It’s a New Camelot at MusicalFare

“Camelot” at MusicalFare. Picture courtesy of the theatre.

Sometimes the simple joys of maidenhood are experienced in a comfortable theatre watching a classic piece of American musical theatre re-imagined on stage. Who thinks that? C’est moi, of course.

MusicalFare Theatre opened its 2021-22 season on a resonant high note with Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot taking a fresh new spin.  If the title conjures up imagines of President John F. Kennedy and his bride listening to the album with the voices of Richard Harris, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet (le sigh), fie on those 1960s memories! This re-imagined version still has all the chivalry, passion, and infidelity you love with a lively new beat and a more casual vibe.

Co-directors Carlos R.A. Jones and Victoria Perez set the show in a tropical setting, with a group of beachy-clad friends hanging out and putting on a show. Outside of Ex Calibur, swords became wood poles and shields are pieces of found driftwood. King Arthur’s crown was a fedora with a bird of paradise rising from the hat band. The call to battle was sounded from a seashell. Music director Theresa Quinn matched the mood with Latin and island rhythms for every tune.  Chris Cavanagh’s set was sandy-perfection, complete with a waterfall and a boardwalk. Camp shirts, neon rompers, and floral prints replaced armor and flowing chiffon gowns.  The whole effect was oddly reminiscent of early stagings of Godspell (without the clown clothes and street setting). It was fun and inviting after our 18 month intermission.

Jones and Perez couldn’t have found a better cast. Gabriella McKinley is stunning as Guenevere. Her voice is incredible: rich when she’s in her lower register and lilting and controlled when her soprano soars. Her duets with both King Arthur (Darryl Semira) and Lancelot (Alejandro Gabriel Gomez) are lovely and Quinn’s arrangements graciously accommodate the vocal shifts for each pairing. Semira’s King Arthur is disarming and charming, boyish at first glance and rooted and mature in both conviction and confusion. Gomez’s  take on Lancelot is earnest and his gentle passion in the role’s signature song “If Ever I Would Leave You” is beguilingly beautiful.  

The ensemble is fun, with gender-crossing double roles for every member. Arin Lee Dandes is at her best as the cunning Mordred. Every movement and stage cross is a dance and it’s so fun, you almost forget to despise Mordred’s scheming.

Jones and Perez created something very special; they asked us to suspend our memories of past stagings or the movie and see past those images. What if Camelot was created in a different space by different people? Does that make the musings and vision of a King any different? Quinn’s interpretations brought a  freshness to the score that was lovely to hear, too. Her band – Joe Donohue on guitar and violin, Jim Runfola on reeds, and Jim Linsner on drums – was just right and fine.

If you have any qualms about coming inside for theatre, MusicalFare diligently checked vaccine cards/Excelsior passes and required facemasks, there are no more physical tickets, and playbills are irksomely online only. Relax and escape to this most congenial spot.

Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot is onstage now until October 15; the show runs a good two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets, playbill, and temptingly lovely videos are online at www.musicalfare.com.

It’s a Hoot at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre

The cast of From Honky Tonk To Protest: A Woman’s View of Country Music at D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre

I’ll put this right upfront: I’m not a country music fan. That didn’t stop me from thoroughly enjoying From Honky Tonk to Protest: A Woman’s View of Country Music onstage now at D’Youville Kavinoky Professional Theatre (note the new variation on the name, please).

Conceived by the theatre’s Executive Artistic Director Loraine O’Donnell, this show is part juke box musical, part survey of the genesis of American country music, and part women’s history retrospective with a healthy dose of social justice. And it is just plain fun.

This was a pandemic passion project for O’Donnell who spent part of that time in her hometown of Boonville, NY, with her dad in his last months of life. More time spent in rural Adirondack foothills drew her to country music. She began to appreciate the deeper nuances of the lyrics and the people who penned them. She learned, too, that women played a relevant role in the genre…even when they were marginalized by good ol’ country boys.

O’Donnell  assembled a stellar production team to unite many moving parts, plus a great line up of musicians, actors, and dancers to bring her vision to stage.  There is a lot going on here.

First, the band.  Dee Adams – musical director, singer, guitarist, and mandolin player – has a great, tight group. Kathryn Koch (guitar, harmonica), Helen Butler Ceppaglia (violin, accordion),  Elton Hough (drums, a real kit, mind you),  John Martz (steel guitar, banjo, dobro),  and Charlie Gannon (stand up bass, electric guitar) have the sound.  I loved how costume designer Andrea Letcher drove home one of the shows key messages by dressing the men in black and the women in vibrant traditional cowgirl fringed dresses. Her recreations of Shania Twain’s decidedly non-traditional Country costumes were spot on, too.

Then, the singers. O’Donnell is the narrator and lends her big beautiful voice to Dolly Parton’s iconic “Jolene” and the wistful  “I Hope You Dance.” Adams and Koch come center stage to perform country standards “Crazy” and “Harper Valley PTA.”  Renee Landrigan, doubling on keyboards and melodica, is a kick singing Loretta Lynn’s “The Pill.”  But my oh my, it’s Annette Daniels Taylor who gives these country tunes their soul.  She’s both powerful and tender in her storytelling and singing and her “Down to the River to Pray” was passionate and moving. Drummer Hough stepped out from the kit and picked up an African drum to accompany her.

Lynne Kurdziel Formato is the director/choreographer, and she had folks moving to and fro on stage and a trio of dancers on videotape in a variety of local places. Dancers  Aurora Hastings, Christina Tribo, and Evan Matthew Stuart share Zodiaque Dance Company roots among their bone fides. They rock the Company’s  angular, contemporary frame  that gave an interesting juxtaposition against the show’s contemporary Country pieces especially in the second act. Brian Milbrand used the stage screens to full advantage with some historic photos and lots of interpretive dance interludes. Regrettably, some of the dance numbers that were “green screened” to appear happening in rushing waters looked a bit odd and not well connected to the narrative.

While there were some gaps in the history – notably missing was Tammy Wynette, often called “The First Lady of Country Music,” June Carter and Mother Maybelle Carter, and the entire 1980s decade (O’Donnell acknowledged this and said it’s coming in the sequel) – the personal storytelling and musical selections really drive home O’Donnell’s key points about women in the industry and social justice.

Most importantly, this was a love letter to O’Donnell’s late parents and a poignant reminder that sometimes the music we hear in our youth will sound very different to us again as time marches on.

It’s worth noting that D’Youville has invested in some truly lovely upgrades to the theatre over the past few seasons and it looks spectacular. New seats are bright and cozy. No more physical tickets or playbills (find it online here) and required face mask on campus) should make all theatre goers feel comfortable. One more thing: if you wear one of those over-sized signal watches that illuminates every time you get a text or an email, please tuck it under your sleeve or turn it off. It’s as bright as a cell phone and is super distracting to those around you. (And I mean you, lady who was in the middle of my row the other night.)

From Honky Tonk to Protest: A Woman’s View of Country Music is on stage until October 3.  It’s a toe-tapping two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Visit www.kavinokytheatre.com for details and reservations.

“Art” on Stage at O’Connell & Company

It’s so good to finally write these words after the longest intermission ever: welcome to a new theatre season, Western New York.

O’Connell & Company started the season with a surprise: a comedy and not the typical musical. “Art” was written by Yasmina Reza and translated by Christopher Hampton. It was first performed in London and Broadway in the 1990s.

This three-hander has a curious plot: Serge (played by John Kreuzer) buys a pricey modern painting. It’s a tone on tone canvas which could easily be named” Polar Bears in a Blizzard Eating Marshmallows.” His friend Marc (Rolando M. Gomez ) doesn’t get it: to him, it looks like a “white piece of $hit” and he can’t get past his friend’s attraction to it. The third friend, Yvan (Joey Bucheker) tries to mediate his two friends’ verbal battle on this canvas, which later spirals into deeper conflicts.  Ah, but Yvan has his own drama-within-the-comedy: he’s about to be married and is also adapting to a career change, too.

Director Victoria Perez uses some clever and attractive stage devices at the very beginning and end of this one-act piece.  Here the characters shares their point of view in monologues in front of a projected white rectangle of light between the soft-focused muted floods of color.  It does just what it needs to do to direct your focus.

Between the effecti ve beginning and end motiffs, there’s a long and rather loud middle section that is mostly progressively higher pitched yelling. The barbs fly as Marc and Serge drag the canvas and their friendship through the mud. Regrettably their vocal pitch keeps rising, too, almost to the level of hausfrau chick-fighting. It’s easy to lose focus here and forget the bickering buddies are supposed to be professional men of means having an emotional and intense (and metaphorical) discussion.  The frenetic energy leads to a well-staged fist fight that felt almost too slapstick:  ratcheting down the shrill screeching might have brought more tension to this moment.

It’s the painting itself that helps settle the riff: Serge demonstrates his friendship and Marc steps up, too, in a surprising moment that would make any art collector shudder.  

There were a couple opening night distractions. An intermittent buzz in the audio will need to be worked out and there were a few dropped lines here and there that were artfully covered by this veteran trio. Costuming and set design (I didn’t understand that it was supposed to flip between three apartments until I read the playbill) were functional but not commanding: the painting itself (by artist Sara Jo Kukulka) and creative lighting by Reuben Julius grabbed attention.

O’Connell & Company has all the right protocol in place for making patrons feel comfortable coming back inside, including an online playbill. Executive artistic director Mary Kate O’Connell’s onstage greeting is verbal hug and ‘welcome home’ that we’ve been waiting for.

“Art” runs 90 minutes with no intermission until September 19.  Click here for details.

Love, Linda at MusicalFare is Wunderbar

In brief: It’s de-lovely.

That made-up contraction by the inimitable Cole Porter is the perfect way to describe “Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter,” on stage at MusicalFare Theatre  to July 18.

Debbie Pappas gracefully commands the stunning set with her elegant portrayal of Linda Lee Thomas Porter, Porter’s wife of 35 years,where she tells her story in words and selections from her husband’s songbook.  Pappas  is every inch the Art Deco-era social maven, in a satiny, sparkly gown, triple strand of pearls, Revlon red lipstick and just-so curled bob.  But oh it’s the music, whimsical (and sometimes plaintive) words, and her magnificent voice that make this experience so special. That’s what this show is: an experience where for an hour and five minutes, you’re immersed in a salon of storytelling and song in a period appropriate atmosphere.

The narrative is woven around the songs with compelling simplicity. Unlike the typical musical where the songs advance the storyline, the song selections – representing all parts of the Porter canon – mesh with her story in surprising ways.  For example, she speaks of her husband’s homosexuality and his dalliances with a forthright and gentle hand, punctuated by “Let’s Be Buddies,” written for “Anything Goes.” Perhaps a bit wistful  and not as jovial as the lyrics portend, it’s a poignant moment with a smile and a heart full of love.  

The narrative hits the high (and low) notes of their marriage, their social circle, mutual love for Paris, her disdain for Hollywood, and his passion for the good life. It’s the music, that glorious music, with familiar tunes like “I Love Paris,” “Night and Day,” “Begin the Beguine” and a dozen more that is so grand. Theresa Quinn is behind the screen at the piano and her interpretation is lush as ever.  Nick Corallo on drums is fun, albeit sometimes a distraction in the softer moments.  Pappas’ voice is clear and powerful in each number, giving each song its own distinct tone and mood.

Chris Cavanagh created a beautiful set that’s reminiscent of a circa 1920 parlor. Images of Porter and production handbills fill two screens. The sisters Drozd – Kari and Susan – nail the attire and the look. Director Norman Sham is working with pure gold from the team to the material with his Wunderbar real-life wife. As the song says, “C’est Magnifique.”

“Love, Linda: The Life of Mrs. Cole Porter” runs an hour and five minutes with no intermission, to July 18. COVID protocols are in place and the audience seating is thoughtfully spaced. Visit www.musicalfare.com for tickets. It’s so good to be back.

Hi Honey, We’re Home….Alleyway Theatre Starts Live Season

15 months is a long time to wait for a Quickie…even six quickies.

In this case, Alleyway Theatre ‘s 30th annual New Play Festival celebration Buffalo Quickies 2021 was worth the wait.  In an practically perfect post-pandemic stroke of theatre genius,  Alleyway’s new Executive Artistic Director Chris J Handley and his team created an inside-outside experience that is a production in itself. The audience was divided into small groups and each group rotated between Main Street store front windows for each Quickie. The actors were behind glass and the audience was outside, listening to crystal clear (except was the Light Rail roared by) audio through properly sanitized headsets. Ushers led you between performance settings and the printed program and color coded lights in your headset made the process flow easily. Intermission was staggered and there was no awkward ‘cross over’ time where groups crossed paths. The slow stroll between locations was easy and enjoyable.

It was a wonderful entrée back to in person Buffalo theatre.

On our night, the companion of choice and I were in Group A, and our first stop was the Shea’s Courtyard for  the world premiere of the 2020 Mazumdar New Play Finalist “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a musical version of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s 1892 short story. (This was required reading for those of us who took Feminist Lit or Women’s Studies classes in college.) Kelly Copps plays the mother of a new born babe and her (likely) post-partum depression prompts her doctor to prescribe isolation and rest. Her shabby room overlooks a garden, but the shadows that haunt her from the torn yellow wallpaper command her attention. Copps’ real life husband is her stage hubby, too, and her sis Amy Jakiel is her sister-in-law. The Mrs. Copps’ torment is palpable, even under glass, as she tries to free her paper demon. It’s eerie and strangely beautiful.  A clever staging moment has Mr. Copps and Jakiel in a second floor window, looking down as Mrs. Copps struggle with the power of her mind. The only musical of the night, he trio’s sumptuous voices rose above the mediocre score. An early and not too well explained treat was the solo voice of Kristen Tripp Kelley reading  from the original story that was in our headsets before the show began. It set the stage for creepy.

Next up was “In Transit,” in front of Shea’s 710. Written by Rachel Lynett, it features Victoria Perez and Smirna Mercedes as ex partners who cross paths in an airport. The repartee, the memories, the questions, the heartbreak….it’s all here in under 10 minutes and it’s glorious to watch. Perez and Mercedes were a treat to watch: you could picture them as a couple, with their foibles driving each other crazy and their passion making their hearts soar. But is it meant to be? Director Josie DiVincenzo kept the action simple and poignant.  The ending left me wondering…just what good theatre is supposed to do.

After our just-right intermission, we move to 678 Main St. to meet “Grown-Ass Louis,” by Bruce Walsh. David C. Mitchell and Trevor Dugan are in side-by-side windows as Louis comes to terms with his father’s death. Mitchell shows his chops playing multiple gruff adult characters.

Next up was “Lily and Tessa’s Super Star Show, Episode 37,” by Devon Hayakawa, another world premiere.  What ‘tween girl hasn’t sung or acted into her hairbrush (or in this case, a curling iron) while performing to an adoring crowd of stuffed animals and celebrity posters? Jane Hereth is solid as the solo star who’s missing her co-host. There’s a subtle and disturbing twist here, coming from a one-sided phone conversation with the missing co-host’s mother.  This powerful plot twist leaves you wanting more of this story. Director Robyn Lee Horn created the ultimate in ‘tween chaos in the bedroom/set and even ‘broadcast’ it on the exterior wall to play on the TV show theme.

The Shea’s Smith window became the private lair in “Helen Mirren Takes a Day Off,” another solo show starring Shanntina Moore as Mirren. And oh what a life….there are relentless phone calls from Fifi the dog’s vet, Dame Judi Dench, Mirren’s pro…what’s a Diva to do?  It was funny and Moore as Mirren was charming, but this was a long 10 minutes.

Our final show was “Pay Your Ferryman” by Lauren Davenport, another world premiere, directed by Handley himself with Victor Morales in the solo role. This was the only inside (mask it up) show and the scant audience seating was well spaced and just right.  Morales is commanding as always, this time portraying Charon, the figure from Greek mythology, the cruise director on the boat of Hades.  The faux gilt bars on each seat must be paid – or not, in the case of my rebel companion – to Charon cross you across Styx. Morales is scary and hysterical as he grumbles in his workaday life.

What’s notable is that the cast and crew repeat their magic as many as five or six times each performance, as new groups saunter up to their windows. Kudos to the six assistant stage managers and the tech team who keep the proverbial train on track. There’s a new position in the Production Staff – COVID Compliance Office – who made sure all rules were followed and all headsets and chairs and touch points were properly sanitized. So welcome back to a new season of theatre:  Alleyway’s clever and inventive staging makes  this a great way to begin.

Buffalo Quickies runs an easy two hours with a 15-minute intermission, now until July 10. Visit www.alleyway.com for tickets and details.

Road Less Traveled Productions and Big Foot – A Killer Combo

It’s a production almost a century in the making, combining aural tradition of AM radio (first heard in WNY in 1920) and the ubiquity of Zoom, the 21st century answer to human relations during a pandemic.

Playwright Jon Elston admits to being intrigued by the late radio show host Art Bell and his call in show “Coast to Coast AM” that’s an homage to unexplained phenomena everywhere. Elston said, “I appreciate the opportunity he would get people to come on his show and given them a forum to say wild things. He let people come on his show and say whatever they wanted.   He was a right leaning libertarian with broad views.” One mystery in particular – Big Foot – is a topic, Elston said, that is “near and dear to my heart for close to 40 years.”

Elston’s fear and fascination with this creature was the inspiration for his play “Big Foot, A Live Virtual Theatrical Experience,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions for two performances on October 2 and 9.

Yes,  Big Foot. Myth? Legend? Beast? Hoax?  Well, even science isn’t really sure.  There’s even a branch of pseudoscience – cryptozoology – devoted to the study of the existence (or not) of Sasquatch and his brethren, For Elston, the mystery (or is it suspended reality?) is part of the allure that makes for interesting theatre during these unprecedented times.

“I wanted to write about this,” Elston said, “and Scott Behrend (RLTP’s artistic director) knew this, and he has been amused by it as most people are. But desperation is the mother of invention, so he offered me the opportunity to write the play and see it become a reality online.”

For director John Hurley, that was the key: Elston wrote the play to be produced in the online environment.  “Jon wrote the play for Zoom,” said Hurley, “so we’re not trying to adapt the play to this format.”

Running only 35 minutes, the actors – Jake Hayes, Lisa Vitrano (veteran of other Elston world premieres), Robyn Horn and Peter Horn – will perform from the safety of their homes. There was only one scene shot on location. Sara Foote, stage manager, will be in the theatre, calling the show, give the prompts, and – from her position at the computer – controlling what the at-home audience will see on screen. Elston said, “I don’t think it would have been possible to do this show in the live theatre environment.

The story is set in Niagara County, as married couple Charlie and Bea (the real life married Horns) listen to a late night radio program on the paranormal hosted by Wild Doug Wilford (Hayes) with paranormal expert Earlyne Harvest Smith (Vitrano) as his subject matter expert guest. But wait? Is that….Sasquatch himself roaming the woods surrounding Charlie and Bea’s home? Elston adds to the nuance of the story by building a twist of conflict. “There’s a nice debate in the shows,” he said. “ It’s funny, there’s a kind of humor and real situation and it’s serious, too,” Elston said. If writing about giant man-animal-being isn’t surreal enough, creating theatre to be performed for an online audience, viewing it on a screen and not on a stage like the rest of our current situation: unprecedented. Elston said, “This is an exciting time and a scary time. People haven’t done this before. We’re learning in real time from each other. There’s a lot at stake here: do we just go without theatre for six months or a year or longer?”

“Big Foot, A Live Virtual Theatrical Experience,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions for two performances on October 2 and 9, 8pm and runs a brisk 35-minutes, possibly shorter than any Zoom. Reservations at $15 and should be made prior to two hours before show time. Find details at https://www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org/bigfoot-a-live-virtual-theatrical-experience

Alleyway Theatre’s Current: 716 Reflects On Stage Online

March feels like such a long time ago, especially for our theatre community. That’s when we last set foot in a local theatre.  When it was clear that live theatre wasn’t coming back any time soon, theatre companies began planning  new iterations on alternative platforms. While nothing can take the place of a real live in-theatre experience, I’m glad and grateful for all that creative ingenuity.

This is a particularly poignant time for Alleyway Theatre. Last season it celebrated a landmark anniversary and its founder and leader – Neal Radice – stepped down, as did its grande dame Joyce Stilson. That in itself is a major transition for any theatre company. Add in the complication of COVID-19 and a theatre season interrupted and it’s another unprecedented event. Alleyway is coming back this month to launch its 2020-2021 season with a hometown theme. Currents: 716  is a series of 15 short monologues written by a variety Buffalo playwrights. The entire pastiche is videotaped and pieced together with no defined intermission. Consider this a new take on Alleyway’s iconic Buffalo Quickies. Only “The Box,” the opening vignette, uses Alleyway’s stage. Who needs the four walls of a theatre when you have a whole city full of neighborhoods and landmarks to use as COVID-friendly backdrops?

The whole production is a pretty wild romp with interstitial music by local musicians. Love the cross-genre support for all local performers.

Most of the plays have a corona virus theme while others focus on social justice. “What She Remembers on a Walk” by Gary Earl Ross is an outlier: Mary Craig portrays a woman reflecting and imagining her life as a caregiver pushes her wheelchair through east side neighborhoods. It’s sweet and heartbreaking.” Waste to Wealth on the Waterways of Western New York … Or,“Padon tells Parsifal How to Save the Planet” is a send up to environmental activism  Elizabethan-style.  Imagine if the Sierra Club wrote its call to action missives in rhyming couplets, the likes of “Without sustainability, there can be no more humanity,” or “You throw away this used once, is acting like a stupid dunce.”

There were some truly lovely moments. In “Close Up”the black girlfriend of woman clashes with her good ol’ guy Polish dad, and then bond over their shared connection with Buffalo’s Central Terminal. “Signs of the Divine” is performed in American Sign Language (and dubbed) and asks how you can hear the word of God? Ed  Taylor sums up Buffalo spirit perfectly in “Black Nikes” when his character – a ride share driver talking about his fares – says “In Buffalo hope f$*%ing springs eternal.”  In “Almost April,” Pamela Rose Mangus is banished to her basement to quarantine by her COVID-phobic husband and makes a video for their daughter while she endeavors to sort the clutter.  “Monologue #6”, set in on Carlton St. bench with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center in the background  was focused and purposeful – a life lesson for the insidious forms of racism and judgment. This one is subtle and brilliant. Donna Hoke’s  “Same New Story” has Peter Palmisano on a perfectly-paced rant against COVID, like a more stylish and controlled Howard (“mad as hell and not going to take it anymore”) Beale from the 1976 film Network.

Admittedly there are things that are less appealing. There’s some (perhaps deliberately) shaky camera work that my eyes found tedious and the (almost) constant barrage of corona virus situations didn’t transport me to that delicious place away from the real world (like theatre is often wont to do).

There’s more virtual theatre to come this fall; get over your Zoom fatigue and take a chance on this alternative theatre permutation. You’re still supporting our creative class and you’ll see some familiar faces, too.

Currents:716 is online Thursday, Friday, Saturday to September 26. It runs just under two hours if you don’t pause for bio breaks or libations. While an occasional curse word doesn’t distract when we’re in the theatre for reals, there is some non-family-friendly language if there are little ones in your viewing parlor. Details at www.alleyway.com.

‘Hand to God’ at Road Less Traveled

The cast of “Hand To God” at Road Less Traveled Theatre.

Poor Margery. She’s dealing with the loss of her husband by using liturgical puppets as a ministry at her Christian church. She’s not a puppeteer by trade, and she can’t sing or preach, she says, so she will show her love for the church through the Christkateers puppet club and it will be her path to salvation. That is until her son Jason’s puppet Tyrone becomes possessed by Satan, and the church pastor comes on to her in a sweet and gentle way which is NOT the way the teen Lothario of the puppet club declares his desire for her. What’s a mother to do?

So that’s the innocent set up of “Hand to God” the wickedly funny and very moving show on stage at Road Less Traveled Productions, now until March 29. It took a couple years for RLTP to finally get Robert Askins’ Tony-nominated show on stage in Buffalo, and – hand-to-God –  it will be one of the best shows you will see all season.  The script is both hilarious and deeply moving and the performances by Jenn Stafford as Margery and Dan Urtz as her son Jason are outstanding.

There’s a lot of love about this show. Dyan Burlingame’s set nails the typical church basement classroom and she cleverly drops in a concealed space that serves as two rooms in Margery and Jason’s home. Diane Almeter Jones was in touch with her inner child in searching out perfect props to add to the spaces. My favorite was the toy automobile console and steering while that Stafford “drove”  with deadpan perfection. Tyrone and Jolene – the puppets – were the work of designer Adam Kreutinger. Tyrone the sock puppet started out as a goofy gray sock dressed in child-friendly primary colors and evolved into the devil incarnate with teeth that draw blood and a demonic expression. Jolene is all woman with extra large sequin nipples. Hysterical.

It’s the acting that makes this wild ride of a script so sublime. Stafford is flat out amazing as the perfect Christian mom full of pent up sexuality covered in Southern charm. She’s exactly how you never want to imagine your mom. John Kreuzer is the slightly sweaty Pastor Greg who lusts in his heart for Margery while teaching the good word to his flock. Teen lover-boy Timmy is the kid you love to hate and Henry Farleo has the swagger to pull it off. Maura Nolan Coseglia is Jessica, the kind hearted girl in puppet club who is designing Jolene with a little bit of bad girl. It’s Dan Urtz as Jason that owns almost every scene. As Jason he’s soft-spoken and child-like; when he’s Tyrone, his voice is angry and evil and full of potty-mouth-puppet rage. He shifts gears between personae effortlessly. John Hurley’s direction keeps the show tight and on target. The funniest scene has to be when puppet Jolene tries to calm Tyrone’s inner beast with her womanly charms. If you had your fill of puppets enjoying sock-on-sock action in “Avenue  Q,” this is a whole different story. Urtz and Nolan Coseglia took this to the limit.

Underneath the loads of laughs and the twisted story of sock puppets with a mind of their own, the human story is poignant. Loneliness and isolation harm the human psyche. Dealing with loss and absent parents – through death or their own despair – have deep residual impacts. How we deal with the life we’re handed can be a painful struggle to survive, fit in, and find love. Role playing can indeed bring out our demons until our authentic selves take charge.

“Hand to God” is  great fun and an outstanding showcase for some of our region’s finest theatre talent. It run just two hours with a 15-minutre intermission to March 29. Find details and tickets at www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

“Indecent” is Sublime at Kavinoky

In 1906, Warsaw was a city in revolution. The Imperial Russian Army was terrorizing workers.  The city was in recession, a harbinger of things to come. Despite this grim reality, its Jewish community was creating art and celebrating its culture. Playwright  Sholem Asch was staring taboos  in the face with a provocative play of love, defiance, and unbridled sensuality. His ‘God of Vengeance’ told  the story of illicit love between a prostitute and the virginal young daughter of a brothel owner. It shocked the establishment, and enthralled a tailor who made it his life’s work to bring the production to the great capitals of Europe and then to New York where it met its demise.

This is the story within the story of “Indecent,” beautifully constructed by Paula Vogel and elegantly staged at Kavinoky Theatre now to March 29. Presented in collaboration with the Jewish Repertory of WNY, this marks the first theatre company partnership for the Kavinoky, and this is a perfect match stylistically and metaphorically, too.

In brief, this performance is stunning. The cast of 12 takes on multiple roles that make the experience even more robust than it is. Each character carries his own dignity in humbling, strong ways throughout the story that spans more than 50 years and many locations. In a blink, lives change as society struggles along.

Director Kristen Tripp Kelley uses every inch of Kavinoky’s space, from the wings to the house itself; the audience is literally wrapped in this performance. Set designer extraordinaire David King created a multi-layered canvas that transformed the Kav’s stage to the worn and weary European stage houses and war-torn buildings where Jewish culture was kept in secret.  Diane Almeter Jones did magical things with simple props; suitcases were vessels for travel that also became table supports and sign holders. The metaphors aren’t lost, they’re center stage. She dressed the set with scarves that wrapped, concealed, and transformed the actors. Brian Milbrand’s projections used a timeline in English and Yiddish that helped the audience keep pace with change in venue and the span of time. The silent movie-style narration on the projection is engaging, too. All these elements worked silently and seamlessly.

But it’s the cast constantly moving (carefully choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel Formato) cast against a vintage screen backdrop that was tasked to tell Vogel’s intense adaptation. Jordan Levin (last seen as Leo Frank in “Parade”last season at ART of WNY, another intense performance) is on fire as Lemml, the tailor-turned stage manager. His cast mates shine in their multiple roles. Arin Lee Dandes, Aleks Malejs, Adam Yellen, Peter Palmisano, Debbie Pappas Sham, Saul Elkin, and Matt Witten flex as ‘Vengeance’ cast members and others who  are both beguiled and outraged by immorality and expressions of love. The musicians are on stage, too, and weave into the cast as well. Watch the arch of violinist Maggie Zindle’s brow as the works her way around the stage, and the playfulness Megan Callahan has in toodling  klezmer tunes on her clarinet. Musical director Joseph Donohue III doubles as the accordionist, and Bassist Benjamin Levitt rounds out the sound.

There are some gorgeous moments here; some repeat for effect, like when fine ash falls from under actors’ coat sleeves in key sequences, and a soft fall of rain welcomes spring and a new day.

Good things happen when the right partners come together in strength and shared vision. The Kav and and JRT prove this, on stage and off. The Kav’s Executive Artistic Director Loraine O’Donnell and JRT’s founder Saul Elkin set the bar a little higher for theatre company collaboration with this one.

Before the show, O’Donnell previewed the Kav’s 41st season. Two musicals (“Something Rotten” and “Rock of Ages” ) light up the season. The British mystery “The Woman in Black” returns to this stage. The classic “Pride and Prejudice” will take a new spin (if you liked Irish Classical Theatre Company’s treatment of “Sense and Sensibility” last season, this adaptation was penned by the same playwright), and “People, Places, and Things, a powerful story about addiction closes out the 2021 season. O’Donnell knows how to keep an audience engaged while taking some calculated chances, too. All good.

“Indecent” runs 95 minutes without intermission and is onstage until March 29. Find tickets and details here.

A Sure Sign of Spring: Shea’s Announces Next Season’s Schedule

Shea’s Buffalo Theatre is going back to its roots as a movie house with the M&T Bank 2020-21 Broadway Series. Six of the seven mainstage offerings either began their lives on the silver screen or have already been made into films. Venerable producing partner Albert Nocciolino joined Shea’s  President  Michael G. Murphy to announce next year’s season at a subscriber’s event held Tuesday night.

An exciting kick off to the season – and another economic boon for Buffalo – are two national tours are launching on Shea’s stage. This also means that Shea’s will host the tech and stage crews for extended stays, with an estimated $3 million in regional economic impact for the region, says Murphy, along with creating work for local theatre technicians.  This is made possible by a New York State program that incents Broadway productions to launch from an upstate – in our case a Western New York – theatre, an opportunity enjoyed by our city coffers for five years.

The first of these productions is “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” starring Richard Thomas, August 15-22. This is Aaron Sorkin’s script which was produced this season at the Kavinoky Theatre. Thomas – long remembered for his TV character John Boy Walton – will star as Atticus Finch.

Next up and the second national launch is the stage version of the 1982 comedy “Tootsie,” October 3-10. It’s the same fun story: an out of work actor wins roles when he dresses in drag, with a score written by David Yazbeck who also the score for “The Band’s Visit” coming to Shea’s this April, along with “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

The next movie on stage in “Pretty Woman The Musical,” where the hooker with a heart of gold wins over emotionally remote rich dude. All the scenes you loved in the 1990 movies are tied together with a score by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime song writing partner Jim Vallance.

The 2019 Tony award winning revival of “Oklahoma” is on stage January 26-31. The New York Times called it the “the coolest production of the year is from 1943” because of its inventive restaging of an American classic and the fresh arrangements of the lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein score.

Another classic,  the Lincoln Center Theater Production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” follows March 23-28.

The season’s juke box musical is “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, The Life and Times of The Temptations,” dances on stage May 11 to 16.

Closing out the season is another hit from the snowy silvery screen, “Frozen,” June 16-27.

Two special engagements round out the season: “Hamilton” returns November 3-20. Season subscribers may opt to include this as part of their season; and “Dear Evan Hansen,” April 13-18.

Murphy also announced the new seasons for Shea’s other theatre properties.  For the third season, O’Connell & Company will be in residence at Shea’s Smith Theatre. This season begins with “Nunsensations A-Men,” January 8-17, followed by “SUDS: The Rocking ‘60s Musical Soap Opera,” March 5-14, and the return of “Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO PALACE, “ April 29-May 2. Also in residence at Shea’s Smith is Second Generation Theatre. This company’s season begins October 16 with the play “Constellations,”  until November 1, followed by Jason Robert Brown’s lush musical “Songs for a New World” February 5-21, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel adapted for stage “The Secret Garden,” May 21-June 6. 

At Shea’s 710 Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions will stage “Slow Food, “a comedy, September 10-27. MusicalFare Theatre follows with the musical “In the Heights,”December 3-20. The theatre collaborative All for One Theatre Productions (MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Irish Classical Theatre, Theatre of Youth) bring love and comedy to the stage with “Shakespeare in Love,”February 11-28. Irish Classical Theatre brings” Farinelli and the King,”a drama, to this stage April 8-18. Finally MusicalFare Theatre returns with the regional premiere of Kinky Boots, May 6-23.

Full descriptions and ticket information is online at www.sheas.org.

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