Guest Blog: Daena Schweiger on The Producers

Rhetoric does not get you anywhere, because Hitler and Mussolini are just as good at rhetoric. But if you can bring these people down with comedy, they stand no chance – Mel Brooks

I remember the first time I saw (and fell in love with) the original movie The Producers starring Zero Mostel and Gene Wilder. It was a Saturday afternoon. It was shown on regular television as filler until some sports programming began later that day.  I was surprised it was being shown. I knew the plot: two men scheming to bilk elderly, amorous women out of their money by producing a certified flop (a feel good musical titled “Springtime for Hitler” **) guaranteed to close the first week.  It sounded hilarious. It also didn’t sound like something that would appear on regular television, even if it was a Saturday afternoon. It didn’t matter. They ran it, I watched it, and hummed the music to “Springtime for Hitler” the entire next week.  It quickly became one of my favorite Mel Brooks films. Young Frankenstein is still number 1.

**Fun Fact:  I know one of the uncredited dancers in the “Springtime for Hitler” musical number in the movie (I worked with her when she did guest directing stints for Opera Omaha in the mid-nineties).

Years later the second incarnation of The Producers, in musical form, took Broadway by storm and was a smashing success for stars Nathan Lane (Max) and Matthew Broderick (Leo). The third incarnation of The Producers came a few years after the Broadway run. The wildly successful musical took it’s talents to the big screen, and took Mr. Lane and Mr. Broderick with it for the ride.  I did not see this movie, and that’s okay.  Full disclosure – I’m not a fan of movies turning into musicals and then being filmed as a movie musical. As if the original, non-singing movie, doesn’t exist!  (My friend who attended the OCP preview night with me said she was not impressed with the Lane / Broderick movie, but had seen the Broadway tour when it came to Omaha a few years back and was eager to see how OCP tackled some scenes).

The musical, I am happy to report, is every bit as funny as the original movie, and in some places, is even more funny than the original film. The invited audience on Thursday reacted as I did – doubled over with laughter from the moment the curtain rose.  The humor of Mel Brooks, I think, is timeless – the jokes don’t feel dated to me even if some of the setups are familiar. 

Of course, it helps to have a solid understanding of comedy, and more importantly, comedic timing.  Jeff Horger (stage director) has assembled an outstanding cast that is more than up to the challenge.  Leading the way are two Playhouse veterans and audience favorites – Jim McKain as Max Bialystock and Steve Krambeck as Leo Bloom.  They are surrounded by a supporting cast that shines as brightly as the aforementioned leads.  Mike Palmreuter, as the Nazi playwright Franz Liebkind, and Zach Kloppenborg, as Carmen Guia, are worth the price of admission. Also worth the price of admission?  The dancing pigeons. Yes, you read that right. Dancing pigeons.  I haven’t laughed as hard as I did during the song “Der Guten Tag Hop-Clop” in a long time.  A big shout out to Darin Kuehler for that bit of props magic. 

Speaking of the artistic team – once again Jim Othuse has provided a sensible, practical set that takes us from Max’s run down, seedy office to outside the Shubert theatre, a rehearsal hall, and a prison. Scene changes were flawless and fast.  Melanie Walters provided outstanding choreography, in particular the Act I finale and, of course, “Springtime for Hitler” in Act II.  Amanda Fehlner’s costumes were imaginative and fun. And Jim Boggess and his talented musicians in the pit kept nice tempos and pacing throughout.


As an audience member you would be hard pressed to find a flaw in the production. There was no weak link in the cast, crew, or artistic staff.  One of the most highly anticipated musicals in Omaha in years will not disappoint you. They say laughter is the best medicine, and as Mel himself stated, “If you bring these people down with comedy they stand no chance.” None of us stood a chance on preview night. We were all felled by laughter.  In fact, it left us breathless. And humming its signature song.


Daena Schweiger is a local director and playwright. She also serves as a board member for SNAP! Productions.

Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

 

An Opinion of Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods

By Camille Metoyer Moten and Lanette Metoyer Moore

One of the most important aspects to theater, in our opinion, is not just entertainment, but enlightenment as well.  When a play or musical can not only transport you from your world but also educate, something special has been accomplished.

From the moment the lights cast a soft glow on the character Gabriel in Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods, we were all in.  The softly spoken, smiling young man slicing papaya (with a machete) intrigued us as he began to make parallels between the fruit and the sun and his philosophy of hope.  Yet his underlying umbrage cast its shadow as the scene ended and the play began its course.

Lara Marsh’s exceptional direction gave us a strong story that raised many questions relevant to who we are and where we are in America.  This story of a young Sudanese refugee, Gabriel, gently unfolds and gives us much to think about.  Gabriel had escaped from the violence and war in his home country at the age of six.  Separated from his family and with hardships unimaginable for us, he eventually finds his way to Pittsburgh where he works joyfully in a Whole Foods store. 

Christine, a newly divorced mother with a difficult teenage daughter, comes to befriend Gabriel and like many of us…has a desire to help him.  This play makes us ask ourselves so many questions.  What is charity anyway?  When you help someone how far do you go?  Do you help until the help is no longer needed?  Or until you no longer have time for that?  Is help “throwing money” at a project?  Or is it understanding, for example, that anyone undergoing this type of horrific experience as a child will need so much more for a long time?

Where does the resentment in our country come from regarding refugees, this country that was formed from refugees?  For some African Americans it has to do with help for Africans but little help for the ones that help to build this country and still wallow in poverty and discrimination.  Or it could be the fear of jobs and a piece of the American Pie getting smaller for those of privilege?  These are the questions we must answer.

The beautifully designed set mirrors everything from a store to a home to an office and to a desert.  Is that carpet?  Is that sand?  Once again OCP has conceived a creative yet practical use of this space.

Justice Jamal Jones is perfect as the young Gabriel, his smile is fetching and his fear and anger are credibly portrayed.  You truly feel for this character.  We are anxious to see him in more productions. Christine, played by Julie Fitzgerald Ryan, does an excellent job of playing the divorced mother that raises these questions through the course of the play.  Her take on Christine is strong.  Victoria Luther is very good at being a confused, bratty, self-absorbed teenager that learns life lessons very well.  Anthony Holmes as Gabriel’s Sudanese friend shows us a powerful performance as a strong, somewhat disturbed, passionate man.  Rusheaá Smith-Turner gives us a bright spot in a play that is wracked with true emotion.  Her portrayal of an all knowing, manipulative yet in-your-face social worker is very convincing.  Mark Kocsis, as Michael Dolan, also gave us an honest performance as a frustrated social worker that sees the futility of continuing this work.

We highly recommend Lost Boy Found in Whole Foods to those who love a thought provoking presentation and live to challenge themselves.


City of Angels



City of Angels: A Sexy, Film Noir-Style Story
When Hollywood calls to offer New York novelist Stine the opportunity to adapt his books into a film for the big screen, he packs up and moves to the home of sunsets, palm trees and stars. The story switches between the world of Hollywood and Stine’s in-progress script. While Stine’s movie plays out in black and white, Stine finds the enticements of Los Angeles—women, nightlife and the artistic negotiations to his script—a little much. City of Angels is a combination of classic film noir, drama and comedy all rolled into one musical experience.

City Shadows and Cigarettes
City of Angels embraces the popular style of film noir in the story that Stine writes, but what exactly is film noir? French for “film of the night” or “dark film,” the cinematic term is used to identify stylish Hollywood crime dramas, a main aspect found in City of Angels. These films usually focus on cynical attitudes, the shadows of urban city life, sexual motivations and, last but not least, smoking cigarettes. Other popular themes found in film noir can include:
          •Neon signs
          •Scenes appear dark, as if lit for night, with many dark shadows
          •Rain-soaked streets
          •Trench coats, fedoras, and a classy style
  
Two Worlds in one Story
Not only does City of Angels create a classic film noir style set in the late 1940s, it also focuses on two different worlds: Stine’s reality behind the typewriter and his creation shown in black and white. Two stories play out on the stage, one fiction and one real, while the whole story is enhanced with glamourous 1940s jazz music that perfectly fits the overall ambiance of the show. Its gritty, sometimes cynical characters and the thin line between fiction and reality are combined with moments of comedy that really make City of Angels a unique performance.

City of Angels is on the Hawks Mainstage at the Omaha Community Playhouse March 4 – April 3, 2016. Single tickets are $40 for adults and $25 for students. For tickets, visit the OCP Box Office at 69th and Cass Street, call 402-553-0800 or click here.

Article by: TJ Moore (OCP Marketing Intern)

Caroline, or Change

http://www.omahaplayhouse.com/tickets/view/caroline-or-change/


CAROLINE, OR CHANGE

Rolling with Change


Caroline Thibodeaux is an African American maid for a white Jewish family, the Gellmans, spending her days in their basement doing the laundry for a small sum of $30 a week. The Gellmans' son, Noah, has a strong bond with Caroline who consoles him in the death of his mother.

Noah's new stepmother Rose, unable to give Caroline a raise, decides to teach Noah a lesson in the value of money. Noah has a habit of leaving change his pants pocket. Rose tells Noah and Caroline that Caroline should keep the money that Noah leaves in his pockets. Caroline is not fond of the idea but lacks money for her own children.


The lesson goes amiss when the ownership of a $20 bill is contested after it is found in the laundry, and Caroline's relationship with eight-year-old Noah is irreversibly shattered.


Change is not only prevalent in the form of money in Caroline’s life but in the sweep of historical change worldwide. Not only is the play set on November 23rd 1963, the day after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, but also many other historic events take place around this era in the middle of the civil rights movement.


• 1960, New Orleans, Louisiana
The federal government enforces school integration, and a majority of white students boycott the rest of the term.


• 1961, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
 Police disperse 1,500 civil rights protestors with attack dogs and tear gas.


• 1963, Washington, DC
Over 250,000 people join together at the Lincoln Memorial, making the March on Washington the largest protest in U.S. history. Martin Luther King, Jr. announces, “I Have a Dream.”


• 1963, United States
According to the Justice Department, in the 10 weeks before King's "I Have a Dream" speech, there were 758 demonstrations in 186 cities resulting in 14,733 arrests.


• 1963 is considered the defining year in the civil rights movement.

• March 17, 1965 Selma-Montgomery Alabama
Some 2,000 people, including both black and Jewish protesters, set out from Selma on March 21, protected by U.S. Army troops and Alabama National Guard that President Johnson had ordered. After walking nearly 12 hours a day and sleeping in fields along the way, they arrived in Montgomery on March 25, where nearly 50,000 civil rights supporters were waiting.

Caroline, or Change depicts the gripping feel of the civil rights movement through the eyes of a maid attempting to deal with the events unfolding around her, both in her personal life as well as in the world around her. 


Article by: TJ Moore (OCP Marketing Intern)


Tim's Story

Tim Schmad's Story

Wins, Losses and What He Wore


“Being a devoted Nebraska Cornhusker football fan, I, like many others, have enjoyed the five national championship teams. After the Huskers’ first championship in 1970, I purchased a “National Championship” T-Shirt. I was wearing it in 1971 when we won the title again. Then, the Huskers had a drought and did not capture a third title until 1994. Again, my trusty T-shirt from 1971 came out of the drawer to assist the team on to victory—finally—over Miami.

But, the 1995 championship was special. We absolutely clobbered Florida, 62–24. I can still see Tommie Frazier running over defender after defender (seven in all) to score on a 75-yard run. I thought I had seen it all. So, my friends and I thought that we would pay homage to this great season. My 1971 T-Shirt came off and was thrown into the fireplace! I still have the ashes in a jar on my office shelf.

Nebraska went on to win another championship in the 1998 Orange Bowl against Tennessee and Peyton Manning. We clobbered them! I believe the jar of ashes that we displayed by the TV had a lot to do with that victory.

You ask why the ashes have not had any magic in recent years? Well, I don’t know. But, Love, Loss and What I Wore sure brought back these memories.”

The cast of "Love, Loss and What I Wore" and the stories from their wardrobes





Charleen Willoughby

hunter green velvet dress

"A hunter green velvet dress I made myself for my senior prom. It was beautiful. I was so proud. My boyfriend drove a Toyota with no air-conditioner. It was June in Florida—hot and humid. The fancy restaurant where we had reservations was 40 minutes away. He opened my door and I got out and he stopped me, staring at the back of my dress. “What happened to your dress?,” he stammered. I looked behind me and I was mortified by what I saw. There, imprinted in the velvet, was the vinyl seat pattern from the car ride. You see, heat, pressure and moisture irrevocably flattens the velvet. The backs of my thighs AND my butt cheeks were perfectly imprinted in shiny splendor on the back of my dress. After dinner, I knelt on the car seat during the ride back to the dance, but it was already too late. I spent the entire evening dancing in the corner of the gym, trying to hide my back."


 

Judy Radcliff

silk dragonfly dress

"In May of 2005, my husband Cliff and I were both nominated for awards at the Omaha Community Playhouse Awards ceremony. I had recently lost weight and had NOTHING that fit that was remotely appropriate. I went shopping in my sister Mary’s closet with Cliff in tow. When I tried on this breathtakingly beautiful silk dragonfly dress, Cliff’s eyes lit up. Decision made. I rarely feel attractive, but that night I felt beautiful, especially so in the reflection of my husband’s eyes. A year later, my husband lost his life to cancer. Whenever I feel particularly average, I remember this evening, this dress and my husband’s love."


Sonia Keffer

bubble skirt party dress

New Year’s has long been my favorite holiday. When I was in college my friends and I decided to go out to celebrate. I talked my mother into making me a fancy party dress for one occasion. We shopped for the pattern and fabric together. I chose a deep green velvet for the bodice and a gorgeous dark red and green poppy covered print for the skirt. It was a satin that was a bubble skirt—it poofed out from my body. I topped it with rhinestone jewelry, another favorite. We went out for dinner and a party, it was wonderful. I felt elegant and beautiful.
 


Teri Fender

black and white saddle shoes

For as long as I can remember from my earliest days of childhood, I had always wanted a pair of black and white saddle shoes. I couldn’t say why then and still don’t really know now—I guess I’ve always just been drawn to the two-toned look of them. 

No matter how much I begged, plead or asked, my mother flat-out refused to let me have a pair. Her reasoning? She had had to wear them every day as a young girl, both because of her Catholic schooling and because it was the fifties, and she could simply not, would simply not bear to put her own daughter into what she saw as a punishment. 

So, when I became an adult, I, of course, bought my first pair of saddle shoes. They were easy to find, as swing dancing and jitterbugging had just come back into style. I loved them. I wore them until they fell apart and immediately replaced them—a cycle that continues to this day.

And now? Both my mother and I have pairs of black and white spectator flats in our closets. Guess you could say the love of two-tone is in my blood.

 

Caitlin Mabon 

...nothing special

“Material objects have never really held any sort of emotional significance for me. Don’t get me wrong, I like clothes and I like to feel good in clothes, but when it comes to important moments in my life they have never been particularly memorable. I can recall certain memories perfectly, but I couldn’t tell you what I was wearing or carrying on me at the time. The truth is, the moments themselves and being able to make memories is what’s important to me. Being able to afford to travel during the best and most freeing years of my life because I don’t invest a lot into my wardrobe (it was just how I was raised) is what’s special to me. I’ve been very lucky to see a lot of places and sure, I’ve bought some nice things during these trips—like the best pair of jeans I’ll probably ever own—but I can remember the smile on someone’s face during a conversation more than I can remember what shirt I had on. Clothes come and go from my life, which is fine with me. I’m still happy.”

Beertown Q&A

What to know before you see the show: details from the production's creators at dog & pony dc


The Story Behind Beertown’s Quinquennial:
Beertown’s Time Capsule was originally part of the opening celebration of Beertown’s newly built City Hall in 1895, to be unearthed 100 years later. Included was Aloysius P.  Thompson’s revolver, which he claimed he brought with him from New York. By 1904, it was suspected that the late Richard Thompson (Aloysius’ son) used the gun in the 1895 murder of Rhys Bramblethorpe’s chambermaid. The Time Capsule was unearthed and the gun fingerprinted in 1905; that same morning, Aloysius drowned himself in the Thakawaki River and fingerprinting confirmed Richard’s guilt. Aloysius’ suicide note replaced the gun in the capsule, which was then re-interred, as a reminder that history should occasionally be reexamined in order to better understand the truth. With the flood of 1908, the time capsule was again unearthed and repaired for water damage. Beertonians agreed the capsule’s contents should be re-examined every five years, in order to preserve the most accurate and complete spirit of Beertown. 1915 marked the first official Quinquennial celebration; 2015 marks the twentieth.

Wait: is Beertown a real place? Can I go visit?
Beertown is not a real town. When dog & pony dc created the town and its history, we plotted out pivotal moments in American history over the past 150 years and then developed the back-story of this small town and its inhabitants. The Thakawaki are a real native indigenous tribe; Kawanii of the Thakawaki is not. Events like New Beers Day are 100% real; though they seem made up. And, of course, McSorley’s Ale House is a New York institution, but two brewers named Bramblethorpe and Thompson never existed.

We created a website, VisitBeertown.com, which served as a repository for all the history we developed that never fit into the Beertown. It came out of our desire to surround the show with a “rich dramaturgical environment.” All the people, businesses and events were created based on research of small towns.

The Origins of Beertown...
In the summer of 2010, we were wrapping up two projects: Courage, a “NASCAR-punk, political theatre revival” adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Separated at Birth, a clown show exploring missed connections in public-transportation stations. Rachel (directing Courage and performing in SAB) and Wyckham (performing in Courage and directing SAB) frequently found themselves in conversation about the formation, preservation and deterioration of communities.

Around that same time, the company decided our next production should be creating through a consensus-based process. Topic and approach seemed perfectly in sync.

So in October 2010, an ensemble of 14 artists embarked on a devising journey starting with two books--Winesburg, OH by Sherwood Anderson and Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer--and the question “What does it mean to be American?” 16 months later, we premiered Beertown, having added three more artists to our community and expanded our sources of inspiration to include episodes of NPR’s Radiolab and This American Life, Studs Terkel interviews, WPA projects, Our Town, census data, and maps. Lots and lots of maps.

What is the balance of script to improv for Beertown?
Beertown is about 60% scripted. The script is a little over 40-pages long and “act two” consists of less than nine pages. (Half of which is the antecedent “Thesis Statement.”) Led by our “audience integration” principle, we want the audience to world-build and story-build Beertown with us. As a result, we can only script or plan ahead so much or it becomes disingenuous. Improv shows are traditionally created in front of an audience but not in partnership with them. d&pdc walks this fine line between scripted and improvised, and spends considerable time working on how to use the scripted parts to engage the audience in improv-scripting Beertown at every performance.

How complex is that?
Uh, it’s crazy detailed and ungainly. When we built the show, we hadn’t considered a life for it past 2011. The history and timeline was shaped around the quinquennial occurring every five years, starting in 1911 and occurring on the “1s and 6s.” We’ve had to alter history every calendar year since then, so the quinquennial occurred on the “2s and 7s” and the “3s and 8s,” and now occurs on the “4s and 9s.” It is vital to the success of the show, the ability to integrate audiences into Beertown, that it always take place in the present. It’s that first gesture of authenticity that starts their on-boarding to become Beertonians.

Do you have plants in the audience?
Nope. But it always seems to be the complete strangers accused of being shills, not spouses or friends of the family.

What happens if audience members make up new stories about Beertown? Do you ever keep them as permanent parts of the show?
Sometimes. Each performance is its own Beertown, its own unique community. We seek to world-build that community each night with the specific audience that’s there. But just as much as we fill in Beertown history as needed, so does the audience. More importantly, every show we learn from the audience new or nuanced ways of arguing for or against the artifacts. Similar points are raised show to show, but there’s always something special that comes out.

How much has Beertown changed from its first inception? Will the show ever be “done?”

Beertown’s catch phrase is “creating community and revising its history, nightly.” It would seem disingenuous if this was not 100% true. The show performed at Omaha Community Playhouse has material that hasn’t changed since we workshopped the show in June 2011. It also has material written by Omaha artists specifically for this production. We are rigorous in our craft and strive to have our work reflect our growing understanding of the art form and the world.