Tag Archives: James Larson

Stephanie Kurtzuba

August 8, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Stage and screen actress Stephanie Kurtzuba has graced Hollywood red carpets and Broadway billboards, but she is most comfortable at her family’s West Lanes Bowling Center in her hometown of Omaha.

The Central High School graduate’s maternal grandparents, Tony and Nellie Pirruccello, built the place at 151 N. 72nd St. Her late mother, Connie Pirruccello, had grown up there in the 1950s. Stephanie, a co-owner with her father, Ray Kurtzuba, spent countless hours at the bowling alley as a stage-struck kid. It’s now a favorite hangout for her two boys when they visit from New York City.

“I remember running up and down the concourse practicing cartwheels and using the dance floor in the lounge after school to rehearse my dance recital numbers,” recalls Stephanie, who displayed her cartwheel moves in the 2014 movie Annie. “It was a second home to me and now my children. My boys only get to visit about once a year, so when they do, they eat it up.”

Stephanie’s mom encouraged her to perform in Omaha Show Wagon. Her breakout came in Oliver at the Music Hall. She performed at the then-Emmy Gifford Children’s Theater (now The Rose) as well as the Firehouse and Upstairs dinner theaters. When the original Broadway Annie became a sensation, she sang its anthems around the house. Stephanie says, “It’s the ultimate irony” that three decades later she played Mrs. Kovacevic in the movie.

A local choreographer planted the seed that she had the chops to pursue a professional acting career. But talent only takes you so far. The rest is desire and discipline.

“It’s almost like what some people would call a calling. But it’s almost like there’s nothing else I can or want to do with my time and energies than pursue this, and that’s a real motivator.”

Her theater passion may not have gone far without tragedy befalling her biggest champion.

“If I had not lost my mother when I did, I don’t know that my choices would have been the same in terms of following my dream. We were so incredibly close, my mother and I. When everything went down with her health, it became very clear to me in a very short amount of time, tomorrow isn’t promised to anyone. Losing her rocked my foundation, my very being, but it taught me some really valuable lessons about carpe diem.”

Stephanie won a full-ride to Drake University but got cold feet being so far from home. She briefly attended the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. With her mom gone, she resolved it was now-or-never. She prepared an audition with help from The Rose’s James Larson and got accepted to NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Off-Broadway and regional theater parts honed her craft.

“My goal has always been to be a working actor.”

Her credits include Broadway’s The Boy from Oz, Mary Poppins, and Billy Elliott; the feature films Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close and The Wolf of Wall Street; and TV’s The Good Wife.

She hopes one day to perform again where it all started.

“The Emmy Gifford was so seminal in my development as a young artist. I loved it deeply. I still remember the smell of the place. It was home. It would be singularly fulfilling to be able to come back and rejoin the Omaha arts community. That would be some deeply felt, full-circle kinda stuff right there.”

Meanwhile, she’s found a new love: producing. She has several projects in the works. She’s also developing a TV series set in Omaha, which is loosely based on her life, for local Syncretic Entertainment. The pilot is due to shoot here in the fall. They look to put local talent to work. Paying it forward.

“It’s my passion project. I love it so much.” 

To learn more, visit stephaniekurtzuba.com. Omaha Magazine


From Stage to Page

October 6, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

After 28 years directing one of the nation’s top youth theaters, James Larson knows how cats talk. They tend to be a bit snooty. They certainly like to think they’re smarter than your average talking dog.

So shifting to writing children’s literature after decades directing the Omaha Theater Company for Young People at The Rose wasn’t that big of a leap, Larson says. Especially since Larson also has written stage adaptions for some of America’s most beloved children’s books.

“Writing fiction is quite a bit of fun,” says Larson, who adapted, among others, The Little Engine That Could and Mercer Mayer’s There’s an Alligator Under My Bed for national tours. “I’m usually limited to the space on a stage. In a book, nothing limits your imagination. I can have rocket ships blasting off to the moon. Pigeons can talk. It’s liberating.”

It’s a pleasure to witness that imagination unbound. His new book, “A” is for The Alchemist is a pure joy, a book seemingly written by a seasoned literary veteran rather than a first-time novelist.

“A” is for The Alchemist, a tale of a brother and sister (Winnie and Winslow) and their cat and dog pitted against a mad scientist, has exactly what fans of the Theater Company would expect from Larson: Vivid, fun, young characters, dastardly antagonists, a frolicking adventure and, yes, some lovable and pitch-perfect animal characters.

While Larson may have been steeped in the storytelling art, he did struggle with some of the novel demands of writing literature. For one, when you have 255 pages of story, you have a lot more story to tell. That means more backstory. Much more than in stories for the stage, Larson had to get to know everything possible about his characters and the landscape in which they live.

“To make them come alive, you have to know these characters so well,” he says. “I’ve written so much just in the process of getting to know them and trying to get to understand the craft. While some things about writing may be easier because of my profession, in some ways, writing this book is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”

One of Larson’s longtime collaborators, Mark Medoff, winner of both the Tony Award and Olivier Award for his play Children of a Lesser God, effused about his friend’s skill at storytelling. Larson and Medoff have collaborated on several productions over the years. Medoff says he’s excited to see Larson try his hand at fiction.
“James became one of my heroes,” Medoff says. “He is such a talented artist and humble and generous human being that it’s not shocking he made the Omaha Children’s Theater into an international success.

“I so look forward to reading his book—and my grandchildren reading his book,” he says. “I know it will enhance my respect for…this dear and unique man.”

The book is already beginning to garner significant positive reviews.

Kirkus Reviews wrote that Larson “has written a well-paced story with all the ingredients to keep kids enthralled.” A Clarion Review piece said the book “is a promising start to Larson’s new series, which will appeal to children and young adults seeking an action-packed novel with some fantastic twists.”

Yes. Winnie and Winslow and their friends are scheduled for many more adventures, Larson says.

“I really like these characters, I really enjoy spending time with them and exploring their lives,” he says. “I honestly can see writing about them until I’m—I dunno—89 or so. That’s how much I care about them.”