2013 was defined by change. Many theatres, large and small, found themselves in the midst of transition. The Omaha Community Playhouse is half-way through the Carl Beck/Susie Baer Collins swan song as they prepare to finish their final season at the helm of the organization. On the heels of their departure wa the announcement of Hilary Adams as Carl Beck’s Successor. How the New York-based director will acclimate herself to the Omaha community remains to be seen, and several positions at the organization remain up in the air, but the pieces are in place for Adams to make an eventful and positive transition into the artistic leader of the country largest community theatre.
On the stage, the Playhouse brought some of the years most memorable moments, greatest of those being the gigantic undertaking of Les Miserables. Led by Broadway veteran Timothy Shew in the iconic role of Jean Valjean, the production featured huge set pieces, unqiue lighting and sound, and standout performances from numerous local cast members. Another mainstage hit from this past year was The Wizard of Oz. Susie Baer Collins brought audiences a show that was both nostalgic and fresh to patrons of many ages.
The Howard-Drew stage of the Playhouse was headlined by the over-the-top hilarious bloodiness of Evil Dead: The Musical and the world premiere of Ellen Struve’s Recommended Reading for Girls, two shows that showcase what a secondary stage should be utilized for (edgier, more mature productions and new works).
But this writer’s favorite experience from the Playhouse’s past year belongs to a staged reading.
The 21 & Over Series’ production of Lauren Gunderson’s Exit, Pursued by a Bear gave viewers so many wonderful moments. The tale of a battered house wife finally seeking revenge on her husband with the help of her two friends was both laugh out loud hilarious and intriguingly poignant. The ensemble, under the direction of Steve Hartman, unleashed fantastic performances and created moments I still find myself giggling at today.
The BLUEBARN Theatre continued its reputation of bringing some of the best, most unique, and thought-provoking off-broadway theatre to the Omaha area while preparing for their huge change to a brand new performance space. Along the way, they treated us to the latest morbid work from Martin McDonagh with A Behanding in Spokane. One of the best ensemble shows all season was the joint work of Jerry Longe, Jill Andersen, Ablan Roblin, and Theresa Sindelar in the Tony-winner God of Carnage. I, myself, am still spinning from playing more characters than I can count in both The 39 Steps and Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol.
SNAP Theatre continued its transition from a strictly LGBTQ performance space to one that focuses on diversity and acceptance of all groups. That change in philosophy brought about some the year’s most talked about shows. Clybourne Park, the tale of race relations in a Chicago neighborhood over the span of generations, had audiences thoroughly engaged, at once laughing, and at once pondering how far we’ve come as a country in regards to race. Next to Normal gave a big sound to the small space as a dedicated group of performers tackled the Pulitzer Winner about a family struggling with a mother’s mental illness. Follow that up with quality offerings in Other Desert Cities and the recently completed Tribes and it seems as though the theatre has started to find a new identity for itself.
Brigit Saint Brigit found itself once again balancing multiple performance spaces while still bringing classic works new life to area audiences. Long Day’s Journey into Night and The Heiress exhibited to the Omaha area that there is still a place for the great works of drama. Additionally, BSB offered more than just traditional theatre. The monthly Git Lit! Literary Series at The Bookworm was a great way for people to experience books both old and new and the company also brought back it educational outreach program.
Shelterbelt Theatre experienced a change of its own as Beth Thompson took over as Artistic Director for Ellen Struve. That didn’t stop the company from continuing its mission of original works from local playwrights. The theatre celebrated its 20th anniversary with the remounting of Scott Working’s V of Geese, performed by an all-UNO cast and director just like 2 decades ago. Add on the Instant Theatre Boot Camp and the yearly tradition Shelterskelter XVIII and SNAP’s sister theatre continues to cultivate local theatre by performing new works and utilizing newcomers on the stage.
Many other spaces had eventful years. Creighton showcased top-notch musical talent in Dames at Sea. UNO showcased perhaps the surprise of the season with the outstanding Female Transport. The Chanticleer’s production of A Little Night Music was also not to be missed. To be sure, 2013 was a year that won’t soon be forgotten in the theatre community.