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Established in 2008, The Candy Project has specialized in bringing little-known works of musical theatre to Omaha. They are perhaps best known for their production of “[title of show]” for which they were awarded Outstanding Musical Production of the year (among other awards) by the Theatre Arts Guild of Omaha. Other past performances include “Gutenberg! The Musical!”, “I Love You Because”, “ROOMS: A Rock Romance” and “Homemade Fusion”. They are the recipients of multiple awards and nominations from the Theatre Arts Guild of Omaha and the Omaha Entertainment & Arts Awards.

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Missed Musicals Make Way for Song Cycle

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21 & Over Offers Another Winner

By Warren Francke, The Reader 05.13.2012

Robbie Burns told me there would be weeks like this when the best-laid plans of mice and men would fall victim to the unexpected. And some lesser mortal made the point that the show and the weekly column must go on.

The plan? Review Spring Awakening Thursday at the Blue Barn, then catch Happy Days at the Chanticleer Community Theater in Council Bluffs. Troubled teens, than back to the ‘50s, as the headline promised.

Well, a cast member’s illness knocked out the Thursday performance at the Barn, and instead of catching either musical on Friday, I caught a cold accompanied by a cough that would have ruined the evening for anyone near me. Same problem Saturday, exacerbated by the fact that the Barn didn’t schedule a Sunday performance.

The big beneficiary turned out to be Chanticleer which won a daily review on Saturday instead of the expected review of the Barn musical.

And Cold Cream prospects that would be been pushed aside for reviews of Spring Awakening  and Happy Days now make the column. For example, I’d felt some frustration that I wouldn’t have room to again celebrate the 21 and Over series at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

This time resident director Amy Lane turned the Howard Drew space over to Cathy Hirsch and her Candy Project for Homemade Fusion, a song cycle by Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond. I’m writing this on Mother’s Day and that may be the reason that I’m reminded of my mother’s regular amazement that performers could remember all those lines.

In this case, it was my amazement on hearing so many songs I’d never heard before and understanding all the lyrics first time around. Thanks to director-singer Hirsch and 10 other vocalists, all 15 songs, from the opening “I Will Be Me,” to the finale, came across lucidly, allowing full appreciation of both the art and the artists.

It’s a great mix of bawdy humor—especially “To Excess,” with Steve Krambeck as a cheerful stalker, and Homero Vela with the title tune about self-pleasuring, and just plain funny material such as Megan McGuire’s “Oh Henry!” and DeAnna Langabee’s “Random Black Girl.”  But the more dramatic songs, from Sam Hartley singing “Lucy’s Laugh” to Roderick Cotton’s “Walking Without You” made even greater impact.

The consistency of this series bodes well for its season finale, Passion Play by Sarah Ruhl on June 18.

Meanwhile, you have more chances to catch the Barn and Chanticleer musicals, and I’ll write about them later. But this Thursday at 8 p.m. will be your only chance to see Skullsketch the Musical, an Andrew McGreevy creation at the Pizza Shoppe in Benson.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.

‘Our Town,’ ‘I Hate Hamlet’ lead awards nominees

By Bob Fischbach, Omaha World-Herald 07.01.2015

The Blue Barn Theatre’s production of “Our Town” is a clear front-runner for the Theatre Arts Guild’s best-drama award, and the Omaha Community Playhouse’s “I Hate Hamlet” leads comedy nominees for the 2014-15 season.

The award nominations, announced Tuesday night, indicate a tight race for best musical, with four shows receiving 10 or more nods.

 Award winners, to be chosen in balloting this month by the guild’s nearly 400 members, will be announced at a gala Aug. 2.

The Playhouse’s “The Drowsy Chaperone” has a slim lead among musicals. Its 13 nominations include best musical, director and choreographer, along with eight acting nods and two in design categories.

“Spamalot,” also a Playhouse show, is close behind with 12 nods, including best musical, director, music director, choreographer, five for acting and three for design.

Creighton University Theatre’s “Cabaret” earned 11 nominations, including best musical, director, music director, choreographer, four for acting and three for design.

The Rose Theater’s “Mary Poppins” snagged 10 nominations: best musical, choreographer, five for acting and three for design.

The fifth best-musical nominee, The Candy Project’s “Gutenberg! the Musical!,” earned five nods, including for both actors, director and music director.

Among dramas, “Our Town” earned 10 nominations: best drama, director, six for acting and two for design. Other best-drama nominees include SNAP Productions’ “We Are Proud to Present …,” the Shelterbelt Theatre’s “The Other Sewing Circle” and the Playhouse’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” with four nods each, and the Blue Barn’s “Walk the Night” with one. The Playhouse’s “Enron” got six nods, though not for best drama.

“I Hate Hamlet” earned its favored comedy status with 10 nods: best comedy, director, five for acting and three for design. Other best-comedy nominees include three SNAP shows, “Calendar Girls” with five nods, “Vanya & Sonia & Masha & Spike” with three and “Harbor” with two. The Blue Barn’s “Bad Jews” also earned two nods.

Of the 147 total nominations in 29 categories, the Playhouse totaled 54, the Blue Barn 17, SNAP and the Rose 15 each and Creighton 11. The Playhouse and SNAP each have four best-show nominees.

The awards cover shows that opened from late June 2014 to mid-June 2015. TAG members chose nominees, and ballots were weighted by how many shows and theaters each voter attended.

Dan Chevalier wins Best Actor award for Gutenberg! The Musical!

The Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards were held on 01.10.2016. The Candy Project’s Production of Gutenberg! The Musical! Was nominated for Best Musical, Best Director (Randall T. Stevens), Best Music Director (Tim Vallier), and both Steve Krambeck & Dan Chevalier were nominated for Best Actor with Dan taking home the honor.

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Theater

Best musical: “Cabaret,” Creighton University

Best drama: “Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Best comedy: “I Hate Hamlet,” Omaha Community Playhouse

Best premier of a new, original, local script: “Prince Max’s Trewly Awful Trip to the Desolat Interior by Ellen Struve,” Great Plains Theatre Conference

Best director, play: Susan Clement-Toberer, “Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Best director, musical: Amy Lane, “Cabaret,” Creighton University

Best actor, play: Daniel Dorner, “An Illiad,” Brigit St. Brigit

Best actress, play: Kaitlyn McClincy, “Harbor,” SNAP Productions

Best actor, musical: Dan Chevalier, “Gutenberg! The Musical!” The Candy Project

Best actress, musical: Melanie Walters, “Spamalot,” Omaha Community Playhouse

Best supporting actor, play: Noah Diaz, “Harbor,” SNAP Productions

Best supporting actress, play: Julie Huff, “Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Best supporting actor, musical: Matthias Jeske, “Spamalot,” Omaha Community Playhouse

Best supporting actress, musical: Judy Radcliff, “Cabaret,” Creighton University

Best youth performer: Ryleigh Welsh, “Harbor,” SNAP Productions

Best dance production: “A Nightmare’s Holiday,” Creighton University

Best performance poet: Zedeka Poindexter

Best comedian: Rachel Ware

Best comedy ensemble: The Weisenheimers

Outstanding lighting design: Carol Wisner, “Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Outstanding prop design: Amy Reiner, “American Buffalo,” Blue Barn Theatre

Outstanding scenic design: Steven L. Williams, “Hedda Gabler,” UNO Theatre

Outstanding costume design: Sharon Sobel, “Freakshow,” UNO Theatre

Outstanding sound design: Martin Magnuson, “Our Town,” Blue Barn Theatre

Outstanding choreogrpaher: Melanie Walters, “Spamalot,” Omaha Community Playhouse

Outstanding featured dancer: Matthew Carter, “Giselle,” Ballet Nebraska

Outstanding music direction: Stephen Sheftz, “Cabaret,” Creighton University

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.

Review: Comedy is howlingly good throughout

By Bob Fischbach, The Omaha World-Herald  03.28.2015

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Settle in, big Broadway producers. Bud Davenport and Doug Simon have a musical they want to pitch to you.

That’s the premise for The Candy Project’s “Gutenberg! The Musical!,” which opened Friday at the Pizza Shoppe in Benson. The audience becomes the producers. Bud and Doug are nothing if not earnest and energetic as they play all the parts in their show, literally switching hats so you know who they’re playing at all times.

Thing is, Bud and Doug have little talent for writing a musical. They mangle the history of the inventor of the movable-type printing press to hilarious effect. All the while they explain the musical-theater devices they have cleverly employed in the telling of the tale. Their plot turns and lyrics are so bad, they’re howlingly good.

Director Randall Stevens has cast two of Omaha’s favorite comedic actors, Dan Chevalier as Bud and Steve Krambeck as Doug, and the material is perfectly suited to their strongest talents. These guys can really sing, and their voices blend beautifully.

They’re also pretty decent hoofers, and the choreography punches the laugh-inducing lyrics like one of those exclamation points in the title.

But their forte is comedy: line delivery, physical humor and finely honed timing that had me doubled over all evening long. Their facial expressions are priceless.

Because the show is staged as a simple “read” for financial backers, it’s done in street clothes, with minimal props and a set that consists of little more than a couple of boxes to stand or sit on and a long table filled with those labeled hats. It’s the perfect show for the Pizza Shoppe’s tiny stage.

Bud and Doug take us back to the town of Schlimmer, Germany, in 1450. Gutenberg runs a wine press. His grape stomper, Helvetica, is in love with him.

The villain of the piece, an evil Monk, wants the Bible to “mean whatever I say it means.” When Gutenberg converts his wine press to a printing press, Monk wants Helvetica to sabotage it.

A song explains how Monk killed his daddy when he was young. “That’s called character development,” they tell us.

Helvetica’s love ballad? A standard device called an “I want” song.

Why did they throw in a number about how they love biscuits? It’s to charm you when the story gets too heavy.

And what is foreshadowing? “Well … I’ll tell ya later,” Doug promises.

The boys have plenty of fun with word play.

And the audience has just as much fun drinking in Krambeck’s and Chevalier’s version of broad, goofy comedy.

Keyboardist Sara Collins gamely plays along, and the fun lasts less than 100 minutes, including intermission. For me, it was one of the funniest shows of the season.

BWW Reviews: GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL!

Hold Onto Your Hats!

By Christine Swerczek, Broadway World.com 03.30.2015

BWW

GUTENBERG! THE MUSICAL! is ridiculous! Cathy Hirsch (the Candy Project) assembled a whole cast of zany characters within two award-winning actors- Dan Chevalier (Bud Davenport +others) and Steve Krambeck (Doug Simon +others). These two guys wear a multitude of hats (literally and figuratively) in this two act musical by Anthony King and Scott Brown. The story centers on Bud’s and Doug’s scant research of Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the printing press. Fast paced, satiric, and just plain stupid fun, this production is a sure hit, particularly combined with good beer and great pizza at Pizza Shoppe Collective in Omaha.

The cornerstone of this musical is two guys, Bud (a virgin looking for a wife) and Doug (a gay man), working together to sell their concept of a musical to any producer who may be out in the audience. While pitching their ideas, they weave in theatrical constructs such as “you must have a serious reason behind the story…such as the Holocaust”, and character development (you must know WHY the devil is evil.) Their work is historical fiction, meaning “it’s fiction that’s true.”

Act One Scene One begins with a serious reason for their musical: a dead baby, represented by a ball cap labeled “Dead Baby” tossed onto the floor. The baby is needlessly dead all because the baby’s illiterate father fed him jellybeans instead of medicine since he couldn’t read the label. He cradles the baby in his illiterate arms and sings, “If only I could read.” Here is their motivation for the development of a printing press.

The love interest enters the story. Helvetica (she’s so important, they named a font after her) stomps the grapes in Gutenberg’s wine press and sings a love ballad, which Bud and Doug call the necessary “I want” song in musical theater.

The evil Monk keeps his henchman, Young Monk, away from the Bible, and advises it’s best to “take in the church and keep the people dumb.” Meanwhile, the Anti-Semitic flower seller pops in from time to time to add tension.

Gutenberg recalls his inner Elvis and sings about changing the press from making wine into a machine to make words. “The wine press makes you drink while the other makes you think,” he says.

One of the funniest parts of the show is when Young Monk is sprayed in the face with a squirt bottle during a rain scene with another agonized “I Can’t Read” song. He suffers a pencil attack from the abusive Monk and they collaborate on a “charm song” about biscuits. What’s a charm song, you may ask? According to Bud and Doug, it is a break from watching anything that anyone may care about. It also allows bringing in a big person for a tiny part.

Parts of this silliness hint at other productions. Speaking the name Johannes Gutenberg in a low voice, clearly and distinctly, into the microphone suggests “25th ANNUAL PUTNAM COUNTY SPELLING BEE,” which is appropriate as Dan Chevalier was a huge hit as Leaf Coneybear in the Omaha Community Playhouse production a few years ago. The necessary love ballad reminds me of SPAMALOT’s “The Song That Goes Like This.” There are bits of irony and clever humor everywhere. They use metaphors, because metaphors are used to “say one thing and mean something else, but not lying.” The guys assure the audience that history is sometimes changed so the story can continue. Every musical ends with a big rock song. And the second act needs a big opening number.

There’s a serious discussion about suicide…well, as serious as these two can get. And a chorus line…with many hats. An audience sing-along about eating dreams, a duet with rats; this musical has it all. It’s all pulled off magnificently by these two actors, with excellent support from the pianist, Sara Collins (Charlie), director Randall T. Stevens, music director Timothy Vallier, stage manager Devon Adams, and producer Cathy Hirsch.

Hats off to everyone involved in this brilliant piece of entertainment!

Hold On to Your Hats

The Candy Project Returns to Benson.

BY WILLIAM GRENNAN, The Reader 04.02.1015

Gutenberg framesThe Candy Project has returned after a long hiatus to present its latest offbeat show, Gutenberg! The Musical! at The Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson. The show revolves around two friends, Bud and Doug, who have a passion for musical theatre. As such, they’ve written an important new show about Johann Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press; a show they hope to one day take to Broadway. To make their dreams come true, Bud and Doug will perform a reading for several famous Broadway producers (that’s us, the audience).

“They’ve written a show that they feel really passionate about and they are really excited about it,” said Dan Chevalier, the actor who plays Bud in the show. “They may not be Shakespeares necessarily. Also, the history of what we know about Johann Gutenberg is scant so they fill in the blanks with their own creative imagination. The resulting show is two guys who feel very passionate about a show that is a little bit ridiculous.”

Chevalier and his costar Steve Krambeck play the two musical hopefuls as they attempt to portray every single character in Gutenberg! The Musical! To accomplish this, a table is laid out covered with different colored hats bearing the names of each character in the show. Bud and Doug whirl around each other changing hats, changing voices, changing pitches, all the while selling us on just how good the show is. Chevalier said the sheer amount of character changes, along with the surprisingly technical hat choreography, were a truly unique challenge.

“One thing that sets this show apart from anything else that I’ve done is that there are two actors in it,” he said, “But there are some songs that have a quartet written into it. So we have to sing all the characters…we have a hat in each hand, switching over from one hate to the other, singing both parts as we go. The fast-paced switching is something, as an actor, that is unlike any other show I’ve experienced before.”

And the music is just as varied as the characters.

“The music also goes in many different directions. The characters are wildly different and so are the songs.  There’s a little bit of Elvis, a little bit of soft folk music. We have our big ‘11 o’clock numbers’ where we belt for the heavens. Music-wise, there’s something for everyone. Each character has their own flavor of music.”

The Pizza Shoppe in Benson might be the last place anyone would expect to find a hit musical in Omaha. But over the last 7 years, The Candy Project has made its mark producing little-known, small-scale, quirky musicals that might not fit in any other theatre around town. It’s a mission, Chevalier says, makes The Candy Project one of the most rewarding organizations to be a part of.

“The Candy Project tries to find those show that are smaller, shows that you wouldn’t necessarily see in any other theatre in Omaha. We can’t compete with the bigger theatre that have these huge, amazing sets, beautiful spaces, and a 10 person orchestra. Small but mighty, that’s a good way to describe the types of shows The Candy Project selects.”

The Candy Project’s latest production of Gutenberg! The Musical! will run from April 10th-19th at The Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson. For more information on the show, visit www.thecandyproject.wordpress.com, email info@thecandyproject.com, or call 402-957-2827.

Cold Cream looks at theater in the metro area. Email information to coldcream@thereader.com.