Theatre Review: ‘Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy’ at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The cast of “Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy” at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

Plenty of stories begin this way: a man walks into a bar, and …

In Donna Hoke’s “Once in My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy,” a mysterious stranger wearing a Bills’ jersey walks into a Buffalo bar called Miracle, slams a Boiler Maker (“one up, one down”), doles out some tough-love words to the diehard Bills fans, and changes more than a few lives.

. . . [an] entertaining. . .inspirational new play. . .

This entertaining and yes, inspirational new play takes everything a true blue Buffalo fan loves about those Sunday afternoons and gives them hope. The story is charming: Lyn’s late husband Howard was a Bills fan to the end. He shared his dying wish with a buddy:  Lyn should open a bar called Miracle in the hopes for a Super Bowl win. Lyn (Josie DiVincenzo) embraces the challenge, dons her best Bills logo tank shirt, and opens the doors for a motley family of friends who share Howard’s divine hope for a Super Bowl win.

This is an ensemble show driven by endearing characters: think of NBC’s “Cheers” glad in Zubaz. Director Victoria Perez had to have had a blast with this fun script and perfectly chosen troupe who completely nail their respective roles. Adam Hayes is earnest as the dapper-dressed fan who wants to connect with his elderly dad again. Jake Hayes is the bartender who listens. A lot. But is he a real fan? Aaron Krygier and Kinzy Brown are best-buds-who-feud and are Bills Mafia to the bone, but circumstances keep them in the bar (instead of the stands) for home games. You have to love Brown’s victory dance moves, too.  Jon May and Diane DiBernardo are the well-heeled spouses PT and Belinda Sue (if this was “Gilligan’s Island,” they would be Lovely and Thurston Howell) with a secret source of wealth. Kyle Baran is Willy (or is he Pat? Hmmm….what’s his team of choice?) who is the Ghost of Super Bowls Past and the Harbinger for Things to Come, all rolled into one. It’s his presence that turns the sizzling September Sunday into a snowstorm as he riles up the Miracle fan base.

Each show has a special guest walk-on (the night I was there, local theatre legend Anthony Chase wore the guest jersey).  What would have put this over the top is if local sportscasters would have dropped in as the gameday announcers. Actors Steve Brachmann and Pamela Rose Mangus were the voices of the game, and while it was cool to hear a woman’s voice in this role, those familiar sports voices doing their thing would have been a hoot.

Paul Bostaph’s bar room set has a little bit of everything, from nostalgic Genesee beer serving trays, a box of Flutie Flakes, and handmade Bills posters, to the simple Miracle sign over the door. It’s your basic Buffalo bar with plenty of red, white, and blue accents.

In the fast-moving 90-minute show, there’s plenty of Bills trivia, highlights, low-lights, and cheers and jeers from the audience. Hokes nails the hometown spirit for sure, down to every fan’s favorite mantra “it’s early in the season, there’s still time.”

At its heart, “Once in My Lifetime” is an allegory for everyone’s need to Bill-lieve for what is in your heart, from  loyalty to friends and family, to love for the team, and for the confidence to tackle any challenge when the naysayers have you pegged to fail.  In other words, don’t let that illegal forward lateral haunt you: having faith will change your destiny.

Running Time: 90-minutes with no intermission.

“Once in a Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy” runs until September 8, 2018 and is presented at at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information, click here.