BWW Review: BILLY MCGUIGAN'S ROCK TWIST at Omaha Community Playhouse
Billy McGuigan has gotten to be a pretty big deal around Omaha. Following the 2002 successful run of BUDDY: THE Buddy Holly STORY at the Omaha Community Playhouse, McGuigan created RAVE ON! THE Buddy Holly EXPERIENCE and YESTERDAY AND TODAY: THE INTERACTIVE BEATLES EXPERIENCE. These internationally known touring shows have become almost household terms in our city. I'd never seen McGuigan myself until preview night of ROCK TWIST at the OCP. I wasn't sure what to expect, and when something is so hyped up, I tend to be more critical. McGuigan lived up to the hype. By the second act he'd won me over.
The set was eye appealing in tones of magenta and blue violet. Billy stepped onto stage and began Billy Joel's "Scenes From an Italian Restaurant." Backed by the Steve Gomez band (a "modern big band"), Tara Vaughan on piano, and a three person backup vocal group, which included his brothers, McGuigan took us on a whirlwind musical tour.
The title "ROCK TWIST" appropriately indicates McGuigan's fresh spin on old favorites with arrangement by Andrew Janak. Janak's arrangements at times had an interesting, almost 'twisted' sound, such as in his rendition of Peggy Lee's iconic "Fever."
McGuigan interspersed his songs with anecdotes of his early years with his musical father who taught him that "What do you want to hear?" is better than "What do you want to watch?" He learned to appreciate the greats of a bygone era, such as Frank Sinatra, and paid homage to him with a two song set followed by an unusual choice, the Doors' "Touch Me."
Changing costumes and guitars, Billy shifted gears and eased into a soothing performance of the Beatles' "Yesterday." As McGuigan said, if you don't like one style of music, sit tight because it's about to change.
There was something for every taste. The band featured solos by the musicians, including Andrew Janak on sax and local favorite Doyle Tipler on trumpet. A highlight for me was Tara Vaughan's solos on "Downtown" and "To Sir With Love." Her full, soulful voice is so good that you will want more.
McGuigan does it all. He not only excels at a wide range of musical genres, he plays piano in addition to guitar. He crushed The Who's rock hit "Pinball Wizard," crooned the New Orleans sound of Harry Connick, and enchanted with soft love songs designed to make coworkers fall in love between their cubicles.
McGuigan related that he feared songs from the past were losing their relevance and amused the audience with tales of how the younger generation cannot understand lyrics to such songs as Wilson Pickett's "634-5789" or the 1965 Smokey Robinson and The Miracles' hit, "Going to a Go Go," which the OCP accentuated with strangely hypnotic swaying figures on the backdrop.
Billy McGuigan is a hardworking musician. In fact, he worked up a sweat more than once. It is hot under the lights, but McGuigan also gives all he has to this show. He is running on high-octane fuel and you can feel his energy emanating from the stage. This is an entertainer who works the crowd and works for the crowd. Everyone will get more than their money's worth. Believe the hype.