Musician Billy McGuigan’s Rave On Productions has had an eventful year.
He started his own theater presenting company and produced The Omaha Series, featuring several musicals at venues across the city. He enrolled 350 people, mostly children, at the new McGuigan Arts Academy.
And it moved twice: to its original location in Countryside Village near 87th and Pacific streets in January 2021, and, in June, to another storefront in the same mall because it was too big for its space. .
This has all happened since McGuigan and former Omaha Community Playhouse Artistic Director Kimberly Faith Hickman began collaborating on a new venture early last year.
It was a leap of faith, but it worked out well, said Rave On Productions CEO Kate Whitecotton.
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“Honestly, we didn’t know what to expect, (but) we’ve had great relationships with artists and venues,” she said. “It was great to see the community that has been built around our shows. I can’t say what my favorite moment was because there have been so many this year.
Whitecotton said the company has established itself as a local producer of rock musicals. McGuigan moved his signature shows — including the popular ‘Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience’ and ‘Billy McGuigan’s Pop Rock Orchestra’ — from the Playhouse to the series, and the company produced ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ l ‘last year.
They’re continuing that trend this year with “Rock of Ages,” a musical jukebox showcasing classic 1980s rock. It’s the story of a struggling young couple to tunes by Styx, Journey, Pat Benatar and many others. It runs April 7-16 at the Waiting Room Lounge near 62nd and Maple Streets in Benson.
The show is the first of the second season of the Omaha series.
Whitecotton said Rave On will also be producing a more traditional piece that will allow them to feature the kids of the academy. “Roald Dahl’s Willy Wonka”, a musical based on “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, is scheduled for July at the Scottish Rite Temple in the city centre.
The other two main productions in the series will be the return of “The Rocky Horror Show” in the fall and “Yesterday and Today” at the end of the year, both at Slowdown in Downtown North.
Both Whitecotton and Hickman said the venues were a perfect fit for their musicals.
“Then and Now” works well on slowdown because of the way it’s designed.
“It’s cool to have this type of show in a big venue instead of (one with) a hall, bar and theater,” Whitecotton said. “Everything is in one space. People can stand up, move around and put request cards in a club with state-of-the-art sound.
The space also allowed them to do cool things, she said. They added horn and string sections so McGuigan’s band could do the songs like they were done by the Beatles.
At “Then and Now,” audience members were given “wearable technology” wristbands that change color with each song, essentially giving each person a role in the lighting, Hickman said.
The people in the crowd didn’t know what the bracelets were doing, so when the group released the first song, “Magical Mystery Tour”, they were surprised when they started flashing colored lights.
“We were seeing people gasping at their wrists and immediately putting their hands up and waving them around. It felt like being in a giant arena,” Whitecotton said.
“People loved it,” Hickman added.
The family show, “Willy Wonka”, is a perfect fit for the historic Scottish Rite Theatre, which has one of the largest collections of hand-painted theater sets in the country, more than 60 in all, Whitecotton said. The set will be used in the musical.
In addition to offering classes for children from age 5, the academy has partnered with schools in Bellevue and elsewhere on music and arts education and added outreach elements to McGuigan’s traveling shows. , “we are growing up not only in Omaha but over there in the United States,” she said.
On Productions will also host pop-up events at the Countryside Village studio, including a St. Patrick’s Day show with longtime Omaha performer John Morrissey.
They have settled well in the mall and are collaborating there with other businesses. The Casual Pint, for example, worked with them to obtain a liquor license and Rave On Productions can now sell the bar’s pre-packaged liquor at events.
“Everyone has been really supportive of us, and the kids too,” Hickman said.
Tickets for “Rock of Ages” are on sale now at theomahaseries.com.
Photos: Inside the refurbished Benson Theater
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