Theatre Review: ‘Run For Your Wife’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

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The best thing in any theater community, especially Buffalo’s unique community, are the organizations made up of local professionals who act for the love of theater. Lancaster Regional Players have been presenting community theater for 52 years, and they’ve collaborated with the Lancaster Opera House to present the British farce “Run For Your Wife.” The play centers around a taxi driver, living a double life. He lives happily with his wife, Mary, in Wimbledon. He also lives happily with his wife, Barbara, four and a half minutes away! When he steps in to stop a mugging, he is hit in the head and taken to hospital. The situation begins to unravel when John gives both of his addresses in the course of the incident’s investigation.

“. . .the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.”

The production definitely stays true to its community theater roots, marking the nonmusical debut of one of the actors in the company. Lancaster Regional Players have picked a play that, in my opinion, is dated in some of its humor, but manage to do a decent job in putting it on. David Hall, the director, does his best with a flawed piece of theater, and does a serviceable job with the difficult style that is farce.

Leading this production as John Smith, Scot Kaitanowski shines. As a veteran of numerous productions here in Buffalo, Kaitanowski has a natural knack for comedy. He handles the fast-paced dialogue with ease, and his organic reactions add the extra flair necessary to make the script work.

Joel Murphy, playing John’s Wimbledon upstairs neighbor and assistant in protecting his double life, is the right combination of charming and quick-thinking. Murphy’s greatest strength is his commitment to the character and the comedy; however, he might learn a bit from Kaitanowski in the art of physical reaction.

Rounding out the cast soundly are Suzie Hibbard as Mary Smith and Amy Feder as Barbara Smith. Both ladies are extremely apt in their roles, rolling with the craziness that ensues from the situation unravelling.

In the roles of the police sergeants, Victor Morales and Jackson DiGiacomo are excellent straight men to the farce happening around them. Chuck Basil rounds out the cast as the upstairs neighbor, a 70s stereotype of a homosexual man. Basil conveys the stereotype well, but is unable to bring any kind of humanity to his, by 2017 standards, offensive stereotype. This seems to me like a script fault, so Basil’s performance can hardly by critiqued for it.

All in all, David Hall’s direction has brought the best parts of the flawed “Run For Your Wife” script forward, but it seems to me most of the actors are working against a dated script, especially as it relates to the homosexuality element of the story. That being said, the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

“Run For Your Wife” runs until May 21, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.

Theatre News: Kenny Awards Winners Announced

Shea’s Performing Arts Center and The Lipke Foundation are proud to announce the winners of 24th Annual Kenny Awards, an endeavor that recognizes the talent, dedication, and efforts of our local high school youth.

Outstanding Orchestral Performance

Orchard Park High School – Into the Woods

Outstanding Technical Design

Starpoint High School – Disney’s Beauty & the Beast

Outstanding Choral Performance

Frontier High School – Disney’s The Little Mermaid

Outstanding Scenic Design

Orchard Park High School – Into the Woods

Outstanding Dramatic Performance

Maple Grove High School – Anything Goes

Outstanding Costume Design

Eden Jr/Sr High School – Shrek the Musical

Outstanding Dance Performance

Maple Grove High School – Anything Goes

The Blossom Cohan Award

Honors a performer who “Blossoms” in a role

Joseph Lotocki as Chef Louis in The Little Mermaid/Frontier High School

Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble

“Lady in the Long Black Dress” in Sister Act/Sacred Heart Academy

Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role

Amelia Waddell as Grace in Cinderella/Mount St. Mary Academy

Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role

Jake Grear as LeFou in Beauty & the Beast/Starpoint High School

Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role

Grace Auer as Reno Sweeney in Anything Goes/Maple Grove High School

Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role

Ian Hayes as Prince Eric in The Little Mermaid/Frontier High School

Outstanding Musical Production

Maple Grove High School – Anything Goes

Since the inception of the program, over 150 outstanding musical productions in local high schools have been recognized and honored by the Kenny Awards.  Now in its 24thyear, the Kenny Awards will again recognize local high school talent for excellence in producing and performing musicals with host DJ Anthony from Kiss 98.5.

Applications for this year’s Kenny Awards program were accepted in October and reviewed by the panel of Kenny adjudicators. From the applicant pool, 10 schools were selected to participate as finalists in this year’s ceremony. The finalists for the 2017 Kenny Awards are Buffalo Academy of the Sacred Heart – Sister Act, Eden Jr/Sr High School – Shrek the Musical, Frontier High School – Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Maple Grove High School – Anything Goes, Mount St. Mary Academy – Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, Nardin Academy – Pippin, Orchard Park High School – Into the Woods, Royalton Hartland Central School – Thoroughly Modern Millie, St. Mary’s High School – Fame, and Starpoint High School – Disney’s Beauty & the Beast

The Kenny adjudicators viewed and evaluated the productions and determined the nominees and winners based on what they saw. There are 14 award categories, including “The Kenny” for Outstanding Musical Production in which the winning school receives a $5,000 grant from the Lipke Foundation to be used solely by the school’s theatre department. Other awards include individual performances in leading and supporting roles, as well as areas of technical production, orchestration, choreography, set design, and dance performance.

The Kenny Awards is one of more than 35 regional awards programs nationwide participating in the National High School Musical Awards Program, aka The Jimmy Awards, which will allow the selected Outstanding Leading Actress and Actor of the Kenny Awards to win an all-expenses-paid, week-long trip to New York City to compete in the National High School Musical Theatre Awards in June, 2017. This once-in-a-lifetime opportunity will include rehearsals and coaching sessions with Broadway performers, performances, and other beneficial experiences. Participants in “The Jimmy Awards” will compete for various college scholarships.

For information on the Kenny Award Program, contact Shea’s Education Coordinator Holly Grant at (716) 829-1171 or hgrant@sheas.org.

Theatre Review: ‘Kalamazoo’ at New Phoenix Theatre

Marc-Jon Filippone as Irv and Betsy Bittar as Peg in ‘Kalamazoo’ onstage at The New Phoenix Theatre.

“Love is lovelier the second time around,” according to lyricist Sammy Cahn. I was humming this timeless Jimmy Van Heusen tune in my head and thinking about Cahn’s words while watching The New Phoenix Theatre’s final production, – “Kalamazoo” – to close its 21st season.

” ‘Kalamazoo’ will win your heart with its uplifting message and poignant reminder that we’re never too old to fall in love, start over, and be engaged in the life you didn’t expect.”

Finding love in our golden years is the basis of this sweet and funny two-hander starring Betsy Bittar as Peg and Marc-Jon Filippone, two unlikely matches who meet through a video dating service. Peg admits straight up that she loves birds, and twitters on (in the old fashioned way) about her delight in birdwatching.  She dreams of visiting a bird sanctuary in Kalamazoo (“doesn’t it sound like a magical place?” she wonders).  She’s widowed, mother of five girls, and a practicing Catholic, down to volunteering at Bingo night. Irving lost his beloved wife Rosie to cancer and – at the urging of his son David and his husband Robert – is looking to get out there again.  He says he’d like to meet a shiksa. Peg doesn’t want to meet a Jew.  Her sentences are sprinkled with malaprops. He’s pretty direct. Somehow the service connects them, and there they are, in a Mexican restaurant sipping from a giant margarita glass. They banter, they share, they almost flirt before they bicker a bit. Irv is blunt: sex perhaps?, as good girl Peg is adament with all the passion her Baltimore Catechism upbringing taught her. Yet the next scene finds them waking up together in a Holiday Inn. In the same bed. With vague memories of dancing, sharing the worm from the tequila bottle (“it’s like Lady and the Tramp with tequila,” swooned Peg) and other more permanent reminders of a wild-for-the-middle-aged-night. Oy. But something isn’t right. Maybe they aren’t ready to move forward after all?

Or are they? Their next date is a day at the beach with amateur metal detectors, cruising for lost coins and bits o’metal.  A found ring leads to a hurried proposal of sorts, and wedding plans that just seem too….planned.  Just when you think the story is about to go all cliché, there’s the break out scene, where Peg and Irv show their fears at starting over, and perhaps losing that special connection to their beloved first spouses. It takes courage to be that vulnerable again, and Filippone and Bittar have a good time letting us know that it’s OK to hate the process of aging and still love life’s journey, too.

Director Sheila McCarthy lets the strength of her actors and the simplicity of the script shine. The minimalist set is the perfect backdrop for Sam Crystal’s array of props and Kelli Bocock-Natale’s versatile costume choices. I mean, who wouldn’t wear a sombrero on a first date to a Mexican restaurant? That tiny detail is a great glimpse into Peg’s character:  a little out there and earnest to the core, just as Irv’s sweater vest is practical and classic.

‘Kalamazoo’ will win your heart with its uplifting message and poignant reminder that we’re never too old to fall in love, start over, and be engaged in the life you didn’t expect. Or as Irv said, “life is abundant, and you’re never too old to be young again.”

Running Time: 90 Minutes with one 15 minute intermission.

“Kalamazoo” runs until May 27, 2017 and is presented at New Phoenix Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘The Other Mozart’ at Shea’s 710 Theatre

“The Other Mozart” at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

“Nobody saved my letters,” laments Nannerl Mozart, the older sister of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, or as she calls him, Woflie or “that little sh*t,” in Sylvia Milo’s one-woman show ‘The Other Mozart.’

“. . .an interesting experience.”

This wistful statement delivered about halfway through the 80-minute performance could explain why Nannerl’s story is less told in music history. Eclipsed by her more famous baby brother, Nannerl also loved music, as she said, from the time she was born, and would clang her China tea cups in rhythm, and displayed prodigious talent at the keyboard. She badgered her father to teach her the harpsichord, which he delayed until her fingers grew longer and stronger (“perfect for the violin, but women can’t play the violin,” he told her). But then – like other show business siblings – Wolfie whimpered for lessons, too, to their father’s delight. At first the siblings toured with their father, and later Nannerl was left home, to learn the more womanly tasks like homemaking and embroidery. Being on the road like that, her mother feared, would make her too vain and unattractive to a potential husband.

Milo – the author and performer of this work –  created a very special world on stage to tell Nannerl’s story. The stark black stage has a single element: an enormous puddle of creamy looking silk – Nannerl’s dress – with letters and other trinkets from her life story tucked into the folds.  Milo appears in a very proper 18th century corset (a metaphor, perhaps, for the constraints on women’s lives back then) and steps into the center of this grand frock. As she tells her story, she picks items from her skirt – her first music lesson book, a tiny white keyboard – to advance her story in each careful gesture. Milo is expressive: her face, her gestures, every toss of her head and its bouncy, curly tuffs, convey something in her story. It’s an all sensory show, too.

Besides Milo’s monologue, with her clear voice rising and falling in delight and despair, snippets of music come and go, from Nannerl’s work,  brother’s, and Nannerl’s role model Viennese composer Marianna Martines. Milo’s husband Nathan Davis and composer Phyllis Chen composed other pieces, too, that replicate the clinking of silver teaspoons on tea cups, and tinkling bells and music boxes. There are subtle scents, too:  when she speaks of smelling lavender, Milo dusts the air with fragrant powder. The stage lights catch the sheer shimmery particles like a sheer veil as the gentle scent disperses. These moments give the show more of a performance-art feel than a straight stage play, and gives Nannerl a delicacy of spirit that transcends whatever regret or jealousy she may have about forsaking her musical gifts for a traditional marriage.

Milo’s text is rich and the stage devices – from the ornate prop-holding dress designed by Magdalena Dabrowska to Milo’s dramatic exit – contain some small (or expansive) insight into the life of an 18th century woman who – in another time – may have led a very different life.

This show is an interesting experience. Milo obviously did significant research on both the woman and this period in history. Often I felt her voice was overly strident which was a distraction from the impact of her words. To lift a phrase from the multi-Tony-award winning phenom ‘Hamilton,’ “who lives, who dies, who tells your story,’ Milo’s homage to Nannerl is worthy, and inspire reflection on how history treats those who don’t or can’t have a world spotlight on them.

Running Time: 80-minutes with no intermission.

“The Other Mozart” runs until May 7, 2017 and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Father’ at Kavinoky Theatre

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The cast of “The Father” at Kavinoky Theatre.

There are plenty of plays, films, books (fiction and non-fiction) about Alzheimer’s Disease or other forms of dementia. Playwright  Florian Zeller’s “The Father,” which he calls a tragic farce is different. Very different. Where other offerings may be touching or emotional or just very sad, “The Father” – through theatrical devices, characters and dialogue – evokes rich and raw substance. The secret sauce is its simplicity. It’s so simple that it will linger with you, longer than you think. That’s the essence of its brilliance.

“David Lamb is extraordinary. . .”

David Lamb is extraordinary as Andre the father. He’s witty, he’s a flirt, he’s intense. And he’s withering. He’s convinced his caregiver is stealing his watch (a metaphor for time, perhaps), he’s critical of the caregiver’s laugh. Of course he doesn’t feel that he needs her. At least that’s what he tells his daughter Anne, beautifully played by Aleks Malejs. But Anne has her own life and she’s unwilling to leave her father without support. Until the scene shifts and someone else was in the door, saying she’s his daughter, with a different husband. And said husband disappears with groceries that are never made into a meal. And Anne is back, while her father laments – finally – that he feels that he’s “losing his leaves.”  That’s the most frightening part of this disease: there are points when you know you’re fading, and other times when you’re completely convinced you’re fine, and who are these people around you?

Malejs (last seen at The Kavinoky in the magnificent one-person show ‘Grounded’) is strong as Anne, concerned, caring, sad, and unwavering.  Adriano Gatto and Christopher Evans are the two other men of the show, who may or may not be Anne’s husbands. Gatto’s measured indifference to Andre’s needs in one moment is almost chilling, but perhaps that’s the way a frustrated, confused spouse-in-law may act when sharing a home with someone whose life is evolving. In smaller but significant roles are Kristin Bentley and Jenn Stafford, as caregiver Laura and and daughter/healthcare provider respectively.  

The elegance of this staging is…the stage itself. David King’s stunning, versatile set diminishes in scope as Andre’s cognition wanes.  Hard blackouts allow the scenes to change and those soft-lit patterns above center stage is Andre’s gray matter, shifting, shrinking, tangling, leaving him. The actors move through these changes gracefully. Director Robert Waterhouse’s careful attention to the smallest details and nuances is pristine and remarkable.

In the end, it’s Lamb’s show. Watching his expressions, his language, his being close in on itself is heartbreaking. The ultimate scene, as Stafford and Lamb communicate one last time, will make you catch your breath. Don’t look away.

Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes with no intermission.

“The Father” runs until May 14, 2017 and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Concert Review: ‘The Music of Prince’ by The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall

Just over one year ago, the world turned upside down with the news of Prince’s death. A musical icon, his artistry and library of soulful, fun songs are still beloved by many, which was overwhelmingly evident when “The Music of Prince” by BPO Rocks played at Kleinhans Music Hall Friday night.

Buffalo came alive during this spirited homage to Prince’s music. [Marshall] Charloff is a stunning performer backed by the vibrant Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The guest performers featured conductor Brent Havens, Dan Clemens on bass, Justin Avery on keyboard, Powell Randolph on drums, George Cintron on guitar, Ann Marie Castellano on background vocals and Marshall Charloff as lead singer and guitarist.

Charloff, who also performs the front man for The Purple Experience, skillfully emulates Prince’s vocal stylings and fashion sense and never appears hokey or cheesy. Having worked with Prince earlier in his career, he broke up songs with stories of working with the artist and describing the first time they met. He is an entrancing and charismatic performer who won over the audience from his opening performance of “Let’s Get Crazy.”

Vibrant lighting design transformed Kleinhans that night from the first notes of the opening song. Audience members cheered loudly and leapt out of their seats to dance, one even playing along on a Prince-themed tambourine.

Some sound difficulties were successfully navigated by the second tune, “Little Red Corvette,” marking the first point in the evening when the music was saturated with the lush string section of the BPO. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” completed a lively trio of songs, which had audience members young and old grooving in the aisles.

Avery took the lead on “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” showcasing a surprising and delightful falsetto. The first act also featured rousing renditions of “Kiss,” “Delirious” and “Diamonds and Pearls.” The latter allowed Castellano to exercise her impressive vocal power before closing with “Raspberry Beret.”

The second act featured more ballads, including “When Doves Cry,” as well as Castellano’s unstoppable belt on “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The crowd reignited their spirited dancing for “Baby, I’m Star,” and an enthusiastic “1999,” which transformed Kleinhans into a dance party likely taking place on New Year’s Eve before the millennium.

The performance concluded with a deserved standing ovation after a heartfelt “Purple Rain,” confirming that this was not a tribute band or impersonation, but a true honoring of Prince’s music a year after his passing. As Charloff said, “ We are all healing.”

Buffalo came alive during this spirited homage to Prince’s music. Charloff is a stunning performer backed by the vibrant Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

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

“The Music of Prince” was performed for one night only by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. For more information on upcoming events, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Country House’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

The cast of “The Country House” at Road Less Traveled Theatre

Last night, I saw the Western New York premiere of David Margulies’ “The Country House” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions.  

“The Country House” is a character driven comedy/drama about a family matriarch, Anna Patterson, who is a stage actress of great renown. She has invited family and friends to visit her at her summer home in the Berkshire’s. Anna is in mourning for her daughter and is trying to pick up the pieces of her life. The gathering includes her college age grandchild, her hapless son, and a charismatic TV star. The situation gets volatile when her son-in-law, a sellout film director, shows up with his new fiancé, a magnificently radiant young actress.

. . .strong local professional theatre. . .careful casting is this production’s strength.

Act I is lightweight, pleasant fare with occasional amusing one-liners including theatrical inside jokes. Direction by Scott Behrend is smooth throughout, perhaps a bit too smooth. The lights go off, character’s inhibitions dissolve, but the requisite sexual tension doesn’t build, and so the end of the act is missing some wallop.

Things sizzle in the second act, however, with several skillfully acted fight scenes which are marred only by a wealth of furniture on an otherwise lovely set.  In times of great passion, it must be frustrating for actors to find themselves stuck behind a large sofa or having to perform difficult maneuvers between chairs.

In any event, the altercation between the son and the son-in-law is dead on. Many kudos to Christian Brandjes and Peter Palmisano for masterfully unforgettable work!  Equally strong is the confrontation between the mother and the son. Barbara Link LaRou, who does skillful work throughout the evening, packs a particularly powerful punch in this scene and Mr. Brandjes has the audience in the palm of his hand.

Careful casting is this production’s strength. Mr. Brandjes is both funny and wonderfully affecting as the son whose mother has marked him for failure. Ms. Link LaRou and Mr. Palmisano, both assets to any production, are in top form. Rounding out this solid cast are Renee Landrigan as the down to earth grandchild, Chris Kelly as the irresistible TV actor, and Kristen Tripp Kelley as the gorgeous fiancé.

The audience was very taken with the production and gave it a standing ovation. This is strong local professional theatre, and it’s a great opportunity to watch some of WNY’s finest actors give terrific performances in a smart, new play.

Running Time: 2 hours with one-10 minute intermission.

“The Country House” runs until May 21, 2017 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Great God Pan’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

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The cast of “The Great God Pan” at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

When you think back to your childhood, what do you really remember? Was it all popsicles, playgrounds, and snuggles, or is your subconscious blocking more disturbing moments? And – over time – is not remembering some traumatic really an advantage?

“. . .the story is strong, and Hummert’s performance alone is well worth the experience.”

How our psyche revises our perceptions of life history is the essence of Amy Herzog’s fascinating drama “The Great God Pan,” the final production in this season’s trio of her work at the Jewish Repertory Theatre.

Herzog’s work always examines a deeper side of family life, those moments that define us, where multiple generations look through life’s prism differently, and where shared experiences emerge with disparate outcomes. It’s intense and thoughtful work, and it’s the basis of really superb human drama. Herzog is a modern master at this very real storytelling.

This is a character-driven story, and this each character has plenty of baggage and long-repressed memories. The major forces are two childhood chums who meet again many years since they last hung out in daycare. Jordan Louis Fischer is Frank, the instigator of the meeting. Gay, pierced, and tattooed, he small talks with Jamie (Adam Yellen), the seemingly uncomfortable, reluctant guest, until he gets to the point: Frank is bringing suit against his father who sexually abused him as a child. He asks if Jamie remembers. He doesn’t. Watch the stage dynamic here: it’s fascinating. As Frank opens up, Jamie shuts down, imperceptive. Later – when Jamie tells his girlfriend Paige (Kelly Beuth) about this meeting – she says, “You’re always so weird with gay men, calling them ‘man’ and ‘dude.’ Did you do that?” Frank and Paige have their own issues. She’s angry with Jamie: seems he wasn’t immediately overjoyed when she announced that –surprise – she’s pregnant. In their volatile exchange, some of their past is revealed, perhaps the words that should remain unspoken.

Still perplexed by Frank’s revelation, Jamie takes his story to his parents, affable Cathy and Doug (perfectly played by Steve Vaughan and Lisa Vitrano, respectively) who have their own set of secrets from Jamie’s childhood. Watch for that awkward moment between father and son: hug or handshake? Seems like Jamie keeps everyone at arm’s length. Jamie begins to remember odd bits and pieces: were they true or mere suggestions?

The most poignant moments in this show belong to two tertiary characters. Darleen Pickering Hummert is Polly, Frank and Jamie’s childhood caregiver. She’s in a nursing home now, and as dementia dims her memories, she remembers the young kids in her care, perhaps fleetingly. Hummert is magnificent in this small role. When Jamie visits, we see joy in her remembering, along with her pain at not remembering. Her exquisite expressions are haunting, beautiful, painful.

Amelia Scinta has two all-too-brief scenes as Joelle, a client in Paige’s nutrition counseling practice, who is struggling with body image and an eating disorder. Scinta modulates her voice and expressions perfectly, moving from upbeat to disdain at how her body is failing her. There’s a strange power in these two scenes as Joelle seeks to control her body and change her mindset. Scinta nails this.

Director Saul Elkin maximizes the real value of this square stage. Each quadrant is a scene space, with actors effortlessly moving small set pieces between them. Two key scenes are metaphorically at dead center – physically touching a sliver of each space – in a subtle reminder that past and present are inter-reliant. He uses small, soft sound effects so well, setting the mood from coffee shop to park.

Strangely, it’s the two main characters that gave me pause. Beuth and Yellen are both fine actors with plenty of acting chops, yet they didn’t seem suited for their two roles. Consequently, their rapport – and lack thereof – felt off. She looked too mature to be his girlfriend. Hints of her life struggles are brushed off without giving depth to her character. Even with the bushy untrimmed beard of a millennial, Yellen looks out of place with his character. Or he’s playing flat and emotionless at a very high level.

Despite this, the story is strong, and Hummert’s performance alone is well worth the experience.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Advisory: Adult language.

“The Great God Pan”  runs until May 21, 2017 and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here. 

Theatre Review: ‘The Cemetery Club’ at O’Connell & Company

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One of the most universal feelings is loss. Loss of a job, pet, loved one or worst of all, a spouse. Loss is one of the main themes in “The Cemetery Club” by Ivan Menchell, and despite some heavier subject matter, O’Connell & Company’s production amps up the love and lifts the audience’s spirits.

“…a touching, familiar tale about love, loss and friendship. O’Connell & Company puts a lot of heart into this production, which is sure to warm your soul. ”

“The Cemetery Club” refers to three longtime friends – Ida, Lucille and Doris, who get together once a month solely to visit their husbands’ graves in Forest Hills, Queens. Despite having completely different reactions to death and approaches to dealing with their grief, they try to support and understand each other as best they can. Sheila McCarthy directs this fine group of actors, who, while sometimes resembling the humor and friendship of “The Golden Girls,”  all play very realistic characters dealing with all too familiar feelings.

Anne Gayley is truly a treasure as Ida. Of the three women, she is most afraid to pursue dating again despite no longer wanting to be alone. She’s met with internal conflict upon running into a local butcher, Sam (a very charming Rob Schwartz), and begins to wonder how she should live the rest of her life. Gayley stole my heart from the beginning and lets us all into the very complicated world of moving on from a loved one. The awkwardness between her and Sam during their first afternoon alone together is especially endearing. Schwartz holds his own onstage opposite these strong women, often drawing laughs from the audience during the “teenage crush” types of moments with Ida.

Constance Caldwell rounds out the trio as the flashy and flirtatious Lucille. She does a fantastic job at delivering jokes and commanding the attention of a room while refraining from acting choices that would’ve put her over the top. While Lucille seems to be understood as the youngest of the three women, Caldwell almost looks too young next to Gayley and Scime at times, which can be a little distracting.

Deborah Krygier also makes a brief appearance as Mildred, whose relevance to the plot is too delicious to spoil in a review. She makes the most of her limited stage time and does a great job of playing the crowd.

The theater’s intimate setup works well for this production, letting us all feel that we are sitting right in Ida’s living room, smartly designed by John Kehoe. The cemetery is permanently set on the raised stage behind the living room, in plain view during the whole show. While it’s likely not written that way, having the gravestones constantly present served as an appropriate reminder to the audience that life is indeed short.

“The Cemetery Club” is a touching, familiar tale about love, loss and friendship. O’Connell & Company puts a lot of heart into this production, which is sure to warm your soul.

Running time: 2 hours with a 10 minute intermission.

“The Cemetery Club” plays through May 21, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company in Buffalo.. For more information, click here. 

Theatre Review: ‘Cabaret’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

    17814321_1305021739585610_4310550886642509880_oThe National Touring Company of “Cabaret.”

Entertainment comes in all forms. The best form of entertainment is when everyone can find something to enjoy, and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of “Cabaret” has something for everyone. Music, dancing, sex, temptation, and a heartbreaking ending are all thrown into the mix, making this show my favorite of the season.

. . .not your grandmother’s “Cabaret”. . .A phenomenal show. . .

“Cabaret” is the classic Kander and Ebb musical about a night club and it’s patrons in Berlin during the uprising of the Nazi forces. As the political climate turns, friendships are tested, morals are questioned, and love may not be strong enough to conquer all. The human condition is put on display here as Clifford Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley), a novelist from America, arrives to work on his next book. Searching for inspiration, Bradshaw meets Sally Bowles (Leigh Ann Larkin) a cabaret entertainer and lady of the night, and in typical musical fashion, the two fall in love. In the same building a budding romance between Fräulein Kost (Mary Gordon Murray) and Herr Schultz (Scott Robinson) is brewing, but when it is discovered that Schulz is jewish, things start to fall to the wayside for their relationship. A creepy, goofy, and entertaining Emcee (Jon Peterson) leads the audience through the action as this story unfolds.

This production is not afraid to push the envelope. It is not your grandmother’s “Cabaret,” and it will make you feel uncomfortable at times, but that is what makes it so amazing.

Robert Brill’s set design is the most aesthetically pleasing set I have seen in some time. Minimalistic, yet incredibly effective, this set is one you are not likely to forget. Not only does it assist in telling the story, but it allows the audience to use it’s own imagination in creating the setting.

William Ivey Long’s costume design is sultry, sexy, and really helps set the tone of a raunchy, filthy, promiscuous Berlin. They are fantastic.

Leading the show as the Emcee is Jon Peterson. Peterson creates a portrayal that is so multi- dimensional and exciting, you cannot wait to see what he is up to next. Opening the show with ‘Willkommen,” Peterson instantly grabs you by the throat, and doesn’t let you go for the entire performance. His showmanship, especially as the Master of Ceremonies in the club, and as the pivotal ringleader of the expositional action, is supreme. You will love what he does with the character and will be pleased with his artistic choices. Seeing him lurk in the shadows as the story progresses is some of the most effective blocking I have seen in a show in a long time.

Leigh Ann Larkin does a wonderful job playing the role of of Sally Bowles.  She portrays the conflicted night club entertainer to a tee and her performance of “Cabaret” does not disappoint.

Benjamin Eakeley is perfectly cast as Clifford Bradshaw. He brings a great deal of heart and empathy to the role. He is instantly an audience favorite when he enters the stage.

Mary Gordon Murray as Fräulein Kost and Scott Robinson as Herr Schultz are wonderful choices for these roles and they each give admirable performances. You love them, and your heart breaks for them.

The ensemble of singers, dancers, and musicians make this show a powerhouse. I am always a big fan of seeing the band perform on stage along with the show, and this still holds true with this production. It heightens the bar too when the actors are also the musicians for the performance.

Not being a huge fan of “Cabaret” walking in, the Roundabout Theatre Company production has won me over. A phenomenal show. Do yourself the favor, go see it!

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

Advisory: Adult content, language, and cigarette smoke.

“Cabaret” runs until April 30, 2017 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.