Archive

Archive for the ‘Musical Theater’ Category

Funny, yet serious, to the core: The Amber Ruffin story

November 25, 2018 Leave a comment

Add Amber Ruffin to the roster of folks with Omaha roots to find success beyond here in stage-screen-media. The writer-performer got her start in theater and improvisation in her native Omaha. After years honing her craft with major improv troupes around he U.S. and abroad, she broke onto the national scene by joining the writing staff and cast of “Late Night with Seth Meyers” in 2014. She also has a presence on Comedy Central. She’s working on developing her own TV show and she recently co-wrote a new stage adaptation of “The Wiz.”

For the second year in a row Ruffin has come home to headline the Inclusive Communities FriendsGiving event (this year’s iteration is today from Noon to 2 p.m. at Slowdown).

There’s little doubt we will be hearing and seeing a lot more from this smart, engaging writer-performer who often skewers wrongdoers and haters with her subversive, silly, serious takes. Her humor, especially when it deals with race and other social justice issues, resonates strongly because it’s grounded in reality and truth, I wouldn’t be surprised if she proves herself a fine dramatic actress as well.

She’s part of an impressive contingent of black creatives from here to make their mark variously in music, theater, film, television, literature and media.

These talents include:

Noble and George Johnson

Lloyd Hunter

Preston Love Sr.

Wynonie Harris

Anna Mae Winburn

Mildred Brown

Helen Jones Woods

Ruth Norman

Buddy Miles

Arno Lucas

Calvin Keys

Victor Lewis

Cathy Hughes

Carol Rogers

Nole Jeanpierre

Lois “Lady Mac” McMorris

John Beasley

Monty Ross

Kevyn Morrow

Randy Goodwin

Camille Steed

Sandra Organ

Alfred Liggins Jr.

Jade Jenise Dixon

Gabrielle Union

Yolonda Ross

Q Smith

Carleen Brice

Kim Louise

Victoria Benning

Omowale Akintunde

Michael Beasley

Lafayette Reed Jr.

Tim Christian

Beaufield Berry

Symone Sanders

Chanelle Elaine

Funny, yet serious, to the core: 

The Amber Ruffin story

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in the Nov. 16, 2018 issue of The Omaha Star (https://theomahastar.com)

NBC’s “Late Night with Seth Meyers” gives more than lip service to diversity thanks to Omaha native Amber Ruffin, a writer-performer on the New York-based show.

She’s a singular presence for her strong Afro-centric takes on social issues. She became the first black female writer in U.S. late night network television when she joined the staff in 2014. It marked her national debut. But she’s no newcomer. She comes from a deep improv background that started here and took her to comedy capitals.

In the recurring “Late Night” segments “Amber Says What” and “Amber’s One-Minute of Fury” she calls out newsmakers for everything from their stupid attire to their ugly rhetoric to their heinous acts. Her subversive bits play like funny truth sessions by a righteous sister reporting from the trenches of Being Black in America.

“That’s my goal,” Ruffin said. “You’ll never be wrong when you say police should stop murdering children in the street. That (hate) being a lot of my subject matter just gives me tremendous confidence because it’s never been more right and it’s never been more important.”

The writer-actress headlines the Sunday, November 25 Inclusive Communities (IC) FriendsGiving at Slowdown.

Her high-energy performances sometimes find her flitting across stage as cameras try tracking her. While she can be serious when making a point, her default personality is sweet, silly, manic. She was voted Class Clown at Omaha Benson High School,

It seems this dynamo hasn’t fallen far from the tree.

“You think I’m a happy person, whoo-whee, my parents are really happy,” said Amber, whose mother was voted Class Clown at her high school in Savannah, Georgia.

As a kid, Amber used humor to deflect the hurtful things classmates said about her then-homely looks. Nobody thinks the vivacious Ruffin is homely anymore.

“Humor WAS my way to survive. When kids make fun of you, it’s nice to give them something else to laugh at.”

That experience still informs her.

“My day to day humor stems from a need to make everyone feel welcome and comfortable and happy, which stems from getting made fun of so badly. It’s assumed people use comedy to put up walls, but I think in many cases the opposite is true. I can say exactly how I feel no matter how uncomfortable it makes you – if there’s a joke attached.”

Her folks, Theresa and James Ruffin, are both from the South, They met at Offutt Air Fore Base while serving in the military. They later ran their own business, T and J Daycare Centers. Amber’s the youngest of their five children. She’ll be with family over the holiday when she comes home for the IC event. It’s her second year in a row doing it.

IC Executive Director Maggie Wood said Ruffin’s humor is appreciated by the organization.

“We know how heavy this work can be and the levity of laughter makes us a little more resilient to confront prejudice, bigotry and discrimination.”

Instead of a stand-up set or a speech, Ruffin will engage in conversation with the IC team on stage in response to some loosely scripted questions.

“Our donors, volunteers and supporters all know we need to face this work head on. That’s exactly what Amber does in her commentary. We’re so excited to have her back,” Wood said.

Growing up, Ruffin acutely felt Omaha’s lack of diversity.

“I remember just wanting there to be more me, and there wasn’t. I still don’t have a lot of me. I’ve seen how important it is to have a place where you feel like you can belong and I’m also quite jealous of it because I’ve never had just a place like that where you can be as you as you want to be.”

Theresa Ruffin said dealing with Omaha’s lack of diversity “was challenging to say the least.” When she worked at Peter Kiewit Corp. for a year, she said, “I was the only black person in the building.”

Though Amber didn’t have any immediate show business role models, she gravitated to performing. She played piano at Omaha Trinity Hope Foursquare Church. She also developed an early love of theater.

“I just love musicals,” she said.

She got the bug playing Princess Winnifred in a Benson High production of Once Upon a Mattress.

“I just spent so much time watching theater and doing a lot of theater that everything I love is theater-based.”

Going out on a limb is a Ruffin trait.

“We are a little adventurous,” Amber said. “My mom graduated high school at 16. Every summer she went to New York to find out what the world was about. My oldest sister lived in Panama. Another sister lived in Namibia. It’s just in our bones to see what’s out there.”

Her sisters are also published writers.

The movie The Wiz made a big impression on Amber.

“Many people believe The Wiz has the best music of any musical. I am one of those people. It was also rare to see a show with an all black cast that has nothing to be with being black. Often times, black people have to talk about their experience with being black to be valued. But these people didn’t. It was just a story of joy.”

She’s contributed to the book of a new stage version of The Wiz that premiered in June at the 11,000-seat Muny amphitheater in St. Louis.

“I rewrote the words with the original writer (William F. Brown) who is 91 in April. I have written a few musicals and my love of The Wiz is no secret. We’re going to take it on tour and see how close to Broadway we can get.

“One of the things that stands out to me about our version is that it is timeless. The original Wiz is very much of that era, like many rewrites since. I wanted our Wiz to never have to be rewritten again. It could be from this year, or 20 years ago or 20 years from now.”

Writing musicals has become a new niche.

“I just always assumed because it’s the funnest thing to write, everybody was writing musicals. But it turns out not a lot of people are. So, yeah, I’ll do it.”

Performing in a musical may be another matter.

“I can sing just fine, but I don’t know that I’d ever be in a musical, unless I wrote one for myself.”

 

 

She honed her craft via Stages of Omaha at the Millennium Theatre. She did improv at the Shelterbelt and Blue Barn.

“We had the best time. It’s how I learned that I love improv. To be a good improviser, you just have to trust whoever you’re improvising with. If you treat them like a genius, you’ll both end up looking good.”

Encouraged to try it in Chi-Town, she caught on with Boom Chicago – where she worked with Jordan Peele, Matt Jones and Jessica Lowe – and then Second City. In between, she did a stint with Boom’s company in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

“Boom Chicago was terrifying and it was bad for awhile and there was nothing I could do. I just had to keep trying to survive. I didn’t have a college degree. I didn’t have a lot of money. So there were times when I wanted to go home so bad, But I just had to stay. Thank God I did because it turned out great.”

Her parents encouraged her through the tough times.

“Because they think I’m great because they’re my parents, they were like, ‘You’re excellent and soon        everyone will be able to see that.’ That was very sweet of them.”

Ironically, she met her Dutch husband, Jan, in America. The couple struggled in L.A. for a period. She feels it only made them stronger.

“I did a lot of my own projects. I wrote musicals, made a bunch of funny videos and really did what I wanted to do. Financially, I struggled, but I also had a great time.”

An unsuccessful “SNL” audition was soon followed by “SNL” and Boom alum Seth Meyers hiring her.

“Those two things happened within days of each other,” Theresa Ruffin recalled. “Amber was very down about ‘SNL’ and over the moon when Seth called.”

Going from improv to “Late Night” has been seamless for Amber. “I think it’s been a natural progression because I have always been writing my own black point of view. “I vastly prefer a live audience to just being in front of a camera alone. Improvisers make a thousand corrections a minute every performance until they figure out what the audience likes. You can do that with scripted material, too.”

Being the designated comic who outs racism, narcissism and mendacity, she said, is “this odd space to exist in.”

“I kind of feel like if I don’t say it people might feel desperate and insane. I have to be like, Okay, the president said that, and that’s cuckoo, and you do not have to accept it  It sounds silly but it feels so good to have an adult say you’re a human being and you shouldn’t be treated like this. Until you hear it from someone you do not know and have never met,

it doesn’t carry the same weight.”

Theresa Ruffin loves that her daughter echoes what many black Americans feel. “She says most of the things we are already thinking.”

Every time Amber outs someone’s misbehavior, her mother said it’s cause to shout, “THAT’S OUR GIRL.”

As brutally honest as Amber is on “Late Night,” she must deal with network censors, which is why she feels she was “rowdier and took more chances” doing improv.

On her way up, she met one of her biggest influences, Whoopi Goldberg. “She’s great,” Ruffin said.

Amber’s close friend since childhood, Kristina Haecke of Omaha, said watching her bestie’s breakthrough has been “awesome and great but mostly it has been completely expected..” Haecke insists fame hasn’t changed Ruffin, calling her “very down to earth” and “almost too calm about it.”

Grounded, too. “Her on-screen is her off-screen, just with a platform,” said Haecke.

Fame hasn’t changed Ruffin’s lifestyle. Yet. “Maybe someone recognizes me on the street once a week. No one cares. So when someone says, ‘Hey, Amber.’ I still think it’s pretty neat.”

Her celebrity may grow should a new TV show she’s trying to get off the ground escapes the development hell that befell her previous attempts as a producer.

“I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say it, but I’m going to because I don’t know what the rules are. I have a show called ‘Village Gazette,’ which is the third show I’ve sold to NBC. The premise of it is I am the editor of a small town newspaper in Benson, Nebraska. The owner’s nephew is a big shot reporter fallen from grace after making up a story that people find out is false. He gets fired and this is the only job he can get and he doesn’t want to be in this small town. But then he realizes we’re not so bad.”

Her “boatload of other projects” includes movie scripts she’s’ writing. She also pulls duty on Comedy Central’s “The Detroiters” and “Drunk History.”

By now, she’s mostly over having cracked the glass ceiling in late night, though she feels she did strike a blow for inclusion.

“What matters is knowing that we exist and being able to see us. What matters is that everyone knows there’s room for them because there is.”

Follow Amber on Facebook and Twitter.

Tickets to FriendsGiving with Amber Ruffin are $25 and include one drink and heavy hors d’oeuvres..The event is from Noon to 2 p.m.

Visit http://www.inclusive-communities.org for more details and to purchase tickets.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

Advertisements

Life Itself XIII: Music stories through the years


Life Itself XIII:

Music stories through the years

 

 

Omaha blues man Hector Anchondo riding high

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/08/01/omaha-blues-man-…ondo-riding-high/

Paul Serrato finds balance as musician and educator

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/06/01/paul-serrato-fin…an-and-educator 

Stage-screen star Vanessa Williams in concert with the Omaha Symphony

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/04/24/stage-screen-sta…e-omaha-symphony

Roni Shelley Perez staking her claim as Nebraska’s next “Broadway baby”

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/02/01/roni-shelley-per…xt-broadway-baby

 

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 11.16.01 AM.png

 

 

Glen Campbell’s sweet goodbye

https://leoadambiga.com/2017/02/06/glen-campbells-sweet-goodbye

Camille Metoyer Moten: With a song in her heart

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/12/26/camille-metoyer-…ong-in-her-heart/

Creative to the core: 

John Hargiss and his handmade world

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/06/30/creative-to-the-…s-handmade-world/

Entrepreneur and craftsman John Hargiss invests in North Omaha: Stringed instrument maker envisions ambitious plans for his new Hargissville digs

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/12/26/entrepreneur-and…argissville-digs

 

 

A MOTHER’S DAY TRIBUTE Mother-Daughter Music Legacy and Inheritance: Jeanne and Carol Rogers

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/08/a-mother-daughte…and-carol-rogers

Music-Culture Mixologist Brent Crampton: Rhythmic anthropology and pure love of human bodies moving

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/07/04/brent-cramptons-…an-bodies-moving

Stephanie Kurtzuba: From bowling alley to Broadway and back

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/08/27/stephanie-kurtzu…roadway-and-back

Making the cut: 

Music video editor Taylor Tracy

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/08/making-the-cut-m…tor-taylor-tracy

Paul Williams: Alive and well, sober and serene, making memorable music again

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/05/01/paul-williams-al…usic-again-at-74

 

 

Charles Ahovissi brings West African culture to the Heartland: African Culture Connection uses dance, music to tell indigenous yet universal stories

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/12/charles-ahovissi…niversal-stories/

Rock photographer Janette Beckman keeps it real: Her hip-hop and biker images showing at Carver Bank as part of Bemis residency

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/09/19/rock-photographe…-bemis-residency

Goin’ down the Lincoln Highway with Omaha music guru Nils Anders Erickson

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/10/01/goin-down-the-li…-anders-erickson

Omaha Songstress Mary Carrick Takes Flight in New CD  

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/07/14/omaha-songstress…flight-in-new-cd/

Omaha performer Brenda Allen recalls her friendship with Johnny Cash: “Ring of Fir”e pays tribute to iconic singer-songwriter

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/08/08/omaha-performer-…inger-songwriter/

Brenda Allen’s real life country music drama took her from Nebraska to Vietnam to Vegas

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/01/brenda-allens-re…vietnam-to-vegas

Life comes full circle for singer Carol Rogers

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/08/28/life-comes-full-…ger-carol-rogers

Rogers cover (reduced)

 

 

Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald; Omaha singer feels kinship to her stage alter ego

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/03/12/sisters-of-song-…-stage-alter-ego/

Tiffany White-Welchen delivers memorable performance in “Lady Day”

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/10/14/tiffany-white-we…s-left-oct-23-24

Faith, Friends and Facebook: The Healing Journey of Camille Metoyer Moten

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/13/when-cancer-stru…aith-on-facebook

Camille Metoyer Moten: A singer for all seasons

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/camille-metoyer-…-for-all-seasons

 

 

Omaha’s black sirens of song and spoken word

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/02/15/omahas-black-sir…-and-spoken-word/

Omaha theater gypsy Gordon Cantiello back with new show

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/08/09/omaha-theater-gy…ck-with-new-show

 

IMG_1622

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jocelyn and Deven Muhammad: Creative Siblings Move Past Labels to Make Their Marks

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/09/15/jocelyn-and-deve…make-their-marks

Passion Power: Dominique Morgan’s voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/04/07/passion-power-do…l-not-be-stilled

After decades in NYC, Omaha native jazz pianist Paul Serrato proves you can come home again

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/06/jazz-pianist-pau…in-new-york-city

 

 

Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala with “A Flowering Tree”

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/24/opera-omaha-re-i…a-flowering-tree

Breaking the mold: 

Opera Omaha re-imagines the gala

https://leoadambiga.com/2014/12/11/breaking-the-mol…gines-the-gala-2/

BRAVO! Sing for the Cure

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/22/14215

Jazz-Plena fusion artist Miguel Zenon bridges worlds of music

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/21/jazz-plena-fusio…-worlds-of-music

 

Identical twin horn players set to lead Omaha jazz revival

https://leoadambiga.com/2018/03/27/identical-twin-h…aha-jazz-revival

Potash Twins making waves in jazz: Teen brothers count jazz greats as mentors

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/06/05/potash-twins-mak…reats-as-mentors

Indigenous music celebrated in Omaha Conservatory of Music Nebraska Roots concert

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/03/25/indigenous-music…ka-roots-concert/ 

Omaha’s KVNO 90.7 FM turns 40: Commercial-free public radio station serves the community all classical music and local news

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/11/omahas-kvno-90-7…ent-set-it-apart

20130928_bs_4919

 

Artists running with opportunity to go to the next level; Carver Bank resident artists bring new life to area

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/05/20/artists-running-…new-life-to-area

Shirley Jones Interview: Classic Hollywood star to appear at Omaha screening of “Carousel”

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/05/01/shirley-jones-in…ning-of-carousel

Hollywood legend Debbie Reynolds and classic film “Singin’ in the Rain” to be saluted

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/10/31/hollywood-legend…d-at-nov-5-event

Jill Scott Interview

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/08/08/interview-with-jill-scott

Oklahoma!, Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, 1955 Photo

 

Life is a Cabaret, the Anne Marie Kenny Story: From Omaha to Paris to Prague and Back to Omaha, with Love

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/05/28/life-is-a-cabare…-omaha-with-love

From Omaha to Paris to Omaha, with Love, Anne-Marie Kenny’s Journey in Song and Spirit 

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/06/21/from-omaha-to-pa…-song-and-spirit

A queen gets his day in the sun: Music director Jim Boggess let’s it all out in “Jurassic Queen” cabaret

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/01/04/a-queen-gets-his…ic-queen-cabaret

Martinez Music Legacy: 311’s SA Martinez takes music tradition laid down by father and grandfather in new direction

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/19/a-martinez-music…-a-new-direction

Tito Munoz: Rising young conductor leads Omaha Symphony Chamber concert

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/22/rising-young-con…-chamber-concert

Peter Buffett completes circle of life furthering Kent Bellows legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/07/21/peter-buffett-co…-of-kent-bellows

Heart Strings: World-renowned cellist Alisa Weilerstein refuses to let chronic illness slow her down and she encourages others to pursue their dreams, too

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/19/heart-strings-wo…their-dreams-too

 

Miss Leola Says Goodbye

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/01/miss-leola-says-goodbye/

Leola keeps the faith at her North Side music shop

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/02/leola-keeps-the-…-side-music-shop

Laura Love: Omaha’s High Yaller Gal Comes Home

https://leoadambiga.com/2013/04/27/laura-love-omaha…r-gal-comes-home/

Hard Times Ring Sweet in the Soulful Words of Singer-Songwriter-Author Laura Love, Daughter of the Late Jazz Man, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/hard-times-ring-…uthor-laura-love

 

 

Omaha Symphony Maestro Thomas Wilkins and His Ever-Seeking Musical Journey

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/12/omaha-symphony-m…-musical-journey

House of Loom weaves a new cultural-social dynamic for Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2012/02/02/house-of-loom-we…ynamic-for-omaha/

The Sweet Sounds of Sacred Heart’s Freedom Choir

https://leoadambiga.com/2015/03/10/the-sweet-sounds…ts-freedom-choir/

Blizzard Voices: 

Stories from the Great White Shroud

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/24/blizzard-voices-…eat-white-shroud

 

 

 

 

Bobby Bridger: Singing America’s Heart Song

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/12/09/bobby-bridger-si…ricas-heart-song/

Bobby Bridger’s Rendezvous

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/11/bobby-bridgers-rendezvous

 

 

 

Open Minds: “Portals” explores human longing in the digital age

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/04/15/open-minds-porta…-the-digital-age

“Portals” opens new dimensions in performance art – Multimedia concert comes home for Midwest premiere

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/06/portals-opens-ne…midwest-premiere

More than Buddy: Billy McGuigan expands on Buddy Holly shtick to collaborate with his brothers and band in Beatles tribute

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/06/more-than-buddy-…les-tribute-show

 

 

Tyler Owen: Man of MAHA

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/03/20/tyler-owen-man-of-maha

Quiana Smith’s dream time takes her to regional, off-Broadway and Great White Way theater success

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/01/23/quiana-smiths-dream-time-2

Quiana Smith’s Dream Time

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/22/quiana-smiths-dream-time

High Res Can't get enough of Q. Smith. Photo by David Wells.

 

Hadley Heavin’s Idiosyncratic Journey as a Real Rootin-Tootin, Classical Guitar Playing Cowboy

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/05/01/a-real-rootin-to…r-playing-cowboy

From the Archives: Hadley Heavin sees no incongruity in being rodeo cowboy, concert classical guitarist, music educator and Vietnam combat vet

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/10/17/from-the-archive…etnam-combat-vet/

 

Luigi’s Legacy: 

Omaha jazz artist Luigi Waites fondly remembered

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/18/luigis-legacy-th…ondly-remembered

Get Crackin’

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/get-crackin/

Arno Lucas, Serious Sidekick

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/arno-lucas-serious-sidekick/

Big Bad Buddy Miles

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/big-bad-buddy-miles

Enchantress “LadyMac” Gets Down

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/enchantress-ladymac-gets-down

 

Rich music history long untold revealed and celebrated by Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/02/a-rich-music-his…sic-hall-of-fame

Black Women in Music

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/11/black-women-in-music/

“Walking Behind to Freedom” – A musical theater examination of race

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/21/walking-behind-t…mination-of-race/

Tiempo Libre kicks off Jazz on the Green at Midtown Crossing in Omaha

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/07/04/tiempo-libre-kic…rossing-in-omaha

Home Girl Karrin Allyson Gets Her Jazz Thing On

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/home-girl-karrin…er-jazz-thing-on

 

Song girl Ann Ronell

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/19/song-girl-ann-ronell/

Kevyn Morrow’s homecoming

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/14/kevyn-morrows-homecoming

Frederick Brown’s journey through art: Passage across form and passing on legacy

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/06/22/frederick-browns…ing-on-of-legacy

Marcia Hinkle and Bill Sprague are the Omaha Symphony Orchestra’s Golden Anniversary Players

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/08/03/marcia-hinkle-an…iversary-players

Playing to the beat of a distant violin

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/06/playing-to-the-b…istant-violinist

A Woman Under the Influence: 

Robinlyn Sayers as Hattie McDaniel

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/05/a-woman-under-the-influence/

Cool Cat Billy Melton and the Sportin’ Life

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/07/01/sportin-life/

Salem’s Voices of Victory Gospel Choir Gets Justified with the Lord

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/07/salems-voices-of…ed-with-the-lord

 

Voices of Victory Mass Choir of the Salem Baptist Church CD

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Radio One queen Cathy Hughes rules by keeping it real: Native Omahan created Urban Radio format

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/radio-one-queen-…-keeping-it-real/

Now Wasn’t That a Time? Helen Jones Woods and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/04/29/17

Omaha Music Legend Preston Love

Preston Love: A Tribute to Omaha’s Late Hepcat King

https://leoadambiga.com/2016/05/05/preston-love-a-t…late-hepcat-king

The Smooth Jazz Stylings of Mr. Saturday Night, Preston Love Sr.

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/mr-saturday-night

RIP Preston Love Sr., 1921-2004, He Played at Everything

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-192…ed-at-everything

Preston Love: His voice will not be stilled

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/preston-love-his…l-not-be-stilled/

“Omaha Blues” and “Preston Love’s Omaha Bar-B-Q’”: Two scorching instrumental blues journeys by Omaha music legend Preston Love

https://leoadambiga.com/2010/06/03/omaha-blues-and-…end-preston-love

 

 

 

 

War and peace: Bosnian refugees purge war’s horrors in song and dance that make plea for harmony

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/08/18/war-and-peace

From the Archives: Opera comes alive behind the scenes at Opera Omaha staging of Donizetti’s “Maria Padilla” starring Renee Fleming

https://leoadambiga.com/2011/09/26/from-the-archive…ing-rene-fleming

Once more, with feeling: Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP reteam for new musical “Once On this Island”


This weekend Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP Productions are re-teaming for another musical co-production after the success of last summer’s “In the Heights” collaboration.

“Once On this Island” is the attraction this time around.

Remaining performances are Friday, June 29 through Sunday July 1.

Check out my El Perico story below to learn more about the show and the cast.

For show times and tickets, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/once-on-this-island-tickets or call 531-299-7685.


Once more, with feeling
Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP reteam for new musical “Once On this Island”

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in El Perico (el-perico.com)

A year ago, Omaha South High Magnet School and SNAP Productions set the local theater scene abuzz with their joint staging of the Tony Award-winning In the Heights. The all-star production of current and former South students, school performing arts staff and community theater veterans filled seats and won raves.

South and SNAP are again co-producing an acclaimed musical, Once On this Island, which happens to be enjoying a Broadway revival, The June 28-July 1 run at South once more teams community and school artists in a show about love conquering differences.

All tickets are $20. Proceeds benefit SNAP and South.

Urban-themed Heights was set in New York City’s Dominican subculture. Island is set in the Antilles archipelago, where love-sick orphan Ti Moune breeches the divide between dark-skilled peasants and light-skinned aristocrats with help from the gods. The Romeo and Juliet-inspired story is nearly all sung-through.

South and SNAP share a message through theater.

“I feel our mission of inclusion and acceptance dovetails beautifully with South’s amazingly diverse student body and nurturing environment,” said SNAP Artistic Director Michal Simpson, who directs the show.

“We believe theater should inspire and educate, unite and connect. We want it to reflect our world today – to share stories that reflect the gifts all cultures and ethnicities bring to the table. Above all, we believe theater can change people and, perhaps by seeing shows like these, our community becomes more open and affirming, welcoming and respectful of all people,” Island producer and South Magnet Coordinator Rebecca Noble said.

“The fact we are able to do multicultural and ethnically correct casting is something SNAP has been striving for,” Simpson said.

Regina Palmer, who plays Ti Moune, said, “It’s exciting that this story about island people of color is being told by a demographically correct cast.”

Show stage manager Esmeralda Moreno Villanueva, a South High grad, said, “This show is a great opportunity for people of color to demonstrate we’re out here and we’re as talented as anybody else. I think that’s what a lot of the theater community is looking for right now.”

Noble said Simpson’s assembled “an amazing cast.”

The play features three Omaha theater stars who’ve shared the stage before in Palmer, Echelle Childers  and Zhomontee Watson. They earned great notices in Caroline or Change at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

“That OCP connection brings us back full circle,” said Watson. “We work really well together. Our voices meld. And we genuinely enjoy each other’s time and company, so it’s nice to be reunited in another show that is so powerful and packs a lot meaning into it.”

Then there’s the synergy of different ages collaborating.

“It gives students a great opportunity to work with some talented people in the community,” Moreno Villanueva said. “It’s important for adults to connect with young people because they are the future of theater.”

“Everyone gets connected in this way. I think it’s a beautiful thing,” said Watson, who plays Asaka.

Simpson said it’s a great training ground.

“With the staff and adult talent they’re working with, the kids can get a true read of what it’s like to participate in the community. They are exposed to new methods of direction, staging and choreography as well as new friendships and mentors. It’s a win-win for all involved.”

South senior-to-be Juan Valdovinos, who was in Heights, loves working with high-caliber talent.

“This collaboration gives me a chance to experience a new level of theater and dedication. I’ve grown a lot as a singer, a dancer and actor, It’s pushed me to do better at what I do. It’s an amazing opportunity. I would never have dreamed of performing with adults like this.

“We set a very high standard last year, but this cast is very passionate and I know we are up to the challenge.”

He appears in Island’s ensemble.

Noble looks to expand collaborations “with other organizations because our kids learn with every new person they work with and we feel really strongly that as an arts magnet we need to help them grow and have as many opportunities as possible.”

Though Zhomontee Watson did not attend South, she is an Omaha Public Schools grad (Benson) and she appreciates this opportunity for new collaborations.

“I had never worked with SNAP before, so I wanted to be able to gain those connections and work with a new director. I love working with new people.”

The productions also serve as reunions.

“One of the ensemble girls, Isabel (Gott), actually played my daughter when we did Les Miserable for the OPS summer musical at South,” Palmer said.

South High alum Kate Myers Madsen, who plays Andrea, is back again after performing in Heights. This new show reconnects her with old friends.

“My good friend Justin Blackson did Once On this Island with me in high school. I worked with the choreographer (Roxanne Nielsen) throughout high school.”

Things have come full circle for Myers Madsen, whose first Omaha community theater gig was with SNAP.

She said these plays showcase what South offers.

“When I was at South it was never given the credit it was due but there’s always been a phenomenal, talented student base. It’s finally got the platform to show why it’s the arts magnet.”

Island’s take on shades of color equating to class status is timely given today’s rhetoric around race and immigration.

“Colorism is one of the main conflicts in the play,” Palmer said, “and in real life it’s not something talked about often. Usually it’s just straight racism. Colorism is more nuanced because it exists within black communities in which lighter-skinned people, even though still black, are looked upon more favorably than dark-skinned people. This is still a very relevant, problematic issue.

“I remember when I was younger staying in summers because I didn’t want my skin to get darker.”

Zhomontee Watson said in addition to the play’s heart-filled music and dance numbers, its powerful human themes about identity will make audiences think.

“It’s something that makes you sit down and process how you fit into the story and what you look like in the story.”

For dates, times and tickets, visit http://www.eventbrite.com/e/once-on-this-island-tickets or call 531-299-7685.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

%d bloggers like this: