Big Stage News in 2012 Hits Later

Will Osage County Reveal Next OCP Director?

Both on stage and in the wings, 2012 was well-booked with big news and memorable performances. The best news? One dire prediction that didn’t come true.

I worried that the year’s most ironic moment would come if Chanticleer’s Happy Days musical turned out to be the unhappy end of the Council Bluffs theater’s long history. Fortunately, good citizens, including the Iowa West Foundation, came through for the financially-struggling company and the show goes on. You can help Jan. 11 or 12 when they stage another fund-raising cabaret featuring “Broadway to L.A.” tunes.

My safest prediction? That I’d overlook something big that was just over the horizon. It turned out that the opening of the Omaha Community Playhouse season with August: Osage County was the highlight not just of 2012 but of many seasons.  It knocked my socks off, so I apologize to Connie Lee and Paul Schneider who were sitting behind me and suffered socklessness.

Not that its success was a surprise after its reception at a 21 & Over staged reading with much of the same cast. Same goes for the comedic brilliance of an April hit at the Playhouse; you knew Carl Beck directing Anthony Clark-Kaczmarek in a Ken Ludwig play couldn’t fail, yet it seemed even funnier than earlier incarnations.

Nevertheless, I’ll still argue that the single most impressive comedic performance outside the cast of Osage County was Laura Marr’s pretentious Brit in the Willy Russell play One for the Road at the Circle Theatre.

Keep in mind, we’re looking at a calendar year and the awards people tend to look at seasons that run roughly from September to May.  That puts the August opening of Osage County at the end of last season instead of the start of this one, when it comes to the upcoming Omaha Arts and Entertainment awards.

So voters must cope with a cast chock-full of contenders, from Susie Baer Collins and Moira Mangiameli to director Amy Lane’s entire all-star lineup with the likes of Randy Vest and Kim Jubenville.

Sheer numbers of shows and the folks who see them give the Playhouse an advantage at awards time, but there’s no overlooking quality. If anything really surprised me, it was the actress who elevated herself most in my esteem, thanks to a pair of contrasting performances: Leanne Hill Carlson as Stella in A Streetcar Named Desire and in the title role of the Legally Blonde musical.

She’d done plenty of strong work, but just as Kirsten Kluver’s success as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls raised her bar, Carlson proved that the sky’s the limit for her talent.

Two of the biggest theater news stories of 2012 belong higher in this flashback except they won’t be fully realized until 2014. The joint announcement that Playhouse artistic director Beck and associate Collins will retire was less traumatic, given that they will stick around through 2013-14.

That provides ample time to put in perspective the contributions that began when they arrived with the Nebraska Theatre Caravan’s Twelfth Night in the late 1970s. Time will tell whether Amy Lane’s masterful direction of August: Osage County puts her ahead of the field that will try to follow Beck and Collins.

The other big story with delayed climax: The Blue Barn’s plans for a new theater also due in 2014. It’s part of a larger story of attracting audiences for cutting-edge theater and adding the philanthropic support necessary to pay staff.

Meanwhile, on a smaller scale, and without a clear solution to their search for a new home, Brigit St. Brigit continues to have comparable artistic success with classics, while offering first an exceptional Tartuffe and more recently an uproarious Twelfth Night at Joslyn Castle. They’ve added Delaney Driscoll and others to their support staff and have a workable temporary home at 1002 Dodge Street.

On the other side of the coin, the John Beasley Theatre has yet to open a play since last spring, after applauding the support received in a plea for help the year before. Maybe John’s acting career will slow down enough for him to get the Beasley going again.

Other Omahans have found success elsewhere, none more recently notable than Andy Rannels who left the Broadway hit musical, Book of Mormon, to land a network sitcom.  

SNAP! Productions and Shelterbelt stayed true to their missions at their shared space near 32nd and California, though it seems strange to see it dark in December without Christmas with the Crawfords. My favorite piece of news from one of Shelterbelt’s leaders, playwright Ellen Struve, came when the Playhouse added her Recommended Reading for Girls to the Howard Drew season.

I hope nobody has counted the times I’ve boosted this wonderful script in Cold Cream columns, but it’s the rare play that I feel comfortable recommending, not just for girls, but for absolutely everyone.

posted at 01:49 pm
on Thursday, December 20th, 2012

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