Transition and anticipation for the future marked Omaha theatre in 2014. While many theatres settled in to new leadership and revised mission statements, others prepared for changes of location and expansions of staff. In the same vein, the shows brought to area audiences brought a mix of old and new.
– The Omaha Community Playhouse started the year with Having Our Say featuring the dynamic duo of Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore playing Bessie and Sadie Delany, a pair of centenarian sisters telling the story of their lives while preparing a large dinner. Soon after, Kathy Tyree took to the Hawks Mainstage in her TAG Award-winning performance as Ella Fitzgerald in Ella.
At the same time, the Pulitzer-prize-winning musical Next to Normal blew away audiences in the Howard Drew Theatre led by standout ensemble performances and a unique set design by Steven Williams. The Playhouse’s side stage then riveted audiences with the newest David Mamet legal drama, Race.
Monty Eich and Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek teamed up to have audiences laughing in their seats with the farcical Boeing, Boeing before the mainstage finished the season with the Mel Brooks’ musical comedy Young Frankenstein (led by standout performances from Judy Radcliff, Spencer Williams, Kirstin Kluver, and Ablan Roblin).
Perhaps the most memorable for The Playhouse was the mid-year transition from the retiring Artistic Directors Carl Beck and Susie Baer-Collins to newcomer Hilary Adams. For her first production as The Playhouse’s Artistic Director, Adams led Dave Wingert and a large dance ensemble in the Tony-Award winning musical The Drowsy Chaperone.
The Howard Drew Theatre featured a host of New York-based guest directors in the second half of the year as Kimberly Faith Hickman handled raptors, puppets, and financial fraud in the spectacle-leaden dramedy Enron and Stephen Nachamie conducted Andrew Prescott, Carl Brooks, and Luther Simon in the 3-person post-Civil War drama The Whipping Man.
– The Blue Barn Theatre began the year with the new absurdist dramedy from Will Eno, Gnit. The show was a ‘misreading’ of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt that saw Matthew Pyle in the title role as he made a lifetime full of bad decisions. Blue Barn Artistic Director Susan Clement-Toberer discovered the show after attending The Humana Festival of New American Plays in Louisville, Kentucky.
The theatre finished the past season with the TAG Award-winning drama 33 Variations by Moises Kaufman. The show chronicled a musicologist in modern day suffering from ALS while trying to finish her life’s work, an examination of Beethoven’s famed 33 Variations of a waltz by Anton Diabelli. At the same time, a second timeline showcased the great composer struggling with his health and own genius as he created the variations themselves. The show featured live piano presentations by acclaimed pianist Half France while garnering recognition for Blue Barn founder Nils Haaland leading the talented ensemble as Beethoven.
Between seasons, the Blue Barn marked a historic moment as they broke ground on their soon to be completed new performance space on 10th and Pacific Street in Little Italy. The occasion was marked by Clement-Toberer sticking a shovel into the ground and digging up an old skull. While construction continues, the theatre looks to finish up its multi-million dollar capital campaign to ensure the bright future of the theatre.
The current season reflects the theatre’s recent events, featuring productions that deal with identity and transition. Blue Barn’s 26th season started with Thomas Becker, Jerry Longe and Jonathan Purcell in David Mamet’s classic American Buffalo. The play was one of the first ever performed by the theatre in its inaugural season back in 1989.
The theatre then remounted its holiday show from three years ago, Every Christmas Story Ever Told (and Then Some!), featuring Ben Beck, Theresa Sindelar and myself reprising our old roles and raising money for the Eastern Nebraska Office on Aging.
– The Shelterbelt Theatre’s year was highlighted by the TAG Award-winning production of local playwright Joe Basque’s comedy The Battle of Battles. The show gave a historically fictionalized rendition of the rivalry between Leonardo Da Vinci (Randy Vest) and Michelangelo (Andy Niess). The show received several accolades for its ensemble and design.
The theatre also continued to tweak its usual offerings under the Artistic Direction of Beth Thompson. It continued its usual renditions of From Shelterbelt with Love and Instant Theatre Boot Camp while taking a break from Shelterskelter.
In its place, Shelterbelt showcased more new works, featuring A.P. Andrews’ play Abby in the Summer and the examination of childhood innocence that was Mickey and Sage by Sara Farrington. The latter play was featured in a past Great Plains Theatre Conference.
– SNAP Productions started its eventful year with William Inge’s Come Back Little Sheba, the story of a Midwestern couple dealing with their many marital issues. The show earned a TAG Award for Sally Neumann Scamfer in the lead role of Lola Delaney.
Soon after, the theatre featured the monologue-driven examination of gay discovery Voices in the Closet by local playwright Daena Schweiger. The show earned Schweiger Best New Script recognition and featured stirring performances from its eight performers.
SNAP continued their year with the unsettling view of modern race relations entitled We Are Proud to Present a Presentation About the Herero of Namibia, Formerly Known as South West Africa, From the German Sudwestafrika, Between the Years 1884-1915 by Jackie Sibblies Drury. The play was a critical darling in 2012 and was also featured in last season’s run of 21 & Over readings at the Omaha Playhouse.
Lastly, SNAP just wrapped up the latest work from Christopher Durang entitled Vanya & Sonya & Masha & Spike. The show featured elements derived from several of Anton Chekhov’s works as a group of siblings discussed their lives, loves, and losses. The show featured the ensemble work of Randy Vest, Moira Mangiameli, Connie Lee, and Kevin Gibbs.
– Many other theatres featured notable highlights across the community. Brigit Saint Brigit Theatre looked at the Irish Civil War with Sean O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock before showcasing a unique one-man, one-cello rendition a Greek classic called An Iliad by Lisa Peterson and Denis O’Hare.
The Chanticleer Theatre just finished its run of Assassins by Stephen Sondheim behind the performances of Roderick Cotton, David Ebke, Joey Galda, and Angie Heim. Before that, audiences were treated to production of Annie Jr., Peter Pan, and Follies.
Shakespeare on the Green featured a unique look at The Tempest (later used as the fall tour) and an expanded version of Compleat Works of William Shakespeare – abridged.
RED Theatre Omaha continued its presentation of youth-driven neo futurism while the Witching Hour announced its separation from The Blue Barn Theatre as the organization looks to regroup before striking it out on its own.
A newcomer came into its own with the continued offerings from the Apollon Theater. The multi-use art space featured several dinner theatre-esque productions throughout the year.
Omaha Performing Arts brought tours of Million Dollar Quartet, Sister Act: The Musical, Wicked, and Beauty and the Beast.
With the theatre scene’s mass of offerings to go along with the emergence of new faces and new buildings, Omaha continues to build itself up as one of the country’s best and most dedicated theatrical communities.