The best theater of 2015

By Betsie Freeman and Bob Fischbach, Omaha World-Herald 12.31.2015

Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 3.29.03 PMThis year, we were moved to tears and laughter. We were left thinking for days about complex topics and humming a classic showtune or two.

It was a banner year for Omaha-area theater.

 We called upon retired theater reviewer Bob Fischbach to help current reviewer Betsie Freeman to craft our list of the year’s best on stage.

10. “The Singularity,” Shelterbelt Theatre

You know a play has achieved at least one goal when it makes you think, and I thought about this one for a long time afterward. Its biting satire had me laughing at the same time I was examining the ethical and moral implications of one woman’s desperate quest to have a baby, thanks to director Elizabeth Thompson and actress MaryBeth Adams.

9. “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill,” Performing Artists Repertory Theatre

Tiffany White-Welchen, a gifted actress and singer, gave an amazing performance as blues singer Billie Holiday, who basically has an emotional breakdown over the course of one booze-soaked night. Director Gordon Cantiello’s new space at Crossroads Mall seemed to be made for the play.

8. “Man of La Mancha,” Omaha Community Playhouse

This musical, an old favorite, deserves a place on the list. The sets were spectacular, Cork Ramer was practically perfect as Don Quixote, and Jennifer Gilg, John E. Jones and Samantha Quintana were vocal standouts. A winner for director Hilary Adams.

7. “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” Ralston Community Theatre

Innovative staging and sets, fast footwork and some standout vocals made this summer musical sparkle. At one point, a couple characters even sang “Mammy” in authentic Mandarin. Director Todd Uhrmacher and music director Chris Ebke created fun for cast and audience alike.

6. “Beertown,” Omaha Community Playhouse

This play from dog & pony dc in the nation’s capital is interactive in the best sense of the word. Audience members become invested in the plot when they get to help Beertown decide what to keep in its time capsule, and the result was natural and organic theater. The local cast was great — featuring Christopher Scott, Kim Clark-Kaczmarek and Brennan Thomas, among others. By the end, it seemed like we were real neighbors.

5. “Gutenberg! The Musical,” The Candy Project

Director Randall Stevens cast two of Omaha’s most talented comedic actors, Dan Chevalier and Steve Krambeck, as amateur playwrights pitching their musical to producers. As the two enthusiastically played all the parts in their so-bad-it’s-hilarious show, audiences barely caught their breath between laughs.

4. “The Other Sewing Circle,” Shelterbelt Theatre

Omaha playwright Marie Amthor’s story of HIV-positive women who bond while quilting featured great character development and moving storytelling. Director Elizabeth Thompson’s strong all-women ensemble made the most of Amthor’s finely honed dialogue, creating a satisfying emotional arc.

3. “Calendar Girls,” SNAP Productions

Proof positive that ladies of a certain age retain real grrrl power. Audiences loved this funny and poignant story of Brit ladies who bond over a fund-raising calendar for which they pose semi-nude. Sally Neumann Scamfer and Sue Mullin led a true ensemble effort that earned peals of laughter and a few tears as well. Director Todd Brooks handled the nudie bits with tasteful discretion.

2. “Mary Poppins,” The Rose

The year’s best family musical brought the Rose well-deserved award nominations. Sue Gillespie Booton’s choreography, Adam Rowe’s scenic design, Sherri Geerdes’ costumes and Kyle Toth’s lighting design were all outstanding, while Leanne Hill Carlson charmed packed houses as the title character.

1. “Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Director Susan Clement-Toberer and a powerhouse cast made the theater’s last show in its 11th Street performance space an indelible memory for those lucky enough to get a seat. With Toberer’s innovative staging, Thornton Wilder’s ode to the beauty of everyday life soared. Great performances from Moira Mangiameli, Julie Huff, Nils Haaland, Kelsi Weston, Dennis Collins and more.

The next best

“Spamalot,” “Hands on a Hardbody” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” at the Playhouse.

“Bad Jews” and “Standing on Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays” at the Blue Barn.

“Cabaret” and “Sunday in the Park With George” at Creighton University.

“Prince Max’s Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior,” Great Plains Theatre Conference.

“The Secret Garden,” Chanticleer.

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