Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was published as a novel in 1934, made into films twice, and most recently was adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. Over time and all these permutations, the story has retained its intricate web of mystery, deceit, sardonic wit, told by a complex cast of characters. All for One Productions’ latest version at Shea’s 710 Theatre captures it all on a pretty amazing stage, too.
All for One and the show’s director Kyle LoConti kept it all pretty mainstream and that simplicity was this show’s perfection. Lynne Koscielniak’s set is gorgeous: it revolves to reveal four distinct places – including the train’s dim and narrow aisle and it’s well-appointed a quite glamorous. Prop master Diane Almeter Jones and her team went for pure art deco elegance which was echoed by Lise Harty’s stunning costumes. You’re pulled into story immediately on the narrow video screen above the set which also becomes the moving train.
What’s a great set without a cast of actors in roles that fit them like fine calf skin gloves? Christian Brandjes is a marvelous Hercule Poirot, right down to the elaborate moustache. Gregory Gjurich is c’est magnifique as Monsieur Bouc, Poirot’s friend who helps get him aboard the train from Istanbul to London. Make sure you read the cast bios in the (really printed on page) playbill. Gjurich shows his devotion to his character in his entry. Lisa Ludwig is wonderfully brash as the only American, Mrs. Hubbard. Alas, there are plenty of aliases among this large cast and a couple actors who adroitly handle double roles. It’s all great fun. At the back of your mind, you know that the characters are in a world between wars, they’re fighting their inner battles, too, and yet they are swathed in a refined elegance that only can happen on a train in Europe. With murderers afoot. And revenge as a motive. Or was it?
Even if you’re blasé about having read the book, seen the movie(s), know the plot and its twists, this is mighty fine theatre. The set is an experience, the acting is superb, and whole experience is a pure delight. It’s a short run to April 2; find tickets and details at www.sheas.org.
Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission.
A visual spectacle of elaborate lighting and effects matched with superb talent and absurd comedy, Beetlejuice opened at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre last evening. Whether or not you are a fan of the original movie, you’re in luck: Beetlejuice the musical is so much better. It brings all the best parts of the cult-classic film while also giving the story a much-needed update and adding adult humor that will have you laughing hysterically. Beetlejuice tells the story of Lydia Deets (Isabella Esler) who is a grief-stricken teen enamored by all that is strange and unusual. A couple months after the death of her mom, Lydia and her father (Jesse Sharp) move into a house that was recently vacated by couple Barbara (Britney Coleman) and Adam (Will Burton) after an unfortunate electrical accident. After being plunged into the afterlife, Barbara and Adam seek guidance from a demon named Beetlejuice (typically Justin Collette but portrayed on opening night by Matthew Michael Janisse) to get their house back and scare out the new owners. When it’s discovered that Lydia can see these ghost inhabitants while no one else can, we are taken on a whirlwind of an adventure involving the Netherworld, possession, underage marriage, and so much more!
First off, I was very surprised to see so many kids in the audience. This is definitely not a show for children and includes crude humor and language that is not for young ears. I thoroughly enjoyed how much this show pushed the enveloped and couldn’t stop laughing right from the second song, “The Whole ‘Being Dead’ Thing”. Beetlejuice immediately breaks the 4th wall and addresses the audience directly to let us know this is show about death so we better come to terms with that quick. Janisse quickly became an audience favorite with his high energy, perfect comedic timing, and kooky portrayal of Beetlejuice. I have no idea how a person could continuously portray that role night after night and imagine it must take some serious caffeine. Isabella Esler truly blew me away as Lydia. A recent high school graduate (!!!), Esler has some insane power to her voice and continued to really belt it out for the entire length of the show, one song after another. Kate Marilley as life coach Delia reminded me of Moira Rose from Schitt’s Creek in her accent and mannerisms. Burton and Coleman have excellent stage chemistry as Adam and Barbara and are such a perfect contrast in character to Beetlejuice.
One of my favorite numbers in the show has to be “Creepy Old Guy”. In the original film, Beetlejuice needs Lydia to marry him so he can be alive again (literally). The character of Lydia is estimated to be around 14-16 years old while Beetlejuice is…..well…. a creepy old guy in comparison. This is kind of brushed over in the movie and not really deemed to be too strange or gross. However, I love that the musical in contrast really leaned into the fact that the whole concept is so incredibly wrong and poked fun at itself. “Day-O” is obviously a showstopper, as well, and I’m so glad the musical recreated that classic scene from the movie so wonderfully. That song and “Jump in Line” are sure to be in your head as you leave the theatre!
The visuals in the show really appeal to the senses and are quite a spectacle to take in. There are many, many, many set changes as we bounce from scene to scene. However, they are all executed so quickly and seamlessly, it’s easy to overlook. Projections are creatively utilized over the scenery, curtains, and backdrop to really bring the stage to life in an interesting way. The large, angular arch that frames the stage acts as a huge lighting effect with different colors, flashing, and strobing throughout the show to achieve various desired effects. Fog is also used and even elements of fire in different forms of stage magic. Your senses are sure to be stimulated!
Overall, this show is incredibly entertaining and has such a fun atmosphere. It’s showing at Shea’s through the 26th and has a run time of 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Be…….tter get your tickets soon!
If Hadestown proves anything to the audience, it’s that music is power….and so is silence. Hadestown opened at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre last evening and continues to run through February 26th. This was my first time seeing the show, but I was no stranger to the music and the story. Back around 2017/2018 when the original live cast recording of Hadestown came out, I was quickly hooked on the intensity of its music and the mythological backing of the tale. After listening to the soundtrack on repeat for ages, I knew this was a show I had to see when I got the chance. Alas, Covid ruined my previous plans of seeing Hadestown on Broadway and so my first live experience of the stage production was at Shea’s last evening.
If you aren’t familiar with mythology, I would highly recommend doing some research prior to attending the show to give you a better understanding and appreciation of the story. Thankfully, Shea’s Playbill does include a bit of background information on page 24 if you need a quick refresher. The show centers around the story of Eurydice (Hannah Whitley) and Orpheus (Chibueze Ihuoma) while also referencing the tale of Hades (Matthew Patrick Quinn) and Persephone (Brit West). The story is narrated by none other than Hermes (Nathan Lee Graham), the messenger himself. Orpheus is a poor boy who also happens to be the son of a Muse. He possesses a great musical talent with the ability to charm, persuade, and inspire others with his voice and lyre. He falls in love with Eurydice who is a poor girl with a troubled past and little to live for. Their love creates the hope that Orpheus’ music will be able to provide for them all that money cannot and that the winds of fate will be kind. When Persephone is taken back to the underworld by Hades too soon, the world above returns to winter and times are tough for the poor couple. Orpheus promises to finish a song that will return seasons back to order. In the meantime, Eurydice is left to fend for herself facing cold, hunger, and misery. In her desperation, she strikes a deal with Hades to take her away from the pain of life and provide her with a home and a purpose in the underworld. Once Orpheus realizes she is gone, he embarks on a journey to bring her home that ends up being more challenging than he could ever imagine.
Music is a central part of this show, not only because it is a musical, but because Orpheus’ gift centers around music and the power it holds. Orpheus’ pieces throughout the show are no easy feat. His character is considered a high tenor, but so much more is required of the vocalist who portrays him. Ihuoma’s falsetto soars above the audience and leaves us in awe of how he can have such an incredible range. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you have Hades whose notes feel as though they are as low as the depths of hell. The contrast between his bass and Orpheus’ tenor is truly beautiful symbolism. Quinn is known for his portrayal of villains, which makes a lot of sense once you hear the capabilities of his voice. As I mentioned before, going along with the power of music in this production is also the power of silence. I can’t remember the last time I witnessed silences of such great lengths in a musical. They carry so much weight and bring immense meaning to character interactions. Once a note finally cuts through the silence, you truly feel it cut through your soul and make the impact the music was meant to.
My personal favorite piece in the show is “Wait for Me”. This has always been my most repeated track when listening to the album and it did not disappoint with its impact in the show. The staging and choreography for this song is incredibly powerful and unique, utilizing work lights and contrasting light and darkness. It is truly a show-stopper and created endless applause so intense that some who were unfamiliar with the show got up thinking it must be intermission. Wrong. It’s just that extraordinary.
None of the roles featured in Hadestown are easy to portray by any means and they all require such tenacity and raw talent from the performers that I have no idea how they are able to deliver this caliber of performance day after day. Brit West takes you on an emotional roller-coaster through her portrayal of Persephone and has such a vast range of vocal ability. Hannah Whitley as Eurydice is also a power house and has some featured riffs that really bring the house down. Nathan Lee Graham as Hermes really connects with the audience and is very likeable and comical with his delivery.
Something else I really appreciated was the little details in the costuming. Hades has a sleeve tattoo that looks like bricks and represents the wall he builds in Hadestown. Persephone has 2 dresses that are exactly the same in cut and style but one is bright green for when she is on earth in the spring and summer and the other is black for the underworld. Hermes has small feathers on the cuffs of his jacket to pay homage to his winged-foot mythology counterpart.
I don’t think Hadestown is meat for a casual theatre-goer. I think it is meant for those willing to understand and appreciate the complexity of the story and the music it contains. You should be somewhat aware of what you’re walking into and know that this is contemporary theatre which is a completely different vibe and encounter than classical musicals. Let yourself get lost in the beauty and power of music and love with a theatrical experience like none other.
Run time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission
Opening the 2022-2023 season at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre is “The Prom”! Adapted for the stage from the hit Netflix movie, “The Prom” opens with Broadway performers Dee Dee Allen (Courtney Balan) and Barry Glickman (Patrick Wetzel) following opening night for their new (fictional) show based on Eleanor Roosevelt’s life story. After the musical receives terrible reviews, these Broadway starlets are left trying to figure out how to create positive publicity for themselves. Their team suggests finding a cause they can support to make a difference while also making headlines. They quickly discover a scandal in Edgewater, Indiana in which a high school student, Emma (Kaden Kearney) was banned from bringing her girlfriend to prom. The team decides to travel to Indiana to make a statement on gay rights and save the small-town prom.
Right off the bat, this musical gave me “Book of Mormon” vibes with its sense of humor: very on-the-nose somewhat offensive-feeling jokes meant to prove a point and make the audience laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. Topics like the LGBTQ community, religion, and society are the main target of these jokes. A lot of the characters feel somewhat like overexaggerated caricatures intended to also have a comedic effect. If you are easily offended, I would definitely think twice before attending this show. You have to be able to have an open mind and a willingness to make fun of the way things are. I also felt many similarities with “Mean Girls” the musical in some of the sets, costumes, and themes of high school represented onstage.
One of my favorite numbers in the show is “The Acceptance Song” where the Broadway crew arrives in Indiana to make their initial statement sporting t-shirts that read “We’re All Lesbians”. This scene is so ridiculously hilarious I was laughing out loud throughout most of it. You can also visit the merch table in the lobby and snatch up one of these shirts for yourself in case you’re a fan of striking up conversation with strangers in your day-to-day life. Emily Borromeo as Angie absolutely slays in her rendition of “Zazz” in Act II, channeling her inner Roxie Hart when boosting Emma’s confidence. Patrick Wetzel really pulls at your heartstrings and quickly has the audience on his side through his naivety and fatherly characterization of Barry Glickman. Kadey Kearney as Emma perfectly embodies the awkwardness and coming-of-age of their character while also tackling many high belt numbers throughout the show.
Overall, I don’t think “The Prom” is for everyone, but it’s definitely a great way to attract a younger crowd in for the season and start things with a bang. If you’re willing to laugh at the strange and crazy thing that is life and have a sweet spot in your heart for the excitement and nostalgia of high school prom, this is absolutely the show for you. “The Prom” runs through this weekend (to October 2nd) at Shea’s and clocks in at 2 hours and 25 minutes with a 15-minute intermission. Don’t hesitate, get your tickets today!
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.
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.
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!
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.
“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.
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.