Ghosts, pratfalls, Shakespeare and swordplay

En garde! 

Paul Rudnick’s I Hate Hamlet will soon be making its way to the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage. This tongue-in-cheek comedy about the gray area where life and art coincide features ghosts, pratfalls, Shakespeare and thrilling swordplay choreographed by Rick Sordelet, a world-renowned fight choreographer with credits on Broadway (The Lion King, Waiting for Godot, Beauty and the Beast) and abroad (European tour of Ben Hur Live). Director Ablan Roblin and actors Ben Beck and Kevin Barratt answered a few questions about the upcoming production.
Kevin Barratt as John Barrymore and Ben Beck as Andrew
What’s been the biggest challenge for you as actor in learning this fight choreography?
Ben Beck (plays Andrew): I think the biggest challenge has been taking this choreographed fight that’s been imprinted in my mind and then adding the “acting” element. Right now it’s kind of like rubbing my tummy and patting my head.
Kevin Barratt (plays John Barrymore): For me, it’s learning it as quickly as we did. We were very early in the process when Rick [Sordelet] came in. Usually we’re given time to painstakingly go through the choreography but Rick was only here for a couple days, so it was like, “Bam! Here it is and done!”

What’s your favorite moment from the fight? A particular move or sequence?
Ben: I don’t want to give anything away!
It varies from moment to moment, run to run. Things click differently each time we run through the show.

Aside from the fight itself, have there been any unexpected challenges?
(smiling) Not yet.
Kevin Barratt as John Barrymore
What was it like working with Rick?
Ben: Rick is a wonderful teacher who can recognize each actor’s strengths and weaknesses. He’s just so supportive. And despite the time constraints, Rick was able to organically create some wonderful moments and stage pictures. I can’t imagine it coming from anyone else.
Kevin: He’s marvelous, a real gentlemen. He was so positive and honest at the same time. You never felt like he was just blowing smoke with where we were at. He was straightforward and I really appreciated that.

How have rehearsals been? Any interesting stories and/or discoveries with the cast?
Ben: I love watching the scenes I’m not blocked in. It’s great being able to step back and see the other actors take on this really funny and moving work.
Ablan Roblin (director): Rehearsals have been so great. They’re just a lot of fun. I’m thrilled that the actors are listening to each other and working well as a cast.
Ben Beck as Andrew
What can audiences expect from this show?
Ablan: They can expect to have a good time, to have a good laugh and to think.

What was it like having Rick step into rehearsals and stage the fight? Did his input influence other aspects of the show?
Ablan: Oh, yeah! Rick was staging the fight, sure, but he was also staging a scene. With that came a great sense of physical realization of the characters. He helped the actors craft their characters and helped them emerge.

You can see the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of I Hate Hamlet, running April 17–May 10, 2015; Wednesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $35 for adults and $21 for students. For groups of 12 or more, adult tickets are $24 and student tickets are $16. On Wednesday, April 22, tickets are $10 to that evening's show beginning at 4 p.m. at the Box Office. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800 or click here.

Story by Noah Diaz

Meet the cast: Roderick Cotton

Judas Iscariot can be a polarizing figure within Jesus Christ Superstar. The musical doesn’t seek to villainize him but rather portray him as man conflicted by his personal demons and the society in which he lives. Roderick Cotton, who will be playing the iconic role in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s upcoming production, sat down and answered a few questions about the production.

What shows have you performed in at the Omaha Community Playhouse? Any favorite roles?
I've had the pleasure of performing in five Omaha Community Playhouse productions before Jesus Christ Superstar. My first production was Sugar Babies when I was a senior in high school. After that, I played Mitch Mahoney in The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee, a personal favorite role of mine. Following that, I performed in Chicago, The All Night Strut! and Altar Boyz.

Where do you work when you're not performing and/or in rehearsals at the Playhouse?
Well, for several years I worked for a company called American Entertainment Productions where I performed at amusement parks singing and dancing in their shows. Nowadays my daytime job is working at Immanuel Village, a nursing home here in Omaha.

What's your relationship with Jesus Christ Superstar? Have you performed in this show before?
This will be my first time performing in the show. I first came across it when I got involved in musical theatre in high school. My friends would always play the musical in the car and we would sing along with the CD. They would always tell me I would make a great Judas one day, and now I’m thrilled to get to actually take on the challenge.

What’s your take on the modern retelling of this production?
I think the modern take [Director] Kimberly [Faith Hickman] is using on the show is really cool, and it will make it that much more relatable to audiences today. The story itself is timeless and very important and would be effective in any time period. In my opinion, what's most important is the connection to the words and the way the story is told by the actors. I think we have found a great way to do just that.

How have rehearsals been going?
Rehearsals have been great! It's so fun coming in every day and finding new things to connect to with this story despite it's been around forever. The only challenge is keeping yourself physically and vocally healthy with this very demanding piece of theatre. It's that time of year where we all have to fight catching a cold. I got a little under the weather and lost my voice the week our director showed up. Needless to say, belting out the role of Judas wasn't so easy that week.

Do you do anything interesting/unusual outside of theatre?
Wow! This is a question I’ll have to think about so I won't incriminate myself! (laughs) I have a whole entirely different persona that I perform on many nightclub stages, singing and dancing. I think I'll leave it at that and let people’s imaginations wander…

You can see Roderick Cotton in his role as Judas Iscariot in the Omaha Community Playhouse’s Jesus Christ Superstar, running March 6–April 4, 2015 (no performance on Easter, April 5); Wednesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800 or click here.

Meet the cast: Jason DeLong

Omaha Community Playhouse actors are well-known for having various careers outside of theatre. Due to the structure of Omaha’s theatre landscape, paid industry work is usually few and far between. Often, the time and energy put into rehearsals and performance is strictly volunteer. However, you’d never know it meeting some of OCP’s many volunteer actors. One such performer is Jason DeLong, an administrative coordinator for Envisions, Inc., a company that provides habilitation to adults with developmental disabilities. Jason will be appearing in the ensemble of Jesus Christ Superstar this March.

A staple on the OCP stage, Jason DeLong approaches all of his roles with an unprecedented passion and professionalism. Among his many contributions to the productions in which he’s involved, he assists in vocal and dance warmups and leads the ensemble as dance captain. At OCP, Jason has appeared in Thoroughly Modern Millie, All Shook Up, Guys & Dolls, Chicago, Hairspray, Legally Blonde, The Wizard of Oz, Young Frankenstein, The Drowsy Chaperone and four years of A Christmas Carol.

Jason’s relationship with Jesus Christ Superstar began years ago when he appeared in the Dundee Dinner Theatre’s 2003 production of the musical. What appeals to him is that it “does not glorify Jesus but portrays him like a normal person rallying for the good of mankind, nor does it condemn Judas but rather portrays him as a man concerned with a society of followers that are easily swayed by the thoughts of people higher than themselves.”

When asked about the production’s modern retelling of the story, he says, “I love the direction Kimberly (director) has chosen to take the story. So much of it has no specific timeframe. Our modern approach gives importance and significance to the issues we as a society still face on an everyday basis.” He continues, “I feel Kimberly approaches her version of the show with the thought of returning to the original roots of rebellion and letting the harsh aggression of the text and music shine and ring in a setting of life today.”

You can see Jason DeLong in the ensemble of the Omaha Community Playhouse’s Jesus Christ Superstar, running March 6–April 4, 2015 (no performance on Easter, April 5); Wednesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800 or click here.

Story by Noah Diaz

Jesus Christ Superstar gets a modern makeover

The Omaha Community Playhouse has given Jesus Christ Superstar a makeover. The 1970 musical from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber will forgo its usual robes and sandals in favor of business suits and Converse. Director and choreographer Kimberly Faith Hickman, known for work on such Tony Award-winning Broadway shows as Clybourne Park (assistant director to Pam McKinnon) and The Assembled Parties (assistant director to Lynne Meadow), answered a few questions about the upcoming production.

What's your relationship with Jesus Christ Superstar? Have you worked on it before?
This is my first time working on Jesus Christ Superstar. I knew many of the songs already, but somehow I have never had the opportunity to work on the show prior to now. 

What aspects of the musical speak to you? 
I really love these characters, particularly Judas and Pilate (I know, I know...the "bad" guys!) I have always been drawn to characters whose life choices aren't always similar to my own. I welcome any opportunity to learn what makes a person tick. I think this musical does a fantastic job of exploring not only Jesus, but also Judas and Pilate. Why did Judas betray Jesus? Why did Pilate ultimately go along with the decision to crucify Christ? I also love that this musical explores the idea of purpose. What are we put here on Earth to do? Will we accomplish it? With Jesus Christ Superstar, we get to explore answers to those questions.   

Costume renderings by Costume Designer Lydia Dawson

What inspired the modern take?
Many theatres are starting to approach this story through a modern lens. It makes the story more accessible for today's audiences. The themes of this story are absolutely timeless: love, hope, forgiveness, betrayal, jealousy and most of all, purpose. All of these characters ask themselves, “How will I be remembered when I am gone?" We all ask ourselves that question at some point in our lives. There are fragments of these characters that can be found within ourselves if we look close enough.

How have rehearsals been? Any interesting stories and/or discoveries with the cast? 
Rehearsals have been a blast. The talent in this show is unbelievable. There are some faces in our show that will be familiar to OCP audience members and there are many new faces as well. What continues to astound me is the age range of our actors. Our youngest cast member is 13. Our oldest cast member is 63. That alone is a testament to the power and popularity of this musical and how it has maintained its relevancy for over 40 years.   

Jesus Christ Superstar set designed by Jim Othuse
What key elements have gone into the new retelling? 
The costume and set design were the key factors to approaching this in a contemporary way. Lydia Dawson (costume designer), Jim Othuse (scenic and lighting designer) and I spent a lot of time looking at photographs that reflected the political landscape of the last 10 years. We combed through images of cities where various rallies took place and these provided a lot of inspiration for our staging of Jesus Christ Superstar. Similar to our politicians of today, King Herod and Pilate are wearing suits. Similar to our activists of today, Jesus is a guy in a t-shirt, jeans and Converse sneakers. We wanted this production to look like the world we are living in now.     

How has the new spin influenced the way you've approached the text and music? 
Though the characters do not look as if they are living in a Biblical time, we haven't changed the lyrics or music in any way. Finding modern day parallels to the stories in the Bible has been quite interesting, and incorporating modern day behavior (use of cell phones and technology for example) has been very exciting. Anyone and everyone can be a celebrity these days. We are living in an age of social media where we "share" everything that we do whether it is through a photo, video or status update. As we have rehearsed with this modern day approach in mind, we discovered that while many things have changed since the time of Christ, many things also remain the same.

How do you think the audience will react to the departure from the classic 1970s-era depiction of JCS
I think it may surprise some people. There may be expectations of Jesus having long hair and wearing a white tunic. Instead he has short hair and wears blue jeans. But once they get past the visual surprise, I think they will find that the story, the purity of these characters and this amazing rock score remains fully intact. I can't wait for the work of this amazing cast and production team to be introduced to audiences. 

You can see the Omaha Community Playhouse’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, running March 6–April 4, 2015 (no performance on Easter, April 5); Wednesday–Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students. To purchase tickets, or for more information, call (402) 553-0800 or click here.

Story by Noah Diaz

Who will drive away with the American dream?

The Hands on a Hardbody competition is right around the corner, and we here at the Floyd King Nissan dealership in Longview, TX couldn’t be more dog gone excited! The rules of the competition are simple: don’t take your hand off the truck. The last man – or woman – standing will drive away with a new pickup truck. Or as we like to call it…the American dream. A Nissan Hardbody would be a valuable addition to any Texan’s life. We asked a few of the selected contestants what they plan to do with that shiny new Hardbody if they win.

Rebecca Noble as
Norma Valverde
Norma Valverde
About Norma: I have an associate's degree and work as a paraprofessional at Longview Elementary. My goal is to go back to school and get my teaching degree so that I can teach 3rd grade. I am married to Ramon, who came to this country as a teenager. We have four children, ages 14, 12, 10 and 8. We struggle financially, but I know that God will always take care of us and will provide for us. We laugh a lot as a family and, though we do not have a lot of material goods, we have a wonderful time together! We attend the Missionary Baptist Church in Longview. It is my family church where I was baptized and all my children were baptized. Ramon was raised in the Catholic Church, but he now attends Missionary Baptist.

Why are you competing for this truck, Norma?
We have a very old Chevy Blazer that does not always start. Ramon lost his job about three months ago, and it has been difficult for him to go out and look for a new job without a working car. This truck would enable Ramon to go out and get a job, and that would help our family immensely.

Michael Castillo as
Jesus Peña
Jesus Peña
About Jesus: I was born in Loredo, TX - American by birth.

Why are you competing for this truck, Jesus?
The truck is nice and all, but I honestly want the truck so I can sell it. I'm trying to get in Veterinarian school and grants only pay for so much. If I win then I am guaranteed to enroll in Texas A&M. My future rides on this contest.

Janis Curtis
About Janis: Me and my husband Don have six kids, almost grown and out of the house–Whew! The fights for the bathroom–Hoo doggie!

Why are you competing for this truck, Janis?
I will win this truck because believe you me I finish what I start! I think I will look real pretty in this red beauty and then we can have the kids fight over the junker we currently have. Don will be my support crew and has promised that he will be there to see me to the end. He is real handy and is looking for work pretty much anywhere! So someone hire him as he is a good man and a hard worker. He is my rock. I look forward to a clean, fair contest. I can't stand cheaters.

Megan Ingram as Heather Stovall
Heather Stovall
About Heather: I'm currently working as a hostess/waitress at the Rib Shack. I grew up in Longview, TX and only moved away for a short bit to go to college, but I came right back!

Why are you competing for this truck, Heather?
I don't have a car of my own, so I have to ride my bike anywhere I want to go. I want the freedom the truck will give me. I never want to ride my damn bike ever again! Nothing will be able to hold me back from doing what I want, when I want.

Chris Ebke as Chris Alvaro
Chris Alvaro
About Chris: I grew up here and went to Longview High School. Right after graduation, I joined the United States Marine Corps. I trained at the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California. After graduation I moved back to Texas and met and married my wife, Mia. I was called to duty for the Afghanistan Civil War. I left Mia, pregnant with our son Cole, and served my country. After three years I am back, and trying to figure out my life after the military.

Why are you competing for this truck, Chris?
I need a distraction. The USMC strained my relationship with Mia, and I came home to a son who doesn't know me. The thoughts of war are still fresh in mind and Mia will never understand what it did to me. I'm hoping I can use this opportunity to gain clarity on how to become a better man, husband, and, most importantly, father to Cole. He deserves the best I can give, after I haven't been there for him early on. I hope to use the truck as reliable transportation for my job (whatever that may be) and spending more quality time with Mia and Cole to build a solid family.

Do you want to cheer on your favorite contestant? Tickets for Hands on a Hardbody (Feb. 13-March 22, 2015) are available by calling (402) 553-0800, visiting the OCP Box Office or by clicking here. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets are $30 for adults and $20 for students. If you visit the Box Office after noon the day of the show, tickets are half price.

Local Generosity Brings Improvements to OCP

The Omaha Community Playhouse may be 90 years old, but it is anything but dated. Examples can be found in the constant change and innovation to our facility. If you visited recently for A Christmas Carol or Yesterday & Today, you may have noticed there is a new entrance/exit between our Scott Lobby outside the Howard and Rhonda Hawks Mainstage Theatre and the Drew Foundation Plaza.
OCP's Scott Lobby with the new doors to the Drew Foundation Plaza
In 2004, OCP opened the beautiful Drew Foundation Plaza, and to date, the most frequent comment when patrons see the Plaza is, “Wow, I had no idea this was here.” While the Plaza was designed to intentionally provide shelter from the noise and traffic of Cass Street, its lack of visibility both from outside and within OCP has served as a barrier to its use. Not only have we created a more visible doorway but this project has also transformed the Drew Foundation Plaza into a place for our patrons and our community to gather and connect with one another, provide a space for pre- and post-show events and act as an additional exit for patrons in case of emergency.

OCP is thankful for the generosity of Marshall and Mona Faith, who made this project possible. Enjoy the Plaza!

Little Women, the musical cast and crew relate to the characters

Little Women is a classic tale that has impacted many including the cast and production members of the Omaha Community Playhouse’s upcoming musical production. Those involved with the production discovered similarities with the characters, found friends in the novel and felt the bond of sisterhood as strongly as the March sisters.

I read ‘Little Women’ growing up and have always loved it! It is such a classic story, and I continue to be inspired by it. I have always related to Amy (the character that I am playing) because I am the youngest in my family (I have two older brothers). I definitely understand her feelings of being left out and always following in the footsteps of her older siblings. I wanted to be a part of this production because I am thrilled to FINALLY have some "on-stage" sisters.” – Jen Morris (Amy March)


Back row: Leanne Hill Carlson as Meg and Hilary Williams as Jo (stand in); Front row: Jen Morris as Amy, Camille Metoyer Moten as Marmee and Carly Schneider as Beth
I read the book as a child, followed by reading ‘Little Men.’ I loved the book. It was very endearing and at the time, seemed like a young girl’s best friend. I did watch the movie, the 1949 version. It made those wonderful characters seem like real sisters, real friends, filling my teenage mind at the time with long lasting friendships. It’s a lovely production that takes you back to your childhood: a life of innocence and the dreams of being an adult, let alone taking you back to a romantic time period that most of us wish we could visit." – Lara Marsh (Nebraska Theatre Caravan company manager)

L-R: Jen Morris as Amy, Hilary Williams as Jo (stand in), Tim Abou-Nasr as Laurie, Leanne Hill Carlson as Meg and Carly Schneider as Beth
 I have been a voracious reader since I first began to string together sentences with ‘Dick and Jane.’ ‘Little Women’ was a beloved stop on my journey with books. I've read it dozens of times over the years identifying with a different character as I grew, but never falling less in love with the words. I had the paper dolls; I watched the old film version with my grandmother; and my love affair with the book will never end. My favorite connection to Little Women, however, is the relationship I have with my own little sister. We are extremely close; not your ordinary loving sister relationship. When people ask me about my sister, for years the only way I've been able to give justice to the way I feel about our special bond is to say, ‘We are the March sisters. Courtney is my Beth!’ The first time I listened to the musical soundtrack, I came across the song ‘Some Things are Meant to Be.’ It instantly became one of my favorite musical theatre songs, always ending in a tearful, 'I love you so much!' call with my Courtney. I was so tickled to be cast as Beth in the OCP production; I have the best inspiration a girl could ask for in my baby sister!” – Carly Schneider (Beth March)

I tried to read ['Little Women'} when I was young, but got impatient. About a year later, I saw part of the movie on cable - the really sad part. My best friend growing up had died of Leukemia just a few months earlier, and watching the sisters grieve like that was just too much for a fifth grader. It was years before I was even vaguely interested in the story again, but I've always loved historical fiction. And I'd had a thing for Christian Bale ever since Newsies, so some time in high school, I gave it a second chance, and I loved it! I'm so looking forward to another opportunity to engage with this great story of love, family, independence, and of course, passion of language.” – Suzanne Withem (stage manager)

See the musical Little Women at the Omaha Community Playhouse Jan. 23-Feb.22, Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For groups of 12 or more, tickets for adults are $30 and tickets for students are $20. To purchase tickets or for more information, call (402) 553-0800, click here or visit the Box Office located in the southeast corner of the Omaha Community Playhouse at 6915 Cass St.

Story by Madison Denkinger