Tag Archives: Carl Beck

Kimberly Faith Hickman

October 12, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Kimberly Faith Hickman isn’t a Christmas Carol rookie.

kimberlyfaithhickman3Before she took the reins as the Omaha Community Playhouse’s artistic director in June, she co-directed the Playhouse’s touring production of the 2015 show, and the year prior shadowed former artistic director Carl Beck and former associate artistic director Susan Baer Collins the last year they directed the touring production.

But the mainstage production? The one that is celebrating its 41st anniversary this year? The version those of us in Omaha know and love as the Playhouse’s time-honored tradition?

No, she hasn’t directed that one yet. But not to worry. Some familiar faces are coming back this year to pass along every little production detail to Hickman and the Playhouse’s associate director, Jeff Horger.

A Christmas Carol is simply too big of an undertaking for just one director. The transitions are complex, the technical effects are advanced, and the scenic elements are complicated—one director cannot be expected to successfully manage everything.

Just as Charles Jones, the Playhouse’s artistic director who created the production, passed along his knowledge of the production to his successors, Beck and Collins will pass along their knowledge to Hickman and Horger; so as A Christmas Carol continues into its fourth decade, nothing will be lost in translation.

“There are so many details Jeff and I just don’t know,” Hickman says. While she was involved with the touring production, the mainstage involves several more actors, as well as more complex design and technical elements. “Jeff and I are using this year as an opportunity to learn from Carl and Susie what those details are.”

For years, A Christmas Carol’s directing responsibilities have been split up among more than one director. And this year will be no different. Hickman will shadow Beck, who will direct the Scrooge, ghosts, and street scenes. Horger will shadow Collins, who will direct the party scenes and other various scenes. And local director Ablan Roblin, who has directed the Cratchit scenes in the past, will take on this role again.

“From a directing standpoint, it’s a very unique approach,” says Beck. “There is no one director who takes on the entire production.”

That’s because A Christmas Carol is simply too big of an undertaking for just one director. The transitions are complex, the technical effects are advanced, and the scenic elements are complicated—one director cannot be expected to successfully manage everything. Splitting up the responsibilities helps ensure the original intent of every part of the production, from the music to the characters to the concept itself, will remain intact.

For example, the party scenes, which Collins will direct, involve several people, all of whom are responsible for specific movements. But all of the little events within the scene aren’t necessarily in the script, Collins says. So a new director would have no idea how to incorporate everything by just looking at the script.

kimberlyfaithhickman2“You can’t just give someone a bunch of notes for this,” says Collins. “They have to be in the room.”

That’s why Hickman and Horger will be in the room this year. They will be taking notes and documenting every detail each scene requires. So when members of the Omaha community come to see the Playhouse’s Christmas Carol next year and for years to come, they will see the production Jones originally created back in the 1970s—a production intended to “recreate what you want Christmas to be in your imagination,” says Collins.

“I’m honored to be a part of this tradition,” says Hickman, “I’m honored that Carl and Susie trust us to be part of this tradition, and I’m also looking forward to having the Omaha community be a part of it.”

Visit omahaplayhouse.com for more information. Omaha

Hilary Adams

January 8, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Tenures among key leadership positions at the Omaha Community Playhouse often span decades. It’s perhaps one of the main reasons that the largest community playhouse in America has earned its reputation as a treasured arts organization for generations of Omahans
and beyond.

When they retired last year, Artistic Director Carl Beck and Associate Artistic Director Susan Baer Collins had racked up a combined 60 years of service.

Big shoes to fill, indeed.

“I needed a map to visualize where Omaha was as I prepared to visit for my interview,” says new Artistic Director Hilary Adams, who had honed her craft in New York for the past 18 years. “My first impression of the community was how very supportive everyone was…not just with me, but how broadly the arts are supported in this city across the board. It was huge. Astonishing. I learned very quickly that people know how to practice and support the arts here.”

Adams, a graduate of City University of New York, was a 2004 Drama Desk Award nominee for Outstanding Director of a Play for the Works Productions staging of Moby Dick.

“What’s so exciting to me about being here,” Adams adds, “is to show what community theater can do, what it can be. We are losing our ‘front porches’ in America. We are losing our connectedness. Theater and the other arts have the power to rebuild communities, to restore that connectedness.”

Adams made her Playhouse debut last fall directing the comedy The Drowsy Chaperone, which starred popular radio personality and actor Dave Wingert.

“She’s just amazing,” says Wingert. “She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it out of an actor.”

But not everyone, it would seem, is thrilled with Adams new gig.

“I need one of her back here in New York,” David Henry Hwang jokingly lamented in a recent telephone interview. Adams has acted as an assistant for the Tony Award-winning playwright, librettist, and screenwriter. “She’s smart. She’s talented. She’s energetic. Hilary is going to have a major impact on American theater…not just Omaha Theater, but American theater.”

As a child growing up in northern Virginia, Adams’ family made frequent trips to New York. “The TKTS booth in Times Square was one of my favorite places on earth. When I stood there in line for tickets to a show, I could hardly bear it…the anticipation.” Not the long wait for tickets, she adds, but the wait to see some magic on stage later that evening.

Now Adams is delivering her own special blend of stage magic at the venerable arts institution on Omaha’s Henry Fonda Drive, 1,250 miles west of her beloved TKTS tent and the Great White Way.

Red-Redder-Reddest

September 26, 2013 by
Photography by Omaha Community Playhouse

Just as in a certain M. Night Shyamalan “I see dead people” film, the color red is used almost as code in the Omaha Community Playhouse blockbuster production of the much-anticipated Les Misérables.

Early scenes are an ocean of jute-hued tatters in the musical based on Victor Hugo’s 1862 novel—the one about the most famous loaf of bread in all of literature—before a riotous red-redder-reddest bloom of rebellion explodes amid flaming vermillion muzzle flashes against the backdrop of a crimson flag soaked in the blood of martyrs as the curtain comes crashing down on the first act.

It’s enough to leave you breathless, but you won’t have to wait for the penultimate scene before intermission to be awestruck. Timothy Shew has played the can’t-catch-a-break ex-con lead as Jean Valjean 1,600 times, most of them on Broadway, and he knows every nuance of his character. Shew soars in such memorable numbers as “Bring Him Home,” “What Have I Done?”, and “Who Am I?”

Savvy theatregoers may have wondered if casting the seasoned veteran against mere community theatre mortals may have set up a catch-22 situation, where the contrast between talents was simply too great. Hold on a sec. Guilty of employing a non sequitur just now. After all, savvy Omaha theatregoers will not be the least surprised to learn that an Omaha Community Playhouse ensemble can hold their own and so much more on this, the city’s greatest of stages.

To punctuate the point of “top-to-bottom” professionalism, let’s start at…well, not exactly the bottom but a smallish role.

If stealing scenes were a felony, Megan McGuire would be doing a life stretch in Sing Sing Prison. She plays the bosomy, bawdy innkeeper’s wife. When paired against her polar opposite, the reedy and angular—and (sigh) seldom seen—Cork Ramer, their hilariously show-stopping antics of avarice and skullduggery become worth the price of a ticket alone.

Speaking of show-stoppers in this epic that spans three decades of early 19th century Paris, word on the street is that—just as this reviewer found on opening night—one of the loudest ovations in a show chock full of them is directed at Abigael Stewart, whose jilted character, Eponine, resolves herself to a life of being “On My Own.”

Stewart, when joined by Jennifer Tritz’s piercing soprano (the charming adult Cosette) and Joseph O’Connor’s lush tenor (the dashing guerrilla warrior, Marius) you’re in for a romantic, melt-in-your-seat moment, even as you come to realize that “A Heart Full of Love” carries a dread sense of foreboding for one member of this most lilting of romantic triangles.

Other favorites include Joseph Dignoti as Inspector Javert, the tenacious cop with a stomach-rumbling baritone, who obsesses about the aforementioned loaf of bread before making the most dramatic of exits (gravity, the river Seine).

This monumental effort is sure to be remembered as the most fitting of swan songs for outgoing Omaha Community Playhouse legends, associate artistic director Susan Baer Collins, who directs Les Miz, and artistic director Carl Beck, who this time works as assistant director. But it doesn’t mean that this production is not without a couple of curiosities. The turntable installed for this show works to great éclat in many scenes, especially the famous barricade battle. Am I alone in thinking that, in others, it seems to perhaps try a bit too hard in the sense of “We’ve built this darn thing, now how the heck can we use it?”

My biggest pet peeve (my, reviewers can be picky!) centers on that iconic red flag. Perhaps I had set my expectations too high in hoping that the banner would be fashioned from acres of fabric, and that it would consume the entire fiery stage when unfurled, but the scale of the one waved here is just a bit…underwhelming.

No, I didn’t just use the word “underwhelming” in a review of such a wondrous achievement as the Omaha Community Playhouse production of Les Miz, did I? Nothing, even the grating idiosyncrasies of a finicky critic can detract from the magnificence that is Les Misérables.

Les Misérables runs through Oct. 27 at the Omaha Community Playhouse. For tickets and additional information, visit omahaplayhouse.com or call 402-553-0800.

David Williams, the recently named managing editor of Omaha Publications, has written hundreds of performing arts reviews for a number of area publications and formerly served on the board of the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards.