means to Me” Feb. 2-26
The complex relationship between the U.S. Constitution and the lives of four generations of women is interrogated for all its humor and pathos by playwright Heidi Schreck. The New York Times called her Tony-nominated work the best play of 2019.
“The Chinese Lady” March 30–April 23
Questions of identity, exploitation and self-determination animate this true-life tale of Afong May, the first woman from China to enter America. Exhibited as a curiosity and disconnected from her homeland and heritage, she waged a lifetime struggle to find her true self amid the cruel narratives imposed on her and to reckon with colonizing practices.
“Dance Nation” May 25–June 25
Girl power as personified by prepubescent competitive dancers intent on world dominion takes center stage, but they must first nail their routine to win the Boogie Crown Grand Prix Finals. This 2019 Pulitzer Prize finalist for drama features a multigenerational cast as the 13-year-old heroines.
“Musing: A Storytelling Series” Curated by Seth Fox, April 19
“Miscellanea Volumes One & Two: Storyteller’s Choice” – a one-night-only event in the tradition of “The Moth Radio Hour” and “PBS Stories from the Stage” in which tales are woven and spoken by the people who lived them.
Benson Theatre is making its dramatic arts mark by delivering its first full season of stage works.
“Old Bat” In collaboration with Great Plains Theatre Commons, March 23
This is another original creation of Omaha’s first lady of playwrights, Ellen Struve, whose “How to Build an Ark” premiered at The Rose last season. Here she brings us Kira, an Everywoman voyager in the elemental depths of the mythological other world. Transformation becomes her only chance at survival.
“Alexa, Siri and Cortana Enter a Juke Joint” In collaboration with Radio Theatre Omaha, April 30-May 2, May 6-9
Omaha playwright Kim Louise plays with time, place and female prerogatives in this radio play in which virtual reality becomes reality and Black women just want to have fun.
Writing the Short Play with Rob Urbinati April 10-15
Prolific New York-based director-playwright Rob Urbinati, who has strong Nebraska ties, will lead a week-long workshop whose participants will complete a short play. The plays will be workshopped and showcased in staged readings at the end of the residency. Urbinati is director of New Play Development at Queens Theatre in New York, where he curates New American Voices. He’s the author of “Play Readings: A Complete Guide for Theatre Practitioners.”
“The Inheritance, Part I” In collaboration with Voices in Alliance, June 1-4, 7-11, 15-17
Set in the post-AIDS epidemic era, three generations of gay men in New York City attempt to forge a future for themselves amid a turbulent America. Eric Glass is a political activist engaged to his writer boyfriend, Toby Darling.
Omaha’s longest-lived independent theater company, The Circle Theatre, is an inclusive space for differently abled individuals. Its new year lineup includes “Stronger Than Strong! Great American Tall Tale Heroines,” “You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown (REVISED)” and a special Art of Imagination partnership program with Ollie Webb Center.
Great Plains Theatre Commons nurtures playwrights and new works in year-round programs.
GPTC 2023 New Play Conference May 28 – June 3, Metropolitan Community College, Fort Omaha Campus
This convening of local and national playwrights, actors, directors, dramaturgs and designers around workshops, panels, readings and performances exposes audiences to theater’s new voices.
GPTC is staging 2021 New Play Conference favorite “Practice House” from May 31-June 2 at Yates Illuminates.
Playwright Rachael Carnes delineates a real chapter in American education that found infants leased from orphanages for the purpose of training women in the new and improved “scientific parenting methods.”
Classic theater fans still have the Brigit Saint Brigit to lean into.
Irish Festival, “The Field,” Feb. 17-19, 24-26 & March 3-5
Annual Passover (Jewish-Themed Series), March/April full production – Title/dates TBA
Spring Production, May full production – Title/dates TBA
Check for updates at bsbtheatre.com.
Suburban theater offerings can be had at several venues, including Ralston Community Theater, which stages an annual summer musical.
Bellevue Little Theater presents an eclectic schedule:
“Spider’s Web” Jan. 13-29
“A Little Night Music” March 10-26
“Girls’ Weekend” May 5-21
Chanticleer Theatre in Council Bluffs has a schedule of stage chestnuts:
“Plaza Suite” Jan. 13-15 & 20-22
“Into the Woods” March 10-12 & 17-19
“Pirates of Penzance” May 12-14 & 19-21
Last year UNO Summer Music Theatre Academy launched. This free, by-audition-only training ground for high school musical theater performers and theater tech students culminates in a full staged musical.
Don’t sleep on university theater productions, where some of Omaha’s best new talents shine.
UNO Theater features:
“Men on Boats” Feb. 23–26, March 2–5
A (somewhat) true theatrical exploration of the Green and Colorado rivers in 1869 by a one-armed captain and his dedicated crew, with all the twists and turns of a rafting trip. History reconsidered, with a cast of non-binary and female performers.
“The Tragedy of MacBeth” April 20-23 & 27-30
Whether you call it The Scottish Play or The Bard’s Play, something wicked this way comes in this bloody tale of hubris run amok.
“title of show” Studio Theatre, Feb. 22-26
This musical chronicles its own creation as an entry in the New York Musical Theatre Festival. Over a three-week period the creative team wrestles with inconvenient stage and life events leading to the show’s production.
“Vive Paris!” Lied Education Center for the Arts Mainstage, April 20-23
The Creighton Dance Company channels Gene Kelly in “An American in Paris” for this ballet tracing life in The City of Light and Love. Featuring the music of Jacques Offenbach and Leroy Anderson.
Omaha theater happenings worth tracking in 2023 include the expected opening of The Union’s new black box theater in the fall and any new Shakespeare-presenting organization that emerges to fill the gap left by Nebraska Shakespeare’s closure.