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Review: Playhouse's 'Don't Stop Me Now' would rock rafters if it was inside

Review: Playhouse's 'Don't Stop Me Now' would rock rafters if it was inside

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There wasn’t a roof to rattle. But if there had been, “Don’t Stop Me Now!” would have rattled it.

The Omaha Community Playhouse show, subtitled “A Celebration of Rock Musicals,” rattled the parking lot instead. And the rooftops of nearby houses, a church and a hotel, where guests were enjoying the unexpected rock show from their balcony.

Wednesday night’s show was a winner thanks to exquisite weather and an equally sublime cast of singers and musicians.

This revue featuring favorites from rock musicals over the years —with some super-familiar tunes and a few I didn’t know at all — covered a lot of ground in a little under two hours.

Eric Pearlstein, a longtime Omaha vocalist and musician, gave the evening a strong start with his tuneful and emotional delivery of “Heaven on Their Minds” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.”

Perlstein’s performance was indicative of everything to come from the other ensemble members, who each got a chance to show off big, beautiful voices with lots of personality and attitude.

Watch for:

  • Evelyn Hill on “Take Me or Leave Me” from “Rent.” I’m regretting that I didn’t see her recent turn as Sophie in “Mamma Mia” at the Performing Artists Repertory Theatre. And she’s still in high school.
  • Jonathan Berger on “Tear Me Down,” a pretty obscure song from the pretty obscure musical “Hedwig and the Angry Inch.” Berger’s energetic performance made me want to know more. You might remember him as a funny Gaston in “Beauty and the Beast” at Ralston Community Theatre last summer.
  • Ejanae Hume rocking it on “I Feel the Earth Move,” from “Beautiful,” a musical about songwriter Carole King. She most recently was in “Once” at the Playhouse.
  • Brittney Thompson, whose rendition of “And I Am Telling You” from “Dreamgirls” was heartbreaking in its sincerity and sound. She also was in “Mamma Mia.”
  • Jesse White on “Sherry Baby” from “Jersey Boys.” His falsetto was higher than Frankie Valli’s and just as clear, if that’s possible. He also was in “Once.”

“Don’t Stop Me Now!” was directed by Kimberly Faith Hickman and Billy McGuigan, who just ended a run of his “Pop Rock Orchestra” in the Playhouse parking lot.

McGuigan’s excellent Rave On Productions band was on backup, providing the musicianship these singers deserved. Saxophonist Darren Pettit, drummer Larell Ware, lead guitarist Max Meyer, keyboard player Rick Avard and bass player Kevin Sullivan got their own moments in the spotlight.

And band member Ryan McGuigan, Billy’s brother, performed a searing and nearly show-stealing rendition of “Gethsemane,” Christ’s soliloquy in “Superstar.”

Playhouse music director Jim Boggess was the evening’s master of ceremonies, playing the role like a 1960s DJ who’s announcing a rock ’n’ roll revue. I loved it.

He also was the co-music director of the show with another Billy bro, band member Matthew McGuigan.

At the end, the ensemble and band did a quick roundup of songs from several musicals, including the Queen song that gave the show its title. “Don’t Stop Me Now” was featured in the movie “Bohemian Rhapsody,” and the medley included some other movie musical songs such as “Gimme Some Lovin’ ” from “The Blues Brothers” and a cool riff from The Who’s “Tommy.”

Billy McGuigan uses a similar device at the end of his revues, and it’s an effective way to feature a lot of pieces people otherwise wouldn’t hear.

My friend, who loved the show, commented that she thought the medley didn’t add that much to the proceedings this time, and I had to agree. We decided we would rather hear more full songs from musicals than a hurry-up version of snippets.

Where was “Grease,” for example?

That’s a small quibble, and obviously a matter of preference. Overall, we left feeling perfect-summer-night happy.

Don’t let anybody stop you from socially distanced fun at the Playhouse.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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