Opposites Attract in ‘Rooms’ Musical | Omaha World-Herald

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Another year, another musical few have heard of about to open tonight. This time the title is “Rooms: A Rock Romance.”

But that’s the mission of The Candy Project, an Omaha theater company that set its sights on staging new musicals with young adult themes that nobody else in town is doing.
Candy Project has had sweet success, first with “I Love You Because …” and then, last summer, “[title of show],” which is up for best musical at Sunday’s annual Theatre Arts Guild awards.
“‘Rooms’ is new, edgy, smart and it rocks,” said Cathy Hirsch, a Candy Project co-founder and producer of the show.

Her cast, just two young actors, enthusiastically agrees.

“I’m so in love with the music,” said Omahan David Rubio, who plays Ian, an introverted Scottish guitar player. “Candy Project is great about getting the quality stuff onstage.”

Jaimie Pruden, of Tucson, Ariz., took the role of Monica two weeks into rehearsals, when an actress left the project. While simultaneously rehearsing and appearing in “Church Basement Ladies” with the Nebraska Repertory Theatre in Lincoln, Pruden learned the massive role in just a few days while commuting daily from Lincoln.

“I had heard the music and thought it was awesome,” Pruden said. “What drew me to the character is just the raw emotion and the amount of honesty. It’s a very vulnerable position for an actor to be in, just two people onstage. But it’s really worth the work.”

While Ian’s an introvert who’s all about the music, vocalist Monica is driven by ambition and the dream of fame. Opposites attract, but the pair find their romance rocky because of their differences as they climb from obscurity in Glasgow to London and then New York City.

“We’re playing characters our own age, but they’re forced to mature so fast,” Rubio said. “It’s very challenging, unlike any role I’ve had.”

Pruden said the interplay is often funny, but it’s also a beautiful love story.

With Pruden arriving late to the rehearsal process, it was a help that she and Rubio live in the same off-campus house in Lincoln while working on voice degrees at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Both 20 and heading into their junior year, they are friends who have sung together before.

“It’s great that we connect so well,” Rubio said. “That musical connection that is the basis of the show happens onstage with us. It’s a joy to do it every night.”

Bob Fischbach

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Candy Project Gets Set to Rock ROOMS! | Theatrical Rights Worldwide

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

An Interview with Producer Cathy Hirsch

by Fred Stuart for Theatrical Rights Worldwide

Omaha, Nebraska’s Candy Project, established in the winter of 2008, is a theatre company comprised of twenty-somethings bringing cutting-edge musical theatre to the prairie. Their next project is ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE, (music and lyrics by Paul Scott Goodman, book by Goodman & Miriam Gordon.)

The company has previously produced I LOVE YOU BECAUSE and [title of show]. The Candy Project has quickly become known for very high quality work in Omaha, which is home to a very hot local theatre scene. Their 2010 production of [title of show], the brilliant 2008 Broadway show, was called “can’t miss theatre” by the Omaha World Herald. 2009′s I LOVE YOU BECAUSE was similarly lauded by the World Herald: “(I LOVE YOU BECAUSE is)…the debut show of The Candy Project, a new troupe of 20-somethings who plan to showcase small musicals with young themes. If their next offering is as refreshing, sassy and well-sung as this one, The Candy Project is in business. I Love You Because … ranks with the best of a busy theatrical summer…” Clearly, the relatively new troupe is talented and forward-thinking.

I recently spoke with Candy producer Cathy Hirsch about their upcoming production of ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE.

FS: Hi Cathy. Thanks for taking a few minutes to talk to me today. I know you are busy with getting pre-production going for ROOMS. So, I’m very interested in your choice of ROOMS for Candy’s 2011 show. I saw the show in NYC at New World Stages and I fell in love with it. What drew you to the show?

CH: A couple of years ago I played a role locally in THE GREAT AMERICAN TRAILER PARK THE MUSICAL that Leslie Kritzer had originated Off-Broadway. I loved her interpretation and since then have kept an eye on her work. ROOMS was attractive because of its small cast and rocking score. Our inaugural show was I LOVE YOU BECAUSE, also from the TRW catalogue, and we had such a great response to it I was happy to see ROOMS was also being licensed by the company. When I mentioned that it was on my “short list” of shows to pick from this year to one of the co-founders of The Candy Project, she really encouraged going with ROOMS having seen and loved the show Off-Broadway.

FS: How does ROOMS fit in with your mission at the Candy Project?

CH: Omaha is a very talented city, blessed with a wealth of live theatre. However, established houses with big budgets and big audiences also have to cater their seasons to their membership base. Newer musicals then also often need to be widely recognized in order to be considered for their seasons. Basically, there were all of these great shows out there that no one would touch because they were too edgy or the names weren’t recognized. The original founders of The Candy Project wanted to bring those shows to Omaha, appealing to a younger generation who maybe wouldn’t have otherwise considered themselves fans of musical theatre.  ROOMS is new, edgy, smart and it rocks. It definitely fits our mission of captivating a young adult audience while bringing new musical theatre to Omaha.

FS: I think your comments are true for theatre communities across the country, Cathy. Kudos for doing these great new shows. So, does presenting rock ‘n roll in a theatre setting present any special challenges? Amplification issues?

CH: Certainly it does. We do not have our own space so we create theatre in non-traditional venues. While this presents additional challenges, we are also in the position to stage pieces in unique and creative ways. ROOMS is being held in an art gallery which is essentially one big, nearly empty room.

FS: Sounds very cool!

CH: Yeah, it works for this show in particular as it evokes a sort of “garage band” feel that mimics the root of early punk rock bands. The current plan (today… tomorrow things could change) is to present ROOMS in a unique format. Not quite theatre-in-the-round but where the “stage” area is down the middle of the building with the audience set up on either side of it. We’re still grappling with how to make this work with the placement of the band for the best sound to all audience members.

FS: Do you specifically seek out shows with small casts?

CH: Our first show had a cast of 6, followed by a cast of 4, and now we’re down to 2… at this rate we’ll have no cast at all for our next show! Yes, with our intimate spaces and small budget we pick shows with small, incredibly talented casts.

FS: What’s on the horizon for the Candy Project?

CH: We were invited to perform a one night only performance of Kooman + Dimond’s fantastic song cyle “Homemade Fusion” at the Omaha Playhouse as part of their 21 & Over series next May. At about that time we’ll be announcing our musical for next summer but the show hasn’t been decided on just yet. There are some fantastic shows on the list of possibilities! I’m very excited to see what we end up choosing next summer.

FS: Cathy, thanks a million for talking with me about ROOMS today. TRW is thrilled that the Candy Project is bringing ROOMS to life in Omaha!

CH: You are welcome!

ROOMS: A ROCK ROMANCE begins in late 1970′s Glasgow where Monica, an ambitious singer/songwriter meets Ian, a reclusive rocker. The two quickly become entangled creatively and romantically. Their music takes them first to London and ultimately to New York City, where they discover the vibrant new music scene and create an intimate partnership, their love deepening while their personalities drive them apart. A rock band accompanies these two characters as they search for the balance between ambition and happiness.

The Candy Project production will be held at the Bancroft Street Market, August 4-20th. Jaimie Pruden and David Rubio will portray Monica and Ian respectively. The production is directed by Daena Schweiger with music direction by Zachary Peterson. The Production Stage Manager is Lisa McNeil.

Review: Big talent in musical’s small cast | Omaha World-Herald

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Saturday, August 7, 2010

By Bob Fischbach

The title stinks.

But everything else about the Candy Project’s production of the musical “[title of show]” is can’t-miss theater, especially for hard-core fans of musicals.

This micro-budget, small-cast show has more references to both megahit and obscure Broadway musicals and the people who create them than any other show I’ve ever seen.

It helps if you’re in the know about all things musical, but “[title of show]” was cleverly constructed to work for just about anybody who likes good singing and comedy.

The young, appealing cast of four blends beautifully in some tight vocal harmonies.

The script, though profane at times, is very funny.

And though all of the cast — including keyboardist Zachary Peterson, who delivers a few one-liners — is great, Bill Grennan had audience members repeatedly doubled over, howling all night at a Thursday preview with his expressive face, physical schtick and line readings that created laughs out of thin air. He’s the standout in a really talented cast.

Grennan’s mischievous, sardonic sensibilities are simply perfect for the role of Hunter, who reluctantly signs on when his partner, Jeff (David Ebke), suggests they enter a New York festival for new musicals, even though the entry deadline is just three weeks away.

The show’s nondescript title comes from the festival’s entry form. Since Jeff and Hunter can’t think of a title, they simply write in what the blank asks for: [title of show].

And though Hunter begins the project reluctantly, in the end he’s the one who gets the most carried away with dreams of fame, fortune and a Tony Award.

The two decide they will write a musical about writing a musical, and the script for their show becomes the script for what we are watching.

They audition and hire a couple of women to co-star and help develop the show.

Heidi (Amanda Miller) is a comedienne who has been in the chorus of two Broadway shows, while Susan (Cathy Hirsch) is a compulsive foodie, none too bright, who has shelved dreams of stardom for a daytime office job.

The show becomes cleverly self-referential. Example: Hunter might suddenly say, “I really feel like we need to get out of this scene, ’cause it seems too long,” and the lights instantly go to black.

The laughs are consistent, the songs are both witty and insightful, and the performances admirable. No costumes beyond street clothes, no set beyond four chairs, and just that fine keyboardist in the band.

But it’s all you need for a fun, entertaining evening of musical theater. “[title of show]” runs about 95 minutes with no intermission.

Word to the wise: It’s a small theater and a limited run, so make your reservations early.

Candy Project returns with inspirational [title of show] | The Weekly Reader

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Wednesday, August 4, 2010

by Warren Francke

The musical called [title of show] opens with “Untitled Musical Number” and lets its creators sing, “Two Nobodies in New York,” while one of their girlfriends warbles, “I Am Playing Me.”

That leaves room for such songs as “An Original Musical” and “The Tony Award Song.”

That’s more than a hint of what the Candy Project brings to the Pizza Shoppe Collective in Benson this weekend. It’s known as “a musical about two guys writing a musical about two guys writing a musical.”

And they invite two actress friends along for the fun, so two of the original Candy pals, Cathy Hirsch and Amanda Miller, share the small stage with four chairs and two men: Bill Grennan and David Ebke, who play Jeff Bowen, creator of the music and lyrics, and Hunter Bell, who wrote the book. Then there’s Zach Peterson on keyboard, who inspires some dialogue about why the accompanist never gets to talk. Which he does, by the way.

Bowen and Bell played themselves, winning Obies when it ran off-Broadway before a triple-digit run on Broadway. They conceived the show when struggling to complete an entry in three weeks for the New York Musical Theater Festival. That’s when they realized their conversations about what to write were more interesting than any of their ideas for a story.

“From the onset of the Candy Project,” Hirsch recalled, “this was what we wanted to produce. As we were banding together (Hirsch, Miller, Dan Chevalier and Andy King) in late 2008, the show was closing its run. I had the CD already spinning on repeat in my car and I distinctively remember talking to Dan and how he said that he rarely loved a show so instantly as this.”

Unfortunately, Andy moved away and Dan took a new job that kept him out of the cast. “But we struck some serious gold” with Grennan and Ebke, “and Randall Stevens jumped at directing.” Miller is music director, Jamie Fields stage manager.

Cathy explained that her group “couldn’t help but relate to the show, so much that we purchased the rights to some of the songs to perform at our cabarets before they were widely available.” They’d hear rumors of the overall rights becoming available soon, and after the licensing announcement, she “began emailing them” monthly to check on its status.

After their first big show, I Love You Because, closed, word came on the release of rights, and “I applied that day and they were granted a week or so later.”

Hirsch and friends have never seen the show, but eagerly followed the cast’s Youtube.com series of webisodes that pushed the path to Broadway. “Each time they would release a new one,” Cathy reported, “we would email it to each other and nerd out over it.”

Since then “a lot of little things we incorporated in both our marketing and our performances were lovingly inspired by [title of show],” even down to the font in their logo.

Now they’ve produced some Youtube and Facebook webisodes and received encouraging feedback from the creators.

“It’s pretty amazing to be in rehearsal to play Susan Blackwell and Susan Blackwell sends you a message on Facebook.”

If all this isn’t serendipitous enough, the show fits perfectly on the tiny Pizza Shoppe stage.

But a large part of its attraction to the friends who formed the Candy Project is that it features four friends “getting together and talking in the way friends talk in a language they share,” Hirsch noted. And that includes “finding ways to inspire each other.”

[title of show] runs Aug. 6-21, at the Pizza Shoppe Collective, 6065 Maple St., Fri.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, $12 for students and TAG members. For reservations call 597.2827 or email thecandyproject@yahoo.com.

Bob’s Take: Best of year’s stage shows should take another bow | Omaha World-Herald

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

By Bob Fischbach

Other than the French documentary “La Danse” at Film Streams and Bollywood’s “3 Idiots” at Oak View, no new movie titles are opening this week in the metro area. Just this once a year, my movie column becomes a theater column, saluting the best of the year on local stages.

And a fine year 2009 was, too. Here are my top 10 picks, plus a few more titles that were just too good to go unmentioned.

1. “Bat Boy: The Musical,” Omaha Community Playhouse. Tim Abou-Nasr’s performance as an anguished half-bat, half-human was mesmerizing in this campy, bloody, funny show that also managed to be poignant, thanks to Carl Beck’s sharp direction and standout ensemble work.

2. “I Love You Because …,” The Candy Project. A new company of 20-somethings broke the laugh meter with this musical tale of dating woes in New York City. Amanda Miller, Dan Chevalier, Andy King and Cathy Hirsch added shows to a sellout run at P.S. Collective.

3. “Compleat Female Stage Beauty,” SNAP. Michal Simpson was at the top of his game as a Shakespearean actor specializing in female roles who must yield to women on the stage. A powerhouse ensemble included Randy Vest, Jennifer Gilg, Connie Lee, Denny Maddux and more, ably directed by Michele Phillips.

4. “Rent,” SNAP. Lush, big-voice harmonies marked this intimate production of Jonathan Larson’s rock musical. Tight quarters seemed to amp up the emotional electricity, along with soaring solo work by Audrey Fisher, Jason Carroll, Wayne Moore and others. An extended run failed to quench ticket demand.

5. “Reefer Madness,” Blue Barn Theatre. This musical spoof of a 1936 anti-marijuana propaganda film was sexy, cheesy and over-the-top funny. Great set, great costumes, great choreography — this show had it all, plus terrific leads Paul T. Hanson and Jenn Witt ably backed by talented character actors.

6. “Almost, Maine,” Omaha Community Playhouse. The aurora borealis casts a romantic spell on a small town, and a cast of six playing 19 quirky characters casts a comedic spell on the audience. Director Amy Lane made magic with this frothy concoction of light fun, sweet sentimentality and just a touch of frostbite.

7. “Speech & Debate,” SNAP. New faces, new title, new ground to cover as three misfit teens face inner turmoil and sexual scandal together. Joe Fogarty, Noah Diaz and Colleen O’Doherty captured the psyche of contemporary youth, and director Daena Schweiger steered audience mood at will from howling laughter to squirm-inducing discomfort.

8. “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone,” John Beasley Theater. If you only experienced the transcendent moment of dance known as a Juba, you got your ticket’s worth. But August Wilson’s play set in a 1911 boardinghouse delivers so much more. Carl Brooks, TammyRa, John and Tyrone Beasley led a standout production.

9. “Loose Knit,” Great Plains Theatre Conference. Hardly anyone saw this one-night stand, but the ensemble was so good that the show will open again May 27 at SNAP. A group of knitters finds more in common than yarn as details of their love lives intertwine. Having playwright Theresa Rebeck there for a Q-and-A added to the fun.

10. “Wit,” Blue Barn Theatre. Phyllis Doughman held an audience spellbound with her polished, nuanced turn as Dr. Vivian Behring, battling ovarian cancer. A sparkling script, innovative scenic and lighting design and fine direction from Kevin Lawler combined for a memorable evening.

Added sparks:

Visual feast: The Blue Barn’s “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” produced alchemy, thanks to Susan Clement Toberer’s innovative staging, Carol Wisner’s lights, Martin Scott Marchitto’s scenic design and Jennifer Pool’s costumes, along with the cast.

Best original work: “Mountain Lion” and “Mrs. Jennings’ Sitter,” Shelterbelt. Omaha playwright Ellen Struve’s sharp writing about suburban life was enhanced by outstanding acting and direction.

Overachieving ensemble: The cast of “Twelve Angry Men” at the Omaha Community Playhouse rocked, and so did Sara Houston’s scenic design that allowed for a real rainstorm to interrupt the symbolic one in the jury room.

Overachieving ensemble II: The inmates and mental health staff of “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” at the John Beasley Theater. Director Tyrone Beasley had a very sane day when he cast this finely performed show.

Tough love award: Butch Reel and Stan Spurgeon for retelling Omaha’s civil rights history honestly, yet wrapping it in the sugar and spice of the Motown era. “What’s Goin’ On” had something important to say, and said it well.

I <3 Candy | Omaha City Weekly

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Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Yummy debut by The Candy Project 

You don’t need to wait for “The Odd Couple” theme played during intermission to understand that these people couldn’t be less suited for one another. 

“I Love You Because,” the sparkling musical comedy from The Candy Project that runs through August 16th at the P.S. Collective, is a study in contrasts.

Austin (Andy “Velvet” King) is an uptight doormat of a man imprisoned in a sweater vest (argyle, no less) who makes a living as a greeting card writer. He falls for Marcy (Cathy Hirsch), an artsy, free-spirited photographer. Austin’s equally opposite sidekick Jeff (Dan Chevalier) is a lovable yet Lebowski-like slacker who wears “Chick Magnet” and “Wanna Go Halfsies on a Bastard?” t-shirts. He hits it off with Diana (Amanda Miller), a bespectacled, hair-in-a-bun, by-the-numbers actuary.

And the results couldn’t be more delightful, especially as the first fully staged work from the inventive twenty-somethings of The Candy Project. 

Supported by an onstage band and backed by Katie Miller (NY Woman) and Joey Galda (NY Man) in a variety of roles, “I Love You Because” is a smart, sassy, sophisticated-without-being-snarky introduction to a group of New Yorkers looking for love across all five boroughs and, at times, even in the wilds of Hoboken.

Large stackable boxes laminated with Gotham-centric images make for seamless scene changes and a simple rotation (think here of a Rubik’s Cube) is all it takes to transport us from the neon glare of the Great White Way to a bachelor pad to O’Dennehey’s Bar, “the home of the heartbreak crowd.” Removing the set pieces – as in the clever strap-hanging subway scene peppered with those classic “I<3NY” t-shirts – allows the troupe to vie for what might be a P.S. Collective record by cramming nine people onto the microchip-sized stage. 

It’s a Sisyphean task to pick favorites in such a talented cast, but there’s nothing quite like King’s velvety voice, especially when climbing to a higher register in his solo, “Maybe We Just Made Love.”

Or maybe it’s the buoyant bounce of Amanda Miller belting it out in “We’re Just Friends” or in spitting the motor-mouth ditty “The Actuary Song,” where she uses both an adding machine and a laptop to crunch the numbers on Marcy’s “RT” quotient – that’s her recommended “Rebound Time” when it’s only logical that she date Mr. Wrong (Austin and his Bat Man thermos) before pining for Mr. Right (same thermos). 

Hirsch shines in a solo of her own, the tender yet soaring “Just Not Now” and the always hilarious Chevalier rocks it throughout the evening in a goofy idiom that is all his own. Katie Miller and Galda are splendid as a comedic backdrop, especially when striking that iconic cherub pose. You know the one…the seraphs with chins resting on hands tableau that may as well be straight from one of Austin’s lame greeting cards.

Sweet without being saccharine. Cute without being cloying. The Randall T. Stevens-directed “I Love You Because” is, just like the sugary snacks found at all of their shows, a treat that has this reviewer proclaiming “I ❤ Candy.” 

“I Love You Because”

The Candy Project

Through August 16

Fridays and Saturdays at 7:30 p.m.

Sundays at 1 p.m.

Tickets $15, $12 for TAG members & students

P.S. Collective

6056 Maple Street

thecandyproject@yahoo.com

-David Williams

Musical plays up the perils of dating | Omaha World-Herald

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Friday, August 7, 2009

It’s like an R-rated musical version of “Friends.”

“I Love You Because … ,” a small, off-Broadway musical that hit it big in 2006, follows four 20-somethings through the trials and tribulations of dating in contemporary New York City.

And boy is it fun, and funny, to watch.

It’s the debut show of The Candy Project, a new troupe of 20-somethings who plan to showcase small musicals with young themes.

If their next offering is as refreshing, sassy and well-sung as this one, The Candy Project is in business. “I Love You Because …” ranks with the best of a busy theatrical summer, thanks in no small part to savvy direction by Randall Stevens.

A late-July preview at the P.S. Collective in Benson found this talented cast of six (two chorus members play multiple roles) more than ready for an audience a full two weeks before the show’s official opening, which is tonight. Fair warning: The bawdy script doesn’t shy away from sex talk or occasionally profane language.

The show kicks off when buttoned-down Austin (Andy King), a greeting card writer, finds his girl in bed with another guy. His older brother, Jeff (Dan Chevalier), advises him the best way to win her back is to pretend not to care. Jeff sets up a double date with new women.

Meanwhile, free-spirited photographer Marcy (Cathy Hirsch) dumps her boyfriend, and her actuary gal pal Diana (Amanda Miller) works up a formula for how long it will take to rebound.

Soon Jeff and Diana are pretending to be “just friends” who have sex, while opposites Austin and Marcy war over their differences.

Lyrics by Ryan Cunningham and music by Joshua Salzman capture the pitfalls of dating with comedic flare and originality, and it’s a pleasure to listen to their tuneful score. Just as pleasurable: the vocal blend of all six cast members, who are as good at funny character bits as they are at shaping a melodic line.

Highlights include Austin and Marcy’s first date, in which he goes on and on about his ex (“But I Don’t Want to Talk About Her”); Diana’s breakup-dating formula (“The Actuary Song”); Jeff’s fear of becoming a real couple (“That’s What’s Gonna Happen”); and all four of them, alone and miserable, singing “But I Do.”

Katie Miller and Joey Galda are screamingly funny as the show’s chorus, mostly playing a succession of coffee baristas, bartenders, restaurateurs and waiters. They sing great as well on numbers like the cynical “Perfect Romance.”

Chevalier, who has gotten better and better as a singer, retains his gift for bug-eyed, rubber-faced physical comedy in a hilarious scene in which his back goes out as he and Diana get it on.

Cast and show are so good, you won’t mind a shoestring budget at all. Scenery is just a platform, a screen on one side and six wooden boxes that shift and rotate to become a sofa, a taxi, a subway car, whatever.

The money got spent where it mattered, on a kicking instrumental trio: Luke Furman on keyboards, Anthony King on bass guitar and Vince Krysl on drums. They’re a real part of the show, onstage behind the actors.

-Bob Fischbach