Theatre Review: ‘Les Miserables’ at Shea’s Performing Arts Center

“One Day More” The National Touring Company of “Les Miserables.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Along with “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked,” and “The Lion King,” Les Miserables is just one of those shows that won’t stop touring. It’s rare to come across someone who hasn’t seen the show or its criticized cinematic counterpart which begs the question, “why bother?”

Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time seeing Les Miserables, it remains a powerful musical that brings audience members to their feet and leaves them in tears”

The long-running musical is based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, following ex-convict Jean Valjean in 19th Century France after he is released from a 19-year stint in jail stemming from stealing bread for his family. After he meets a bishop who offers him food and shelter and lies to protect him from being arrested again, Valjean is motivated to live a more honest and good life while trying to escape shadows from his past, including former prison guard-turned police inspector Javert.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Les Mis since the production design was revamped almost a decade ago is the focus on more raw performances, which was also undoubtedly a result of the popularity of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the 2013 film cast singing live in the movie. Since then, including on the musical’s 25th anniversary 2010 album, the vocals have gotten less by-the-book and actors appear more free to shake things up. It was refreshing to see that theme continuing on this tour.

Patrick Dunn commands the stage as Valjean, expressing incredibly intense emotions through an unwavering voice. Dunn is strongest on an audience favorite, the tear-inducing “Bring Him Home.” Preston Truman Boyd is an outstanding and increasingly unstable Javert, slowly unraveling as his views on faith and the law start to blur as the years go on.

Phoenix Best was a phenomenal Eponine, a scrappy and love-stricken street urchin pining after Joshua Grosso’s Marius. While Grosso’s early interactions with Cosette (sweet songstress Jillian Butler), were a touch too silly for my liking, his voice soared on the part; a quality I am thankful for since being scarred by the Nick Jonas 25th anniversary concert portrayal.

While the entire cast was spot on, I have to mention one additional performer – Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries. For some reason, that is always the performance that makes or breaks the show for me. Fortunately, we were blessed with Shingledecker’s aggressive energy and powerful tenor leading us through the latter half of the show, soaring in every song and inspiring his fellow Frenchmen (and women) to join the cause, no matter how impossible it seemed.

As I mentioned earlier, the newer (relative to Les Mis) production design really expands the set capabilities for the show, which never stops moving. The projections by 59 Productions are especially great coupled with Paule Constable’s lighting design.

Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time seeing Les Miserables, it remains a powerful musical that brings audiences to their feet and leaves them in tears. This cast is vocally top-notch and makes for a memorable evening during this holiday season.

Running Time: Approximately two and 55 minutes including a fifteen-minute intermission.

“Les Miserables” runs through December 15 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Guys and Dolls’ at UB Center for the Arts

UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance has put on some real showstoppers during the past few seasons and kept that tradition going with their most recent production of “Guys and Dolls,” guest directed by Keith Andrews.

A stellar production of a classic musical”

“Guys and Dolls” follows the overlapping stories of high-roller Sky Masterson, who falls in love with mission worker Sarah Brown, and lovable rapscallion Nathan Detroit, engaged for 14 years to Miss Adelaide, a headliner at the Hot Box Club.

The four actors leading the show in those roles were perfectly cast and shine brightly throughout the show. Rory Tamimie leads the pack as Sky with an incredible voice and suave demeanor to match. Anna Fernandez does a great job in trying to resist his charms as Sarah, determined to not fall in love with a gambler. Sarah’s iconic songs including “If I Were a Bell,” require a legit soprano to belt them throughout the show and Fernandez definitely delivers.

Hannah Keller portrays Ms. Adelaide, the finest of her roles on the UB stage to date. I’d suggest running to grab tickets for her incredibly strong, sassy and confident version of Ms. Adelaide. Keller belts out “Adelaide’s Lament” with ferocity and incredible vocal power while still maintaining Adelaide’s iconic voice and personality. Michael Wells is a great match for Keller as Nathan Detroit, the gambler who seems to constantly run out of luck, and exercises great comedic timing and smooth vocals in a role made famous by Frank Sinatra and Nathan Lane.

“Guys and Dolls” also includes noteworthy performances by Thomas Evans as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Daniel Pieffer as Benny Southstreet. The two shine on the title number, playing off each other well and Evans brings the house down during the ever popular Act II number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The set was mostly bare and angular two-story buildings that served as the canvas for some amazing projection work by Alex Sansolo and Steven Zehler. Between the glowing theater signs of Times Square, the building exteriors and a collage of newsprint, the design quality was truly outstanding.

Additionally, Nathan R. Matthews led an incredible orchestra, performing the full score with such brass and precision that is sometimes hard to come by in local theaters these days.

If you’re in the mood for a fun and heart-warming classic musical, then look no further. “Guys and Dolls” is a stellar production of a classic musical led by a phenomenal quartet.

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours including a fifteen-minute intermission.

“Guys and Dolls” runs through November 24 at UB Center for the Arts. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Toxic Avenger’ with Second Generation Theatre Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Second Generation Theatre Company kicked off its second season in residence at Shea’s Smith Theatre with a brilliant production of “The Toxic Avenger.”

“Hilarious and outrageously good…”

Based on the 1984 cult classic film, “The Toxic Avenger” follows the town underdog as he seeks to stop global warming and rid New Jersey of toxic waste. It’s a rock musical chock full of great songs and larger than life characters, and thanks to Doug Weyand’s cast and choreography and Allan Paglia’s musical direction, delivers one of the most entertaining productions I have ever seen.

Steve Copps leads the show as Melvin/Toxie, and boy, does he kill it (literally). His rich voice soars through power ballads and rock songs, becoming the most unconventional hero New Jersey never asked for. He shines right from the start, especially when he runs into Bethany Burrows’ Sarah, the town’s blind librarian. Burrows gets to fully flex her skills as a comedienne, managing to connect to the audience and get us on her side without ever making eye contact with anyone.

If you still need a reason to see this show, go for Jenn Stafford. Besides her character skills and powerful vocal range, she. Is. HYSTERICAL. She made me laugh so hard I could barely breathe, and I could have watched her for hours. She also has the stamina of Wonder Woman, transitioning SO quickly between Edna and the Mayor that she will take your breath away.

And then there’s Raphael Santos as Black Dude and Dylan Zalikowski as White Dude, who are just unstoppably funny as their dozens of characters. Santos shines brightest as the resident mad scientist (who’s also a phenomenal dancer) and Zalikowski as a folk singer who performs the title track.

The set, lights and fog effects are some of Chris Cavanagh’s best work, transforming the intimate Smith Theatre into the toxic-waste ridden streets of New Jersey. LED lights can easily be overused due to their abilities, but this production’s lights were well-balanced and on point.

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love about “The Toxic Avenger” – it’s just so hilarious and outrageously good. This is easily going to be one of the best productions of the Buffalo theater season. I don’t know what else I can say other than go get tickets for multiple performances, because you will want to go again and again.

Running Time: Approximately two hours including a ten-minute intermission.

“The Toxic Avenger” runs through November 10 at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Rocky Horror Show’ at Lancaster Opera House

Lancaster Opera House debuted its first musical of its first season completely in residence last weekend with cult classic “The Rocky Horror Show.” Richard O’Brien’s creepy, hilarious and sometimes insane show is well performed by a talent-ridden cast, featuring plenty of fresh faces.

A celebration of a cult classic…

We open with, what else, “Science Fiction Double Feature,” which is sung live by an usherette and hints at some of the bizarre events our main characters are about to experience. I doubt there’s ever been a version as good Megan Mahaney’s, which was a great start to the show.

We are immediately introduced to newly engaged Brad (Angelo Heimowitz) and Janet (Madelyn Teal), whose car breaks down on the way to visit their former science teacher to share their happy news. Once they reach a nearby castle, they are welcomed in by Riff Raff (an unbelievable Matthew Rittler), Magenta (a sassy Heather Reed) and Columbia (a lively Kate Mulberry), who lead them in “The Time Warp,” kicking off a night they’re sure to remember.

Soon after the “Time Warp,” on struts Dr. Frank ‘N’ Furter (Joe Russi). Russi, simply put, is a star. His range is unbelievable, as is his ability to strut the stage in heels and a corset. Russi brings depth to a character that might appear one-dimensional, captivating every audience member to the point where each of his songs garnered long applause and cheers.

While I love Barry Bostwick and Susan Sarandon as much as the next person, you can’t deny that the stars of the movie aren’t the strongest singers. With director David Bondrow’s cast, every song is taken to new heights and is impeccably performed by the cast, especially Russi, Teal and Rittler. Timmy Goodman’s choreography is interesting and appropriately simple at times, and the quintet of Phantoms/Transylvanians is perfectly haunting and humorous throughout the show.

The Opera House stage is known for being small, but David Dwyer utilized the theater’s back brick wall in his two-level design, which made a huge impact on the stage’s size. It felt larger than usual with room to breathe; so much, in fact, that I bet a few more ensemble members could have fit comfortably.

This production is a true celebration of a cult classic and is being performed (rightfully) at the spookiest time of year. If you’re a Rocky Horror fan, you’ll love every minute.

Running Time: Approximately one hour and 45 minutes including a 15-minute intermission

“The Rocky Horror Show” runs through November 3 at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information and tickets, click here.