Theatre Review: ‘Hairspray’ at The Kavinoky Theatre

The cast of “Hairspray” at The Kavinoky Theatre.

“Hairspray” was the first musical I saved my money to see when it came to Shea’s on the first National Tour. I remember being enthralled by the experience. The music, the story, the fun the actors appeared to be having on stage. I was out of breath for the actors on stage. It was a rush. I hold that experience in high regard, and because “Hairspray” is one of my favorites, I am very protective of it. Walking in, I told my girlfriend that if I didn’t hear a tenor saxophone wail in the opening of “Good Morning Baltimore” I was out. If Edna didn’t make me laugh and ham it up during “Timeless To Me” I was out. If “You Can’t Stop The Beat” didn’t excite me, I was out. After witnessing the Kav’s production of one of my absolute favorite musicals, I can honestly say, that this production rivals the first national tour of the show. Get your tickets now, because they will be hard to come by!

. . .this production rivals the first national tour. . .

“Hairspray,” the 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (Maeghan McDonald) a girl who is a bit larger than a size 4, and who has bigger dreams and more heart than anyone else. Tracy dreams to be on a local afternoon television dance program, The Corny Collins Show, and when it is announced that there are open auditions, Tracy sprints into action. Her mother Edna (Billy Lovern) tells her that she shouldn’t audition because of her size, but that doesn’t stop Tracy for chasing her dream. Tracy and her best friend Penny (Arin Lee Dandes) go to the television station and audition, but they are not welcomed with the open arms they were hoping.

This musical was a hit right from the beginning and rightfully so. The topics of segregation in the 60’s, self esteem, body image, breaking the societal norms, and doing the right thing, all are included in this great adaption of the 1988 film by John Waters. The score is catchy and fun, and the Kavinoky production does a impeccable job bringing the songs to life and making sure that no expense is spared.

“Hairspray” made headlines back in 2002 because the show ends with a very fast tempo, heavily choreographed, high energy song, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” where the entire cast appears on stage in a huge spectacle. This is one thing that I looked for in this show, and was very relieved that Director Carlos A. Jones made sure to keep the energy flowing and made this finale to the show fresh and new. You will jump to your feet when this song concludes. I guarantee it.

Having reviewed shows in Buffalo for the last six seasons, it is common to see the same faces playing roles at the same theaters time and time again. Sometimes it gets a little old seeing the same faces doing everything. This production has a huge talented cast, many of whom are gracing the boards at the Kav for the first time. I hope that we get to see these faces more often in the community because the talent that is possessed in this city is so great! Kudos to Director Jones for taking a chance on new faces. I hope this is the new standard.

Leading the show as Tracy is Maeghan McDonald. She’s new! Her energy is fresh, her voice is marvelous, and she truly captivates the persona of Tracy to a tee. She has heart and attitude, and together the two create a fantastic portrayal. She does not disappoint.

Arin Lee Dandes is perfect for Penny. Her innocence is a trait that goes far with this character. She gets a load of laughs and earns every one.

Billy Lovern plays Edna, sticking with the tradition of a male playing the role of Tracy’s mom. Lovern does a wonderful job playing the larger than life Edna in this production. Together with John Fredo’s Wilbur, the two bring the house down in their performance of “Timeless To Me” in the second act.

Marc Sacco plays tv host, Corny Collins. Sacco is wonderful in this role. His performance of “It’s Hairspray” is very entertaining.

Natalie Slipko and Cassidy Kreuzer play Velma and Amber Von Tussell, respectfully. They have a wonderful chemistry as the evil mother and daughter duo. We love to hate them, and hate to the love them. 

Lorenzo Shawn Parnell plays Motormouth Maybelle, and he is a powerhouse. Having just seen him in “Sister Act” at the Lancaster Opera House, it is mind boggling that he played both Sweaty Eddie and now Motormouth Maybelle. This just shows the range that he possesses. He is a brilliant addition to the cast. His performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” brings a tear to your eye.

There is so much talent in this show that I could go on for days, but it wouldn’t do the show justice. This is the best show I have seen at The Kavinoky in some time, and I suggest you get down there to see it right away, you don’t want to miss the fun!

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

“Hairspray” runs until October 6, 2019 and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘West Side Story’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “West Side Story” at MusicalFare. Photo by Doug Weyand.

“West Side Story” is about as timeless as a musical can get. A romantic score with classic songs, dreamy ballet sequences and a story about star-crossed lovers and their warring families. When you start stripping away some of the more traditional theatrical elements of the musical, like a bare-bones set and smaller orchestra, it forces the audience to sit in the discomfort and heartbreak of the story. 

MusicalFare kicked off its 30th season with its relatively stripped-down production, utilizing their intimate space to expose the violence, racial tension and raw emotion that runs in the veins of this story. Chris Kelly directed the cast of 20, working with Victoria Pérez, co-founder and Artistic Director of Raíces Theatre Company, to ensure cultural authenticity throughout the show, including the movement and casting of the Sharks. 

. . .Real and raw . . .

We’re immediately thrust into a high energy modern dance sequence to meet the Jets and the Sharks and their respective leaders, Riff (Matthew DeVita) and Bernardo (Alejandro Gabriél Gómez). The rising tension between the groups only escalates when Tony (Ricky Needham), a former Jet and Riff’s best friend, arrives at the local dance and only has eyes for the captivating Maria (Dominique Kempf), Bernardo’s sister.

Needham has the voice of an angel. He soars during “Maria,” singing with such delicious vibrato and strength at the top of his range that you’ll swoon in your seat and wish you were the Maria he’s singing about. His tenderness in certain moments with Kempf’s beautiful Maria was lovely, especially in their ballet duet leading into the “Somewhere” sequence. 

Kempf shined as Maria, excelling most in expressing Maria’s naiveté as she tries to navigate new feelings of love for Tony amidst a world that wants to separate them.

Blaise Mercedes is the firecracker Anita – Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend. She commands the stage with a unbelievable spark, strutting in Kari Drozd’s best costumes in the show and showing off a sexy, powerful voice, which shines in “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” and sends a chill down your spine when the Jets corner her in Doc’s store. The only flaw from opening night was her microphone, which went out during most of “America.” She nailed the performance visually, but backed by an otherwise welcome addition of percussive instruments to the orchestra, she was nearly impossible to hear.

The energetic young cast was full of standout characters, especially the hilarious Rheanna Gallego as Anybodys and the powerful Brendan Didio as Action. Bobby Cooke and Philip Farugia, the latter of which served as musical director, did well doubling as the adult characters in moments of levity and gravity.

Lynne Koscielniak’s set design did the limited space well, with a distressed brick alley and chain link fencing serving as every backdrop and bare dress mannequins and milk crates as various props and furniture. Chris Cavanagh’s lighting shined especially brightly on the set during the “Somewhere” sequence.

While some of the risks MusicalFare took with its season opener, like the set and some of the staging, paid off, others fell flat. There were a few times when the uneven numbers between the Jets and the Sharks members felt too unbalanced to go unnoticed (we’re talking 6-7 Jets vs. 4 Sharks at times). Additionally, with the exception of “America,” the small orchestra that MusicalFare audiences are accustomed to simply can’t live up to the full potential that Leonard Bernstein’s iconic score is known for. Additionally, while Nancy Hughes’ choreography, and Bobby Cooke’s additional choreography hits high notes in “Cool” and “Gee, Officer Krupke,” I missed some of the more predictable dance choices that I expected from a show that is well-known for boys doing ballet in Converse sneakers.

All in all, MusicalFare’s “West Side Story” is raw and real. The vibrant and talented cast will surely entertain you; just don’t leave home without a tissue or two. 

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 35 minutes including a 15 minute intermission

“West Side Story” runs through October 6 at MusicalDare Theatre in Amherst. For more information, click here.

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.

Theatre Review: ‘The Front Page’ at The Stratford Festival

The cast of “The Front Page” at The Stratford Festival. Photo by Emily Cooper.

There are many instances when a play written almost 100 years ago is still as topical in 2019 as it was when it was written in the late 20’s. Politics, greed, corruption, murder, it all makes an appearance in the 1928 dramedy “The Front Page” now showing at the Stratford Festival. This show makes the newspaper relevant again, it is just a shame no one could find one that was still in business to celebrate it’s greatness…in print!

. . .top notch. . .a must see . . .

“The Front Page” written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, is adapted for the Stratford Stage by Michael Healey. It tells the story of a press room in Chicago, where the actual story is not necessarily the important thing and real journalism is tossed out the window. All that is wanted is to sell papers, the heck with the facts. While the boys from the other papers are playing poker, Hildy Johnson (Ben Carlson) is quitting. He met a girl, and is going off to New York City to marry her. The problem? He is the best reporter the ‘Examiner’ has. As he is packing his bags, a murderer is scheduled to be hung for shooting an African American cop and killing him. Just as Hildy is ready to leave for the train station, shots are fired into the press room, and the killer is on the loose. Hildy is back on the beat, getting the story, and giving the ‘Examiner’ the break it needs.

First things first, this story takes a while to get cooking. Three acts. Three acts!! This is a long show and to be honest, it felt long at the beginning. At the end of act one, and the rest of the acts, the story is fantastic and will really captivate your attention. The comedy, the drama, the emotion, it makes for a fantastic production. The unit set of the grungy press room in the County Court building is aesthetically phenomenal. Trash litters the floor. Phones are set up everywhere. Lorenzo Sacoini creates a fun set that is a character on it’s own.

Dana Osborne’s costumes are perfect and they really captivate the essence of each character’s personality. It’s nice to see costumes that really emulate what the character would wear and not just giving them something to put on.

Director Graham Abbey assembles a fantastic cast of character actors to make this story fun and exciting. Ben Carlson leads the show as Hildy Johnson. Carlson has a great hold on the Hildy character. He is funny, he is full of heart, he is relatable, and he has a quick wit that brings some of the greatest one-liners to life in this script. Carlson is great to watch. A master at work.

Mike Shara plays one of the funniest characters I have ever seen on stage, Sheriff Hartman. Shara plays a caricature of a tough talking, gun toting, air head. The dynamic between Shara and Juan Chioran’s Mayor are priceless and take an at time dense story and make it hilarious. They provide the comic relief in this show. Shara has a Will Ferrell demeanor that is so entertaining, you will have trouble breathing from laughter.

Maev Beaty is a firecracker as the outspoken Cookie Burns. She does a wonderful job countering Carlson’s Hildy Johnson. The back and forth between the two is a dance that you love witnessing. They have a love hate relationship that works wonders on stage.

Their are those who say that if you are going to revive a show or mount a new production, that you need to make it relevant to the modern age. I think that is ridiculous. Of all the wonderful things that this show incorporates into it, every time I heard a reference to “fake news,” or “Russian Collusion,” I rolled my eyes. I want my theatre to take me away and tell me a story, I don’t want to have my theatre reiterate what the media is throwing at me everyday. Other than this small irritation, this production is top notch and is a must see before it closes on October 25.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes including two 15 minute intermissions.

“The Front Page” runs until October 25, 2019 and is presented as part of the Stratford Festival in Canada. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Ladykillers’ at The Shaw Festival

The cast of “The Ladykillers” at The Shaw Festival. Photo by David Cooper.

There are few things more satisfying that a well done comedy. To genuinely laugh out loud (instead of the LOL we type with a straight face) is a great feeling, and the Shaw Festival’s production of Graham Linehan’s “The Ladykillers” is chock full of chortle-inducing moments.

. . .the incredible cast never missed a beat. . .

The play is based on the film screenplay by William Rose, and follows one rather eccentric woman, Mrs. Wilberforce, in post-World War II London as she rents a spare room to a group of musicians wishing to have a place to practice. However, the musicians are actually criminals using the room to compose the greatest heist, and later consequential murder of all time. Mrs. Wilberforce unknowingly gets involved, leading to hilarious circumstance after circumstance until a fitting conclusion.

Chick Reid is a treat as the sometimes dim-witted but always well-intentioned Mrs. Wilberforce. She brings a lot of spunk to a character who initially seems like a typical clueless old lady and quickly enchants the audience as an unlikely heroine.

Leading the musically-challenged band of criminals is Damien Atkins as Professor Marcus. Pardon yet another musical pun, but he hits all the right notes as the Nervous Nellie ringleader of the aspiring thieves. Atkins’ lankiness and fluidity also makes for some outrageously good physical comedy as he struggles to calmly execute his plan.

Martin Hopper, Andrew Lawrie, Ric Reid and Steven Sutcliffe round out the ensemble of mischievous men, each saddled with an important piece of the heist and challenged by hilarious obstacles along the way. Whether they’re hiding in a closet, pretending to play instruments or arguing over who is the best candidate to murder someone, each shines in their respective roles.

Arguably the most important character in “The Ladykillers” is Judith Bowden’s incredibly detailed and dynamic two-story, 360-degree set. The actors thankfully utilize every inch of the interior and exterior of Mrs. Wilberforce’s house and, when it comes time for the heist, Bowden presents it, in its entirety, in an incredibly genius use of space and technology.

“The Ladykillers” is easily my favorite show I’ve seen at the Shaw Festival in recent years. The audience was laughing constantly and the incredible cast never missed a beat, earning the show a worthy spot at the top of any theater-goer’s bucket list.

Running Time: approximately two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.

“The Ladykillers” is playing at the Festival Theatre through October 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Glass Managerie’ at The Shaw Festival

Julia Course and Jonathan Tan in “The Glass Managerie.” Photo by David Cooper.

Tennessee Williams comes from a cohort of playwrights whose early 20th century upbringing, while horrid by any standard, provided ample source material that would later be used to craft some of the most iconic works of American theatre. Along with Eugene O’Neil’s “Long Days Journey Into Night”, “The Glass Menagerie” is semi-autobiographical and features characters loosely (or not so loosely?) based on himself, his mother, and sibling. This window into Williams’ early life illuminates the psyche of a man who experienced profound heartache, but repurposed that heartache into dramatic works that speak to the human condition. One of those works is currently experiencing a stunning production at the Shaw Festival, Niagara-on-the-Lake’s renowned celebration of theatre.  

. . .haunting and brilliantly acted. . .

“The Glass Menagerie” tells the story of Tom (Andre Sills), a 20-something man toiling away in a shoe factory to support his mother Amanda (Allegra Fulton), an overbearing and faded southern belle; and sister Laura (Julia Course), a mentally fail and cripplingly shy shut-in who spends the bulk of her time obsessing over her glass animal collection. In an effort to appease his mother, Tom arranges something of a blind date between Laura and Jim (Jonathan Tan), a co-worker and friend from the shoe factory. After overcoming an initial bout of nerves and shyness Laura seems to be warming to Jim, until he reveals that he’s already engaged to be married. This revelation breaks Laura’s heart and sends Amanda into a rage, which she ultimately redirects to Tom, who flees the home and, as he later reveals, never returns.

The humanity and profound sadness of this production largely stems from its intimacy; in terms of acting choices, staging, and the theatre itself. Like most productions of “Menagerie”, Shaw’s takes place in-the-round, with seats on all sides in a theatre that’s only slightly larger than blackbox (I’d estimate 200 seats or so). Being so close to the stage gives the impression that you’re sitting in the Winfield’s living room seeing firsthand the agony on Laura’s face and the fire in Amanda’s eyes. The use of darkness and sparse lighting also added to the show’s intimacy, as well as the ways in which Tom—who also acts as the story’s narrator—moves in-and-out of the apartment as he toggles between his two roles.

Each member of this small cast beautifully channels the complexity of William’s characters. Course’s Laura is fragile and childlike, filled with youthful wonder but also utterly broken. Laura is a human embodiment of the glass ornaments that she treasures so dearly; she’s beautiful yet fragile.

Allegra Fulton’s Amanda is the seminal southern belle, a character found in many many Tennessee Williams plays (similar to Balance Dubois in “A Streetcar Names Desire”). She’s manipulative and overbearing, but also charming and magnetic. 

Jonathan Tan’s Jim is relentlessly positive, constantly brimming with a smile and a bursting with a kind word, even as he’s breaking Laura’s heart.

And stealing the show is Andre Sills’ Tom, whose magnetism as the narrator is mirrored in intensity as Laura’s protective older brother. Sills brings out a different dynamic in his relationship with each character in the show. With Laura he’s nurturing and patient, frustrated and fiery with Amanda, chummy with Jim. He brings immense focus likability to a complex character and is an absolute powerhouse in this production of Tennessee Williams’ most iconic play.

Ultimately, Shaw’s production of “Menagerie” stems from director Laszlo Berczes’ understanding of the fact that, while rich with emotional baggage, the story is simple. It’s about the delicate balance between reality and hope, and the acceptance that life can be both beautiful and tragically unkind. 

The Shaw Festival’s production of “The Glass Menagerie” is haunting and brilliantly acted, an intimate and deeply sorrowful story about beautiful dreams and the cruelty of reality. It’s playing at the festival’s Jackie Maxwell Studio Theatre until October 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Forget Me Not’ at Andrew’s Theatre

The cast of “Forget Me Not” at the Andrews Theatre.

If you groan when you hear the phrase “memory play,” you were probably forced to read The Glass Menagerie in school and are biased against them on principle. Even if this is you, Forget Me Not, playing at the Andrews Theatre July 25th and 26th as part of the Buffalo Infringement Festival, might change your mind. Originally developed as part of the Road Less Traveled Productions New Play Workshop, Forget Me Not is based on playwright Diane Almeter Jones’ own experience in Limestone, NY. It has been seen across Buffalo, most recently at the Kavinoky Theatre. Then, it saw significant revisions, and is now being presented here in Buffalo before it travels to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It should fit right in at the world’s largest performing arts festival; it’s arguably more living snapshots than a “play” in the traditional sense. There’s a flashlight sequence that literally feels like snapshots. It is executed with ease.

. . .heartwarming and poignant. . .

Maybe it’s a tad redundant, but Jones really understands these characters. That’s probably because she is one. The dialogue is natural at times, almost fantastic at others. Jones is fictionalizing events but using real letters to supplement the dramatic action. I was astonished almost immediately at how well she layers fantasy over realism and how easily she floats between the two. It’s an excellent piece, pushing the boundaries of theatrical storytelling while captivating the audience. It’s standard for Buffalo theatergoers to shuffle in their seats, cough without reprieve, or even have full conversations during some performances. Jones manages to create an atmosphere of silent anticipation, true “edge of your seat” drama. The only sound I heard was “wow” as the lights came down.

As Diane (the character), Brittany Bassett has the difficult task of driving the play’s non-linear story without words. Quickly establishing herself as one of Buffalo’s premier young actresses, Bassett is up to the task. She has the expressiveness that silent movie actors would kill for, and she’s equal parts engaging and enthralling. The fluid nature of the storytelling makes it imperative to have a strong narrative thru-line, and Bassett puts on that responsibility with ease. As June, Diane’s grandmother, Anne Roaldi Boucher is stretched to the emotional limit. Boucher, too, has no trouble with the non-linear storytelling. Where a lesser actress may have “played up” the fantasy, Boucher takes the given moment for exactly what it is, often snapping in an out of the fantasy with ease. She’s particularly effective in the scene where she receives the dreaded telegram. As Harry, June’s husband, Zachary Bellus captures the young lover, the bitter younger sibling, and the matured soldier all in one fell swoop. Playing his older brother Francis, Nick Stevens makes an imposing soldier and terrific role model. The two have a camaraderie and chemistry that reminds me of my younger brother, and it must be surreal for Jones’ family to watch these two embody the real-life characters. [I read on the website for the production that a member of Jones’ family was impressed with how well Boucher was able to capture the real life June]

I cannot say enough about how pleased I was to get to see this show here in Buffalo. It’s a heartwarming and poignant story where family is the real central character. It deals with themes that are so important to today’s world, including pain you can’t always see or even name. Because the show is only running two days here in Buffalo, it’s likely this article will be post-production, but I would encourage those people reading it to follow the production online as it travels to Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe.

“Forget Me Not” played two performances at the Andrew’s Theatre on July 25 and 26, 2019. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘First Date’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “First Date” at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Chris Cavanagh.

I’ll jump right into it: the world of the modern musical is CRAZY. It’s not easy to compete with “Hamilton,” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” or even “Hadestown.” When “First Date” appeared on the scene in 2013, it had to fight with new shows like “Beautiful” and “Bridges of Madison County” as well as shows that had gained momentum like “Matilda” and “Kinky Boots.” I’m only mentioning this because it wasn’t easy from the get-go for “First Date,” which featured “Chuck” star Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez (whose popularity was sky-high because of Smash). It ran 34 previews and 174 performances. I don’t like to make a review a criticism of the material itself (because cutting or editing is a violation of the license agreement) but this musical struggles, and not even an excellent production at MusicalFare can combat its weaknesses. As I mention script or score flaws below, please don’t say “I guess we shouldn’t see it.” Say instead “let’s see what happens when a company comes together and produces a flawed work” because, after all, humanity is flawed.

. . .an excellent production. . .

On paper, it seems like the perfect show for MusicalFare’s intimate space, and in several ways it is. Chris Cavanagh’s unit set is creative and impressive while practical. The show is licensed in a small cast format, which means that ensemble members Kevin Kennedy, Dudney Joseph Jr., and Dominique Kempf are working overtime. It provides leading vehicles for MusicalFare regulars Michele Marie Roberts and Marc Sacco, whose unbelievable chemistry stemming from years of friendship is put to wonderful use in this production. 

As I mentioned, Roberts and Sacco take on these roles with aplomb. They breathe as much truth and life into a hackneyed libretto as is humanly possible. The mostly boring score has highlights and MAN does this cast take advantage of them when they come. “Safer” is a song I’ve heard a couple of times at auditions; it’s a wonderful ballad about why Casey (Roberts) is a self-saboteur. Roberts’ rendition is A++, pitting her outward strength against her inner self-doubt. Sacco, too, sings about a note he found from his mother in “In Love With You.” The rest of the show is riddled with interjections of various stereotypical characters singing novelty songs, and yet something about the performances from Kennedy, Joseph Jr., and Kempf make them ring a little truer. Joseph Jr., in particular, stops the show with “I’d Order Love.” Much of the credit goes to Doug Weyand for directing the reality out of these moments and choreographing them carefully. They work in the little world of this piece, and Weyand doesn’t shy away from their camp.

Here’s the thing about “First Date,” and in particular this production. It doesn’t always have to be “Dear Evan Hansen.” Sometimes, it can be a nice pop musical about two people in a situation many if not all of us have experienced: a first date. 

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

“First Date” runs until August 11, 2019 and is presented at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.