KEARNEY — Steve Barth, executive director of Crane River Theater, wants to look forward by looking back.
“Celebrate Broadway is the first show that Crane River Theater ever did,” he said. “When we first started Crane River Theater in Kearney we thought, ‘Let’s introduce ourselves to the community.’ We did that through this cabaret-style show where we performed a number of Broadway songs. That’s how Crane River Theater began.”
A decade later, Barth wanted to do something special to close out the company’s summer season.
“Many years later we’re in our 10th year anniversary and Celebrate Broadway is an audience favorite at the end of the year,” he said. “It’s also a performer favorite, too, because they get to perform all these songs they know and love.”
Crane River Theater will present Celebrate Broadway at 7 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Merryman Performing Arts Center at 225 W. 22nd St. Admission to the show is $20.
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“This year we wanted to do something unique so we’re doing songs from the shows we’ve performed in the past 10 years,” Barth said. “Every musical we’ve done in the last 10 years will be represented in this show with at least one or two songs.”
Many of the performers from the past decade will perform.
“We also have a few select people from this summer’s company, too,” Barth said.
Audiences can look forward to performances by Michael Williams from “The Last Five Years” and Dan Beckmann, who appeared in four Crane River productions.
In many ways, the show feels like a reunion.
“It’s going to be a quick reunion because the performers come back for a condensed rehearsal period,” Barth said. “We wanted to respect all the time frames along with the schedules and contracts of the performers. We want to embrace every minute we have while we have the performers here.”
Karen Richards, who played Medda Larkin in “Newsies” and Ursula in “Little Mermaid,” will participate in Celebrate Broadway. Although she doesn’t know all the other performers, she has confidence in Barth’s choices.
“Steve always brings in such amazing people to work with,” she said. “Some of them I have worked with in the past. I’m excited to meet the other ones I haven’t met yet because I’ve heard nothing but great things about them. I feel like even though we only have a day, we’ll get to know each other well enough.”
Barth has fond memories of another performance by Richards.
“In ‘Hairspray,’ one of our favorite moments each night was when Karen would sing, ‘I Know Where I’ve Been,’” he said. “The audience would go crazy. It was this powerful moment that really resonated with all of us. It’s exciting to be able to bring that number back — with a few new faces.”
J’Kobe Wallace performed as Specs in “Newsies.” He will also perform in Celebrate Broadway.
When he gets on stage, Wallace has one specific goal in mind.
“For me it’s storytelling through music,” he said. “I’m fortunate to have songs that people know, but my approach is to find an arc in the song. Even if you never heard of these songs, even if you never heard of ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ you can get some context out of the song, whether it’s the right one or not. In my bones, I try to give a story.”
Richards and Wallace both understand the concept of transmitting a lot of information in a short amount of time.
“Hey, that’s something we do all the time in auditions,” Richards noted.
After he finishes with Celebrate Broadway, Wallace will return to North Dakota where he is a music education student. He will start his student teaching this fall.