By Ladd Wendelin
There was something for everyone, no matter what your theatrical tastes, during the 2011 Lincoln theater season. It was a good year for angels, witches, and whatever humanimals are. Here’s a rundown of the best and the brightest, on the boards, and in the glow of footlights – 10 great reasons to look back upon and look forward to theater in Lincoln!
Listen to Me – If you remember one name from the Wesleyan theater department this year, remember Jay Scott Chipman, who helmed this past October’s thrilling Enron, but also Gertrude Stein’s Listen to Me, which played as part of the ’10-’11 season. Told on a set composed of bar and line graphs, Enron explored the seedy dealings that led to the largest corporate collapse in U.S. history. But it was Listen to Me, staged at the 48th St. Studio Theatre, that exploded with Wesleyan’s trademark youthful energy and a zest for the spoken word, which in turn seasoned and informed Enron. Chipman wisely referred to the play itself as an “event” in the program notes, and it certainly was that. Challenging, rewarding and not easily forgotten, Listen to Me was everything that take-no-prisoners, experimental theater should be in Lincoln.
X-FIles: The Musical - The Colonel Mustard Amateur Attic Theater Company pulled out all the stops this August and once again brought their zany and satirical sass to another hallowed pop culture institution, The X-Files. After the runaway backyard success of Jurassic Park and Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman, bigger ideas needed time, more space and the funds to be fully realized, so Col. Mustard harnessed the power of social networking, employing Kickstarter, Twitter, Facebook, and Livestream to drum up support for the continued adventures of Agents Scully and Mulder. Relocating to the empty lot at 9th and D, formerly home to Zion Presbyterian, not even an occasional rain shower on opening night stopped droves of attendees from experiencing “humanimals”, succulent barbeque and a show-stopping Lone Gunmen barbershop quartet. What will they think of next? Stay tuned…
Angels in America: Part 1: Millennium Approaches – It’s a match made in theater heaven: Director Bob Hall, Flatwater Shakespeare and the Haymarket Theatre brought Tony Kushner’s epic drama to life this past April. A powerhouse cast of Flatwater regulars helped the show to earn its wings, including standout performances by Summer Widhalm (Harper), Richard Nielsen (Roy Cohn), and Daniel Kubert (Belize). With great performances and Hall’s strong directorial vision, Angels was simply divine, played with conviction, heart and humor, all necessary components for a tale of love and death in the midst of the mid-80s AIDS epidemic. The second coming of Angels in America, entitled Part II: Peristoika, will run March 29 – April 14, 2012 at the Haymarket Theater.
The 39 Steps – The highlight of this year’s Nebraska Repertory Theater summer shows was this witty, quick-change comedy adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic spy thriller, The 39 Steps. Not only did it feature outstanding nationally-recognized actors Matt Penn and Dan Rodden, but also sensational local character actors – the radiant Melissa Lewis and Robbie Hayek, who along with Penn played at least several dozen characters during the course of the play. Those who attended the July production experienced a theatrical tour de force - a rare feat combining all the talents and abilities in an actor’s arsenal. But would you expect anything less from the Nebraska Rep?
Lend Me A Tenor – A staple of contemporary theater found a home at the Playhouse this past October. Or, rather, it found a posh hotel suite, replete with opening and closing doors, a half-dead opera singer, and romantic travails between artists and those who love them. Directed by Morrie Enders, whose affection for Ken Ludwig’s madcap farce was more than apparent in the slapstick rhythm and pacing of the action, Tenor also benefited from a hybrid cast of Lincoln and Omaha talent, including the sauve Michael Corner (Max), Ed Culter (Tito Merelli) and Mark Kocsis (Saunders). With a season of mostly old standards and tried-and-true hits, the Playhouse brought out the best in Tenor, lending it enough classic cool for an audience-friendly experience.
The Wizard of Oz – You didn’t have to go “over the rainbow” to get your Oz fix this past July. What it lacked in polish, Pinewood Bowl, along with director/choreographer Courtney Piccoli, brought plenty of heart and humor to the annual outdoor event, along with a great performance from 13-year old Liza Piccoli, whose tender rendition of “Over the Rainbow” hit all the right notes. Not even this past summer’s grueling heat stopped Piccoli’s hoofers from selling Oz in all its Technicolor glory to the hundreds of Lincolnites who attended. Wedding bells will ring in 2012 when Seven Brides For Seven Brothers says “I do!” at the Pinewood Bowl.
‘cast.’ – Following ‘coal chamber opera’, a one-man “basement play” performed earlier in the year, local playwright Robert Stewart (Wetrats Prod.) continued his unconventional streak of self-produced, independent shows by returning to the Tugboat Gallery with ‘cast.’, a one-act play about the shifty nature of storytelling, which featured octopus tentacles, a giant leg cast and a superb ensemble cast led by Matthew Gee, Katie Segrist, and Angela Barber. Unpredictable as a playwright and provocative as a director, Stewart's vision of theater is both surprising in its attention to detail and uncompromising.
25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – Not only did TADA Productions bring back Lawrence and Hope Juber of Gilligan’s Island: The Musical fame for the regional premiere of their latest creation, It’s the Housewives!, in March, but also the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee – a hit during the 2008-2009 season, and another sold out run this past August. Returning cast members Bill Maltas (Vice-Principal Panch) and Matthew Works (William Barfee) were hilarious, as were new cast members, particularly Brent Welch, Jessie Cotton, and Jaci Manning. With its misfit spellers, William Finn's great score and audience participation, Putnam County remained as fun and joyous a musical as you were likely to come across this season. In 2012, TADA will stage the regional premieres of the Spider-Man musical spoof The Spidey Project and the Tony Award-winning naughty puppet show Avenue Q.
Twelfth Night / A Midsummer Night’s Dream – What theater season in Lincoln would be complete without a tale or two (or more – Othello at the Playhouse) from the Bard of Avon? When Shakespeare’s gender-bending comedy Twelfth Night is set in the Old West, a gunslinger’s paradise, just outside of a bordello, it’s not to be missed, especially when Ian Borden’s all-encompassing reimagining brought UNL audiences into a packed Studio Theater. Mike Lee, who assumed the role of a banjo-picking troubadour, also found success as the mischievous sprite Puck in Flatwater Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream. Leave it to Bob Hall and Flatwater Shakespeare, who brought Puck, a half-man/half-jackass and the whole magical gang of fairy-folk to the Lincoln Foundation Community Gardens in June while the Swan at Wyuka Cemetery is under renovation. In addition to their run at the Gardens, Midsummer also played free shows at local parks, amounting to a magical evening of theater. That Shakesepeare fellow. He's gonna go far...
Wow! What a year! So, what were your favorite show(s) in the last year? Sound off, and get ready – 2012 is going to be a great year for theater in Lincoln!