The last thing I saw onstage before the pandemic was a rehearsal for “The Music Man” at the Chanticleer Community Theater.
It was extremely unsatisfying when everything shut down a few days later, because I never got a chance to see a polished performance of the musical, which has lots of sentimental meaning for me.
My mom played Mrs. Paroo in the same show at the Chanticleer in the late 1960s. When a kind Chanticleer veteran gave me a program with her name in the credits, I cried. It was a poignant reminder that live theater is a powerful conduit for memories and that those memories, when nurtured, can live forever.
I didn’t see a show in person for the next year and a half, not counting a couple of outdoor music revues. That hurt.
No relaxing in a plush, padded theater seat. No schmoozing at intermission. No shared laughter or tears with my fellow audience members. No post-play analysis with my husband or friends about what a show meant or how it was presented.
So you can imagine my anticipation when I walked into the Omaha Community Playhouse for “Ain’t Misbehavin’” last week.
I was thrilled to be there, but it was strange — we had to wear masks, seats were widely separated in a half-empty auditorium and patrons were barred from lingering in the lobby, creating silence in a space that’s usually buzzing with anticipation.
I understand and fully support the Playhouse’s pandemic protocols. After all, they’re the reason we were able to be there at all. But still, everything seemed somewhat muted and colorless.
Until the show began.
At that point, all the pre-show strangeness disappeared as we realized what we’d been missing most of all.
If you haven’t been to a play since the pandemic began, consider “Ain’t Misbehavin’” your ideal re-entry point.
The show, directed by Kathy Tyree, has everything: fabulous jazz music; movement choreographed by Omaha native Ray Mercer, who is in his 17th year as a dancer and fight captain in “The Lion King” on Broadway; heiny-kicking musicians led by music director Jim Boggess; vividly colorful costumes by Lindsay Pape that you can’t stop looking at …
And five polished and accomplished performers who are having the time of their lives singing the music of the legendary Fats Waller: Jus.B, Leiloni Brewer, Dara Hogan, DJ Tyree and Tiffany White-Welchen.
It even has a serious moment to discuss with your companions at the end of the night, especially in light of recent events. The aptly titled “Black and Blue” — perfectly staged by Tyree and mournfully yet exquisitely performed by the ensemble — resonates with experiences of Black people today, even though it was written in 1926.
“I wonder if there will ever be a point that song lyrics such as these will only live in the past,” Tyree says in program notes.
Though the show has no dialogue, the songs tell stories that help you relate to each character.
I couldn’t have asked for a better return to live theater. The joy lingered long after the curtain call. I even forgot I was wearing a mask.
Free concert series, Music at Miller Park, starts this week
Omaha Performing Arts is sponsoring a free summer concert series in the Miller Park Pavilion near 27th and Redick Streets.
The series builds on the area’s rich tradition of jazz and R & B music dating to the 1920s. Nelson Mandela Elementary School and the Miller Park Neighborhood Association are among partners in the series.
» June 5: Enjoli & Timeless with Grace Titus. The band has opened for CeCe Peniston and Lecrae, among other artists, and is a four-time nominee for the Omaha Entertainment & Arts Awards.
» Aug. 7: Dani Cleveland with the Mandela School Choir. Cleveland is a singer/songwriter who has written scripts for her church, Salem Baptist, and has been part of the yearly Joyful Noise concert at the Holland Center.
» Sept. 4: Big Wade and the Black Swan Theory and the B.E.D. Trio. Lewade “Big Wade” Milliner has been on national tours and performed sets with Al Green, Jagged Edge and more.
Each concert starts at 7 p.m. People are encouraged to bring masks, blankets, chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, food, wine, beer and leashed pets. Shows will go on rain or shine. For more information, go to o-pa.org
Union for Contemporary Art offering grants again this year
The Union for Contemporary Art has opened applications for its 2021 Populus Fund Emergency Grants, a program it started during the pandemic last year.
The goal of the grants, funded by the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, is to support innovative artists and projects in Omaha and Lincoln.
Because of continuing hardship from COVID-19, artists can use the grants for essential needs such as rent, medical bills, debts and food. The fund will award 75 grants of $1,000 each, using a weighted lottery selection system.
Artists older than 18 who live within an 80-mile radius of Omaha are eligible. Applicants will be weighted on nine risk factors including lack of a financial safety net, chronic illness, single parenthood and more.
The Union’s goal is to give at least 55% of the grants to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) applicants.
For more information, visit u-ca.org