“Once On This Island” at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The cast of Once on This Island at Shea’s 710 Theatre. Photo by Kelsey Martinez.

Through a colorful and magical production, Shea’s Performing Arts Center produces its first in-house show of “Once on this Island” in which the talent of Buffalo, NY is highlighted and celebrated. I had the pleasure of attending the opening night at Shea’s 710 Theatre and could feel the excitement and support of the audience as soon as I entered the doors of the theatre. Actors could be seen walking around interacting with the audience and introducing themselves further building the buzz.

“Once on this Island” tells the story of Ti Moune (Zhanna Reed) as she is saved from a flood as a child and sent on a journey as a young woman to prove that love is stronger than death. The Gods are an integral part of this tale and are made up of Asaka, Goddess of the Earth (Latosha Jennings), Agwe, God of water (Marcus J. Paige), Erzulie, Goddess of love (Anita Frasier), and Papa Ge, God of death (Darrick Penny). Ti Moune falls in love with a wealthy grand homme named Daniel after she saves him from a car crash. She makes a deal with Pap Ge to keep him alive, trading her soul for his. After he is returned to the other side of the island, Ti Moune goes to him in hopes of marrying her true love. 

“Once on this Island” highlights two different worlds of the peasants and grand hommes. The peasants have darker skin and spend their days laboring on one side of the island while the lighter-skinned grand hommes entertain guests and have lavish parties on the other side of the island. The underlying themes of racism and class continue to make statements on society as a whole that audiences are able to connect with. Even in 2022, people are currently arguing over the casting of a black woman as Ariel in Disney’s upcoming “The Little Mermaid” live-action movie. Racism is unfortunately still very much alive and impacting our lives which is why the messages of this production are even more powerful. Having a full cast of brilliantly talented people of color is also a strong representation of the people of Buffalo.

Zhanna Reed does a beautiful job portraying the challenging role of Ti Moune. She fully personifies the strength and hope of the character and performs an incredible dance solo in “Ti Moune’s Dance”. She also brings the necessary sweetness and innocence to the role. Darrick Penny’s portrayal of Papa Ge reminded me of Dr. Facilier from “The Princess and the Frog” as he creates a perfect caricature of Death that also includes accessories similar to the Disney villain. Latosha Jennings as Asaka brings dynamite vocals to the crowd favorite “Mama Will Provide”. 

Another stand-out is Melinda Capeles as Andrea and ensemble. Capeles is an accomplished hard of hearing performer and teaching artist who brings the beauty of American Sign Language to her performance. The only other time I had seen sign language incorporated on stage was through performances of Quasimodo in “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Capeles signs with a musical essence, almost creating choreography with her words. What an amazing representation. 

At the end of the show, the cast invited their artistic team on stage with them to perform a final verse of “Why We Tell the Story” and then took the time to speak on the team’s accomplishments and acknowledge their hard work in creating the production. You can really tell how much the cast appreciates and respects them and how close the relationship between them was. The entire audience was on their feet in support of the entire cast, crew, and production team in what felt like a celebration of Buffalo, young talent, theatre, and representation. “Once on this Island” is a must-see and will leave you feeling absolutely inspired. 

Run Time: 1 hour 40 minutes with no Intermission

Sep 15- Oct 2, 2022

For more information, click here.

“Pippin” brings magic to Lockport Palace Theatre

My first introduction to “Pippin” was listening to SiriusXM’s Broadway’s Best station. A song called “Magic To Do” was played and the one and only Ben Vereen sang it. There was something about that piano part that made that song exciting. It became a favorite of mine. Of course, I did not know the context for which the song was being performed, but I did know that I enjoyed it. Later learning that Stephen Schwartz wrote it, I felt like I knew something the world did not. Of course, it turns out I knew nothing the world didn’t already know. Years later I would review the Broadway touring production of “Pippin” which I thoroughly enjoyed. Using that as a standard, I am thrilled to have been able to see the Lockport Palace production, which I believe to be just as good as the Broadway Tour.

“Pippin” tells the tale of a boy trying to find his way in life, live up to his potential, make an impact on the world around him. The story is thin, there are confusing moments, but this is forgiven due to the power of the music and the songs. This production is led by Sean Ryan as Pippin, who takes on this behemoth of a role and makes it incredibly enjoyable. His vocal performance is top notch, and his movement is light and effortless. He is truly fantastic to watch on stage.

Taylor Carlson is magical as the Leading Player in this production. Her vocals are stunning as she takes on the role most recently made famous by Broadway’s Patina Miller in the 2013 revival. Carlson enters and exits the story with ease, moving the plot along, as well as interjecting great comedic timing. 

An audience favorite is Trisha Stacey as Berthe, who’s performance of “No Time At All” is an audience participation triumph. Smiles grow in the audience when this song begins and when the lyrics to the chorus are projected onto the stage for easy reference, what you see is a great  connection between actor and audience. That is the true magic of theatre.

The show is rounded out by a great group of supporting performers and ensemble who make this production exciting, fresh, and entirely enjoyable. The band that is led by David C. Stacey really rivaled any touring orchestra that comes through town. These professionals took this music and delivered a flawless rendition of the Schwartz score. Kudos to them and to everyone.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

“Pippin” runs until September 18 and is presented at the Lockport Palace Theatre. For more information, click here.

‘Riverdance’ visit’s Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The 25th Anniversary Show of Riverdance made its way to Shea’s Buffalo Theatre this past weekend with three Buffalo-natives in the cast. This thrilling addition was the cause of several mid-show standing ovations like I’ve never seen before! The excitement filled the air for Erin Lynch, Fiona Dargan, and Kevinah Dargan along with the rest of the incredibly talented cast and production team.

The original Riverdance that premiered at The Point Theatre Dublin 25 years ago has been reimagined in this captivating anniversary show with new additions in lighting, stage designs, costuming, and music. This theatrical show consists mainly of traditional Irish music and dance with occasional features of flamenco, Russian folk dance, and American tap. Even if you aren’t particularly knowledgeable about dance, you’re sure to be fascinated by the effortless movement on stage accompanied with complex rhythms and incredible musical talents. As a dancer myself (primarily trained in classic ballet pointe), I found this performance all the more interesting from a technical point of view. 

Irish Dance and Ballet differ in many ways, but also have a great number of parallels. For example, the idea of having principal dancers backed by a troupe or corpse is the same as well as the overall goal of making even the most intricate routines appear easy and light. Something that differed that I particularly enjoyed was the air of confidence and attitude possessed by the female dancers. Instead of having to appear dainty, sweet, and fragile as is often the goal in ballet, these Irish dancers present themselves with sass, flair, and empowerment. The way they move across the stage is almost unreal in that they just seem to float from one place to another with such speed and power. 

The musicians of this production, especially Emma Frampton, Tara Howley, and Haley Richardson, are extremely talented and make their instrumental “face-offs” exceedingly enjoyable to watch. It seems like everyone is having fun and is so passionate about what they do that you can feel it as an audience member. The Riverdance Singers have the traditional, angelic voices we equate to celtic music that transcends you to the peaceful rolling hills of Ireland and eases your mind so you can only focus on the beauty of their sound. 

The audience continued to be an active participant throughout the show, getting involved with clapping, cheering, and reacting to the performance. The buzz of energy and delight that filled the theatre was unlike anything I’d felt before when attending a typical Shea’s season show. Perhaps it was the attendance of all of the Rince Na Tierne dancers- past and present, young and old- that created such a buzz. The feeling of seeing the possibility of your dreams coming true and turning your hard work and passions into a career like the dancers on stage is made even more achievable and palpable. 

Overall, this is an exciting show you won’t want to miss. Even if you think you’ve seen it before, you’ve never seen it like this! If you missed it in Buffalo, it’s headed to New Brunswick, NJ next. Definitely worth the day trip- you won’t be disappointed! 

For more information, click here.

My Fair Lady at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

My Fair Lady runs until March 6 at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. Photo courtesy of the production.

One of the first shows I saw when I was younger was “My Fair Lady.” My mother had won tickets from a radio contest and gave them to my Aunt and I. It wasn’t a magical production. It wasn’t something that I remember fondly. Actually, all I remember about the show was that I went to see it. I was really excited to see a live show, and I was really excited that I had heard a few of the songs prior to going. This was probably 20 years ago. In 2022 I had the privilege to see the Lincoln Center production of Lerner and Loewe’s timeless tale of a lower class woman being taken on as a project to grow to socialite stardom. I’m glad that I didn’t remember the first production I saw, because this one is very memorable.

“My Fair Lady” is one of those classic shows that community theatres and high schools try their best to put on, but usually miss the mark when it comes to casting, set design, orchestral prowess, you name it. It’s a big Broadway musical that has a large expectation that comes along with it. Sometimes shows like this need a big professional production to come along to do the material justice. This is the case with the Lincoln Center Production. Vibrant sets, artistic costume design, and sheer talent take this material and produce a product that audiences are in awe of.  Timeless songs such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverely,” “The Rain In Spain,” and “I’ve Grown Accoustomed To Her Face,” bring life to the Shea’s stage in this rendition. This is the production that audiences dream of. 

Leading the show as Henry Higgins is Laird Mackintosh. Mackintosh effortlessly portrays the arrogant and snobby character to a tee. He does such a great job that you find it hard to even care if he succeeds in his goal of turning Eliza into a Duchess. His portrayal is comedic and entertaining. 

Shereen Ahmed’s Eliza Doolittle takes the memorable role and makes it her own. Her voice is gorgeous, especially in “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain In Spain.” Her cockney accent is so spot on that you honestly have no idea what some of her lines are before she gets “fixed” by Higgins. 

Crowd Favorites include Kevin Pariseau’s Colonel Pickering – hilarious delivery and stage presence, Sam Simahk’s Freddy – beautiful singing during “On The Street Where You Live,” and Gayton Scott’s Mrs. Pearce – who embodies a Maggie Smith quality in this show.

Barlett Sher’s vision for this material is beautiful. Every scene, every scene transition (for the exception of an opening night slip up with a rotating set hitting a proscenium leg) moves in tune with the music, making it exciting and visually entertaining for the audience. 

Michael Yeargan’s sets are breathtaking as are Catherine Zuber’s costumes. 

The only criticism of this production that I have is that it is so ungodly long. Yes it is a classic, yes it was written in a time when a person’s attention span was longer than 10 seconds, but couldn’t we have seen the show with one less Higgins’ monologue! Come on Bartlett, I’m sure if you wanted to cut some stuff, they would have let you! This is Broadway!

Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with a 15 minute intermission.

“My Fair Lady” runs until March 6, 2022 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Oklahoma! at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

“Wow, everything is so bright!”, I remarked as I entered the Shea’s Performing Arts Center last night for the production of Oklahoma!. The lights on the stage felt as though they were turned up so high, it almost hurt my eyes. What I didn’t know was that things were about to get extremely dark…

Prior to attending this more recent touring version of Oklahoma! I’d only been familiar with the music from the original and hadn’t actually seen a live production of it. Perhaps it’s a good thing I’m not a die-hard classic Oklahoma! fan because I went into this experience more open-minded than others in the audience. If the original, classic production is your absolute favorite, this may not be the show for you, and I’ll break down exactly why.

Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Tells the story of a young farm girl, Laurey Williams (Sasha Hutchings), and her relationships with cowboy Curly McLain (Sean Grandillo) and farmhand Jud Fry (Christopher Bannow). There’s an upcoming social event in town and Curly is set on taking Laurey. However, due to their stubborn nature, neither is very good at communicating their exact feelings for each other. This leads to Laurey accepting Jud’s invitation to the box social even though she clearly voices that he makes her feel uneasy and that she’d rather go with Curly. Meanwhile, Will Parker (Hennessy Winkler) has just returned home from a trip with enough money to finally marry Ado Annie (Sis) who seems to have fallen for a Peddler, Ali Hakim (Benj Mirman) in his absence. 

The main premise of the story confused me as I feel like the entirety of the issues faced by the characters could have been avoided if Laurey hadn’t gone to the social with Jud just to spite Curly. At the social, Laurey avoids being alone with Jud until she is finally forced to face him and his unsettling threats. She runs back to Curly, they finally admit their feelings for each other, and they decide to get married all the while fearing Jud’s dangers. The character of Jud is extremely creepy. He mainly resides in an old smokehouse decorated with lewd photos of women and passes his time shooting bats. It’s clear he has become obsessed with Laurey and is often seen pacing outside her window at night. Christopher portrayed a perfectly haunted and ominous version of Jud that you get to further appreciate in extreme close-ups provided by an onstage camera used to project larger than life images of the actors onstage at certain points throughout the show. 

The most chilling scene for me was one that took place between Curly and Jud the smokehouse in Act I. This is the first time all of the lights are completely shut off so the audience is left sitting in total darkness only listening to the sounds of the actors’ voices. Curly discusses how Jud could kill himself and seems to be trying to convince him to do so. When you can at last see again, it’s only the black and white extreme close-up images of the two projected on the back wall of the stage as they each sit face to face holding microphones to deliver their lines. The first gunshot to go off in this scene caught me completely by surprise and caused me to jump along with many other audience members. It’s still hard to see clearly, so you have the anxiety of not-knowing what just happened or if a character was killed. The whole scene made me very uncomfortable, which is exactly how it was intended. When at last the bright lights come back on, you’re struck by the severe contrast of the tone.

Something worth noting is the refreshing diversity of the cast. While television and movies are beginning to display a far more diverse range of actors and characters, professional theatre has been lagging behind, especially for older classical musicals like those of Rogers and Hammerstein. This cast includes an array of various races, backgrounds, shapes, and sizes. Sasha as leading lady Laurey was an outstanding choice. I fell in love with her character choices, stage presence, and musical interpretations. Sis brings a completely new and unexpected representation of Ado Annie. It’s about time we brought similar diversity in casting to classic Broadway productions. 

Throughout the first act, I was pretty onboard with all the new artistic interpretations of this show. It’s the second act that definitely lost me. Act II opens with the Dream Ballet which typically portrays what Laurey is dreaming/hallucinating about Curly and Jud. In contrast, this version mainly displays the dancing abilities of just Gabrielle Hamilton as the Lead Dance. Gabrielle is without a doubt very talented and skilled in various styles of dance. However, the whole sequence seemed a bit too deep, symbolic, and “out there” for your typical audience member to grasp. I felt extremely confused and unsettled at the same time. It was also very long. In fact, the entire show is very long. Two hours and forty-five minutes to be exact. The second part of Act II that lost me was the final wedding sequence and song “Oklahoma”. Without giving too much away, it’s a pretty visual and upsetting representation of violence that contrasts completely with the song being sung. The show almost ends on a nice note! Things are finally going well and happily ever is was near. Then BANG! A tragedy.

Overall, this is a talented cast and creative reimagining of an old favorite. Sean as Curly was another standout for me whose voice will have swooning from the very beginning. Perhaps if you were prepared to experience the darkness and depth of what at one point could have been considered a more fun, light musical, you’d be more open to the theatrical experience. This isn’t a show for a casual theatregoer or your Grandma. This is a show for people who understand the complexity of theatre, symbolism, and artistic expression.

For more information, click here.

Pretty Woman The Musical at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The national touring company of “Pretty Woman The Musical.” Photo courtesy of the company.

When looking for inspiration to create a musical, writers will often turn to source material that is already extremely successful. They figure you can’t go wrong with expanding upon something the public already loves, right? For the most part. But you also run the risk of not living up to the expectations of an audience that is already devoted to the movie fandom. In many cases, this has been successful like in Legally Blonde, Heathers, and Waitress. So why not take another cult classic and create a dazzling theatrical experience?

Pretty Woman is a musical based on the hit 90s rom-com of the same title. Who can forget the steamy exchanges between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, the iconic outfits, and the quotable scenes? Coming into Shea’s Performing Arts Centre, I was hopeful the musical Pretty Woman wouldn’t disappoint me as a huge fan of the original movie. I had low expectations, but an open mind. Shortly after the curtains opened–figuratively speaking as the show begins on an already presented stage—I realized that while the show may not be a lifelong classic hit, it sure is FUN! It has all the elements of a fast-moving, razzle-dazzle musical: big numbers, stunning costume pieces, and comedic flair. 

In case you’re unfamiliar with the storyline, Pretty Woman tells the tale of a Hollywood Boulevard hooker, Vivian Ward (Olivia Valli), who falls into luck when she is hired by billionaire businessman Edward Lewis (Adam Pascal) to be his date for a week to various business and social functions. She also takes up residence in his penthouse hotel room for the week and is provided with a complete shopping spree to help her look the part. Vivian is very clear that in her line of business, she mustn’t get attached to any of her clients and thus refuses to kiss Edward on the mouth even though she’ll engage in various other acts with him. This is fine for Edward who finds any form of “strings-attached” relationships to be too challenging with his professional lifestyle. It’s the ages old “will they or won’t they??” that drives audiences wild. 

Although the main focus of the movie is clearly Vivian and Edward, the stage-show brings an additional focal point: Happy Man! Happy Man is portrayed by Kyle Taylor Parker and is hands-down my favorite character of the show. He represents a variety of characters throughout the production including a Hollywood street-dweller, the hotel manager, an orchestra conductor, and a retail store manager. Parker’s ability to morph into different characters while maintaining the same level of comedy was hysterical. The whole scene featuring “On a Night Like Tonight” had me laughing out loud the entire time and really enjoying myself. 

Of course, you can’t forget Broadway’s Adam Pascal. I was very surprised he didn’t receive applause upon his first entrance, but it’s possible not all audience members were aware of his star-status. Adam brought outstanding rock-vocals to the role that are stylistically similar to his work in Rent. However, there was another surprising character who wowed the crowd enough to receive several midperformance ovations: Amma Osei as Violetta during the opera scene. Truly well-deserved. Jessica Crouch has an absolute powerhouse of a voice as Kit De Luca and Olivia Valli very accurately represents Vivian Ward, which isn’t easy considering she’s automatically compared to Julia Roberts.

Overall an issue with this storyline is that it may not have aged well. The concept at its core may come across as a bit “hopeless damsel in distress rescued by a rich, white guy”. Gary Marshall & J. F. Lawton clearly didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel here. They took a classic and reproduced it almost verbatim in a different entertainment medium. Almost all of Vivian’s costumes were even exact replications of the film’s version. Could it be updated? Yes. Should it be updated? Maybe. Of course, then you run the risk of angering fans for not staying true to the original. It’s a challenging line to walk. However, if you’re looking for a fun, feel-good, familiar show, this is the show for you. Major fans of the original movie will be delighted. 

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 20-minute intermission

Show runs until Dec 5, 2021 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

RENT by Starring Buffalo at Shea’s 710 Theatre

It takes a lot to fill Shea’s 710 Main theater, and certainly the anticipation of Broadway and Buffalo talent performing one of the most recognizable musicals in the recent canon was all it took. Anticipation filled the air as Artistic Director Drew Fornarola took the stage to introduce Starring Buffalo’s third production in Buffalo, after far too long away.

RENT, which is somehow 25 years old (!!!) essentially revolutionized the way commercial Broadway functioned. People camped out on the street to get rush tickets, while the NYC elite were paying hundreds of dollars for the same show. It was Hamilton before Hamilton. Starring Buffalo has astounded me in their past two performances, and I was certainly excited to see their take on this revolutionary work. Fornarola and his team have assembled a seemingly perfect cast, including Broadway performers Jay Armstrong Johnson as Roger, Jerusha Cavazos as Mimi, and Troy Iwata as Mark. 

As Roger, Johnson is equipped with an unbelievable vocal instrument that is well suited for the role. I’ve long admired him as a performer, but felt that his performance was slightly low-energy off the bat. Iwata is the strongest of the Broadway performers, finding honest humor in each moment. I was grateful to see Iwata have a fresh take on the character. As Mimi, Cavazos’ physicality works, but she doesn’t quite have the powerhouse voice that has come to be associated with Mimi.

Buffalo standouts Dudney Joseph Jr. and Joe Russi are able to fully realize their potential as Collins and Angel, respectively. Joseph Jr.’s rich vocal instrument is as effective in both versions of “I’ll Cover You,” Act One’s uptempo love duet with Russi, and Act Two’s heartbreaking tribute at Angel’s funeral (Spoilers, I guess). I was thrilled this production made the decision to dress Russi in the signature Angel costume, and was captivated by his performance of “Today 4 U.” Giving strong performances are Alex McArthur as Joanne and Leah Berst as Maureen, while Jonathan Young manages to instill “yuppy scum” Benny with some redeemable qualities. Special commendation is to be given to Sean Ryan, who is playing an ensemble role in this piece and also served as Assistant Director. Ryan’s opening to “Will I?” is as good as it gets. 

Ultimately, the thing that nearly derailed the opening night production was a band that was not nearly performance ready. It should be noted, of course, that the entire cast only had about 48 hours of rehearsal together, so there were bound to be some onstage jitters or fumbles. That being said (and setting aside a moment in “Tango Maureen” that seemed to be more of a technical issue and less of a musical one, but nevertheless forced the actors to adlib) the lack of accurate musicianship from the band severely hindered performances from succeeding. Cues were bound to be messy, but there were several occasions where the band, especially the normally sharp guitarist Larry Albert, were just playing entirely incorrect phrases. 

As I said before, Starring Buffalo is an incredible organization whose mission brings Broadway performers, Buffalo professionals, and (usually) high school choruses together. Their previous productions have been excellent, and I felt that this RENT just didn’t quite meet their high standards.

For more information on Starring Buffalo!, click here.

Escape To Margaritaville at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Shelly Lynn Walsh as Tammy, Peter Michael Jordan as Brick, Chris Clark as Tully, Sarah Hinrichsen as Rachel in Jimmy Buffett’s ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE. © Matthew Murphy 

If you are a fan of the Hallmark channel formula for a love story, you will absolutely love “Jimmy Buffett’s Escape To Margaritaville.” A tropical island, lots of tequila, a vocanic eruption, four unlikely love birds, and a slew of Jimmy’s greatest hits, take to the stage in this feel good, no substance, musical that is perfect to use as a coping mechanism in 2021. Sometimes it is great to just sit back and be entertainined. Sometimes you don’t want to be an active audience member, you just want to tap your toe and smile. This show does that so well.

When Rachel (Sarah Hinrichsen) and Tammy (Emily Qualmann) decide to take a week vacation at the tropical Margaritaville hotel, they get a life changing vacation. Rachel meets island host and guitarist Tully (Chris Clark)) and after an afternoon of exploring the island, Tully discovers that for the first time, he has fallen in love. Well, usually the girls he dates stay on the island for a week and then he never sees them again. Rachel is special. Emily – who is getting married in a week – finds that she is not so keen on her fiance anymore after she meets Brick (Peter Micheal Jordan). The island allows magic to happen, until at the end of the vacation turns treacherous – when the volcano that sits on the island – has it’s own plans.

Overall this show is a feel good, goofy, silly, good time. If you are looking for hard hitting theatre, this isn’t it, but that doesn’t mean that it is not enjoyable. Chris Clark’s Tully is really fun to watch. His voice does wonderful justice to the Buffett songs and he is instantly an audience favorite. Sarah Hinrichsen’s Rachel is fun and feisty. Comic relief is produced by Qualmann’s Tammy and Jordan’s Brick. 

Greg Garcia & Mike O’Malley do a great job crafting a book for this jukebox musical. I never thought that I would hear a musical with songs by someone like Jimmy Buffett, but then again, I never thought Jim Steinman had a chance at writing for the stage, and boom there was “Bat Out Of Hell The Musical.”

Walt Spangler’s set design is a character all in it’s own. The goofyness of the story is captivated with the minimalistic set pieces. The main cabana is wonderful, and it is great seeing the band housed on stage behind the action. It has a true island vibe. 

If you want to have your heart warmed in the cold months again, get your ticket and find your escape. Just make sure that you got the volcano insurance.

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Escape To Margaritaville” runs until November 28, 2021. For more information, click here.

Songs For A New World at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The long-awaited in person performances of Songs for a New World were heralded all over Buffalo before it even opened; the success of the streaming production in June and advertising around the city gave the production an additional sense of promise. Second Generation’s production, directed by Amy Jakiel, delivers on the promise. From the opening piano chime to the final chords of “Hear My Song,” Jakiel’s assembled company, supported by Stephen Piotrowski’s music direction, are imbued with a spirit of hopefulness, determination, and strength. 

Three of the four performers from the summer streaming production return, while elements of the streaming production are incorporated into television monitors behind the cast. New to the cast is Genevieve Ellis, while Cecilia Snow is performing elsewhere (ironically, I think, just finishing up a different production of the show). This show only works if the cast can really act a song, which is why SGT has assembled some of the best singers and actors in Buffalo. The show functions more like a musical revue than a book musical, and Jakiel smartly directs the actors through the story without trying to force connection that lays outside the material. 
All four performers have excellent voices, and are finding the genuine emotion in Jason Robert Brown’s complex score. The moments where the four are singing together are incredibly powerful, and reminded me just how much I missed hearing the sound of live theater. As Man 2, Steve Copps has a rich and honest portrayal of his characters. I was particularly impressed with his performance in “The World Was Dancing.” Genevieve Ellis is a welcome newcomer to the Buffalo theater scene, and her clear and powerful mix makes the thematic repetition of the opening motif exciting every time it comes back around. You see just how much depth she possesses during numbers like “Stars and the Moon” and “Christmas Lullaby.” Michele Marie Roberts’ comedic talents are on display in a few numbers in the show (her “Surabaya Santa” is to die for), but the real shining moments are “Stars and the Moon” and especially “The Flagmaker, 1775.”

While all of these performances are fantastic, Brian Brown’s performance as Man 1 is beyond exceptional. His voice is smooth and gentle while still being strong and soulful. Every song he is featured on is a musical expedition, and it’s clear he’s been given liberty with the score. His performance seems equal parts measured and improvisational. I was very much compelled to give his and the company’s performance of “Flying Home” a standing ovation. Brown is versatile as an actor and singer, and I’m not sure enough people have or will witness his musical brilliance. Be prepared to hear his name countless times going forward.

I intentionally didn’t watch the acclaimed streaming version of this production because I knew that as theater recovered from a global pandemic (we’re not out of the woods yet, by the way) I would need to hear these words, songs, this music in person. My expectations were exceeded. I’m glad to see that Second Generation’s impressive new logo and branding hasn’t taken away their penchant for impactful theater. Thanks for ushering us into “the new world.”

For more information, click here.

The Band’s Visit at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The Company of “The Band’s Visit” North American Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman.

It’s a busy season at Shea’s Performing Art Center with three musicals running through November! First up is The Band’s Visit, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, which tells the tale of some Egyptian musicians who get lost on their way to a concert in Israel. 

Going into this performance, all that I knew of The Band’s Visit was that it had a very successful year at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards where it was nominated for 11 awards and won 10, including Best Musical. However, I was not familiar with any of the music or the storyline which is a rare occurrence for me. The show oddly opens with a projected caption on the curtain stating, “Once, not so long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” On the surface level, this can basically sum up the entire show. The occurrences and conflicts onstage all take place within a 24-hour time span and focus on average, daily events. It is up to you as an audience member to read deeper into each interaction, connect with it, and discover personal take-aways. In this regard, I’m not sure this show is really meant for everyone. If you’re looking for show-stopping numbers with eye-catching costumes, choreography, and effects, this isn’t for you. This is for the audience member who appreciates music, people, and how the two seamlessly connect. 

At the beginning of the show, band member Haled (Joe Joseph) is tasked with purchasing bus tickets for the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra’s trip to Petah Tikvah for their performance the following evening. When communicating with the ticket clerk, his Egyptian accent causes a misunderstanding, and the tickets are instead purchased for the isolated desert town of Bet Hatikva. The group’s leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabay), and the rest of the band don’t realize this error until they arrive in Bet Hatikva and get an introduction to the town from local restaurant owner, Dina (Janet Dacal), and two café employees, Papi (Coby Getzug) and Itzik (Clay Singer). Since there are no more busses available until the following morning and the small town doesn’t have any hotels, Dina suggests the band divide and spend the night with her, Papi, or Itzik at their respective homes. 

The audience is able to experience three different lives and environments alongside the band members including Dina’s lifestyle, Itzik’s home and life with his wife, their baby, and his father-in-law, and Papi’s double-date experience at a roller-rink. The evening is filled with getting acquainted, supporting each other, and of course: music! Most of the instrumental music is created onstage with a variety of instruments and sounds. The talent of the band is truly incredible and provides a constant heartbeat to the show. Many pieces of music are about music itself like “The Beat of Your Heart”, “Something Different”, and “Itzik’s Lullaby”. I thoroughly enjoyed the all the elements of humor throughout the show like Getzug’s hilarious rendition of “Papi Hears the Ocean”. Similarly, Dacal’s comedic timing as Dina is perfect and Joshua Grosso’s commitment to his role as Telephone Guy is fantastic.

While the show may feel slow-moving at times, it’s definitely an interesting and unique production that causes you to reflect on the ability of music to bring people together and the power of a simple change in one’s routine. If you’re a music-enthusiast, you can’t miss this thoughtful and heartfelt production. The show runs through November 7th, is 90 minutes in length without an intermission, and includes 15 musical numbers.

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