Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration
What: Pops concert
When: Saturday through Dec. 20. Showtimes: 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday, 7 p.m. Dec. 17, 7:30 p.m. Dec. 18, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 19 and 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Dec. 20.
Where: Holland Center, 1200 Douglas St.
Tickets: $19 to $89. $10 tickets are available to students with a valid school ID one hour before the performance.
Info: omahasymphony.org or 402-345-0606
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Kyser and Toby are canine good citizens. They have the certificates to prove it.
Maybe that designation from the American Kennel Club — earned by taking a fairly grueling test — will help them get another citation: best dog in a Christmas performance.
The two pups are part of the Omaha Symphony Christmas Celebration, a 10-show production full of holiday cheer that starts Saturday at the Holland Center. They were among more than a dozen dogs who auditioned for a part in the show. Toby, a mixed terrier, and Kyser, a Kerry blue terrier, will alternate performances.
On a recent afternoon leading up to the show’s premiere, Kyser was rehearsing his scene with Vincent Crocilla, a 10-year-old actor and singer from Vineland, New Jersey, who was hired by the symphony to appear in the concert’s “Finding Christmas” vignette.
The story, by Omaha Symphony principal pops conductor Ernest Richardson, concerns a little boy who is searching for the meaning of Christmas with his dog at his side. A North Pole encounter with Santa gives him some insight. Frequent symphony collaborator Doug Katsaros composed the music.
Vincent, who doesn’t own a dog and hasn’t worked with one, was learning how to handle Kyser’s leash and prompt him to move, at one point running across the stage. Kyser was calm and professional, and when Vincent patted him on the head and petted him after their scene, it was clear that the two had bonded.
“I love hanging out with them,” the 10-year-old actor said about his new colleagues. “I’m totally comfortable.”
Kyser’s owner, Susan Baron of Omaha, credited classes he takes through Go Dogs Omaha for his polite demeanor. Go Dogs is a nonprofit that offers dog training to members and others in the community. Baron said the 10-year-old Kyser is unflappable and very smart, good qualities for a thespian terrier.
And, she said, “I think he loves the attention.”
Baron got the dog a little over a year ago when he retired from breeding at Krisma Kerry Blue Kennels in Otley, Iowa.
Toby, on the other hand, is a rescue dog. Owner Mary Beth Howell adopted him when he was 6 months old from Hearts United for Animals, a no-kill shelter in Auburn, Nebraska. He’s now 4.
“He has been a love,” Howell said, though “he started out crazy.”
The role in the symphony show is a first for both dogs. They’re more familiar with charity work: Tobey is a therapy dog who visits nursing homes and centers for young people struggling with mental problems, and Kyser goes to schools — with Baron in tow — urging kids not to drink, take drugs or drop out.
Christmas Celebration director Parker Esse said working with dogs isn’t the nightmare some think it is. In fact, he said it’s a dream come true for him and his wife, Maria Turnage, who’s helping with staging. They’re dog lovers from way back and, coincidentally, the owners of two Kerry blue terriers, a fairly rare breed.
This year’s show also will feature dancing Santas, flying reindeer, falling snow and the traditional carol sing-along. New sequences include a “Downton Abbey”-style holiday set in 1919 England.
“It is magic wrapped up in the music of our orchestra,” Richardson said.