Keep an Eye on Your Family with “A Gentleman’s Guide…”

Who knew that plotting to bump off your family members could be so much fun?

That’s the essence of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, killing it on stage at Musicalfare Theatre until August 7.

This outrageously funny musical takes us to Edwardian England as Monty D’Ysquith Navarro (deliciously played by Ricky Needham) is sitting in a jail cell writing his memoir. What brought him there? Flashback to a time when he’s reflecting on his mother’s passing when he learns that he is technically the Ninth Earl of Highurst and is part of a family of high ranking. His late mother was disowned by the family when she married a Castilian (gasp!) musician (encore gasp!) for love (gasp times three!) They lived a poor but humble life, with Mum telling Monty this his father’s name was the only one that mattered.

Well now.

Monty endeavors to meet this family and when his first overtures are shunned, he takes action. Many actions. No more spoiler alerts. Just get yourself to the theatre to see what happens next…and how.

Everything about this production, exquisitely directed by Doug Weyand, is point perfect. First of all, the casting. Needham’s previous appearance on MusicalFare’s stage was in the elegant and poignant All is Calm earlier this season. As Monty, he has the timing, the expressions, the cunning, the charm, the everything else Monty needs and more. He learns about his lineage from the gifted Jenn Stafford who as Miss Marietta Shingle sprays biscuits bits like nobody else. His original love interest is Sibella, (Solange Gosselin), more motivated by money than love, until he meets Phoebe (Emily Yancey) who selects him as her betrothed in the decidedly funny “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” Gotta love a woman – or women –  with a plan.

The ensemble collectively fills a myriad of roles and makes artwork come to life (literally…portraits of presumed deceased family members start to sing) on stage. Jon May, Michelle Holden, and John Panepinto fill in the gaps with so many roles that move the story along.

And then there’s Marc Sacco. Oh. My. Goodness. He plays the about-to-be deceased members of the D’Ysquith family. Every single one of them. Male and female. Lots of great costuming by Kari Drozd and some incredibly quick hair and makeup transformations designed by Susan Drozd support Sacco’s unmistakable talent for shifting from cleric to early feminist to cranky old guy. He’s the consummate character actor.

A good night in the theatre is more than the story and the cast. Technical creativity knits it all together. Chris Cavanagh created a set and sound/visual experience that skillfully plays modern stage technology off good old fashioned site gags. Watch as the cleric tumbles to his death with a colorful splat. Theresa Quinn leads a small but mighty back up band: Jim Runfola, Jimmy Runfola, and Peggy Scalzo do the music justice from behind the scrim.

A Gentleman’s Guide….is a hoot and the 2 ½ hours fly by with lots of laughs, quirky characters, and a fine showcase for the best talent our community has to offer. There’s a 15-minute intermission where the smile won’t leave your face. Get your tickets at http://www.musicalfare.com.

Islena is a Celebration!

Islena means islander. For Victoria Perez, being an islander is part of who she is and always will be. It’s in her soul.

Islena is also the perfect title for her original one-woman show, a glorious celebration of her life as an islena transplanted at a young age to Buffalo.

This is exuberant, boisterous celebration, a collaboration between Victoria and her sister Maria Perez Gomez (who directs the show), includes a quintet of musicians and a rotating cast of musical guests. Victoria uses her considerable stage chops to portray all her family members in this fast-paced hour: with a tilt of her head and a change in her voice, she wraps you in the circle of love that is her family.

The show begins in her feast-for-the-eyes kitchen. Victoria is about to celebrate her 40th birthday and while she dances around cooking up a favorite family dish, she’s telling her story about her family’s move, from home to here. As you would expect, it wasn’t easy. She was different. She didn’t speak the same language. The local food had no flavor! But her twin brother made her laugh at his little boy antics and she had the love of her big sister to help her through. For this special birthday, her husband is surprising her with a trip home. Home! She’s grown comfortable here, built a beautiful life, launched her Raices Theatre Company…but her island, Puerto Rico, is in her heart.

It’s hard not to love this show. It’s full of Victoria’s natural energy. I don’t speak or understand Spanish or Spanglish even, so some of the dialogue was lost on me, but I felt her joy and (and sometimes her pain) with every word. There are plenty of fun little bits, too, like the song her uncle would sing about her bland food complaints, and the sound of island frogs, how her brother taught her the proper salsa rhythm for dance. Tiffany Jaramillo designed a dream kitchen set with lots of red accents, that shares the stage with her floral, peaceful bedroom. It’s the perfect backdrop for a woman with a foot in two places.

You’ll walk out smiling. Maybe you’ll even dance a little…try a salsa…just remember, 1-2, 1-2-3.

Islena is a fast hour performance, no intermission, at Road Less Traveled Theater’s Main St. home, to July 3. Find more info at http://www.raicestheatercompany.com.

Come to the Cabaret – a Second Generation Triumph

What I love best about Second Generation Theatre is the company’s commitment to make bold artistic choices. Company partners Kristin Bentley, Kelly Copps, and Arin Lee Dandes make thoughtful and interesting choices that successfully blend familiar and newer works to make a dynamic season.

This season’s finale production, Cabaret, was a prescient (more than three year ago) choice, against our country’s – and more recently – our community’s realities. A brief deep background if you haven’t seen it on stage, screen, or the source document book: Germany in the late 1920s was seeing its golden days tarnish as Nazism was on the rise. Clifford Bradshaw, an aspiring novelist from America, travels the Berlin for inspiration and is caught up in the country’s changing socio-political times.

SGT’s production is earthy and intense, well-cast, perfectly executed, and meticulously presented. From its simple set expertly designed by Primo Thomas and appointed by Diane Almeter Jones, to the stark lighting schema by Chris Cavanagh, the technical elements visually and aurally pull you into this world immediately. And then comes Allan Paglia’s orchestra, and the Emcee, Joe Russi in a true tour de force performance. Sly and sassy, furtive and cunning, he’s the human barometer we see change with Germany’s political climate.  Russi’s performance is downright brilliant start to finish, from his sweet-sexy smiles to his chilling interpretation of “I Don’t Care Much.”

Next up are the ‘ladies’ of the Kit Kat Club, the seedy social center of the story. This rough and tumble kick line is the backdrop for the most (IMHO) detestable character in the Broadway canon, Sally Bowles, the British chanteuse who steals Clifford’s ambiguous heart. Cassie Cameron has this role. She half speaks, half growls her songs from the delectable Kander and Ebb score which punctuate her character’s “I’m all about me” personality.

Adding to the cold heart club is Frau Kost, wickedly played by Amy Jakiel. The across the hall neighbor of Clifford and Sally in Fraulein Schneider’s boarding house, she’s a busy prostitute who embraces New Germany politics: her off-hand remark to Herr Schultz at an engagement party is a revealing moment in the story. Her fierce “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” is rage on stage set to music.

So much anger…but there’s heart-warming moments of love in this sad story, too.  Pamela Rose Mangus is a delight as Fraulein Schneider, boarding house owner who has the heart of Herr Schultz, the local fruit shop owner, played by Steve Jakiel. For me, theirs was the real heart of this production. They were a couple caught in two worlds; their love of home and heritage, Fraulein’s fear for the future, Herr ‘s naivete that this Nazi thing is a political whim. Jakiel and Mangus share a lovely, charming on-stage connection. Their tender duet “It Couldn’t Please Me More” was sweet and loving. Mangus has two other pivotal moments: her act one song “So What” countered against her wistful second act song “What Would You Do” is Kander and Ebb magic. Her passion, her confusion, her love for a fine man whose country is about to betray him…all spot on.

The other stand out is Dan Urtz as Clifford. He blew us all away last season in Road Less Traveled Productions’ Hand to God as the Satan-possessed teen puppeteer…and now he’s the American who is witness to a changing world. Another dynamic performance at the other end of the spectrum, including a showplace for his wonderfully rich voice.

Director Kristin Bentley got it all right with this production, as did choreographer Kelly Copps. They create a whole little world on that small Shea’s Smith Theatre stage. It works. The stage movements they created are stunning and beautifully detailed. Despite all the goodness, it’s not an easy show to watch. You know what’s coming for these characters. You know it’s not good. You know it’s inevitable.

Spoiler Alert: it’s the final moment that grabs you and lingers As an audience member, it’s disconcerting. You want to applaud wildly. Call the cast back for more appreciation. But you can’t. And they won’t come out again. The impact is strong, palpable. And it’s completely by design.

Cabaret is a full two hours with a 15-minute intermission. It runs until June 26. Find details at http://www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.

Facts Are FACTS at Kavinoky

The Life-Style of a Fact, on stage now at the Kacinoky Theater, is a play based on a series of events that happened one night in Las Vegas. There were lap-dancers, game-playing chickens, and people who are living with depression mentioned in this dramatic story that was based in truth. With facts. And nothing made up at all. Because words matter…and so does the story behind them.

So…what do you think? Pretty intriguing, huh? Except, that paragraph is replete with errors. Starting with the title of the play (actually, The Lifespan of a Fact, and the name of the theatre (D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre), and very brief description of this thought-provoking script, that is based on a book that was written because of an essay that was rejected by one magazine and published after a lengthy review process by another. And it’s billed as a comedy. The real truth of that paragraph was the last sentence: Because words matter…and so does the story behind them.

In brief, real life essayist John D’Agata authored an essay about life in Las Vegas; the center of the piece was a teen who took his life. The other things – the mention of lap-dancers, the chicken playing checkers, and a million little details about appearance and perception – were woven into this work, too. D’Agata was going for a specific rhythm and cadence in his writing, using a numeric count down to emphasize key points while overemphasizing some details and underplaying others, all for the sake of flow and nuance. Was he intentionally bending facts and manipulating what is real? Or was he just cleverly re-arranging ‘truth’ to make reality more readable?

Playwrights Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell adapted this work from the book co-authored by real-life D’Agata and Jim Fingal about the seven year ordeal of actually bringing the essay to publication. Ironically, it was following some well-publicized articles on fictionalized news and a bit before the advent of what we now call “fake news.”

Director Kyle LoConti and her team did a fine job peeling back the pages of a magazine and revealing the review and publication process. She cast Peter Palmisano as the writer/essayist D’Agata; he’s properly passionate and a wee bit surly about the craft of writing itself. Brian Brown is Fingal, the fledgling fact-checker, an intern looking to prove his worth under a tight deadline. Their exchanges make the show. From Brown’s subtle bits of physical comedy as he struggles to don and doff a backpack that’s heavier than his slight frame, to their verbal dueling, these bits are best. We see Fingal’s determination to be absolute in the pursuit of facts and D’Agata’s desire to weave a compelling story, subtly weighted against a generational conflict. If Brown is tentative and stiff in the first act, he’s fiery in the second act during this war of words. These two are the perfect foils; you sense that a deeper understanding will ultimately develop here, too.

Loraine O’Donnell is the fictional editor, Emily Penrose.  She’s the one who selected Fingal as the fact-checker for this piece and she’s the one who literally breaks up their fight and gets them on the path to publication. O’Donnell plays her with a furrowed brow and no-nonsense air.

In the end, is literary non-fiction held to the same standard as journalism when it comes to the fine points of accuracy? That’s the point this trio appears to ponder in the enigmatic closing moment, which reminds me of the final scene of Aaron Sorkin’s The Farnsworth Invention from Kavinoky’s 2009 season.

The Lifespan of a Fact runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission until June 26. Mask wearing is still required to keep us all safe and healthy. Visit http://www.kavinokytheatre.com for tickets and details.

Head for The Oregon Trail at Alleyway

Full disclosure: I never played The Oregon Trail videogame. Not being much of a gamer (except for my Pac Man and Ms Pac Man obsession in the ‘80s), I actually never heard of the game. If you had asked me what was The Oregon Trail, I might have guessed something that fur traders used to get from the Midwest to the Pacific Ocean. So color me surprised that it turned out to be a pretty thoughtful, pretty funny show now onstage at the Alleyway Theatre.

Renee Landrigan is Jane, a typical ‘90s middle schooler who dramatically flops herself on the floor in embarrassment, dials up her mom on a flip phone with an antenna, and can’t quite keep up with big sister Mary Ann (Sue McCormack). Jane has a secret crush on class hunk Billy (Ben Caldwell) and another secret: a disc that sends her imagination back a century to The Oregon Trail where she can pretend she’s packing the covered wagon for a ride across the prairie, circa 1848. It’s all pretty harmless fun….until the day the computer talks back to her.

The stage action cleverly shifts between today Jane and 1848 Jane (maybe her great great grandmother, perhaps) with Elise Vullo in the vintage Jane role. Jane from the days of yore is struggling with her mother’s death and her father’s decision to go west. She adores her accomplished older sister Mary Ann (McCormack in a bonnet) who has stepped up into the caregiver’s role. But then Jane struggles with the rough, slow road and the threat of death by dysentery and other things. We time-hop forward and today Jane is an adult, of sorts. She is struggling to find her place in the world while big sister Mary Ann has a tiring but rewarding medical career. Jane manifests classic signs of depression, not caring for herself, devoted to screens (both computer and TV), unable to hold a job or find a career pathway. Tough love doesn’t seem to work. Even a chance meeting with ex-crush Billy isn’t shaking her out of her reverie. Mary Ann decides a wilderness day, some sage to burn, and some journaling might help Jane find her path.

Landrigan is a delight as Today Jane, both  young and grown up. She’s a great twitchy ‘tween and a lost soul 20-something. McCormack’s Mary Ann is equally solid: as today’s Mary Ann she’s both weary and wise and just wants her kid sister to find her way. Caldwell’s Billy is the middle school jerk who hasn’t grown up (we all know him). It’s John Profeta as Clancy, the 1848 dad and Nicholas Lama as the voice of the game who provide the wisdom of the Trail….actual and electronic. Profeta is determined that he’s made a good decision to ford the streams and hike the hills to a new life for his family. Lama’s resonant voice reminds us that outside forces can oddly, wickedly control you when you least expect it. It’s a clever device by playwright Bekah Brunstetter. Director Chris J Handley and Tim McGrath, scenic designer made good use of the stage that took use from classroom to wilderness to the gals’ apartment. Todd Warfield had some work cut out for him sourcing a full size-looking wagon and some ancient greige computers (memories of my vintage 286!) I loved some of Nicholas Quinn’s music choices for audio transitions, too.

All told, the earlier scenes and the waaay earlier flashback scenes were more satisfying than the ending. I would have liked to have seen a glimpse of Today Jane and Yesteryear Jane one more time, and maybe heard more creepy shout outs from the game himself to knit it all together.

The Oregon Trail is onstage to May 28. It runs a solid two hours+ with an intermission to enjoy Alleyway’s lovely lobby.  Get tickets and info at www.alleyway.com. Bring a mask. You’ll be OK.

It’s Tradition vs Modern at Jewish Repertory Theatre

We all know that person. He’s chronically late and eternally apologetic. He’s completely annoying and utterly charming. He swears he’s your best friend but given the opportunity, he’d shatter your trust.

That pretty much sums up Hershel Klein (“My friends call me Hersh,” he says), the diamond dealer who can’t shut up in Modern Orthodox, the current production of Jewish Repertory Theatre.

Hersh is traditional and proud of it, peppering his patter with plenty of Yiddish interjections, notably Baruch Hashem (blessed be the name of the Lord). He’s 45 minutes late to sell a diamond to Ben (RJ Voltz) who is finally ready to pop the question to his live-in doctor girlfriend Hannah (Kayla Storto). Hersh is curious about Ben and Hannah, who are Jewish and modern and breaking all the rules that Hersh holds so dear. Ben is less curious about Hersh’s life, even to the point of mocking his faith. So it’s a rather weird circumstance that lead Hersh to Ben and Hannah’s door where he passes out, then moves in, and an odd kinship develops. And it becomes clear that Hersh is settling in for the long haul. Hersh is content to be there…but only after the kitchen and items can be kosher, and some of Hersh’s treasures are on the walls, and there’s a mezuzah on the entrance doorframe. To get him out of their hair and lair, Ben and Hannah use an internet dating site (oy gevalt!) to find Hersh to Rachel (Robyn Baun), his b’shert…his perfect mate.

Adam Yellen is using his very best deadpan chops as Hersh: he has Hersh’s shtick down pat, from his earnestness to his overall twitchiness. Voltz and Storto are perfectly suited as the affianced Ben and Hannah. It’s the Hersh and Rachel combination that is so endearing. Baun is laugh out loud hysterical as they kibbitz away their first date. She’s that proverbial ray of sunshine with a brash and loud chutzpah; still she’s the zaftig girl of his dreams. You almost hope for a second act so you can see their marriage emerge.

Director Steve Vaughan had a good eye for this cast; they roles fit them like gloves.  Playwright Daniel Goldfarb has a real gift for banter and fast-paced conversation: if there are some holes in the plot, they are quickly forgotten.

Give yourself a few minutes before the show starts to scan the program’s pullout of Yiddish-Hebrew words: there’s a lot of them and it will come in handy (all these years, I thought Shlemiel and Shlemazzel were just the first few years of the Laverne and Shirley theme song…who knew!)

Modern Orthodox is onstage to May 29. The show runs 90-ish minutes with no intermission: tickets and details are at www.jccbuffalo.org. We’ve had a frightening and heart-breaking week…give yourself a night out to laugh and lose yourself in the blush of young love.

It’s All About the Music at Shea’s

Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations is a hoot of a way to end this year’s Broadway season at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. It’s full of feel-good energy and lots of familiar tunes that has you wanting more….and that’s a good metaphor for a Buffalo theatre season, especially coming of the COVID-intermission.

The show is part memoir, part juke box tribute to the 60-year reign of The Temptations. Not unlike Jersey Boys or Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, the script is a loose outline of how Otis Williams (Marcus Paul James) created brotherhood through music with some fellow Detroiters, got introduced to Motown legend Berry Gordy (Michael Andreaus) who assigned fledgling songwriter Smokey Robinson (Lawrence Dandridge) to create a signature sound, and the rest – as they say – is history. Along the way, there were plenty of woman woes, drug abuse, competition for the spotlight and plenty of music. The most fascinating part of the Temp’s history though is the time: they were moving up through the 1960s, working though the Civil Rights Movement, mourning the death of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., coping with violence as they toured southern states, while making music history in their own way. There were hints that the group wanted more relevance and to take a stand for social justice, but Gordy hired Shelly Berger (Reed Campbell) to help manage them and introduce a cross-cultural sound for their unique talents. Was there disappointment here? Maybe. Probably. This is the part of their story that deserved more telling, methinks. But scripts like this are written to hit the high notes (at best in falsetto) and a little revisionist history means we just get to the tunes a little faster.

And that’s the whole point of the story…. to celebrate the music. And damn it was good. Diana Ross and the Supremes make a guest appearance along with Tammi Terrell. Deri’Andra Tucker as Diana, Shayla Brielle G. doing double duty as Tammi and Flo, and Traci Elaine Lee as Mary had voices worthy of the music for sure.

It’s the five original Temps that had the show, though (there were 24 Temps to date, Marcus Paul James as Otis Williams said). He plus James T. Lane, Harrell Holmes, Jr., Jalen Harris, Elijah Ahmad Lewis as Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Melvin Franklin, Eddie Kendricks, and David Ruffin had the voices, the dancing, the swagger, and brotherhood that showed the best of the Temps the way we want to see them. If the script washed over the less appealing stuff…well…that’s not what the show was meant to be. It’s all about “Cloud Nine,” “My Girl,” “What Becomes of the Broken Hearted,” “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone” and the soundtrack of our lives from ’61 to ’73 and the group’s last Top 10 hit.

As you would expect, the lights, the costumes, the projection, and the set changes were flashy and dazzling. There was an appropriate Buffalo cheer when “Buffalo” and “Kleinhans” on flashed the projected marquee. And of course, when an early group member broke into “Shout,” this prompted an audience sing along. (Now wait a minute, kids, “Shout” was really a song before it became our favorite cheer.) Maybe it is in the script that the singer on stage ‘cues’ the audience to join in, but that clearly isn’t needed in this town.

If I had one disappointment, it is that there wasn’t a “mega mix” medley at the end so the audience – already on its feet – could dance and sing along one more time.

“Ain’t Too Proud” is in town (God willing and the COVID rate don’t rise) to Sunday, May 15. It runs a full two hours including a 20-minute intermission.  Tickets and details at www.sheas.org.

D’Youville Kavinoky Play Looks at Addiction and Recovery

“It’s the nouns you have to look out for…the people, places, and things…,” is a poignant line in People, Places, and Things, on stage now to May 22 at the D’Youville Kavinoky Theatre. This is a powerful story about addiction and recovery, the death-defying lows and the terrifying highs that are part of this very human condition.

You’re used to seeing a few serious, soulful dramas every year in this lovely space. You’ve probably seen plenty of plays and movies where someone is drinking or using. Chances are someone in your family or circle of loved ones is struggling with something similar. But you’ve probably never seen a production that is so intense, so gripping, and so well executed as this. Director Kate Mallinson and the cast with Aleks Malejs in the lead role put their hearts into this and it shows in every word and movement. And no, I’m not overselling this. Duncan MacMillan’s play is remarkable and this cast and crew elevated this work to become an experience.

Malejs is Emma, an actor who – in the opening scene – loses focus on-stage during a production of Chekhov’s The Seagull. A series of flashbacks show snippets of her life, dancing, clubbing, using…until she crashes and checks into rehab. There she’s haunted by images of herself (Mallinson created some special stage magic here) as she’s trying to control the uncontrollable state of her being. She falters, fails, tries again. It’s not a cliché to say that she triumphs in the end: every day is a new challenge, a new struggle on the road to sobriety.

This is raw, exquisite work by Malejs, who by day in her ‘real life’ is a Peer Specialist for Save the Michaels of the World, Inc. She has lived experience and she brings that to her performance tenfold. She’s not some doddering drunk or strung out junky: her character is complex, endearing, frustrating. She’s alone with her acting career where she’s surrounded by characters and and offstage, she’s haunted by familial pain. Those two halves make a very troubling, human whole. Maureen Ann Porter is the center’s doctor, therapist, and later Emma’s mum. She trebly ironic here: in one character she’s understanding and supportive. In another role she’s wary, tired, and bitterly disappointed. It’s a wonder to see Porter shift like this. Gregory Gjurich, one of the region’s most versatile comedic actors, is Emma’s dad and a variety of ensemble roles where his skill for drama is mesmerizing. He preaches his addiction to heroin with the passion of clergyman. (There are glimmers of humor sprinkled in the script. After a twisted and prayerful monologue, Emma is encouraged to say “amen,” she’s hesitant until she’s reminded that it’s like hitting ‘send’ on an email. In another exchange with the same peer counselor, she scoffs “are all your references from cartoons? Read a book!”) Ah, humanity. Ben Michael Moran, Gabriella McKinley, Diane DiBernardo, Dylan Zalikowski, Afrim Gjonbalaj, Christopher Guilmet, and Michele Roberts effortlessly slide in and out of their ensemble roles gracefully. You do get the sense that this ensemble – in real life – connected perhaps through common bonds or their actor’s empathy. As the cast when they chant “don’t come back” as their fellow clients leave rehab, there is strength and hope in their sincerity.

David King designed a deceptively simple set that frames the stage action as well as it does the projection crafted by Nicholas Taboni. Through Taboni’s choices, Brian Cavanagh’s lighting, and Geoffrey Tocin’s sound, we are in Emma’s psyche as it sorts through layers of images and influences. Diane Almeter Jones and Amber Greer and Andrea Letcher round out the team with props and costumes that knit the visual experience together so well.

D’Youville Kavinoky waited a few years for this one (thank you, COVID), and perhaps that has added to its relevance. The isolation and fear of COVID is making us more aware of mental health diagnoses and addiction struggles. Executive Artistic Director Loraine O’Donnell made some very thoughtful programming choices by inviting area behavioral health agencies to share information on Thursday evenings and participate in a post-show talk-back. She also suspended sales of alcoholic beverages on Thursday nights, too.

COVID has truncated the show’s run, so make ticket arrangements now at kavinokytheatre.com. The show runs for two hours with a 20-minute intermission. Bright lights and some strobes may be uncomfortable for some audience members. Trigger warning:  smoking, drug use, alcohol references, and suicidal ideations are prevalent. Help and hope is just a click away:

Save the Michaels of the World, Inc.

Spectrum Health and Human Services

Horizon Health Services

Evergreen Health

BestSelf Behavioral Health

The Other Josh Cohen is a Delight

What do you do when your apartment is burgled, your job kinda sucks, money is tight, and love eludes you? Worst of all, your only possessions are a “hang in there” cat calendar and the Neil Diamond III CD (“the best songs are on one and two”)? Well, if you’re Josh Cohen, you just keep on keeping on.

The Other Josh Cohen, on stage at MusicalFare Theatre until May 22, is a completely loveable story about a guy who hates February 14 and 15 equally because Valentine’s Day and the Ides of February just aren’t his days…until a series of circumstances turns it all around.

This is 90 minutes of absolute delight on a stage, with music, including a Neil Diamond appearance. I mean, come on…what’s not to love? Director Randall Kramer gets this all right with a superb cast and  a adorably quirky and endearing story by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen

There are actually three Josh Cohens involved here. The story unfolds in retrospect as Narrator Josh (Zak Ward) details a critical time when Last Year’s Josh (Joseph Donohue III) encounters the ‘other’ Josh (Brandon Barry) when Other Josh’s mom sends a hefty check to Last Year’s Josh’s almost-empty apartment. What to do? This big chunk o’ change could turn Last Year’s Josh’s life around….but then again….so can doing the right thing.

Along this journey we meet Last Year Josh’s parents, his landlord, his neighbors, the other Josh’s mom, Darth Vadar, and a few women not meant for any Josh. In between there are plenty of laughs (not belly busting slap stick guffaws, but the delectable, sly chuckling kind that are more enduring and infectious), and some really good tunes. The earworm for the night is “Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree,” a story song that sets up the family lineage with a tune that will remind you of Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” If you’re not smiling by the second chorus, well then, it just sucks to be you.

The band members (all three Josh actors) plus music director Theresa Quinn, Robert Insana, and Solange Gosselin) are on stage and do double and triple duty as various cast members.  It’s a hoot to watch them effortlessly glide from role to role. Quinn is the standout stepping out from the behind the keyboards to be Josh mom I and II and Neil. Insana kills it when – as Josh’s dad – he meticulously voices his answering machine. This band is tight, the vocals are excellent, and it’s all easy on the ears. Chris Cavanagh kept the set simple and effective and used some subtle lighting to shift the mood as needed.  Costumer Kari Drozd dressed Narrator Josh and Last Year’s Josh identically: it’s only in the demeanor and quiet wisdom (and facial hair) that you see the difference. It all worked.

Underneath the gags and gimmicks, there’s a message for the ages: goodness will always win, and patience pays off.

The Other Josh Cohen runs 90 minutes without an intermission. Visit www.musicalfare.com for details and tickets.

Little Women…now…At Last!

Louisa May Alcott’s coming of age chick lit classic Little Women has been required reading since its 1868 publication. Hence, it’s multiple iterations on stage and screen: everyone loves the four plucky sisters of Concord, MA, their stalwart mother, and the men who dance around their periphery of their lives. Except me. I know, some may think I need to revoke my woman card, but the book and its adaptations have never appealed to me.

Major props to playwright Donna Hoke for tackling this old chestnut and bringing it to 2022 relevance. Little Women…now made its world-premiere at Road Less Traveled Theatre after two years of Covid delays. The family is now at home in Western New York, Father is in the midwest helping his ailing cousin, and the four sisters still adore each other when they’re not dreaming and bickering.

Director Doug Weyand has an A-list cast and crew for this long-awaited production. The March sisters (Brittany Bassett as Meg, Sabrina Kahwaty as Amy, Heather Gervasi as Beth, and Alexandria Watts as Jo) play off each other well enough as they cope with their financial woes and general growing pains. Beth is no longer in scarlet fever’s grip: her maladies are anxiety-based with hints of long-haul Covid and perhaps an eating disorder as she raises her fist for social justice. Gervasi plays Beth frail and pale with determination. Bassett’s Meg is ready to be the young bride of John Brooke (Ricky Needham); he’s perfectly earnest and endlessly patient. Kahwaty’s Amy is the most transformed of the quartet: in Act 1, she’s the annoying and whiny adolescent and by Act 2 she’s matured into the sister with a secret love and the realization that her girlhood dreams can grow into another direction. Watts is a delight as Jo the ‘tomboy’ (who now is a women’s studies major) aspiring writer who isn’t ready to accept Laurie’s (so well played by Jake Hayes) affection. Lisa Vitrano rounds out the cast as Mom. The role model of pluckiness, she’s working in a diner to keep her quartet afloat. She’s wonderfully weary and wise, although at times she feels more like sister number five and not the matriarch.

Dyan Burlingame built a set that morphs from March family living room (obviously in a lovely home that’s starting to a get bit shabby as the finances run down) into the “Sister House” beach house. Some clever shutters here and slipcovers there do the trick, along with some beachy art and other objects deftly assembled by prop master Diane Almeter Jones. Nicholas Quinn has some fun with the sound design; the production is really a series of vignettes that span several years. Quinn connects these moving parts with period-appropriate song snippets. John Rickus adds his magic with focused lighting and illuminated “chapter titles” in the set’s TV screen.

The show gets laughs in the right places, sighs when necessary, and some tears when the family tale is most poignant. There’s one lovely scene where Jo’s writing comes to life, with some silhouette lighting and some expert stagecraft by Watts. This shouldn’t be a spoiler alert, but after almost two hours of foreshadowing, Beth’s death is an odd moment of melodrama complete with a gasp and a grasp to the white light.

Little Women…now is onstage until May 22. It runs a full two hours with a brief intermission. Find details and tickets at http://www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.