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Posts Tagged ‘Musical Theater’

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

 

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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

 

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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

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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

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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.

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

April 24, 2018 1 comment

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

©by Leo Adam Biga

Originally appeared in April 2018 issue of The Reader (www.thereader.com)

 

The following story appeared in advance of the diva’s April 21 concert with the Omaha Symphony but after attending the show I can now report that she and her band in performance with the orchestra were off-the-chain that night. I have always admired Vanessa Williams for her beauty but I never followed closely or even casually her singing and acting career and so I never really formed an opinion about her as a performing artist. Well, count me as a convert to her immense talent after thoroughly enjoying her vocal artistry and stage presence. She delivered a world-class performance to the delight of the diverse crowd on hand. Her voice, her range and her stage craft and command are as good as anything I’ve ever witnessed live. This was her first performance in Omaha and I certainly hope it’s not her last.

 

Singer-actress Vanessa Williams, 55, brings a regal serenity wherever she goes.

The always put-together Tony, Grammy, Emmy nominee makes her metro debut headlining the April 21 Omaha Symphony Gala Concert at Holland Performing Arts Center. For the 8 p.m. gig benefiting the symphony’s community engagement programs serving youth, she’ll sing her own hit tunes (“Save the Best for Last,” “Colors of the Wind”) as well as American Songbook classics.

She looks forward to a backstage visit from an uncle who lives in Omaha.

The Broadway musical star, concert hall veteran, recording artist, film-television player and humanitarian has won multiple NAACP Image Awards.

“I’ve felt the embrace of the African-American community from the get-go – besides incidents where people felt I wasn’t black enough,” she said.

She’s proud of her behind-the-scenes reputation as a steadying influence.

“I’m usually the leader of calm. People say when I’m a part of an ensemble, it’s a calm and happy set. I know how to deal with people. I don’t like drama and I don’t engage.”

Thirty-four years into her career, she shows no signs of slowing. In February, she appeared in the New York City Center Encores production Hey, Look Me Over. She sang a tune idol Lena Horne originated in the show Jamaica.

Here, Williams will interpret standards immortalized by Horne and other icons.

She recently completed a three-week Asian tour. Then she went to Dallas to shoot an ABC episodic dramedy pilot, First Profits, about women cosmetics moguls. If picked-up, it will mark her fourth ABC series, following Ugly Betty,Desperate Housewives and 666 Park Avenue.

“It’s kind of like going back home. The character I play is a force to be reckoned with. I’m excited.”

She loves moving from one genre to another.

“It’s great because it exercises a lot of different muscles for me. It never gets stale and I get a chance to reach different audiences. Playing a small jazz club I can do some intimate, personal stuff. Doing a symphony concert allows beautiful, lush orchestrations I don’t get to hear all the time, so for me it’s a special treat. Then acting behind a camera, I get a chance to step into another character.

“The reason I get to do so many things is that I take care of my voice, I’m professional, I show up on time, I know my material. That’s how you have longevity in this business – being prepared and dependable.”

Performing is play. Preparing to play, especially doing eight shows a week on Broadway, can be a grind.

“The biggest effort is getting to the theater and going through the process of putting on your makeup and costume, especially when you’re exhausted or your voice doesn’t feel right or you’re dealing with distractions. Once you hear the downbeat, then it all goes away. You feel the electricity from the audience, the camaraderie of the cast, and it’s easy.”

The mother of four, who successfully manages her Type 1 diabetes, said she consciously “doesn’t try” striking a positive image but instead projects her authentic self.

“I think it’s a byproduct of who you are. I am who I am and I’m lucky I had great parents who instilled great values in me and I get a chance to demonstrate that. I think it’s also reflected in my children (one of her daughter’s is singer-actress Jillian Hervey).”

In 2012, she and her mother, Helen Williams, released a memoir they co-authored, You Have No Idea, in which Vanessa revealed being molested by a woman as a child. Though raised Catholic, she got an abortion as a teen. She became “a trailblazer” as the first black Miss America, only to have erotic photos she posed for published without her consent. Stripped of her crown, she recovered from the scandal.

“I’m seen as a survivor after being famous overnight at 20 and then having to create a career when, within 11 months, it all changed drastically. It shows fortitude, perseverance, talent. That’s what’s revered. That’ll never go away. That’s a badge of honor I continue to carry.”

She supports today’s women’s advocacy movements born from sexual harassment allegations against men, including some prominent film-TV-music figures.

“I know these are very positive and strong women helping to bring awareness to the issues,” she said.

She cautions branding all men with a broad-brush.

“I don’t want an attitude where every man is bad, a threat, a predator, untrustworthy. I’ve worked with some incredibly talented, wonderful, warm men – producers, directors, writers, actors – who are my good friends.”

She weathered divorce from NBA player-turned-actor Rick Fox – the father of three of her children.

She married businessman Jim Skrip in 2015.

Williams has come to represent what black women she admires symbolize.

“Lena Horne, Diahnn Carroll, Debbie Allen, Eartha Kitt.

All legendary women stellar in their career and active with civil rights. Their own personal struggles were such lessons for us and our generation. They paved the way.”

She’s a nurturing “mother bear” to younger artists.

“I’m always the one everyone comes to for advice. I love to connect people and make things happen.”

She’s encouraged by how many women of color have become creative forces behind the camera

“Progress is definitely apparent in movies and television,

Certainly, there’s plenty of opportunity now, which is fantastic.”

She’s may even direct one day.

Meanwhile, she despairs America’s divide. “The hate speak and the divisiveness,” she said, “is just really saddening”

Escape with her in music on the 21st.

For tickets, visit omahasymphony.org.

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

February 1, 2018 1 comment

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

©by Leo Adam Biga

Soon appearing in El Perico

 

Nebraska is far from the theater capital of the world, yet many natives have trod the Broadway boards – from Henry Fonda to Sandy Dennis to Andrew Rannells. Actress-singer Roni Shelley Perez, 21, hopes to join their ranks. The Omaha Marian and University of Nebraska at Omaha graduate has graced several area stages and is now pursuing her dream in New York City during winter audition season.

This daughter of native Filipino parents has prepared for this all her life.

“I’ve been singing since I was very young. I sang-along to Barney songs ay 3. I started playing guitar at 8,” said Perez.

She also plays the ukelele.

She began performing for family functions and Filipino community gatherings at 11.

“I used to play guitar and sing Filipino covers.”

It earned her spending money.

But performing is, first and foremost, “a healing art” for Perez. “Stories told in songs can be relatable. People going through that same situation need to hear these stories. It’s hard for people to be vulnerable, so to see someone else vulnerable helps them to know it’s okay to feel.,” she said. “Performing arts can be very impactful. It’s a shareable, very much a collective experience.”

In SNAP Productions’ mounting of In the Heights at Omaha South High last spring, Perez’s character Nina mirrored her own life as the eldest child of aspirational immigrant parents in a tight ethnic community.

“Like Nina, there was all this pressure on me growing up to ‘Go, you can do this.’ That role answered a lot of questions for myself.”

She found support as a UNO Goodrich Scholarship Program recipient.

“Goodrich was like a family and definitely one of the best things I took from my undergrad. They believed in me and took a chance on me.”

Her parents were initially dubious when she majored in vocal performance and musical theater.

“Every immigrant parent is hoping for the American dream and I’m going into a field where financial stability is not really a thing. They were scared for me to go into music. But then as soon as opportunities started happening (scholarships, prizes, accolades), they realized, ‘Hey, you can do this.’ I feel like I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s been such a huge part of my life that I can make it into a career.”

The mainstream success Filipina performers enjoy, ala singer-actress Lea Salonga, gives added hope.

“She’s a big influence. She represents the Filipino community in musical theater.”

Filipino actresses have made waves in Hamilton in New York and London. “All these people are just very inspiring.” Then there’s singer-actress Sarah Geronimo. “Growing up, my mom would always play her music and I always looked up to her. She has a beautiful voice. I wanted to sing like her. I wanted to be like her.”

Perez dreams of Broadway but for now her goal is to “just perform professionally” as a working artist. “If it;s there, then I want to turn it into something bigger. I don’t even know what I’m capable of yet.”

It’s doubtful any performer from Neb. has been more prepared at such a young age. She boasts years of high-level training and performing. At 18, she won the part of Mary Magdalene in an Omaha Community Playhouse production of Jesus Christ Superstar. She’s worked with New York stage professionals at the Open Jar Institute, NYU Steinhardt’s Summer Study in Musical Theatre and Shetler Studios’ workshop of Zanna Redux.

“I’ve been going to New York every year now to see where I am ability-wise. I’ve been making connections.”

In Omaha, she got scholarships to Broadway Dreams Foundation Summer Intensive Workshops in 2013 and 2014, studying under and performing with Tony Award nominees and winners. It grew her confidence.

“It showed me what I need to continue working on but also it was like, ‘Hey, if I’m able to perform with them right now, I’ll be able to stand my ground and eventually get to their level too.’ It’s been very encouraging and definitely humbling. Like, I’m clearly not the best, but I can work at it and come to that level.”

She’s participated in master classes through Omaha Performing Arts. The 2016 National Student Auditions competition winner has been recognized by the Playhouse, Theatre Arts Guild and Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. Last year, she and a classmate won first place in the Musical Theatre Division of the National Opera Association’s Collegiate Opera Scenes Competition.

She attributes her drive to her hard-working parents, who own their own business.

“I want to give back and work just as hard. I can’t even fathom coming from a third-world country to the United States with poor English and trying to start a family and career. It’s very inspiring and always on my mind as I take on new roles and shows.”

At 20, Perez earned the lead in Heathers at Omaha’s Blue Barn Theatre. Her character sings the entire show, so she trained to build vocal stability and stamina. It was both her first lead and first paid acting gig.

“That role came very close to my heart,” she said. “I’m grateful the Blue Barn took a chance on me.”

She returned there this past summer as the title character in Priscilla.

Her most “demanding and rewarding role” came last fall in UNO’s production of Spring Awakening.

“This one really tested my vulnerability and sacrifice. I had to let everything go. That was very hard to do.

Everything I’m doing is giving me a better version of     myself or helping me be my best. There’s always something to learn – always. I love a good challenge.”

Blue Barn artistic director Susan Clement-Toberer, who’s twice directed Perez. is convinced she has what it takes to make it.

“I expect it and I’m exhilarated for the moment when that happens,” Clement-Toberer said. “She was born to do this. She’s got the vision of what she wants to do, and if there are nos along the way, it’s not going to stop her.”

Perez herself said she’s going after it now “because I think I do have what it takes to succeed.”

Follow her at www/ronishelleyperez.com.

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

March 12, 2014 4 comments

 

 

Sisters of song: Kathy Tyree connects with Ella Fitzgerald

Omaha singer feels kinship to her stage alter ego

©by Leo Adam Biga

 

Now appearing in The Reader (www.thereader.com)

Ella, the dramatic musical revue of the life of American songbook diva Ella Fitzgerald at the Omaha Community Playhouse, reveals the anguish behind the legendary performer’s sweet voice and carefree persona.

Call it kismet or karma, but the woman portraying her is veteran Omaha chanteuse Kathy Tyree, whose ebullient, easy-going public face has similarly disguised her own torment.

The high points surely outweigh the low points in their respective lives but Tyree’s experienced, much as Ella did, her share of failed relationships, including two divorces, and myriad financial struggles.

“I’m in a much better place now,” Tyree says.

Known for her bright spirit and giving heart, Tyree’s usually worked a regular job to support her and her son. Currently, she’s program manager at Omaha Healthy Start. A few years ago she used all her savings and 401K to launch her own production company and after a rousing start one bad show broke the business.

The enigmatic Fitzgerald died in 1996 at age 79 with few outside her inner circle knowing her private travails because her handlers sanitized her regal image as the First Lady of Song.

As Tyree researched Fitzgerald’s life for the role, which director Susie Baer Collins offered without an audition, she identified with what Ella did to separate, if not always reconcile, her private and public sides.

“She was very weak and very strong at the same time,” Tyree says of Ella. “She had all these secrets and these hurts, all this internal pain, but she always held it together. She was at the top, she was international, she was the goddess of scat.”

Fitzgerald was respected for her dignified demeanor, the purity of her well-modulated voice and her perfect elocution, though some criticized her for being too precise, too pristine, too white. All of it helped to popularize jazz.

Tyree says the adoration that flowed Ella’s way was due to her talent but also to “how she carried herself as a black woman,” adding, “She wasn’t Lady Day (Billie Holiday), she wasn’t drinking and popping pills and going through all these changes publicly. That takes a lot.”

Before getting the role Tyree was lukewarm about the singer. Her favorite female artists were Diana Ross, Patti Labelle and Cher. After months listening to the Ella canon, Tyree says ,”I have a completely different appreciation for her. Now I am a fan. This woman was a walking instrument. She could do just amazing things with her voice.”

 

 

 

 

Because the script peels back the layers of myth around Fitzgerald’s antiseptic image, Tyree now feels connected to the real woman behind the silky voice and prim and proper mask

“There’s so much more to her than was allowed to be shared with the world. She definitely has a story, she definitely was singing from a place of pain. In rehearsals I began seeing a lot of the parallels between us.”

Both grew up fatherless and both lost a sister. By their mid-teens both were mixed up in the wrong crowd. Just as performing saved Fitzgerald, it gave the “rebellious” Tyree a purpose and discipline she’d lacked. She began singing in church, at Morningstar Baptist, where she still attends today, and at Omaha Technical High School. Outside of her faith, performing is Tyree’s spiritual sanctuary.

“For me theater and music are my therapy but from everything I’ve learned about Ella it was more like her drug. For me it takes me to another place and it gives me a peace and a calm. I leave everything outside. It’s like this is a whole other world.”

Just as performing helped Tyree cope with insecurities, she guesses it did so for Ella, whose character in the show says, “I’m always OK when I’m on the stage. When I’m not working, I turn off, I get lost.”

Tyree’s usual reticence about her own turmoil isn’t to protect a well-manufactured facade, but a personal credo she inherited.

“I shared with Susie (Baer Collins) in a read-through that in my family we have a rule – you never look like what you’re going through. Though I’ve been through a lot, I’ve had a lot of heartbreak and heartache, I never look like what I’m going through, and that was Ella.

“It’s a pride thing. I was raised by strong black women. These women had to work hard. Nobody had time for that crying and whining stuff.

It was, ‘Straighten your face up, get yourself together, keep it moving.'”

She says what she doesn’t like about Ella is “the very same thing I don’t like in myself,” adding, “Ella didn’t have enough respect for herself to know what she deserved. She didn’t have those examples, she didn’t have a father. People always say little boys need their fathers, well little girls need their fathers. too. They need somebody to tell them they’re beautiful. They deserve somebody in their life that isn’t going to abuse them. When you don’t have that you find yourself hittin’ and missin’, trying to figure it out, searching for that acceptance and that love. That’s very much our shared story.”

That potent back story infuses Tyree’s deeply felt interpretations of  Fitzgerald standards. Tyree’s singing doesn’t really sound anything like her stage alter ego but she does capture her heart and soul.

 

 

 

 

Tyree, a natural wailer, has found crooning ballad and scat-styles to conjure the spirit of Ella. Tyree makes up for no formal training and the inability to read music with perfect pitch and a highly adaptable voice.

“My voice is very versatile and my range is off the charts,” Tyree says matter-of-factly. “I can sing pretty much anything you put in front of me because it’s all in my ear. I’ve been blessed because they (music directors) can play it one time and I get it.”

She considers herself a singer first and an actress second, but in Ella she does both. She overcame initial doubts about the thick book she had to learn for the part.

“It’s a lot of lines and a lot of acting and a lot of transitions because I’m narrating her life from 15 years-old to 50.

But after months of rehearsal Tyree’s doing what she feels anointed to do in a space where she’s most at home.

“This is where I get to be lost and do what I do best, this is where I don’t miss. I think it’s because it’s coming from a sincere place. My number one goal is that everybody in the audience leaves blessed. I want to pour something out of me into them. I want ’em to leave on a high. It’s not about me when I’m on stage. This is God-given and there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with it to deliver.”

This popular performer with a deep list of musical theater credits (Ain’t Misbehavin’, Beehive) feels she’s inhabiting the role of a lifetime and one that may finally motivate her to stretch herself outside Omaha.

“I’m still like blown away they asked me to come do this show. I still have goals and dreams and things I want to do. As you go through your journey in life there’s things that hinder those goals and dreams and they cause you to second guess and doubt yourself – that maybe I don’t have what it takes. I’m hoping this will instill in me the courage to just go for it and start knocking on some of those doors.”

Ella continues through March 30. For times and tickets, visit http://www.omahacommunity playhouse.com.

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