With its rich history and deep roots, the Omaha theatre scene has one of the city’s strongest artistic foundations. While the past 2 years saw some of the community’s strongest productions ever, the years were also defined by forthcoming change, upheaval, and transition. In 2015, many theatres across the city will get the chance to dig back in, embrace their identities, and strengthen the roots dug so long ago.
– The Omaha Community Playhouse’s Hawks Mainstage will start off the new year with Little Women: The Musical. Directed by former Associate Artistic Director Susie Baer Collins, the show is a joint endeavor with the Playhouse’ professional wing, the Nebraska Theatre Caravan. The show will have a one month engagement starting in late January before embarking on a national tour. After that, the mainstage will open the Andrew Lloyd Webber hit musical Jesus Christ Superstar on March 6th, featuring John Gajewski as Jesus and Roderick Cotton as Judas.
In April, Paul Rudnick’s comedy I Hate Hamlet will show audiences what happens when the ghost of acting legend John Barrymore haunts the apartment of fellow actor tasked with taking on the iconic Shakespearean role. The final show of the season will be the Monty Python musical adaptation Spamalot. Written by founding member Eric Idle, the show openingly admits that it is a ‘loving ripoff of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’.
The Playhouse’s Howard Drew Theatre will start the new year off with Hands on a Hardbody, a new musical partially written by Phish frontman Trey Anastasio. The show revolves around several characters as they compete in a radio competition to be the last one with their hands on a new vehicle. The season will finish starting on May 8th with the Tony Award-winning Edward Albee classic Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the play about George and Martha’s cruel mind games toward their new friends Nick and Honey. The special event Late Night Catechism will be featured over the off season.
Interest will focus on the second half of the year when new Artistic Director Hilary Adams gets her first chance to choose a new season. Look for a diverse set of shows featuring more guest directors and an expanded repertoire of alternative programming. The biggest unknown is how they go about producing the longtime tradition of A Christmas Carol without Carl Beck and Susie Baer Collins.
– One of the biggest stories of the year will be the finished construction of the Blue Barn Theatre’s new performance space on 10th and Pacific. Designed by Min/Day Architects with the consultation of Fisher Dachs Associates, the new Blue Barn will be a convertible indoor/outdoor space designed to provide the theatre with a state of the art facility that still maintains the spirit and feel of the old space. The new space will still have the old seats and signature pillars of the old theatre and the seating capacity will be increased but still under 100 seats.
But before they move, the Blue Barn still has plenty of offerings to send the old space out in style. First is the special event Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays opening in January. Featuring a large cast of theatre veterans and rookies, the two-week production is the first directed by new Associate Artistic Director Randall Stevens.
Following in March is the new Joshua Elias Harmon play Bad Jews. The play tells the story of Daphna, a “Real Jew” with an Israeli boyfriend. When Daphna’s cousin Liam brings home his shiksa girlfriend Melody and declares ownership of their grandfather’s Chai necklace, a vicious and hilarious brawl over family, faith and legacy ensues.
The last production in the Blue Barn’s old space will be Thornton Wilder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning classic Our Town, opening May 7th. Described by Edward Albee as ‘the greatest American play ever written’, the classic tale of life, love, and death in Grover’s Corners has stood the test of time as a reminder of life’s richness.
The second half of the year has many interested in what theme the Blue Barn will choose for their first season in the new space and whether the number of offerings will expand to with the addition of Stevens.
– SNAP Productions will open the new year with Chad Beguelin’s play Harbor. The dramedy about the shifting nature of family tells the story of a ne’er do well mother and her daughter that crash the home of her brother’s family. Directed by Michael Simpson, the production will open on March 5th.
After that, Todd Brooks will direct Calendar Girls by Tim Firth. The play is based on the true story of eleven members of the British community organization the Women’s Institute who posed nude for a calendar to raise money for the Leukemia Research Fund. The news of the women’s charitable venture spreads like wildfire, and hordes of press soon descend on the small village of Knapeley in the Yorkshire Dales. The show opens May 28th.
The next season for SNAP will no doubt stay in line with their revamped artistic mission. Look for a good mix of newer, off-Broadway shows combined with LGBTQ-centric works.
– The Shelterbelt Theatre will continue its aim of producing locally written plays with three upcoming work by young, Omaha-based playwrights. Starting on January 23rd, Marie Amthor’s play Another Sewing Circle will showcase an all female ensemble as they share unique stories of repercussions from the HIV/AIDS epidemic at the dawn of the millennium.
In the Jungle You Must Wait by Jeremy Johnson will open on April 17th. The play blends together slam poetry and satire to tell the story of a group of coworkers struggling with each other as they raise money for a janitor diagnosed with cancer. In the process, they discover more about themselves than they ever cared to know.
Finishing the season in July is Beaufield Berry’s Happy Hour, the story of two brothers clashing after one sets the other up with a girl from work. This is the second play of Berry’s the theatre has produced. For the rest of the year, look to see the Shelterbelt continues to reevaluate and reinvent its past traditions while continuing to produce local works and offer intensive workshops.
– The Rose Theater will present Max Sparber’s Buffalo Bill’s Cowboy Band followed by Zen Ties, The Reluctant Dragon, Charlotte’s Web, and the new musical version of Mary Poppins. Also look for Nebraska Shakespeare’s productions of Othello and As You Like It, the latter of which will go on tour in September. Bellevue Little Theatre will produce The Miracle Worker, Godspell, and Sabrina Fair. Chanticleer Theatre will showcase The Good Doctor, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and The Secret Garden. Creighton will present Noises Off! and Cabaret while UNO Theatre will produce Freakshow and As You Like It. The Omaha Performing Arts Broadway series includes the touring productions of Camelot, Pippin, Motown: The Musical, Mamma Mia!, and the Oscar darling turned 8-time Tony winner Once.
The plays produced in the new year reflect the history, transition, and new vision for Omaha theatre. From new buildings to new plays, from old classics to reimagined productions, audiences have never had more to chose from.