Editor’s note: The author, Natalie Christie, is the actress Natalie McGovern featured in photos and mentioned in the sentence about Crimes of the Heart.
Theater in Omaha in 2021 ushered in a much-anticipated comeback season, reviving the spirit of perseverance in the face of challenges that had temporarily closed many theaters’ doors. Theater was alive and well, and back once again, stronger than ever.
When the going got tough and restrictions were cemented in place, theaters got collaborative and creative. Many hosted outdoor productions or events in addition to their usual seasons. Masks were required indoors with the exception of eating or drinking. New COVID vaccination protocols were also implemented at the majority of local theaters to keep patrons and artists safe.
The year was also a time for new leadership and direction to take place, with the Omaha Community Playhouse bringing on board a new artistic director. After a long, collective hiatus for many theaters, it was a time for reflection and growth. Industry changes continued with more emphasis on casting BIPOC performers, and select theaters introduced compensation for performers, a huge benefit and, moving forward, a step in the right direction. The Omaha theater community also unified together, participating in the initial worldwide event with Musical Theatre International’s All Together Now!
Omaha Performing Arts brought back national Broadway tours, which was a long time coming after nearly a year of postponed or canceled shows. Previously postponed shows that returned were Hamilton and Cats, with Anastasia set to return in June of 2022 after being postponed.
Omaha Performing Arts also broke ground with plans to open a new live music venue, Steelhouse Omaha, in 2023.
In November, the Omaha Community Playhouse welcomed Stephen Santa into the position of artistic director. The OCP season opened with Dear Jack, Dear Louise, a two-person wartime romance with Josh Peyton and Sarah Schrader in the lead roles. Guest director Jim McKain brought to the Howard Drew Theatre The Mystery of Irma Vep, a campy, quick-change farce starring Ben Beck and Ana Perillo. One of the first shows back in theaters at OCP was the wildly popular Ain’t Misbehavin’, a high-energy musical delivered by an exciting cast with Jus.B, Leiloni Brewer, Dara Hogan, DJ Tyree and Tiffany White-Welchen, directed by Kathy Tyree. Other season productions included Agatha Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express, Gutenberg! The Musical!, in conjunction with The Candy Project, The Drawer Boy by Michael Healey, Fully Committed by Becky Mode, The Last Five Years by Jason Robert Brown, and Grounded, led by guest director Kimberly Faith Hickman.
The BlueBarn Theatre boasted a robust 33rd mainstage season along with themes of embracing “empathy, explosive laughter, madness and love, and the wild west.” It began the year with the premiere of Heroes of the Fourth Turning by Will Arbery. Thomas Gjere, Ana Jordan and Michael Judah were just some of the stellar cast in this dynamic production about differing perspectives and social issues. Next it staged the regional premiere of the trailblazing Juneteenth new musical Buffalo Women, A Black Cowgirl Musical Dramedy by Beaufield Berry and J. Isaiah Smith, based on one of their popular outdoor workshops from the summer. The show featured notable talents such as Brandi Smith, Nadia Ra’Shaun and Echelle Childers. The BlueBarn had a first successful outdoor Season 33 happening with free and socially distanced events such as Musing, A Storytelling Series: Movies, Music, and Me, in the Porchyard. Just in time for the holidays A Very Die Hard Christmas rounded out the season with a Christmas-themed fan favorite.
Brigit St. Brigit Theatre Company’s 29th season also consisted of innovative outdoor events, such as Fireside Macbeth held at Rainwood Farm. With its popular festival celebrations on hold, BSB returned early September from a post pandemic hiatus with The Dresser, by Ronald Harwood.
The Benson Theatre debuted its first season with 20th Century Blues by Susan Miller. The Union for Contemporary Art introduced experimental and immersive theater experiences with Pursuing Legacy starring Dara Hogan. It combined unique storytelling elements with alternate reality, and the spoken-word livestream of Zedeka Poindexter: Sense of the Pandemic. Former OCP artistic director Kimberly Faith Hickman joined Rave On Productions as artistic and education director, launching McGuigan Arts Academy, which stages select productions in traditional and nontraditional venues throughout Omaha. The Circle Theatre brought us Shakespeare’s Lovers and the hauntingly poignant Holocaust survivor testimonies of When We Go Away.
The Lofte Community Theatre staged the Pulitzer-winning drama Crimes of the Heart by Beth Henley, with standout performances from Melissa Holder, Natalie McGovern and Wade Mumford. Other season highlights were the wisecracking and humorous Erma Bombeck: At Wit’s End, a one-woman show with Melinda Mead in the title role. The four-person musical I Do! I Do! I DoI I Do! was a hit, with Anna Rebecca Felber garnering the Lofte its first OEA nomination for outstanding actor in a musical. Alone Together by Lawrence Roman was staged next, a comedy about empty nesters, and featured hilarious performances from Wendy Allen, Andrew Schell and Aaron Spracklin, while The Savannah Sipping Society, by Jones, Hope and Wooten, delighted audiences with its light-hearted, southern comedy cast of four older women showcasing the talents of Therese Rennels and Rosalie Duffy. The season rounded out with the holiday spectacular Christmas At Leon’s.
The Rose Theatre lineup included shows such as the musical Disney’s The Descendants, It’s A Wonderful Life, based on the Lux Radio Theatre Script, rockathon Misunderstood: Heroes and Villains and Corduroy, the children’s book adapted for the stage by Barry Kornhauser.
Omaha looks forward to an even brighter future of theater in 2022. As we navigate the pandemic world, we’ve learned through our stages that although they may be dark for a while, the show will always go on.