Theatre Review: ‘Waitress’ at RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre

Jeremy Morse, Molly Hager, Jessie Mueller, Aisha Jackson and Stephanie Torns (Photo: Joan Marcus)

The moment I saw the cherry pie curtain I had a feeling this show was going to be something special. And when I heard the line, “Home is where your ass is.”, the tone was set.  The recipe for the performance was going to include equal parts hilarity and harshness. Jenna, Dawn, and Becky (Christine Dwyer, Melody A. Betts, and Ephie Aardema) are waitresses at Joe’s Diner in a Southern Indiana town where Jenna is known for her pie-baking prowess.

This show delivers every moment. Do not miss it.

Some people wear their hearts on their sleeves but Jenna bakes her emotions into each pie. On the outside, her strength goes into maintaining the sensitive balance in her marriage to a violent and controlling man. That is only a small slice of this rich portrayal of each character’s struggle to be true to themselves and insist on the love they deserve. The story shows three women supporting one another as they face these challenges with grace, and not so gracefully. In the course of the show you get to know them deeply and root for them to find happiness.

I could write 5 paragraphs just gushing over the amazing, split-second timing of the choreography—which included creatively-realized sets whipping under, over and around the ever-moving and ever-singing cast—it was magical! I loved the sets; especially the little diner kitchen that barely had enough room to fit Cal (Ryan G. Dunkin), the rather imposing cook.

The characters suck you in because they are so relatable and each one very clearly lets you know who they are. You enjoy your time getting to know them for so many reasons. Their voices are top notch for the up-tempo numbers like “What’s Inside”, “Bad Idea” and “Club Knocked Up”. The more serious moments are offset by Betts’ comedic timing and Aardema’s perfectly delivered one liners combined with a searing side-eye. But they are just the appetizers to Jeremy Morse’s hilariously quirky portrayal of Ogie—the lovesick Civil War reenactment understudy who hopes to win Dawn’s affections. Seriously, I laughed harder than I can remember ever laughing at a performance. Earl, Jenna’s husband is just creepy and menacing enough for you to hate him. You know you would protect your girlfriends from such a guy and you want to protect Jenna.

I thought each character was so well played I will feel remiss skipping one, although, for brevity’s sake I must. Dr. Pomatter, played by Steven Good, nailed his funny and awkward obstetrician’s role. Just what we want in an OB, right ladies? Lucky Jenna. And lastly, the aging OCD owner of the restaurant, Joe (Richard Kline), has you laughing as he sneakily sets you up to strum that last heartstring you didn’t know was yet un-strummed.

This show delivers every moment. Do not miss it.

Show Run-time: 2 hours and 30 min, including 1 intermission

Age Recommendation: 13+

“Waitress” runs June 4-9 at RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre, Rochester NY. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘Dearly Departed’ at Aurora Players

The cast of ‘Dearly Departed’ at Aurora Players. Photo by Dori-Shear McGowan

As storytellers, directors often connect to plays that they have had awesome experiences with. This includes seeing a fantastic production and wanting to bring it to life for a new audience, or perhaps acting in a production of a show that they loved. Directors have a big responsibility when it comes to choosing their stories. If they don’t have some passion in what they are creating for the audience, it will be easily seen during the show. Nobody likes to sit through anything with a lack of enthusiasm.

Eighteen years ago, director Christopher Fire was lucky enough to perform in a production of “Dearly Departed,” a little known gem of a play written by David Bottrell and Jessie Jones, about a family who’s patriarch has just passed away and they must gather, leaving their own lives and coming together to mourn their loss. Oh yeah, the story also takes place in the backwoods of the bible belt in the American south.

The topic of death typically does not scream comedy, but this show takes a dense topic and brings a humanity to it.

“I think this is a show that the audiences at Aurora Players will be pleasantly surprised with,” says Fire, “It has heart, and it is a very funny show.”

“Dearly Departed” is a major divergence from the typical fare that is presented at Aurora Players. “There is no name recognition with this show,” says Fire, “this isn’t an Agatha Christie, or a Ken Ludwig, this show is not very well known, but is very entertaining.”

When it comes to community theatre, shows that have that accent, usually the British accent, are the ones that get performed the most. “This show has a different accent,” says Fire, “there are no refined characters in this piece, there are no high societal characters, just everyday broken people looking to live their best lives.

Fire says that this show is not one that has a recognizable leading character. “What drew me to this show was that people worked together and the ensemble made it memorable, that is something I truly love about the story.

While he loves the classics that Aurora Players typically performs, he wanted to mix things up a bit. “I wanted to submit something that would be different, and I am a firm believer that people will like this show because it is off the beaten path and many people will be able to relate to it. Variety is the spice of life!”

“Dearly Departed” opens May 31 and runs until June 16, 2019. It is presented at The Roycroft Pavilion in Hamlin Park in East Aurora. For more information, click here.

Alleyway to Celebrate 40th Anniversary Year With Key Staff Changes

chris-j-handley-and-neal-radice-1.jpg

Chris J Handley and Neal Radice

Picture it, Alleyway Theatre in 2019, with some new staff members, and eight productions including a “The Golden Girls”  holiday shows where Blanche, Rose, Sophia, and Dorothy are played by men.

Welcome to Alleyway’s 40th season. It’s the oldest producing theatre company in Buffalo’s theatre district, and the 2019-20 season brings some significant changes.

Founder and executive and artistic director Neal Radice is retiring  from his positions (“not retiring from theatre,” he said at a recent press event).  This transition was thoughtful, strategic, and spanned almost three years: funding from the Cullen Foundation and the New York State Council on the Arts helped create a succession plan.  Veteran actor Chris J Handley was selected by Alleyway’s Board of Directors to become the Associate Artistic Director, effective immediately, and step into the Executive Artistic Director role in May of 2020. “I’ve always dreamed about running a theatre,” Handley said. He’s also the director of Alleyway’s Theatre School of WNY which provides year-round classes for adults and youth who are serious about studying theatre.

Neal Radice announced that Broadway playwright Gordon Farrell will become Alleyway’s Playwright-in-Residence next season. He’ll develop his own new scripts for Alleyway’s main seasons as well as take on the writing challenge of developing particularly themed plays on commission. Farrell is already familiar to Alleyway audiences.  His play ‘Girls Who Walked on Glass’ is onstage now through June 22. The theatrical event is based on true stories that intertwine to expose a dangerous world which has ill-prepared three young women to meet challenges and temptations. After this run, it will be performed for general audience and potential backers in New York City. Farrell’s work in Buffalo goes back as far as 1991 with ‘Voice Of America.’ He and Radice collaborated to create their highly acclaimed Sherlock Holmes musical trilogy in the late 1990s. ‘Lifespan Of A Fact,’ Farrell’s latest play, debuted to critical acclaim this season on Broadway at Roundabout’s Studio 54, and earned Farrell a nomination for the John Gassner Award (Presented For An American Play, Preferably By A New Playwright) by the Outer Circle Critics.

Another Farrell play, ‘Navigators,’ the 40th season on September 12 on the main stage. Local playwright John “Circ” Kane’s ‘My Life in the Basement’ – a one-man comedy –  runs November 8-16 in the Alleyway Cabaret. ‘The Golden Girls: The Lost Episodes’ follows December 5-28, while one of Buffalo’s oldest and beloved holiday traditions ‘A Christmas Carol’ plays on the main stage December 6-22. Scott McCrea’s ‘Factory for Murderers’ plays on the main stage from January 16-February 8, followed by the world premiere of Tatiana Gelfand and Paul Jensen’s Scotch and Madness’ February 20-March 14. The 29th annual ‘Buffalo Quickies’ runs from March 26 to April 18. The main stage season closes with Radice’s reflections on 40 years of Buffalo theatre with ‘Imagine the World Made Over…’ a revue of his full length musicals, April 23 to May 16.

Find details and subscription information at http://www.alleyway.com.

Theatre Review: ‘Rope’ at The Shaw Festival

The cast of “Rope” at The Shaw Festival. Photo by Emily Cooper.

“Rope,”  on stage at the Shaw Festival’s Royal George Theatre, is a not-so-classic  whodunit where you know who the killers are from the opening moments of the story. What you don’t know is who from their inner circle will figure it out, or how long it will take for the killers to crack. Cue the theatrical suspense.

. . .the staging and art of presentation of ‘ Rope’ is pure stage magic. 

Penned by playwright Patrick Hamilton, ‘Rope’ preceded his more renowned play ‘Gaslight’ by 10 years, debuting in London in 1929. This timing makes it a perfect fit for this gem of a theatre. Designer Joanna Yu’s period-perfect set is the epitome of British society of the day. It’s something of a metaphor, too:  simple elegance can successfully hide something that’s dreadfully disturbing. The set pieces deserve credit for taking on character roles themselves: the grandfather clock is the larger than life presence that marks the passage of time. The bar table that exposes and conceals elixirs is there to draw out truths. The center-stage wooden chest is both the table and ersatz coffin. And together it just looks so darn pretty at first blush.

The story opens just after the crime is committed. University pals (or are they lovers?) Wyndham Brandon (Kelly Wong) and Charles Granillo (Travis Seetoo) have just killed one of their school chums. No real reason, other than they feel strong to his weakness, affluent to his common, and heck, they had nothing better to do. Another stage metaphor: the first 10 minutes of the show are very dark, with only the flicker of their lit cigarettes and quick flashes of table lamps to punctuate the dark. When finally convinced to let there be light, Brandon announces, “ I have committed murder. I have committed passionless – motiveless – faultless – and clueless murder. Bloodless and noiseless murder … And immaculate murder. I have killed. I have killed for the sake of danger and for the sake of killing. And I am alive. Truly and wonderfully alive. “ Granillo or Granno as he is called, is the less willing accomplice (could he have been a potential victim?) and is nervous and not proud. When he neglects to hide the deceased’s theatre ticket, Brandon reminds him of his place when he tells him, “It’s your business to see what I don’t see.”  Well, every Batman needs a Robin as they sang in “The Book of Mormon.”

The duo then hosts a party – with the deceased still in the wooden chest – with more university chums and even the deceased’s aged father. The coffin-cum-buffet is neatly covered with linen and snacks as the bon mots fly between veiled threats, some grandstanding, where the roots of suspicion are revealed. It’s university prof Rupert Cadell (Michael Therriault) whose suspicions are aroused as the others drink and banter around him. Therriault plays this role with a delicious detachment, almost like the observer who waits for the right moment to insert himself in the moment. He’s the one to watch in the ensemble.  I’m not completely convinced with actors Wong and Seeto as recent university grads, but casting Therriault in this creepy “guest who won’t leave” role is fine.

There were up and down moments throughout: the costuming was stunning. The fight scene was almost too balletic. There was some suspense, but not enough real tension. Granno’s fear was almost comedic and nervously jerky.

While the plot may be implausible, the staging and art of presentation of ‘ Rope’ is pure stage magic. Louise Guinand’s lighting design is meticulous: the near dark sequence may have felt a bit too long, but the effect was stunning. So was the constant rain patter and splatter on the window. Director Jani Lauzon kept the action fluid and well-paced. She used the backlit stairway well as a point of transition and a good visual device. Composer/sound designer John Gzowski (good to note  that this was a woman-dominated production team) laid down a subtle and constant music bed that was just ‘there’ enough to connect you to the characters and their machinations. When the story fails me, it’s these elements that pull me in.

‘Rope’ is a visually beautiful production that hides a seamy story of murder and deception. It’s onstage on a rotating schedule until October. 12. It runs two hours with a 10-minute intermission. Visit www.shawfest.com for details and tickets.

Theatre Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The Broadway cast of “Dear Even Hansen.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Wow. I had no prior knowledge of “Dear Evan Hansen” before last night when I witnessed it first hand. What I saw was a theatrical event that is near perfect. The story meshed, the music flowed, the acting and singing were spectacular. This musical not only had a great message that is completely topical in 2019, but is one of the only shows that I have seen in years that is completely relatable to every single person in the audience. To say that I was blown away is an understatement. I think this year I have seen at least three shows that have become my “new favorite musical.” This makes number four.

If you have ever felt alone, felt like you were an outcast, or struggled to fit it, ‘You Will Be Found’ in this show. Go see it!

“Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of a high school wallflower who is just trying to get through his senior year in high school. Starting the school year off with a broken arm, Evan (Ben Levi Ross) is having major anxiety about what the new year will bring. His mother (Jessica Phillips), is a single mom who has to balance work with school and has to try to find time to spend with her son. Their family is far from perfect but you can see the love that she has for Evan, even if he doesn’t always see the love. Evan’s psychologist gives him an assignment to write letters to himself, making each day great and giving himself a confidence boost that he needs to keep going. After a mishap in the school computer lab, one of his letters to himself is intercepted by Connor (Marrick Smith) and happens to be the last piece of evidence found after Connor takes his own life. What ensues for Evan is a whirlwind of difficult situations, a fabricated friendship with a kid who bullied him, inner struggles of doing the right thing, and trying to find himself in high school. All of that leads to everything Evan wanted, a family, friends, and the attention of his crush, Zoe (Maggie McKenna). But, with all the new found excitement, Evan’s conscience begins to haunt him, and the truth needs to come out.

This minimally staged production is creatively performed. Using projection screens, and news feeds, the show engulfs the audience in the digital age of social media. It encapsulates the entire 2019 lifestyle of kids in high school. I love that the set design only incorporated furniture and small props to tell the story, allowing the audience to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.

Leading the cast as Evan is Ben Levi Ross, who emulates the skinny high school nerd with perfection. He is incredibly convincing as this character, incorporating raw emotion into his performance and bringing heart to Evan’s journey. He does not disappoint.

Jared Goldsmith plays Jared Kleinman, Evan’s computer savvy friend who assists in the fabrication of this fake friendship between Evan and Connor. Goldsmith is hilarious. His facial features, mannerisms, and comedic delivery are all fantastic. Every time Goldsmith enters the stage, you are sure to chuckle or have a right out belly laugh.

Jessica Phillips does a wonderful job as Heidi, Evan’s mom. She is instantly relatable to any woman who has had to raise a child on her own, while juggling work and career advancement. She is quirky, she is goofy, and lovable. She too, brings raw emotion to the stage, especially during act two.

Maggie McKenna is a feisty Zoe. She is able to juggle the many emotions that the character brings to the story, and keeps the audience on her side throughout the entire ride.

The entire ensemble of this show is fantastic. Phoebe Koyabe, Aaron Lazar, Christiane Noll, and Marrick Smith, all contribute to this theatrical phenomenon that will be around for a long time.

As the show progressed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Next To Normal” and “The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Night-Time.” If these two shows had a love child, it would be “Dear Evan Hansen.” If you have ever felt alone, felt like you were an outcast, or struggled to fit it, ‘You Will Be Found’ in this show. Go see it!

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

Advisory: Adult Language

“Dear Evan Hansen” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Lottie and Bernice Show’ at Ghostlight Theatre

The cast of “The Lottie and Bernice Show.”

They’re back.

Along with their fronts, their sides and yes, their large bottoms.  Lottie and Bernice make a return to Ghostlight Theatre this month, fresh as ever, following their numerous appearances locally and elsewhere since 2001, when they first appeared in Ghostlight’s “Dance Macabre.”  This time, they are in the reproduction of “The Lottie and Bernice Show” for its 10-year anniversary.

. . . lands comic jabs over and over again with gusto. . .

Reprising their roles are Joann V. Mis (Lottie) and Debby Koszelak Swartz (Bernice) as the grumpy oldsters.  As the story goes, the pair are picked up on the street during a Western New York blizzard by a local television station’s assistant, Virgil.  None of the usual broadcasters were able to make it into the station. So Lottie and Bernice are enlisted with other amateurs to host the Buffalo Yak show.   It’s a sort of variety news/talk show with a decidedly local flavor.

Helped along by a couple of stagehand janitors, Hal and Sal (Don Swartz and Jesse Swartz) and the ambitious yet ability-challenged intern, Candy Bickle, played by Jenna Montesanti, the production must and does go on.  Hal and Sal help to host the editorial segments; Candy Bickle anchors the news desk. But it is, of course, Lottie and Bernice who steal the show.

They steal it everywhere, but mostly with their viewer call-in question segment, answering the phones with “Hello caller, what’s your beef?”  And even if the callers don’t really have a beef, Lottie and Bernice seem able to make one out of it. With every call this pair of cranky ladies spin some kind of worn and worldly wise wisdom that is, at times, outrageously funny and cranky derelict wit.  They make their own sense of the world, which never exactly matches any conventional wisdom. The world the way it is for them, and they way they’d like it to be.

Mis has some particularly high moments when, being challenged by a caller, she gets up from her chair and slowly walks to the front of the stage, peering into the invisible studio TV camera and directly chastising the caller.  You almost imagine watching on the television, as she peers into the lens. And when she and Koszelak Swartz start to grumbling and talking over one another about some matter of people or thing that they just don’t get, it’s uproariously funny.  

Jesse and Don Swartz have their moments as well, with their editorial subjects about the legitimacy of ten-bean salad, and the pitfalls of using bleach cleaning wipes on the most inappropriate body parts.  Characterization is everything, and these longtime Ghostlight alums come off as folks we know, or might like to, if we don’t already.

There’s a bit of everything here that might have ever been funny — pratfalls, pokes at the system, raucousness, politically incorrect references, with jabs at various public entities of Western New York living.  Almost nothing is off limits. It’s a production done with heart, without a mean or vicious bone in its body. Ghostlight Theatre and playwright L. Don Swartz, for their part, knows their audience. The nearly constant laughter coming from it supports them at nearly every turn.  Not every punchline is a knockout, but Swartz and Ghostlight know how to stay the course, so “The Lottie and Bernice Show” lands comic jabs over and over again with gusto.

Set staging is left, right, and center for editorials, news desk, and Lottie and Bernice.  Props are used to perfection, the lighting constant, the costumes entirely suitable. The players are all on point for a blizzard of comedy, laughter and mayhem.

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

“The Lottie and Bernice Show” runs  through May 19, 2019.  For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Looking Through Glass’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

It’s just your typical boy-meets-girl-meets-boy-who-dies and inhabits her body sort of play…with a twist.

. . .a fine night of theatre. . .

Playwright Ken Kaissar’s local premiere of ’Looking Through Glass,’ a modern adaption of ‘The Dybbuk’ is an ethereal send up to the intensity of love and the power of a promise, produced by Jewish Repertory Theatre.

In short, it was lovely, sparse and spare with staging to emphasize the beauty of the words, and very well executed by a stellar cast. Yes, on opening night there were some stutters and stammers and dropped lines, but then again, real life isn’t about perfection. Neither is love, and that’s the heart of this story.

Leah is a doctor living with her mother in New York, happily dating a fine young man, and waiting for him to pop the question. She’s ineffably attracted to Jacob,a stranger who is just as mysteriously drawn to her window. Silent sparks fly, curiosity is aroused, and her cautious mother and suspicious intended are wary. After Jacob takes his life, Leah intends to wed her beau Shmuel, and that’s when it happens. Jacob’s restless soul – his dybbuk – has unfinished business with Leah.

Kaissar’s adaptation of S.Ansky’s 1914 story is fierce, with enough contemporary updates to pull you into this character study and capture your imagination. It’s the casting and the character that put it over the top. Arin Lee Dandes is a fine Leah. She’s sweet and skeptical, romantic, and career-focused, and truly wants to do the right thing, whatever it is. When the dybbuk possesses her, she’s visibly, audibly changed. No stage magic here, it’s all her, and her fine actor’s chops.

Zachary Bellus is equally on point as Jacob, the stranger no one wants to know any better, a Kabala-quoting pseudo –intellectual, he’s every mother’s nightmare in sneakers. Yet he charms and beguiles Leah and he does it oh so well. Angelo J. Heimowitz is the even-keeled, dependable Shmuel, a perfectly good guy whose heart will be strangely broken. Heimowitz is rock-steady, just as his character should be. Tina Rausa is Leah’s mom who delivers the outstanding level of performance we expect and love from her.

The complete and unabashed stand out in the cast is David Lundy in three distinct and demanding roles. Some of them brief, but each one requires a change up in accent, demeanor, and delivery. Most of the time he’s playwright Ansky, guiding the early development of the story. Later he’s the Rabbi at Leah and Shmuel’s wedding who tried to exercise the dybbuk. Then he’s two generations of Mordecai, Leah’s father, who gives context and the delivers the surprise twist that gives this story its soul. His performance is brilliant.

‘Looking Through Glass’ is full of metaphor and allegory and suspended reality in the context of beloved Jewish mythology. JRT’s delivers  a fine night of theatre with this one.

Sidenote: this is intense and riveting theatre in a small, quiet, dark space. For the love of all things holy and mystical, before you enter this space, turn off your cell phones and keep them off.  All the way off. Not just the ringer. The whole device. No text that you may receive is all that important and your social media feed can wait. There were the usual distractions from audience members who put their need to stay connected above the respect live theatre deserves.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours, with a 10-minute intermission

‘Looking  Through Glass’ is onstage now to June 2, 2019 and is presented at the Jewish Repertory Theatre. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘Fun Home’ by MusicalFare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The cast of “Fun Home.” Photo by Jesse Sloier.

If you want to quickly check this review to see if you should see “Fun Home” presented by Musicalfare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre, the answer is not only should you…you MUST.

. . .[a] must-see production. . .

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron adapted Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel to create “Fun Home.” The Broadway production took home five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical (Sam Gold). As Alison’s father Bruce, Michael Cerveris won the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. The show is a modern memory play, narrated by 43-year old Alison and detailing her life journey, coming to terms with her sexuality just as her father struggles with his own complicated feelings.

I criticized Musicalfare’s production of “Ragtime” earlier this year for lack of orchestra, but this production of “Fun Home” has no trace of that flaw in it. A delightful 7-piece orchestra under the command of Musical Director Theresa Quinn plays the Tesori score to perfection, and that’s not a word I use lightly. She and director Susan Drozd have assembled a team of Broadway caliber actors; Drozd’s work here might fly under the radar because the structure of the show works so well on its own, but she is to be commended. Every moment has driving forward momentum and makes excellent use of the unique space at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

Musicalfare’s cast is so good it’s almost unbelievable. Carrying most of the show’s load as the “present day” Alison, WNY transplant Robyn Lee Horn just flat out gets it. She understands Bechdel’s sense of style, sometimes interjecting a one-liner to lighten a mood, sometimes presenting the tragic moments of the tragicomedy by stating them simply. And yet, in the musical number “Telephone Wire” towards the end of the show, she shows an unbelievable range of emotion. As she stands observing Chris J. Handley’s master class “Edges of the World,” we watch her experience the turbulent moment ourselves, as she stands in the aisle.

I mention Handley’s performance in “Edges of the World” because it’s the culmination of an expertly crafted performance. Thank goodness In addition to his role as Associate Artistic Director at Alleyway Theater, he’s the head of Theatre School of WNY and imparting his exquisite technique to young actors in the area. I’m a big Cerveris fan, but I found Handley’s performance as Bruce to be even more captivating. The audience feels every challenge Bruce faces, and his penchant for honest delivery makes for an incredible performance.

Medium Alison, the manifestation of Alison’s college self, is here played with ease by Renee Landrigan. Landrigan is one of Buffalo’s most versatile actors, and she, Horn, and Young Alison (Jane Hereth) have obviously spent some serious time working to unify their mannerisms. Landrigan embarks on self-discovery with a delightful optimism, aided by her college girlfriend Joan (played ably in this production by LauRen Alaimo).

Hereth’s performance as Young Alison has a strength well beyond her years. It’s an extremely difficult role, vocally and in terms of acting, but Hereth has no trouble. 710 is a HUGE space for a young actress to fill, but Hereth’s “Ring of Keys” fills it no problem. As her brothers, Joseph Bielecki and Jasper Brown make the best of their limited stage time. Brown is especially excellent, though it’s in his blood (his mother is also a Buffalo actress and successful singer-songwriter, and his grandfather Music Directed Ring of Fire in the same auditorium when it was Studio Arena).

Rounding out the cast is Steve Copps, who moves character to character with ease. He’s an essential function of the storytelling and doesn’t make too much or too little of each moment.

The must-see production only runs through May 19th, so get your tickets now.

Run time: 1 hr 40 with no intermission

“Fun Home” runs until May 19, 2019, is produced by MusicalFare Theatre and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Me and My Girl’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

 

 

20190429-ESP_1282

The cast of “Me and My Girl” by Niagara Regional Players

The British musical comedy “Me and My Girl” has settled in for a three week run at The Ellicott Creek Playhouse with a production by Niagara Regional Theatre Guild.The show was written by Noel Gay, Douglas Furber, and L. Arthur Rose, and it opened in London in 1939. Over the years, “Me and My Girl” was best remembered for its hit song, “The Lambeth Walk.”

. . .a high-spirited and satisfying show. . .

Almost 50 years later, the show was revised by Stephen Fry and Mike Ockrent, and it became a hit in London and New York all over again. The tunes are peppy, and there are lots of amusing one-liners. I particularly enjoyed the Stephen Fry touches including “blank rhyming slang,” historical references, and the Pygmalion deus ex machina. Although this is a revision of the original material, “Me and My Girl” still retains the traditional British music hall flavor and it’s fun to watch.

This is a play about the gap between the aristocracy and the cockneys in England. It’s delightful when everyone discovers that, whatever their upbringing, rich people and poor people aren’t so different after all.

Joseph Fratello is strong in the leading role of Bill, a would-be Earl. Mr. Fratello is brash, funny, and good natured with lots of energy and a pleasant singing voice. His performance lights up the stage.

Playing opposite Mr. Fratello is Emily Plotkin as saucy Sally. She is endearing; you can see why Bill would be willing to forgo his new found fortune for her! Ms. Plotkin is a triple threat – creating a three dimensional character, giving the ballads her all, and even tap dancing.

Also noteworthy are Chris Andreana who has an adorable propensity for singing about being an attorney, statuesque Lauren McGowan as the scheming Lady Jacqueline, Adam English as the staunch butler, Dan Zerpa who shines in the Act 2 opening number, Dawn Marcolini Newton as the formidable Duchess, and Chuck Slisz as her stalwart companion.

Nicely rounding out the cast are Tim Goehrig in an amusing turn as an educated policeman, Joanne Perf and Eric Bloom as a doddering lord and lady, Kim Petersdorf giving a warm and believable performance as the cockney landlady, Gary Gaffney as a nobleman with an ear trumpet, and a large hard working ensemble of folks who have lovely singing voices. In the best tradition of community theatre, people of all generational groups are in the production. It’s nice to see a chorus with a diversity of people in it, as opposed to a chorus of look alike Barbies and Kens.

Incidentally, the English accents throughout the production are darned good!

Director Fran Newton keeps this long show moving at a spritely pace and choreographer Dawn Marcolini Newton’s Lampbeth Walk is (appropriately) the highlight of the evening. The number has everything that it’s supposed to have according to the annals of musical theatre history, including duchesses who are surprised to find themselves dancing and people playing the spoons!  It’s a real treat!

A side note: when the script calls for smoking, the actors use unlit cigarettes — a director’s choice that was much appreciated by the audience.

The six piece orchestra is led by musical director Ivan Docenko.

The sets, which were designed by Fran Newton, make prodigious use of a turntable, and the many set changes were well executed and speedy.

Kudos to costume designer Nancy Watts for literally hundreds of lovely gowns! Each member of the chorus must have had a half a dozen costumes! Costume wows include plaid suits and gorgeous wedding gowns. There are lighting quick costume changes, too, and everything went smoothly.

Although I don’t usually include the Stage Manager in these reviews, I want to congratulate Taryn Goehrig who is overseeing a massive production, technically, that was presented without a hitch.

This is a high-spirited and satisfying show, and it’s recommended for the whole family.

The production is 2 hours and 45 minutes, including intermission.

“Me and My Girl” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.