First Look: ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ at Kavinoky Theatre

It takes grit to put America’s most revered work of literary art on stage, especially when another version is currently playing on Broadway.

When Executive Artistic Director Loraine O’Donnell programmed “To Kill a Mockingbird” for Kavinoky Theatre this season, she smartly obtained the rights to Christopher Sergel’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s celebrated novel. Kav was the last theatre in the country to capture the rights to this production before Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation opened in New York. Buffalo theatre aficionados may recognize the Kav’s production as the last show on stage at Studio Arena Theatre in 2008, produced in collaboration with Road Less Traveled Productions and directed by RLTP’s Scott Behrend.

This earlier adaptation of the 1960 Pulitzer Prize winning novel (voted America’s favorite book in PBS “The Great American Read” initiative last year) is more aligned with the adaptation staged every year in Lee’s native Monroeville, Alabama. It’s true to the novel, which is mostly revered and sometimes reviled for its poignant portrayal of injustice and racism in America’s deep south. Sorkin’s Broadway version has different point of view. O’Donnell says, “Aaron Sorkin changed Atticus Finch to be a rougher, tougher version of himself.”  In the Kav’s adaptation, O’Donnell says, “Atticus is the moral center. He doesn’t change. He knows what’s going to happen.”

Kavinoky’s director Kyle LoConti agrees.  She says even if the rights were available, “I don’t think [Sorkin’s] is the ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ I am interested in telling,” Lo Conti says thoughtfully. “Our interest is being faithful to Harper Lee’s novel.”

This doesn’t mean we’re watching a 281-page novel turn its pages on stage. LoConti says, “Any adaptation from book to play is a ‘selective retelling’ since trying to cover everything in the book would be prohibitively long. This stage adaptation, I believe, selects the actions that reveal the most about the relationships of Scout to her surroundings,” she says.

In this production – like the book and the movie – Jean Louise Finch, nicknamed Scout, is recalling the events in her hometown as her father, attorney Atticus Finch, prepares to defend a black man at trial when he’s accused of raping a white woman. LoConti says, “The adult Jean Louise Finch is clearly looking through the eyes of an adult, and I hear so much of Atticus when she speaks, but when she is deep in the retelling of a particular incident, we also get to hear the young Scout coming through in her narration. It is crafted so deftly by Lee that it happens before we know it.” Actor Aleks Malejs will portray adult Scout.

Chris Avery will play Atticus Finch, Robyn Baun will portray Mayella Ewell, and Xavier Harris will portray Tom Robinson in the leading roles. Scout, her brother Jem and friend Dill will be played by two teams of young actors. LoConti says, “The show really demands a lot from these six, so we needed actors that could hold their own with the adult cast…basic acting skills of course, but also the ability to inhabit these complex and beautifully written characters.”

While the novel or movie or stage adaptation may be familiar to most of the audience, the message is timeless. Author Lee published the book in 1960 about events that happened in 1933. Says LoConti, “It’s a beautiful coming of age story,  set in a less beautiful time and place. It is also a story that, sadly, still needs to be told and considered today.”

“To Kill a Mockingbird” is on stage at Kavinoky Theatre March 8-31. Visit for details and tickets.


First Look: ‘Frost/Nixon’ at Irish Classical Theatre

His party was trying to re-elect him as President. Then there was a break in. A secret informant. Lies. The power of the press. A landmark resignation.

A work of fine fiction? No. Welcome to the United States of America, circa 1972-74, when the Committee to Re-elect the President orchestrated the break in of the Democratic National Committee office and kicked off the Watergate scandal. Two Washington Post reporters broke the news to an incredulous country still healing over its involvement in the Vietnam war. President Richard M. Nixon declared that he wasn’t at fault, yet he resigned and withdrew from public life for a couple years. It took a British talk show host (and a checkbook) to put him in front of the TV cameras again to clear the air. Or did he?

This is the story behind Frost/Nixon, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company on stage at The Andrews Theatre March 1 to 24.

It’s a production that was a couple years in the making. “I proposed this to ICTC two years ago,” says director Brian Cavanagh. “It’s very relevant to the world we live in today.”

The story is based on the series of interviews that David Frost did with former U.S. President Richard Nixon three years after President Nixon resigned and – not ironically – in advance of the release of Nixon’s autobiography. Playwright Peter Morgan did significant research on these four  interviews that were aired in syndication on TV and also on radio, and while he took some liberties to condense four hours of programming into a two-hour play, Cavanagh says “This history behind the news of it is still there. It’s a play, it’s not a documentary, and the author is making a statement.”

Authenticity is important. Cavanagh says, “A good portion of the audience will have lived through these years, including the actor playing Nixon. There’s a whole new audience that doesn’t know a lot about Nixon or Watergate, but what is happening in our country now is a mirror.”

The need for authenticity transcends the script, too: “It’s all the in the casting, “ Cavanagh says. “Nixon – we know his face immediately. I felt I needed to find someone who could portray Nixon and give him his due. And Frost has a quirky accent.”

To fill these important roles, Cavanagh cast Jack Hunter as Nixon and Adriano Gatto as Frost. “They are both excited to play these roles. They have the talent, looks, and attitude.” Cavanagh and his cast watched the actual interviews so – particularly – the leads could see the posture and gestures of the men they’re portraying. He also made plenty of reading recommendations about the final days of Nixon’s presidency and the Watergate scandal in general. Re-reading history and seeing the men in the interview element are fine points that will help the leads get closer to their portrayals. “We’ve been sharing a lot of information about these men, Cavanagh says.

Frost hired a team of experts to help him prepare to interview a fallen American president. Similarly, Cavanagh cast a stellar supporting cast. In the role of Lord John Birt, the BBC manager and the producer of actual interviews, Cavanagh cast David Lundy. Birt is not well-known to the American public, but he was a high-profile British broadcaster who had a background in engineering. Lundy will bring the methodical, organized temperament of an engineer to his portrayal. He says these subtle nuances are important when portraying a historical figure. Lundy says, “The folks who see the play won’t say ‘hey I bet that guy is an engineer!’, but they will see something different from what another actor who pays no attention to that does.”

Peter Palmisano was cast as Nixon’s former chief of staff Jack Brennon who, with others on Team Nixon, saw the interview as an opportunity to rebuild his statesman image with the American public. Palmisano was drawn to the role because he remembers this era in American political history so well.  Part of his preparation will include learning more about Brennon’s appearance and patterns of speech. While he’s careful not to impersonate the man, this baseline knowledge helps ground his performance. “I find it an important challenge to portray these real people as just that: real.” The audience takeaway, though, is in the script. He says, “For me the creativity in this ‘art’ comes from the creation of a character from the words in the script. You take what the playwright gives you and goes from there. In a well written play, everything you need is in the words.”

Rounding out the cast are Adam Yellen as Jim Reston, Frost’s Watergate advisor, Matt Witten as news producer Bob Zelnick, Renee Landrigan as British socialite Caroline Cushing, Ray Voucher as publicist Swifty Lazar, and Jamie O’Neill as the technician.

Frost/Nixon runs from March 1-24. Visit for tickets and details.


Lancaster Opera House brings “Deathtrap” to the stage.

What do you do when you’re hired to direct a flawlessly scripted Ira Levin play that is one of the most produced thrillers in history and was the longest running thriller on Broadway?

Nothing. Except pick  a great cast, and keep the work simple, elegant, and pristine.

And that’s just what Katie Malinson did with “Deathtrap,” which opened Friday, January 18 at the Lancaster Opera House. With a theatre workhorse like “Deathtrap,” that has played on professional and community stages all over the world, any adaptations or tweaks would detract from the intricate script. Malinson says, “I just focused on letting the play work. It doesn’t need to be messed with. It was a matter of finding the right cast.”

Malinson’s cast – Paul Todaro as Sidney Brule, Lindsay Brandon Hunter as Myra Brule, Joe Isgar as Clifford Anderson,  Kathleen Rooney as Helga ten Dorp, and Steve Jakiel as Porter Milgrim – keeps her on her toes, she says. “They are veteran collaborators with great instincts and insights.”

Levin’s script (winner of the 1978 Edgar Allan Poe Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and a 1978 TONY Award nominee) is the real star of the show. A playwright, his wife, his student, and a mystical neighbor is an interesting dynamic, and their motivations are still fresh, even  41 years later. “The notion of doing anything for fame and fortune is still applicable,” Malinson says.

For Rooney, her role as Helga the neighbor, is well nuanced. “All the characters in the play are not as they seem. There’s humor in Helga, but also determination and ambition.”

This sets up an important element story, too. Malinson reminds us that “Deathtrap” is written as a comedy-thriller. “We have to keep the comedy and the friction alive. There’s a fine line there. I really like the dark humor in the script.”

In the end, who dunnit?  It’s a classic.

“Deathtrap” is onstage at Lancaster Opera House to January 18-27. Visit for details. Some performances are already sold out!


First Look: ‘The Kathy & Mo Show – Parallel Lives The Dark Side’ by O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Call them The Power for Trio for What’s Good in This World.

O’Connell and Company has three powerhouse actors behind a new-to-Buffalo production at Shea’s Smith Theatre, for six performances January 18 to 27.

Mary Kate O’Connell and Pamela Rose Mangus are reprising their roles in “The Kathy & Mo Show Parallel Lives” for the latest iteration called “The Dark Side,” opening Friday, January 18 at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Victoria Perez Maggiolo is the director.

In the spirit of the original Kathy & Mo Show originated by Kathy Najimy and Mo Gaffney, “The Dark Side” is a series of very short stories told by very different characters, taking on feminism, religion, gay rights, and other slices of modern American life topics. There’s a good punch of humor, some universal truths, and some strong comments about society, too. There’s a point to this, and O’Connell says, “So much truth is buried in comedy. Comedy should make you think. Many of the topics addressed in “Parallel Lives” take on those old fashioned views with a fresh and logical view. Perhaps they will inspire us to ‘get the conversation started” again.’” Mangus agrees. “As we can see in the news every day, some people refuse to move on,” she says, “Some people think it’s their way or the highway.  God help us.” Both agree that the humor carries a strong message. Mangus says, “I think each piece we do has subtext and comedy is the best way to get the point across sometimes.”  O’Connell adds, “Many times telling your story with laughter makes the message clearer.”

In “The Dark Side,” both actors portray multiple characters with only a beat, a breath and a wardrobe change to transition. Mangus likes her moments as Hank, the drunken cowboy where she shows off her vocal chops singing the iconic Patsy Cline hit “Crazy.” O’Connell’s favorite is Maddie, “a woman of a certain age,” she says, “Who continues living life as an adventure. She and her ‘best friend of 43 1/2 years’ Syvvie take on new challenges of the modern day life with gusto, laughs and wonder. “

For tickets and details, visit

First Look: ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot’ at Kavinoky Theatre

A couple years ago, Arts Services of WNY participated in “Arts and Economic Prosperity 5,” a data review and analysis of 126 cultural and not-for-profit organizations that proved that the arts heavily contributes to our region’s economic  growth. The arts sector is a $352.1 million industry that supports all levels of employment, businesses of all sizes, cultural tourism, and the ever-important quality of life.

Slice that number down to one theatre and one production. “Kavinoky Theatre is an economic engine for a lot of businesses,” says the theatre’s executive artistic director Loraine O’Donnell.  ‘Monty Python’s Spamalot,’ the second of two large-scale musicals on the theatre’s schedule this season, opens Friday, January 11. O’Donnell says the show costs more than $100,000 to produce, mostly spent two months before opening night, and mostly with local vendors and businesses.  Places like DC Theatricks (for dozens of costumes, from tights and tunics to flowing robes), Scheule Paint Company (gallons of paint for David King’s elaborate set), area restaurants that craft dinner-theatre packages, and even the corner convenience store (ice ice, baby) play important cameo roles in this show.

“ ‘Spamalot’ is one of the largest musicals we’ve produced here,” O’Donnell says. “There are 19 actors on stage, plus a 10 piece orchestra, and four assistant stage managers to help the cast with more than 100 costume changes and plenty of scene changes, too.”

In other words, it takes a 12th century English village to make this production happen.

‘Spamalot’  is the stage adaptation inspired by the 1975 film ‘Monty Python and the  Holy Grail.’ While Kavinoky isn’t the first theatre to produce the show locally, as the region’s largest producing house, its audience expects an extraordinary experience. This means hiring union musicians (“they’re the same musicians who play in the orchestra pit at Shea’s,” O’Donnell says), creating a visual experience to match, and hiring top-notch local actors, and crew.  Or to paraphrase a song from the show “You Won’t Succeed in Buffalo if you don’t make it awesome.”

For O’Donnell, walking that tight rope between best quality and best value is a true balancing act. Ticket sales only provide part of the theatre’s income stream: the rest comes from private donors, corporate sponsors, and grants which are increasingly competitive to earn. “In this business, breaking even is considered a triumph,” O’Donnell says. “That’s why it’s so important to get people through the doors.”

Inspiring its audience with quality productions is at the heart of Kavinoky’s newly-defined mission to produce a mix of the classics, musicals and new works in order to expose our patrons and D’Youville students to the diverse creativity in all genres of theatre. O’Donnell says, “We’re going to continue to do two musicals a year.  It helps grow the subscriber base and musicals bring in new people.  Last season ‘Mamma Mia’s!” single ticket sales increased by 50%, and subscriptions increased by 20%.” While musicals have higher production expenses, O’Donnell says, “You have to spend money to make money.”

For ‘Spamalot,’ the Kavinoky has assembled a cast of some of Buffalo’s finest musical theatre talent: Gregory Gjurich as King Arthur, Louis Colaiacovo as Sir Robin, Dudney Joseph as Sir Galahad, Bobby Cooke as Sir Bedevere, Steve Copps as Sir Lancelot, Arin Lee Dandes as Patsy, and Michele Marie Roberts as The Lady of the Lake, with an ensemble including  Kelly Copps, Arianne Davidow, Doug Weyand, and others, directed and choreographed by Lynne Kurdziel Formato.

As we might expect, the cast is enthusiastic about the production and the timeless Monty Python clever wordplay. “Yes, it’s great to be king in the kingdom of Kavinoky with such spectacular subjects…and nobody had to vote for me,” says Gregory Gjurich, borrowing a line from  about his role as King Arthur. “I love the Monty Python movies. I aspire to any chance to work with Lynne, the Kavinoky, and plus they offered me the role, so I said hey OK! (That doesn’t happen often).”  Similarly psyched is Michele Marie Roberts, otherwise known as The Lady of the Lake. “I’m a working mother of two from Kenmore, and I volunteer monthly at Bingo,” she says. So when Lynne Kurdziel Formato and Loraine O’Donnell ask you to play an egomaniac diva at the Kavinoky with an amazing cast, you do it.”

‘Spamalot’ is on stage from January 11 to Februarry 3.  For tickets, call (716) 829-7668 or visit

First Look: ‘Sive’ at Irish Classical Theatre

Kiana Duggan-Haas

Actor Kiana Duggan-Haas has one thing in common with the character she is preparing to portray: both girls are teens with dreams.

“Sive”is the title character in the Irish Classical Theatre Company production that will open Friday, November 2.

Duggan-Haas, the actor is a senior at Amherst Central High School and is thrilled to be part of this compelling drama. Having the title role, she says, “is not as glamorous as it sounds. I’m not the actor on stage the most, but when I’m not there, the other actors are talking about my character.”

Duggan-Haas has been involved in local theatre for 10 years, beginning in musical theatre camp, and continuing with roles in middle school and high school productions. She also performed in a Theatre of Youth production of “Madeleine’s Christmas” a few seasons ago.

“Sive” is her first paid stage role. “It’s truly incredible for me,” she says. “I’m the least experienced and trained performer in the room.” She’s surrounded by plenty of actor-educators who don’t shy away from sharing teachable moments. “They (the cast members) know I’m a senior in high school, and that means having a lot on my plate. They’re very encouraging. It’s a great opportunity for me to learn from this cast. They’re all incredible,” she says.

Duggan-Haas landed the role because director Vincent O’Neill says “She brought an innocence and freshness to the role which was not always present in the work of the more experienced actresses who auditioned. Since the play revolves around how young the girl is who is forced to marry an old man, the youthfulness of the actress was crucial in the final choice.”

Portraying Sive is an interesting learning experience for Duggan-Haas: she says her character has struggles with her identity (Sive’s mother was unmarried and died while giving birth to her), and with finding her place in an extended family that would prefer her to take a different life path. Kiana says Sive “fights back” when her aunt tries to marry her off to an older, wealthy farmer. Duggan-Haas says Sive is “fragile, with self-respect.” Mastering the Irish accent – with the intricacies of the County Kerry dialect – is something she is still learning, and she’s grateful for O’Neill’s patient direction and modifications. She says, “It takes time to get this into my system.”

In addition established ICTC actors,  among them Josephine Hogan and David Lundy, there are two recent Niagara University alumni in the cast, also making their ICTC debut in this production, who with Duggan-Haas are part of the next generation  for regional actors. O’Neill says, “It is reassuring  to see a whole new generation of young actors who are ready to step in and maintain the high standards of performance in WNY theatres.”

Encouraging her peers to attend and participate in local theatre has Duggan-Haas’s interest, too. “I see as much local theatre as I can,” she says. “I’m often the youngest person in the room. A lot of kids my age don’t go to theatre if they haven’t heard of the theatre or know the show. Social media and internet marketing is the way to draw in younger audiences.”

For Duggan-Haas, her next theatre season will be in college, perhaps at Niagara University or Ithaca College or beyond. “I love Buffalo theatre dearly,” she says, “but I feel college should take me some place away for the next four years.”

Just come back, Kiana. Your local theatre community is waiting for you.

“Sive” opens at Irish Classical Theatre November 2 and runs to November 25. Find details and tickets here.

First Look: The 10 Minute Play Festival at the Buffalo Museum of Science

What do a mastodon mandible, a 19th  century Chinese headband, and Eurypterida (New York state’s official fossil) have in common? Two things, actually: they are part of the Buffalo Museum of Science’s permanent collection, and they are also the inspiration behind six new short plays written local playwrights for The 10 Minute Play Festival.  This year’s festival is Wednesday, October 24, beginning at 6:30pm, at the Buffalo Museum of Science, 1020 Humboldt Parkway, Buffalo.

The program is organized by The Playwrights of WNY, and it’s a rare opportunity for local playwrights to develop new work around community treasures from local museums and libraries. Past events featured works from the Burchfield-Penney Art Gallery, Buffalo History Museum, and Buffalo and Erie County Public Library.

Kathy Leacock, the Museum’s Director of Collections and Special Projects, chose representative items from the Museum’s geology, anthropology, entymology, and vertebrate collections, says Gabrielle Graham, the Museum’s Community Partnerships and Adult Program Manager. There’s even a botanical model designed by the legendary artist Paul Marchand who crafted the dioramas that were prominently displayed in the Museum for decades.  

“It’s a challenging task when someone has to craft a play using subject matter with an obscure, inanimate, object such as a death cap mushroom, or mastodon mandible,” says Jim Marzo, the coordinating playwright. “I guess you could call it art imitating art.”

Marzo says, “It was up to the playwright to select an artifact, and through their creativity and inspiration they drew from that artifact, to craft the 10 minute play.” 

Winifred Storms is one of the six playwrights selected to present her work this year. Her play, “No Time for Love,” was inspired by Eurypterida. ‘I was intrigued at first with the name,” she says. “It was discovered in abundance by none other than Lewis J. Bennett, owner of the Buffalo Cement Company and namesake of Bennett High School. Supposedly, while excavating a quarry here in Buffalo, Bennett’s workers kept discovering these little creatures embedded in the rock. Bennett himself brought these fossils to the Science Museum. The archeologists were thrilled because Bennett had accidentally discovered the most abundant, diverse, and well-preserved collection of these fossils in the world right in our backyard.”

The playwrights were also responsible for casting and directing their work, too. The plays will be performed as staged readings, with no sets or costumes or props. In addition to Storms’ submission,this year’s rundown is: “Idle Hands” by Jennifer Tromble; “Jiating (Family” by Karen MacDonald; “Other Council Fires” by Heather Akerman; “Milton & Augusto” by Michael Fanelli; and “Status: Vulnerable” by Martha Schermerhorn.

Admission to The 10 Minute Play Festival is free with regular Museum admission (ranging from $9 to $11, and free for Museum members.) Doors open at 6:30pm with a chance to view the selected artifacts, and the performances run from 7pm to 8pm. For more information, click here.

First Look: Inclusive Theatre of WNY, region’s newest theatre company for everyone

There’s no holding back a determined mom, especially when she sees a void, and an opportunity.

Aimee Levesque is the mom who developed Inclusive Theater of WNY three years ago after her theatre-loving daughter couldn’t find a home in other local theatre companies.

“She wanted to act,” says Levesque about her 25 year old daughter who is living with disabilities, “and there were few opportunities for her or were limited in scope, so I was a mom trying to find support for her daughter.”

This is a labor of love for Aimee and Marilyn Erentsen-Scott, her partner in developing the company. Aimee says, “We identified a need, for people who wanted to be part of a theatre community who maybe didn’t feel included or welcomed in other companies. Here we can help people grow and work, on stage and behind the scenes.”

Aimee used her background as an educator and disability advocate (she a professor of English at SUNY Buffalo State and is a Ph.D candidate studying health literacy and the impacts the arts has on people with disabilities) and her connections to the theatre community to inform the company’s development. Her volunteer positions on the Ujima Theatre Company board of directors and the Theatre Alliance of Buffalo connected her to local actors and other theatre professionals. Aimee says, “We reached out to others in the theatre community to help us grow, and the community was very helpful.”

The company began modestly, with writing groups and acting workshops. Participation is open to anyone, disabled or not, with one condition: they have to be willing to work. The company dynamic reflects its name. Aimee says, “We welcome abled and disabled people working together. Our company is made up of people color, from different lifestyles and countries of birth. We want everyone to feel safe in their creative expression.”  Company members aren’t asked to disclose their disability or identify as disabled. “The word ‘disabled’ is thrown around a lot. The word itself is disabling,” says Aimee. “We want everyone to feel wanted and accepted in this company.”

The company has impressive goals: beyond engaged abled and disabled people in the business of studying and presenting performances, the company endeavors to “challenge perceptions and begin to create a world in which people are accepted and allowed to contribute to society no matter what age, physical condition, race, nationality or gender,” as reflected in the company’s mission statement.

The company will open its first fully staged production on Thursday, Oct. 11 at Alleyway Theatre. The play, “And Where Will You Put The Things You Save?,” is a regional premiere by local playwright Baroness von Smith.

Virginia Brannon is the director, and the cast features local actors Steve Brachmann, Jessica Levesque, and John Profeta.  The script reflects the company’s mission and values, too. Aimee says, “Being disabled is just a portion of who a person is. The script has a lot of elements that are educationally sound. There’s a lot in there.”

“And Where Will You Put The Things You Save?” will run October 11 to 28, at the Alleyway Theatre. For tickets, call the box office at 716-218-8129, and for more information on the production and the company, visit

Bringing The Bard Home

It took a fall off a tightrope to bring an innovative take on William Shakespeare’s work to rural Western New York.

Actor Joshua Rice was performing in an Arkansas children’s theatre company of “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” back 2011. He took a 15-foot fall off the wire, broke both his feet, and couldn’t walk for four months.  He moved home to Buffalo to fully recuperate and had the “a-ha” moment when he could finally ride his bike around Silver Lake. He would live here again, launch a theatre company, and target under-served rural communities.  Pretty ambitious for someone just short of his 30th birthday.

So that’s how the theatre company known as Shake on the Lake began back in 2012. It’s now grown to a full fledged theatre enterprise, touring with 90-minute Shakespeare performances. This summer Shake in the Lake brings Richard III to the Springville Center for the Arts Heritage Park Gazebo Aug 1.  Other performances at Silver Lake are Aug. 2, 3 at 6:30pm, and Aug. 4 at 2pm and 6:30pm, all at Perry Public Beach (42 Walker Rd, Perry).

Rice’s vision became an impressive mission to entertain, engage and enrich the rural community (“places where there are more cows than people,” says Rice) by using the beauty of a natural outdoor setting as the Bard’s stage. A key component is a commitment to education and outreach, and adopting eco-friendly and green business practices.

Rice says, “It’s a really great way to give back to a community that’s given me so much.” More than a free entertainment option, Shake on the Lake’s outreach program is building a theatre community for tomorrow, too. “We’re working with students during the school year in an outreach program, “he continues.

Shake on the Lake operates on a lean budget, with support coming in fee for services, fundraising, and support from the New York State Council on the Arts DEC program.

A point of pride for Rice is Voices Uncaged,  a unique prison outreach program at the Groveland Correctional Facility, now in its third year.  Rice says, “We work with inmates to create productions. This is work we really believe in.” Shakespeare’s bawdy humor and the human element in his work really reaches this audience. “They are eager and excited student actors,” says Rice, and “they hang on every word the way that other audiences don’t. They are active and cheering and they boo the villains. They are also supportive of each other and want to do well. They want it to look good. Reputation is important in that setting and they work hard to surprise people.”

From the lakefront to correction institutions , Shake on the Lake’s good work reminds us of the Bard’s astute words that “all the world’s a stage.”

For more information, check out Shake on the Lake’s Facebook page, here.

First Look: Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” by MusicalFare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” – the novel –  is a literary classic. You know the drill: Demon hound from hell torments town. Cloaked and capped detective steps in. Clever clues, boatloads of red herrings, and plenty of plot twists. Calm returns to the people. It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

So imagine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s plot amped up by 40 fleeting characters played for five immensely talented actors with dozens of costume changes, and major doses of hilarity. Welcome to Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville,” a MusicalFare Production soon to be onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre. This follows other MusicalFare Productions, including ‘Avenue Q,’ ‘Spring Awakening,’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ that were runaway hits on this venerable downtown stage.

This isn’t your high school lit class required reading anymore. Nor is it the classic 1939 film starring the inimitable Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes or the acclaimed 1959 remake. This take on Holmes and company is uniquely funny, but remains amazingly true to the story. Stalwart Sherlock (portrayed by comic actor Todd Benzin) is always the star, backed up by dear old chap Dr. Watson (Chris J. Handley), but it’s the rest of the cast – Marc Sacco, Maria Droz, and Patrick Cameron – that playwright Ludwig takes to new levels.

Playing more than one character in a show is old hat for actors like Sacco. But in “Baskerville,” his quick changes and about faces give him 14 distinct roles. “The most I’ve played is maybe seven or eight,” he says. “The script is written to be hectic, it’s part of the design.”

Hectic is an understatement. The show is paced to be frenetic and that’s part of the fun for the cast and the audience. Using relatively few actors to portray an endless number of characters is a showcase for versatility and built-in humor. Sacco says, “Certain characters may only have a page or two to make a change.” That’s not a lot of time for the actors and the audience to keep up. “There’s one scene where I play a middle aged woman, with a feminine pitch in my voice and an affectation.  In a few lines I re-enter as a child. Sometimes the voice is still there. There are moments built into the show where we nod at that fact and let the audience ‘in’ on this.”

And that’s what makes “Baskerville” so fun. We’re all in part of this.

Sacco’s “Baskerville” characters share one thing in common: “My job as one of the three ensemble members is to get in the way of Sherlock Holmes,” Sacco says.

Running interference isn’t easy. Sacco approached this role with some trepidation. “You walk into a project like with excited nervousness. The process has gone quickly, but we’re having a good time with this. Things happen in rehearsal that made their way into the show. That’s what’s fun about this piece. Your job is to be crazily playful.”

MusicalFare’s Randy Kramer and Doug Weyand are sharing the director duties for this piece that is already off to a strong start. Pre-sale tickets are sufficiently brisk: two more performances were already added (May 18 and 19).

Be sharp like Sherlock watching the show: Sacco says some transformations happen before your eyes, and you won’t want to miss a moment.

Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville” runs May 10-19 at Shea’s 710 Theatre, and is produced by MusicalFare. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance of Buffalo