Musician Billy McGuigan (of “Buddy Holly Story” fame) has enough energy for 10 guys.
For two weeks, he’s channeling all that stamina into “Rock Twist,” his musical mash-up of pop, rock and big-band favorites, performed with a tight and talented 10-piece combo and three able backup singers. It opened Wednesday at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
This is the show’s second summer. It has some new musicians and new material, as well as returning band members and hits from 2017. My take:
- Unusual segues that work. Following “Come Fly With Me” by Ol’ Blue Eyes with “Touch Me” from The Doors, for example. That takes audacity.
- McGuigan as the Piano Man. His version of Billy Joel’s “She’s Got a Way” was a perfect balance to the show’s hard-rockers and a perfect fit for McGuigan’s voice. Doyle Tipler’s muted trumpet solo was sublime.
- Billy and the Big Easy. He had a lot of fun with Harry Connick Jr.’s “Come by Me,” especially mimicking his gestures. Shades of Bourbon Street.
- “Bye Bye Love,” hello strings. A cowboy swing arrangement with fast and furious solos from cellist Christina Allred and violinist Olga Smola put this version of the Everly Brothers hit in a class by itself.
- Girl power. Pianist and singer Tara Vaughan had more lead vocals this year. Smart move, Billy. “These Boots Are Made for Walking” was a gem.
- Sound. Sometimes the mix seemed a little off, making it hard to hear or understand McGuigan and, especially, Vaughan. They deserve to be heard at all times.
- A couple of song choices. Francis Albert Sinatra recorded lots of songs over 60 years. Despite that, some of them have been done to death. A suggestion: Dig deeper into the Sinatra archives and ditch “Come Fly With Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon.”
- The crowd. This is a lively, informal show, but it’s not at a bar, an arena or a roadhouse. About eight people sitting behind me talked loudly throughout much of the second half. (Yeah, I was the one glaring at you). Not cool in a theater setting.
If you saw the show last year, you’ll find that some of your favorites (“Happy Together,” “Live and Let Die”) are back. You’ll also find that some of the new stuff will quickly become favorites. Combine that with McGuigan’s stage presence and rapport with the crowd, and “Rock Twist” is worth a repeat.
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