By Cherie Messore

Kavinoky Theatre at 40

Way back in 1932, an American psychologist coined a phrase that became a rallying cry: “Life begins at 40.”

For the Kavinoky Theatre, its 40th season means embracing its updated mission statement, launching a new collaboration, and giving its patrons another outstanding theatre season.  

“Things keep getting better,” says executive artistic director Loraine O’Donnell. “This season three out of five directors are women and one director is a person of color. We’re continuing to update our facilities, and we’re almost at our fundraising goal to purchase new seats and that’s a hefty goal.”

O’Donnell says the refreshed mission statement focuses on being more inclusive and bringing patrons a broader array of productions each season, including two musicals. “We’re bringing a better experience to our patrons,” says O’Donnell. “When you buy a season ticket, you’re not going to be bored. We want the Kavinoky to be a place for everyone.”

This season will open September 6 with ‘Hairspray,’ set in the 1960s with a powerful message of inclusion. O’Donnell says, “I stood up during the first read through of the show, and it was the week after the shootings in El Paso. I said the message of integration and tolerance is even more important after the week we had. ‘Hairspray’ has positive message about self-worth and body image. Both are still relevant now.”

The cast is a mix of Buffalo theatre veterans and talented students making their professional debut, directed by Carlos R. A. Jones who also choreographed the production.  There are some surprises in this production: the role of Motormouth Maybell will be played by Lorenzo Shawn Parnell. O’Donnell says his high tenor voice lends itself perfectly to the role, so she approached the royalty company to ask permission to have a man cast in the role.  Other cast members include Maeghan McDonald as Tracy, Bill Lovern as Edna, John Fredo as Wilbur, and Natalie Slipko as Velma. 

Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ – the Aaron Sorkin production – comes to the Kav opening November 8.   O’Donnell says that 70% of last year’s proposed cast is cast in this production. “It’s a totally re-imagined play,” O’Donnell says. While the theater is still recovering from the significant financial losses last year’s cancellation caused, Sorkin and the Rudin organization gave the theatre an exclusive arrangement for this production, including a free pass on royalties to stage the show this season. Kyle LoConti will direct.

The second musical of the season, ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ is a regional premiere, opening January 10.  Based on Robert James Waller’s novel followed by the Meryl Streep and Clint Eastman movie, Jason Robert Brown composed a lush score for this love story. O’Donnell and actors Steve Copps and Michelle Marie Benzin and video director Brian Milbrand traveled to Iowa – the story’s setting – over the summer to capture video images of the quaint town where the story is set. The visit gave the actors a real sense of the environment and allowed Milbrand to capture stunning images that will help set the stage. O’Donnell will direct and Kelly Copps with choreograph.

Opening March 6, the Kav will collaborate with the Jewish Repertory Theatre to produce the Pulitzer Prize winning play ‘ Indecent’, fresh from its Broadway run two years ago. When the show was written in the 1920s, it was banned in the US:  it’s play-within-a-play story based on a Yiddish story about two women who fall in love was too controversial for the time. Kristen Tripp Kelley will direct.

Closing out the season and opening May 1 is ‘The Mystery of Irma Vepp,’ a take off on gothic romances. Norm Sham and Brian Mysliwy play eight different roles. “It’s a quick change marathon,” O’Donnell says, “and it’s hilarious.”

Learn more about the season and Kavinoky’s other events at http://www.kavinokytheatre.com.

Categories: By Cherie Messore