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Omaha Community Playhouse

Photo by Omaha Community Playhouse

Will Patterson

An important part of starting or returning to college is finding activities to get involved with, and something to do during free time. The Omaha Community Playhouse fills both of those.

Located less than a block away  from the University of Nebraska at Omaha’s Dodge Campus is the Omaha Community Playhouse.It’s worth noting that Omaha is home to the largest community playhouse in the entire country, and it certainly lives up to that title.

One of the greatest benefits that the Omaha Community Playhouse brings to the community is the options for volunteering and involvement. Kimberly Faith Hickman, the artistic director ofthe playhouse, stresses the fact that there are plenty of choices for students that require little to no experience.

“There are opportunities in pretty much every area of our building,” Hickman said.

A lot of different roles go into making a production come to life—and all of them are essential to each play’s success. Aside from acting, the playhouse needs people to help with backstage tasks, costuming, lights, ushering guests and more.

In the past, UNO students have played key parts in productions.Last year, two UNO students performed the lead roles in the playhouse’s rendition of “Sister Act.” Additionally, “Sister Act featured several performers who had never set foot on stage before.

“This is community members that want to learn a new skill and volunteer their time to work with us,” Hickman said.

Those who are interested in becoming a part of the Omaha Community Playhouse can find more information on their web-site under the tab labeled “Get Involved.”

This year’s lineup of shows is exploring a wide range of genres.
Hickman said that she is particularly excited for the productions of “Parade” and “The Mountaintop.”
“Parade” is a musical about the trial of a Jewish man who is wrongfully accused of murder in the town of Marietta, Georgia in 1913. The performance illustrates the racism and religious intolerance that engulfed southern towns in the early 20th century.“Parade” is based on a true story of Leo Frank’s trial.
Also focusing on the theme of intolerance, “The Mountaintop” is a historical fiction play imagining Martin Luther King Jr.’s last night alive. The play is about King’s encounter with a mysterious stranger following his final speech.
“I think we have a really good year of offering something for everyone in terms of our shows,” Hickman said.
The first show to premiere during the school year will be “Eminent Domain.” This contemporary story takes place in Nebraska and follows a family that is impacted by the plans to construct an oil pipeline. The play was written by an Omaha author and will be performed for the first time by the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Students that are interested in catching a show can purchase discounted tickets for $7 during the opening weekend of each performance. The discount isvalid for any student from kindergarten through full-time undergraduate students.

Photo Courtesy of ticketomaha.com

Adam Abou-Nasr

The hair, the attitude and the sound of ‘80’s rock are still alive in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s “Rock of Ages.”

The jukebox-musical follows young dreamers Sherrie and Drew, played by Mallory Vallier and David Ebke, both Playhouse newcomers, as they awkwardly (and adorably) fall in love. The LA dive-bar at which they work is being closed by evil German developer Hertz Klinemann, played by Joey Galda. The simple story stays out of the way of the show’s 24 musical numbers.

The song list doesn’t have any surprises, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t good. A full band lives on stage, led by music director Jim Boggess. Each song rocks hard by pushing the story forward and featuring most of the cast. Act I closer “Here I Go Again” featured especially impressive performances from everyone on stage.

Warning: audience members were urged to sing and clap along to more than one song.

The cast does a great job pressing through dialogue to get to jokes. Comedic timing is excellent. Retired rockers Lonny (Adam Hogston) and Dennis (Bob Gilmore) joke about sex, drugs and poop while their bar get shut down around them. Lonny jokes to the audience often, stepping in as a narrator when needed.

Paul Hanson’s performance as Franz Klinemann, German son of German man Hertz Klinemann, absolutely killed. Hanson pulled laughs from the audience with every accented line of dialogue, and his surprise second-act showstopper almost started a riot. Watching his father, Hertz, unhinge throughout the second act was also fun.

While the cast as a whole is great, Vallier is the real stand-out. Vallier jumps through emotions on stage quickly, giving her character more depth than necessary. She jumps from naïve to independent to seductive, all while maintaining the youthful innocence of a kid trying to make it in LA. Vallier carries these emotions from her dialogue into her songs, belting out powerful ballads and rocking dance numbers.

She’s funny, too.

The show is quite raunchy, though, with swears and other adult content treated very casually. Even the band leader gets in an f-bomb. I noticed two older ladies leaving at intermission.

“It sure is energetic,” one said.

But that’s what rock ‘n’ roll is about. It’s about youthful expression and, in hindsight, just how dumb we all were as kids. The main plot revolves around the two leads-in-love being too shy to admit their feelings to each other. We were all that young, once, and “Rock of Ages” does a damn good job bringing us back.

“Rock of Ages” is currently playing at the Omaha Community Playhouse through April 3rd. The Tony Award-nominated musical features songs from Styx, Journey, Bon Jovi, Pat Benatar, Twisted Sister, Steve Perry, Poison and Europe, and more.

Tickets are available for purchase through the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office and through their website. Single tickets are $42 for adults and $25 for students Thursdays through Sundays and $32 for adults and $20 for students Wednesdays. Reduced prices are available for groups of 12 or more.

Photo Courtesy of omahaplayhouse.com

Cassie Wade

The Omaha Community Playhouse brought a piece of the Wild West back to town with its latest production “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” directed by Jeff Horger.

“The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is performed by nine cast members. Its production is an official event the Nebraska 150 Celebration, which is a year-long celebration of Nebraska’s 150th year of statehood.

Narrator Chris Berger, whose main purpose throughout the show is to ensure smooth transitions between scenes, opens the show by reading Bible verses while a funeral procession files on stage. A coffin containing the body of cowboy Bert Barricune, played by Isaac Reilly, is placed on the saloon tables while a small group of mourners gather to pay their respects.

Annoyingly curious reporter Jane Dowitt, played by Aubrey Fleming, reveals that while Barricune lived the ordinary life of a cowboy, he knew extraordinary people, including Senator Ransome Foster. Foster agrees to explain how he knew Barricune, and with a little set rearranging, the cast flashes back to 1890.

Barricune is revealed to be a gruff, rough and tough Wild West cowboy. He travels where the work is and only returns to Twotrees to visit and verbally spar with his love interest, Hallie Jackson. Beneath his rough exterior, Barricune is revealed to have a heart of gold and protects those he cares about, even when it means risking his own life.

Photo Courtesy of omahaplayhouse.com

Hallie Jackson, played by Sydney Readman, is Twotrees’ saloon owner. She’s a fast-talking tomboy with a no-nonsense attitude. While her character can come off as overly abrasive at times, she is central to the main character’s development and even develops into a better, more-open minded person by the end of the show.

Ransome Foster, played by Dennis Stessman, is the show’s main character. Foster, who was found beaten outside the territory, is carried into town by Barricune. After healing, he makes a deal to stay in Twotrees for free in exchange for teaching the town members to read and write. He’s the production’s hero and though he’s not big and strong, he still fights for what he believes in.

One of the show’s biggest clichés take away from its overall message. Jim Mosten, played by Chad Cunningham, is an African American man working with Hallie in the bar. He’s an excellent supporting character, but is routinely referred to as “boy,” by the white characters. The racism detracts from Foster’s message of equality for all.

The show may not be appropriate for all age groups. Viewers interested in taking children should be warned that expletives include the f-bomb and n-word being dropped during the show.

Despite its drawbacks, the Omaha Community Playhouse’s “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence” is worth a watch. The excitement of spit takes, live gun fire and classic underdog story line are worth taking the time to see.

The show runs until Feb 10 – March 12. Tickets are available for purchase through the Omaha Community Playhouse Box Office, OmahaPlayhouse. com and TicketOmaha.com.

Admission costs $36 for adults and $22 for students. Reduced prices are available for groups of 12 or more.