Of Age

Playhouse’s ‘21 & Over’ showcases fun and talent

As Emily Litella always said on SNL, “Nev-er mind.” Forget my recent claim that Billy McGuigan offers the most fun to be had at the Omaha Community Playhouse. That was before three dozen of us survived Live Karaoke Broadway Night. Never mind “survived” either. For others, the fun didn’t pose much imminent danger. But when you’re used to reviewing performances at the Playhouse, and you’re sitting in the lobby facing a starry sculpture flanked by two golden staircases climbing to the balcony, and you’re attending your first “21 & Over” evening (“21st Century Plays for a 21st Century Audience”) in those hallowed halls, here’s the problem: Music director Jim Boggess, playing the cheery host and piano man, urged us to “be as supportive as possible” of the vocalists because “they’re taking a risk.” Earlier, somebody — maybe one of the Playhouse talents assembled — asked if I was reviewing. “No,” but what if some sang so badly that one wanted to go screaming into the Cass Street night? And what’s the risk if we’re all so supportive? Never mind. First brave risk-taker was Lindsey Ketteler who works at a place most of us can’t afford, Fleming’s Steakhouse. Boggess applauded her willingness to start things off, but then upped the risk factor by announcing that she’d sing “Crazy,” a song long stamped on our hearts by Patsy Cline. As the song says, “Worry, why do I let myself worry?” Lindsey did Patsy proud. Boggess exclaimed, “Oh, my God!” and asked her for a second song. And so it went for the most part. Every time you heard a number that seemed to be the best of the night, another topped it. Some innocent stepped up, a blank slate to many of us, and jaws dropped. Someone more familiar as actor than vocalist stepped up to the mic and we said, “Who knew?” It was a little puzzling that Beth Thompson dragged Noah Diaz out to help her with “When you’re good to mama, mama’s good to you,” the prison matron’s song from Chicago. My guess: Beth, a University of Nebraska at Omaha student and directing intern with Amy Lane, Playhouse director in residence who runs “21 and Over,” was probably persuaded to step up early when it looked like they might be short on singers. Never mind. Don’t worry. You can’t be short on talent when theater types get a chance to shine. Not when the likes of Carlson, Sindelar, Bill Grennan, Cathy Hirsch, Amanda Miller and Tim Abou-Nasr are in the house. And, as good as they were, others seemed even better, thanks to the unexpected. Boggess was enthusing for the rest of us when he’d simply say, “Wow!” as we cheered and applauded. Maybe the biggest surprise came when Sam Swerczek, looking plain enough in denim, confessed to Boggess that he was an education major at UNL and promised to sing “I’ll Be There” from The Pirate Queen. Jim joked about being called that himself, especially wearing his black jacket covered with skulls. Then he heard Sam sing and we all joined him in wow and double-wow. I was pretty sure earlier that Amanda Miller was going to be my favorite with one of her own creations that spoofs the clichés of selling a song — “I show my vocal moves,” withholding the show-stopper, “now here it comes, I’m gonna belt a high C.” And for a time it seemed you couldn’t do better than Bill Grennan and David Ebke on the R-rated “Pretty Sweet Day” from Edges, which is far better than you’d think from learning that it rhymes “words” with “rainbow-colored turds.” I’m not sure what it is about this setting, but Theresa Sindelar singing, “It’s a Privilege to Pee,” from Urinetown seemed funnier than it originally did in context. But don’t complain that Live Karaoke got down and dirty when it far more often soared to the lobby ceiling. It wasn’t just such professional warbling as Bailey Carlson repeating her “Fool’s Fall in Love” from All Shook Up last season. It was Joey Galda, a young talent I’d seen act but not heard sing, doing a touching treatment of “If I Told You Now.” Or tall, bald Tom Simons, by day the education director for the Children’s Museum, delivering a powerful version of “A New Life” from Jekyll and Hyde. And I’ve still failed to mention other highlights because they came as no surprise from proven performers. Video of this show is at youtube.com/watch?v=1E-NiV8gQ34. Visit omahaplayhouse.com/specialevents for the “21 & Over” schedule.

posted at 08:47 pm
on Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

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