Yesterday and Today
By Joe Basque, Contributor
For most actors, their big career break leads to a successful professional acting career. Billy McGuigan’s big acting break actually led him away from an acting career.
After majoring in theater at UNO, McGuigan was unable to land regular work as a professional actor. He eventually settled in Omaha, turning in memorable community theater performances as Sancho Panza in “Man of La Mancha” at the Chanticleer, Seymour in “Little Shop of Horrors” at the Dundee Dinner Theatre, and Tony in the long running “Tony and Tina’s Wedding.” However, by the late 1990’s he had virtually given up on acting as a profession and made the transition to touring with a band. He still auditioned occasionally, including “The Music Man” at the Omaha Community Playhouse. Carl Beck and Jim Boggess didn’t cast him, and he promptly forgot about the audition. Boggess didn’t.
Several years later, a phone call from Boggess changed his life. The Playhouse was looking for someone to play Buddy Holly. McGuigan could act, sing, and play guitar. Would he be interested in auditioning for the role? McGuigan had seen “Buddy–The Buddy Holly Story” in London, and he was intrigued.
“We were playing at Dub’s Pub in Benson, and I told Boggess to come see us,” recalls McGuigan. “They stayed for one song and left. I thought I had blown it.” He was promptly offered the role.
The Playhouse’s 2002 production of “Buddy” earned over $200,000, setting a revenue record for an OCP production not called “A Christmas Carol.” McGuigan was a sensation, and the show had a waiting list of 1500 people by closing night. McGuigan wondered if the show might have a life beyond the OCP production. He contacted the licensing agent for the musical, inquiring about taking “Buddy” on the road to venues he had performed at with his band. In no time, McGuigan’s production of “Buddy,” called “Rave On!” was playing regularly in Omaha and touring around the country.
McGuigan’s next big break arose from disaster. All his musical gear was stolen, and insurance wouldn’t cover the loss. OCP sponsored a fundraiser performance of “Rave On!” to replace the equipment. As luck would have it, a booking agent was on hand considering a touring production of “A Christmas Carol.” He saw “Rave On!” and booked the show immediately. McGuigan’s production had hit the big time.
The last step for McGuigan was moving away from Buddy Holly and on to his true love: The Beatles. “That’s my dad’s legacy,” says McGuigan. “The Beatles were hugely important to his life, so we grew up listening to them. For family entertainment he would pull out his Beatles book and teach us songs. We did our own family concerts.”
McGuigan convinced his brothers, Ryan and Matthew, to join him in an interactive Beatles show. Instead of a tribute band, like Buddy Holly, they would play Beatles songs as themselves. “I knew it would be a tough sell to not impersonate the Beatles, But I knew it would work.” McGuigan felt that tribute bands always missed the essence of the original band. “You would see someone impersonating Paul [McCartney], but he would be wearing a ring, or he would be playing right handed, and you would say, ‘that’s not right.’ I didn’t see us doing that.” Rather, he envisioned “Yesterday and Today” as a modern production of the Beatles anthology, with the band being able to play any of the Beatles catalogue upon request, interacting with the audience about the song and the reason for the request. Every night would be a completely different show.
“Yesterday and Today” has been a huge success, currently touring 200 shows at 75 to 80 venues all across the country each year. Along with their productions of “Rock Twist” and “Rave On!” Billy, Ryan, Matthew, and the entire band and crew are touring ten months every year, ending with a month of holiday performances where it all began, at the Omaha Community Playhouse.
Join the McGuigan brothers and their band this December. Share your stories and relive your memories with your favorite Beatles songs. No two shows are the same, and every show is a guaranteed exhilarating time! There’s no better way to celebrate the holiday season.
“Yesterday and Today; The Interactive Beatles Experience Featuring Billy McGuigan” by Rave On! Productions continues at the Omaha Community Playhouse through December 31 in the Howard Drew Theatre. Shows are Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at 7:30, with Sunday curtains at 6:30. There will be two shows on New Year’s Eve, Monday, December 31. Show times on New Year’s Eve are at 7:00 and 10:00, with cake and punch served before the performances and a champagne toast at midnight. Tickets are $50. The Omaha Community Playhouse is located at 6915 Cass Street in Omaha. Tickets are available by calling the Omaha Community Playhouse box office at (402) 553-0800 or toll free at 1-888-782-4338 or online athttp://www.omahaplayhouse.com/. Box office hours are Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 10 am to 5 pm, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from: 10 am to 6:30 pm and Sundays from noon to 4 pm. Questions? Contact the OCP box office or e-mail them at: firstname.lastname@example.org.