‘Hello, Dolly!’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Carolee Carmello and the company of Hello, Dolly! PHOTOGRAPH JULIETA CERVANTES

Sometimes, the only exposure one has to a work of theatre is from a community theatre group’s best attempts at pulling it off. Big musicals usually get the short end of the stick when a group decides to pull out all the stops and present it. Not saying that the productions are poor, but just saying that subtleties and nuances are lost. It isn’t until you see a big splashy production, with a cast that fully understands the material, with direction that makes the jokes get all the laughs, that you can fully appreciate what you have witnessed. This is ‘Hello, Dolly!’ for me. After last evening’s opening night performance at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, I am now a fan!

A full size train, majestic sets, spectacular costumes, a powerful orchestra, and comedic delivery that keeps you in stitches, this production of ‘Hello, Dolly!’ is perfect. Carolee Carmello plays Dolly Levi to a tee. Yucking it up with the audience, filling the rafters with her beautiful voice, and bringing a sense of humor to the character that is always lost in many productions I have seen; seeing Ms. Carmello work is worth the price of the ticket itself.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ is the Jerry Herman musical, that tells the tale of the con-artist swindler Dolly Levi, who loves getting involved in everyone’s business, making things happen, and who is currently seeking a new husband, after her late husband passed away.

Supported by a fantastic ensemble, including John Bolton as Horance Vandergelder, Daniel Beeman as Cornelius, Sean Burns as Barnaby, and Karen Elliott as Irene Molloy, this show is strong from beginning to end.

John Bolton is fantastic as the cheapskate Vandergelder. Playing the over the top nuances and still grounding the character in reality, Bolton is loved by the audience. His act two song “Penny In My Pocket” is a great way to get you back into Dolly’s world after intermission. 

Daniel Beeman and Sean Burns are comedic powerhouses as Cornelius and Barnaby. The slapstick that they bring to the Hat Shop scene is heavily structured but so effortlessly pulled off by the duo. 

Karen Elliott also has the comedic chops to keep up with this cast and brings wonderful laughs to the Hat Shop Scene, as well as while the boys are wooing her to Harmonia Gardens for dinner.

Other highlights include the dancing waiter scene, which blows my mind and I cannot stop thinking about it, Vandergelder’s fantastic shop set, and the beautifully painting scrims that help tell this story. As an art teacher, I always appreciate a wonderfully painted backdrop!

I loved every second of this show, and you will too. The only downside is it is a little long, almost three hours, but it is so entertaining, you won’t believe how fast time flies! Get downtown and see it! You won’t regret it.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

‘Hello, Dolly!’ runs until March 15, 2020 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The national touring company of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The iconic rock opera, written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, graced the stage at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre as part of the 50th anniversary National Tour. “Jesus Christ Superstar” tells the story of Jesus Christ during the last seven days of his life. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t push beliefs on it’s audience, it is a tale of the man. 

Timothy Sheader directs a unique production. Part interpretive dance, part rock concert. It isn’t for everyone, but I found it exciting, fresh, and contemporary. Taking material from the 70’s and mounting it for audiences that may never have been exposed to the material before. It is a 90 minute experience that I believe is what Rice and Lloyd Webber set out to create when they penned this material. 

“Jesus Christ Superstar” was never supposed to be a book musical. It was a concept album, telling the story through a rock and roll score. This production does just that, and seeing it live, will definitely make you see that this isn’t an ordinary staging. It’s not supposed to be an ordinary musical. 

Where the production falls a little flat is in some of the vocal prowess. Singing against tempo, breathing in strange phrases, and lagging with the band, seems to be a theme in this show. While not totally terrible, as a musician, I cringed hearing the singers delay, wondering if they were going to catch up. They always did, in-case you were wondering. The orchestra, a full band that includes all members of the various instrument families, delivers Lloyd Webber’s score with power, force, and brilliance. There are some artistic liberties taken, especially with a random screechy tenor saxophone solo, but after thinking about it for a while, I realized that it complemented the activity happening on stage, and I found it perfect.

Costumes are modernized in this production, including tank tops, baggy sweatpants, sneakers, zip up hoodies,  and lots of tattoos. This style reminded me of the “Jesus Christ Superstar LIVE” on NBC a few years ago. I really liked it.

James Delisco Beeks plays Judas, and let me tell you, his performance must cause him great exhaustion at the end of the night. He is a rock star, and he does well singing the demanding parts. “Heaven On Their Minds” needs to be amazing because it sets us up for the rest of the story. Delisco Beeks takes a few minutes to warm up, but once he gets going, he is a powerhouse. 

Jenna Rubaii sings her heart out as Mary Magdalene, and is an audience favorite. Her performance of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” (one of my favorite songs in the show) is beautiful, and she graces the notes with ease. Sadly, Mary’s part is not huge in the show, and I would have loved to see more of her. 

Somewhere in the last 50 years, it was decided that King Herod had to be portrayed as a flamboyant drag performer. I have seen this in at least three productions out of the last five I have attended. While I don’t hate it, it surely takes away from new interpretations as this seems to be the new normal. In any case, Paul Louis Lessard gets the laughs and makes quite the spectacle as Herod in this production. A flashy gold outfit, a machete, boots, it’s very entertaining. He sings the iconic “King Herod’s Song” to a tee. An audience favorite.

Finally, Aaron LaVigne plays Jesus. I always judge a production’s Jesus by how well they sing my all time favorite song in the show “Gethsemane.” Playing his own guitar accompaniment, and laying all the cards out on the table, LaVigne makes this song his own, including the Ted Neely-esk screeches, and I loved every single stinking second of it. 

This production chooses to exclude the intermission, which is fantastic. 90 minutes. Glitter. You can’t go wrong!

“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs until February 16, 2020 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Come From Away’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The National Touring Cast of “Come From Away.”

I was in 5th grade on that day that the world stopped. I remember that no one told us anything in school, but the teachers in the hallway were all talking. There was some crying. There were some screams. My friends and I sat there wondering what was happening. We were 10, so we were not the first ones to get information. Even if we did get information, we wouldn’t have understood. It wasn’t until later that night when I got home from school that I learned about the tragic events that occurred in New York and Washington. Years later, I have had the opportunity to visit memorials at the World Trade Center and at The Pentagon. I can’t even imagine witnessing those events first hand. 

. . .the best story ever told. . .

“Come From Away,” the Broadway smash hit, tells the story of a small town in Newfoundland called Gander.  In it, there is a huge dilapidated airport where planes coming from Europe would stop to refuel at. Since the jet engine was created, planes can cross the ocean on a single tank of fuel, so there really isn’t much need for the airport anymore. That is until the US Airspace is closed on September 11, and 38 planes from all over the world land there. Seven-thousand people from around the world are brought to Gander against their will, and those on the planes have no idea where they are. What happens? People open their doors to their own home to help these people who are stranded for five days. Humanity at its finest.

This is the second time I have seen this show, and it will definitely not be the last. The last time I saw it was at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 2018. I was blown away by this production, and since then, the show has been extended two or three more times. It’s pretty much printing money at this point. It’s not a phenomenon. It is just fantastic storytelling and I believe that this might be the best story ever told. The music, the blocking, the vocals, and the pacing keep this story rolling. There is no intermission, and at no point are you bored or itching to get out of your seat. 

The show is an ensemble piece, where the actors seamlessly portray numerous characters. Newfoundlanders, Plane People, and other characters are all present in this story. The actors are so incredibly talented, and they give this story their absolute all. To name anyone specifically would be a disservice to the entire cast because each one of them is just absolutely captivating. It is also great to see a veteran cast of all shapes and sizes. This isn’t one of these shows where the cast is young, ripped, and all similar. This cast is full of character actors who give strong and enjoyable performances. I could watch them perform all day. 

The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt is so brilliant for this show. It would appear to be a minimal set, but with a story like this, you will have no problem filling in the blanks. Your imagination will run wild.

Christopher Ashley has directed a production that will live on in the memories of all those who see it, just like the memory of 9/11 stays with all of us who were there. Irene Sankoff and David Hein have crafted a musical that takes all the wonderful aspects of humanity and shows that people are truly, inherently, good. It has also put Gander on the map. My girlfriend and I are talking about going to visit!

Do yourself a favor, go see this show. 

Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.

“Come From Away” runs until October 20, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more info, click here. You can also see it in Toronto, running until March 1, 2020. Click here for info.

Theatre Review: ‘Mean Girls’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The cast of “Mean Girls.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

I wanted to hate this show. When I saw “Mean Girls” perform at the Tony Awards, I couldn’t even fathom how this was going to last. I didn’t understand the reason for the big Broadway sounding number in the middle of the high school cafeteria. I didn’t understand the song tone changes. I was very indifferent to the next Hollywood film being adapted for the Broadway stage. Boy was I wrong. Sure “Mean Girls” is not the best written musical, but it sure does entertain. It has the Tina Fey quality of jokes that we know and love. I didn’t stop laughing. The score was so interesting, I bought the piano sheet music. Overall, it has developed into a guilty pleasure of mine (don’t tell my girlfriend, she’ll want to go see it again!) When it stops in your town, go see it, or you might make it into the “Burn Book” for being cheap. . .

When it stops in your town, go see it, or you might make it into the “Burn Book” for being cheap. . .

“Mean Girls” is based on the 2004 film written by Tina Fey, who adapts her screenplay for the stage. It tells the story of Cady (Danielle Wade) who has lived her entire life in Africa, and who has been homeschooled. When her family relocates to Illinois, she is brought into a culture shock of public high school. Upon arrival, Cady meets Janice (Mary Kate Morrisey) and Damian (Eric Huffman) who explain the food chain of high school and set her on an adventure to infiltrate Regina George (Mariah Rose Faith) and The Plastics, the most popular girls in school. 

Danielle Wade has a voice that is so powerful that you have a hard time believing that a human being can produce that sound. I am happy to see her still going strong after her stint as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” which appeared at Shea’s a few seasons ago (I also was able to interview her about the show then!) She knocks this role out of the park.

Mariah Rose Faith plays the mean, nasty, love to hate and hate to love, Regina George. Wow! What a stage presence! What a “de-mean-or.” Her performance in “Rocking Around The Pole” had me laughing so hard that the lady sitting next to me looked at me in disgust three times! (she also had her cell phone out and was texting so I truly think it was a fair trade off).

Mary Kate Morrisey did an awesome job as Janice in this show. Along with Eric Huffman’s Damian, the two tell the story, get the laughs, and keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Their comedic timing is perfect.

Jonalyn Saxer plays Karen, the extremely attractive, and completely airheaded Plastic to a tee. She is very entertaining, very funny, but she brings a great charm to the stage. Yes, Saxer is portraying a dimwit, but she is one of the most “real” characters in the show. Fantastic acting.

Gaelen Gilligand is hilarious as a trio of the adult female characters in this production. She lets her inner Tina Fey out, and if you close your eyes, you’d think that Ms Fey was actually on stage. 

Jeff Richmond’s score had me scratching my head at times, wondering what the score was trying to be? Was it a parody of Broadway showtunes? Was it a pop/rock musical? Was it an early Andrew Lloyd Webber style were many different genres would be used? I’m not sure, but it’s loud, it’s powerful, and it fits inside the world that his wife creates.

Scott Pask’s completely digital scenic design works so well in this show. At first I thought that the screens would take away from the theatrical experience, but they only complement them. 

Overall, I had a blast, and sure the story is called “Mean Girls” but if the story has one theme, it’s that we need to treat each other better. Except when it comes to getting tickets to this show. Push, kick, toss, slap, do whatever you need to do to get your seats! This show will sell out wherever it goes.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45-minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Mean Girls” launched it’s national tour in Buffalo New York, and continues to travel across North America. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Hairspray’ at The Kavinoky Theatre

The cast of “Hairspray” at The Kavinoky Theatre.

“Hairspray” was the first musical I saved my money to see when it came to Shea’s on the first National Tour. I remember being enthralled by the experience. The music, the story, the fun the actors appeared to be having on stage. I was out of breath for the actors on stage. It was a rush. I hold that experience in high regard, and because “Hairspray” is one of my favorites, I am very protective of it. Walking in, I told my girlfriend that if I didn’t hear a tenor saxophone wail in the opening of “Good Morning Baltimore” I was out. If Edna didn’t make me laugh and ham it up during “Timeless To Me” I was out. If “You Can’t Stop The Beat” didn’t excite me, I was out. After witnessing the Kav’s production of one of my absolute favorite musicals, I can honestly say, that this production rivals the first national tour of the show. Get your tickets now, because they will be hard to come by!

. . .this production rivals the first national tour. . .

“Hairspray,” the 2002 Tony Award winner for Best Musical, tells the story of Tracy Turnblad (Maeghan McDonald) a girl who is a bit larger than a size 4, and who has bigger dreams and more heart than anyone else. Tracy dreams to be on a local afternoon television dance program, The Corny Collins Show, and when it is announced that there are open auditions, Tracy sprints into action. Her mother Edna (Billy Lovern) tells her that she shouldn’t audition because of her size, but that doesn’t stop Tracy for chasing her dream. Tracy and her best friend Penny (Arin Lee Dandes) go to the television station and audition, but they are not welcomed with the open arms they were hoping.

This musical was a hit right from the beginning and rightfully so. The topics of segregation in the 60’s, self esteem, body image, breaking the societal norms, and doing the right thing, all are included in this great adaption of the 1988 film by John Waters. The score is catchy and fun, and the Kavinoky production does a impeccable job bringing the songs to life and making sure that no expense is spared.

“Hairspray” made headlines back in 2002 because the show ends with a very fast tempo, heavily choreographed, high energy song, “You Can’t Stop The Beat” where the entire cast appears on stage in a huge spectacle. This is one thing that I looked for in this show, and was very relieved that Director Carlos A. Jones made sure to keep the energy flowing and made this finale to the show fresh and new. You will jump to your feet when this song concludes. I guarantee it.

Having reviewed shows in Buffalo for the last six seasons, it is common to see the same faces playing roles at the same theaters time and time again. Sometimes it gets a little old seeing the same faces doing everything. This production has a huge talented cast, many of whom are gracing the boards at the Kav for the first time. I hope that we get to see these faces more often in the community because the talent that is possessed in this city is so great! Kudos to Director Jones for taking a chance on new faces. I hope this is the new standard.

Leading the show as Tracy is Maeghan McDonald. She’s new! Her energy is fresh, her voice is marvelous, and she truly captivates the persona of Tracy to a tee. She has heart and attitude, and together the two create a fantastic portrayal. She does not disappoint.

Arin Lee Dandes is perfect for Penny. Her innocence is a trait that goes far with this character. She gets a load of laughs and earns every one.

Billy Lovern plays Edna, sticking with the tradition of a male playing the role of Tracy’s mom. Lovern does a wonderful job playing the larger than life Edna in this production. Together with John Fredo’s Wilbur, the two bring the house down in their performance of “Timeless To Me” in the second act.

Marc Sacco plays tv host, Corny Collins. Sacco is wonderful in this role. His performance of “It’s Hairspray” is very entertaining.

Natalie Slipko and Cassidy Kreuzer play Velma and Amber Von Tussell, respectfully. They have a wonderful chemistry as the evil mother and daughter duo. We love to hate them, and hate to the love them. 

Lorenzo Shawn Parnell plays Motormouth Maybelle, and he is a powerhouse. Having just seen him in “Sister Act” at the Lancaster Opera House, it is mind boggling that he played both Sweaty Eddie and now Motormouth Maybelle. This just shows the range that he possesses. He is a brilliant addition to the cast. His performance of “I Know Where I’ve Been” brings a tear to your eye.

There is so much talent in this show that I could go on for days, but it wouldn’t do the show justice. This is the best show I have seen at The Kavinoky in some time, and I suggest you get down there to see it right away, you don’t want to miss the fun!

Running Time: 2 hours 30 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.

“Hairspray” runs until October 6, 2019 and is presented at The Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Front Page’ at The Stratford Festival

The cast of “The Front Page” at The Stratford Festival. Photo by Emily Cooper.

There are many instances when a play written almost 100 years ago is still as topical in 2019 as it was when it was written in the late 20’s. Politics, greed, corruption, murder, it all makes an appearance in the 1928 dramedy “The Front Page” now showing at the Stratford Festival. This show makes the newspaper relevant again, it is just a shame no one could find one that was still in business to celebrate it’s greatness…in print!

. . .top notch. . .a must see . . .

“The Front Page” written by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, is adapted for the Stratford Stage by Michael Healey. It tells the story of a press room in Chicago, where the actual story is not necessarily the important thing and real journalism is tossed out the window. All that is wanted is to sell papers, the heck with the facts. While the boys from the other papers are playing poker, Hildy Johnson (Ben Carlson) is quitting. He met a girl, and is going off to New York City to marry her. The problem? He is the best reporter the ‘Examiner’ has. As he is packing his bags, a murderer is scheduled to be hung for shooting an African American cop and killing him. Just as Hildy is ready to leave for the train station, shots are fired into the press room, and the killer is on the loose. Hildy is back on the beat, getting the story, and giving the ‘Examiner’ the break it needs.

First things first, this story takes a while to get cooking. Three acts. Three acts!! This is a long show and to be honest, it felt long at the beginning. At the end of act one, and the rest of the acts, the story is fantastic and will really captivate your attention. The comedy, the drama, the emotion, it makes for a fantastic production. The unit set of the grungy press room in the County Court building is aesthetically phenomenal. Trash litters the floor. Phones are set up everywhere. Lorenzo Sacoini creates a fun set that is a character on it’s own.

Dana Osborne’s costumes are perfect and they really captivate the essence of each character’s personality. It’s nice to see costumes that really emulate what the character would wear and not just giving them something to put on.

Director Graham Abbey assembles a fantastic cast of character actors to make this story fun and exciting. Ben Carlson leads the show as Hildy Johnson. Carlson has a great hold on the Hildy character. He is funny, he is full of heart, he is relatable, and he has a quick wit that brings some of the greatest one-liners to life in this script. Carlson is great to watch. A master at work.

Mike Shara plays one of the funniest characters I have ever seen on stage, Sheriff Hartman. Shara plays a caricature of a tough talking, gun toting, air head. The dynamic between Shara and Juan Chioran’s Mayor are priceless and take an at time dense story and make it hilarious. They provide the comic relief in this show. Shara has a Will Ferrell demeanor that is so entertaining, you will have trouble breathing from laughter.

Maev Beaty is a firecracker as the outspoken Cookie Burns. She does a wonderful job countering Carlson’s Hildy Johnson. The back and forth between the two is a dance that you love witnessing. They have a love hate relationship that works wonders on stage.

Their are those who say that if you are going to revive a show or mount a new production, that you need to make it relevant to the modern age. I think that is ridiculous. Of all the wonderful things that this show incorporates into it, every time I heard a reference to “fake news,” or “Russian Collusion,” I rolled my eyes. I want my theatre to take me away and tell me a story, I don’t want to have my theatre reiterate what the media is throwing at me everyday. Other than this small irritation, this production is top notch and is a must see before it closes on October 25.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45 Minutes including two 15 minute intermissions.

“The Front Page” runs until October 25, 2019 and is presented as part of the Stratford Festival in Canada. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Little Shop Of Horrors’ at The Stratford Festival

Steve Ross (left) as Mr. Mushnik and André Morin in Little Shop of Horrors. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I’ve seen “Little Shop” at least 5 times, I’ve been in it, and I am a huge fan of the movie. To say that I know the story inside and out would be an understatement. “Little Shop” is always a goofy good time, no matter where it is produced. The awesome thing about this show, is when a professional theatre organization produces it, it take the story to a new level, and creates an exciting theatrical experience for the audience. When The Stratford Festival produces it, a show that rivals a Broadway production is what you get.

. . .an exciting production. . .But remember, whatever you do, don’t feed the plants!

“Little Shop Of Horrors” is the brain child of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken, you know, the two guys that brought Disney back into the black in the 90’s, and is based on the 1960’s cult classic film of the same name. When Seymour (André Morin) a young florist discovers a strange and interesting plant during a solar eclipse, fame and fortune find him and the little skid row flower shop where he works. Mr. Mushnik (Steve Ross) finds the once annoying good for nothing Seymour to be worth while now that his plant it bringing in the big bucks, and co-worker Audrey (Gabi Epstein) finds a spark of interest in Seymour, after her bully of a boyfriend Orin Scrivello, D.D.S (Dan Chameroy) mysteriously disappears. The plant’s mysterious growth, and the interesting disappearances of the denizens of skid row, cause for a zany and over the top story that is a bloody good time!

Having been so close to the source material, it was nice to see some of the changes, ad-libs, and an odd new song in act two, that The Stratford presented last night at the opening performance of the show. The energy, music, and singing is fantastic, and the visual aesthetic of the production is a treat for the eyes.

Michael Gianfrancesco’s set design is fabulous and is a character in it’s own right. Mushnik’s florist shop hits the nail on the head as a run down shop. So many times you will see productions of “Little Shop” where the shop is beautiful when in reality it should look like it is falling apart. Peeling wallpaper, broken shelves, and crooked letters on the facade all add the the illusion of the down on it’s luck shop. The brick walls that surround the proscenium are also fantastic and frame the story perfectly.

Jamie Nesbitt’ projections are fun. I love Nesbitt’t work, having been introduced to it last season during “The Rocky Horror Show” and in “Oh What A Lovely War” at the Shaw Festival. He has a tendency of putting little surprises in his work which, as an art teacher, I fully appreciate. Look for the people cleaning the windows on skid row, my God are they clean, and the fun advertisements that appear during the show. I love his style. It is very comic book like, and it fits the 60’s time period well.

André Morin leads the show as the lovable loser, Seymour. Morin is a powerhouse. His voice is fantastic, and his performance of “Feed Me/Git It” is stellar. He truly understands the idiosyncrasies that make Seymour tick, and he hits each one of them on the head. He is a perfect choice for this role.

Dan Chameroy plays a slew of characters in this production, starting off with Orin the Dentist. I absolutely love the artistic choices that Chameroy brings to this character. Most of the time you see Orin portrayed as a very nasty, very overly mean and abusive man. This happens because you want to see Seymour feed him to Audrey 2, but Chameroy goes for the more goofy route here, and while I really like it, I don’t feel that his Orin deserves to be fed to a hungry plant, but this production aims for kitsch and meets it! During “The Meek Shall Inherit” Chameroy plays three different characters in the same song, implementing quick costume changes, and nodding that he is doing so to the audience, as he runs away taking off costume pieces. This part is very entertaining.

Gabi Epstein does a wonderful job as Audrey. There is a unwritten rule that those who play Audrey need to sound just like Ellen Green, the original Audrey from the 80’s. Epstein breaks the convention slightly, and it is fantastic. She makes Audrey new, and I loved it! Her performance of “Somewhere That’s Green” is wonderful, even if it is my least favorite song in the show.

Steve Ross is very funny as Mr. Musnik. His accent is humorous, his mannerisms are perfect, and his comedic delivery is very dry. You will not be disappointed.

Matthew G. Brown does a great job as the voice of Audrey 2, that man-eating plant.

Starr Domingue, Vanessa Sears, and Camille Eanga-Seienge, play the three Do-Wop girls who act as the greek chorus in this show, keeping the story flowing, and provide fantastic vocals. They start the show on a high note, and keep it rolling all throughout.

Overall, this is an exciting production, and does the material justice. You will not be disappointed! You’ll want to go back! But remember, whatever you do, don’t feed the plants!

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

“Little Shop Of Horrors” runs until November 2, 2019 and is presented at The Stratford Festival in Ontario. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Sister Act’ at Lancaster Opera House

“Sister Act” is one of my favorite movies. It is a film that my family cherishes and one that I watch as many times as I can. It just has a feeling of nostalgia that takes you to a good place when you might be feeling low. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to review the national tour of the Alan Menken musical adaptation that took Broadway by storm. There are subtle changes, but it works, and the music is great. When I saw last year that the Lancaster Opera House was going to produce the show, I was excited.

. . .audiences will find something that they really enjoy in this production.

“Sister Act” is the musical adaptation of the Touchstone Pictures film of the same name, and tells the story of Delores Van Cartier (Zhanna Reed) a lounge singer who is dating a mobster, Curtis Jackson (Preach Freedom) and who witnesses a violent murder. After running to the police, Officer Eddie Souter (Lorenzo Shawn Parnell) puts Delores into the witness protection program to save her from meeting her maker. The best place to send her? A convent, where she has to pretend to be a nun, but after getting to know the ladies in the convent, and finding that her talents as a singer can help them save their church, Delores’  cover is compromised.

The opening night performance of this run had its fair share of bumps in the road, but I like to focus on the positives. The ensemble, and the orchestra, helped carry a show that sometimes could not count on it’s leads to keep the story driving forward. It is some of the supporting cast that have the most memorable of performances. David Bondrow is hilarious as mobster Joey. Along with Joe Russi’s Pablo and Brian Brown’s TJ, the trio is the highlight of the production, getting laugh after laugh, and quite possibly having the best songs in the show. They help keep the energy high and the audience engaged.

Lorenzo Shawn Parnell is a crowd favorite as Officer Eddie Souter. Parnell plays the lovable loser, turned hero in the end, well, and instantly gets the audience on his side. His performance of “I Could Be That Guy” stops the show.

Mary Rappl Bellanti is fantastic as Mother Superior. The character is quite different than the Maggie Smith character we know so well from the film. Bellanti makes it her own. She is stern, she is rough, but she is also loving. You will definitely enjoy her performance.

Preach Freedom is the perfect choice for mob boss Curtis Jackson. Freedom’s voice is so powerful and deep, you are scared for your own life in the audience. He will be back on the Opera House stage soon, I guarantee it.

Madalyn Teal is the sweetest Sister Mary Robert you could ask for. Teal nails the character’s arc right on the head, and gives a heartwarming and powerful performance. When she stands up to Mother Superior in act two, a tear comes to your eye.

John Kreuzer is fantastic as Monsignor O’Hara, the head of the church that is on it’s way to be shut down. He has the best comedic chops, and delivers every one of his jokes with perfection.

And so we come to Delores, played by the young Zhanna Reed. Miss Reed is new when it comes to practicing her craft. She has a great voice, and a big personality. Her performance of “Raise Your Voice” is great and will be the song you find yourself humming as you leave the theatre. For the most part, she does an adequate job as Delores, but has much room for growth when it comes to the subtle parts. The one that stands out to me the most is when Delores walks into the room as Curtis is shooting his victim, and she nonchalantly keeps talking as if this did not phase her one bit. If she was so accustomed to seeing Curtis whack his victims, there would be no story for this musical to tell! Perhaps this is an area for Director Kevin Leary and Miss Reed to revise, but other than some opening night jitters, I think Miss Reed has wonderful potential to be a mainstay in our theatre community!

All in all, the show is a take it or leave it for me, but I think that audiences will find something that they really enjoy in this production. The orchestra  and the ensemble alone are worth the price of admission!

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

“Sister Act” runs until June 23, 2019 and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advisory: Adult Language

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

Theatre Review: ‘The Book of Mormon’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The second national touring cast of “The Book Of Mormon.”

Four times. I have seen “The Book Of Mormon” four times, and let me tell you, the level of quality only gets better. A show that is going on 5 years of entertaining audiences is anything but old and stale, quite honestly, this production is like a fine wine, better with age, not that I am condoning a 5 year old to drink. . .you see, the show is 5 years old. . .anyway.

. . . bring a change of pants. . .you’ll need them.

“The Book Of Mormon” is the brain child of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with music by Robert Lopez of “Frozen” frame. Telling the tale of two mormon missionaries as they embark on their two year mission in Africa, the show is quite honestly the best written musical in the modern era. In an interview with Parker and Stone, they say that they studied the work of classic musicals, and the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein. This homework sure paid off because the pacing in this show, the music, and the story, all work together to create a show with no down time or dull moments. Sure there is some foul language and suggestive content but this is a fantastic show, and this touring production is spectacular.

There are those who believe that this show bashes the faith of the Latter Day Saint religion and that cannot be further from the truth. There is no bashing. If anything, this show puts it’s leading characters into a real world, where everything isn’t rainbows and butterflies. There are fantastic themes of questioning faith, finding one’s purpose, and understanding that sometimes life isn’t everything we are promised growing up. It is real, and it is relatable. The best theme of the show, friendship can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Leading the show as Elder Price is Liam Tobin, and he is perfect. He encapsulates the character and gives a hilarious performance. He hams it up on stage, and possesses all of the quirky, campy, mugging that is expecting in a show that is completely aware of itself. His voice is rather cartoony in this production, and at first I thought that it was a little strange, but as the performance continued, I really started to appreciate it.

Elder Cunningham is played the comedic genius Jordan Matthew Brown. Brown is just absolutely everything you could ask for in an Elder Cunningham. No fear, not hesitation. He puts it all on the line, and the audience absolutely falls in love with him. His performance of “Man Up” is more than anyone could ask for in a comedy of this caliber.

Kayla Pecchioni’s performance as Nabulungi is spectacular. Her voice is a joy to listen to and she has wonderful comedic timing. Out of the four Nabulungi’s that I have seen, she is by far the best, and she does not disappoint.

This is an ensemble heavy show, and every one of the cast members are incredibly talented. Whether you have seen this show four times, or it is the first time seeing it, you should just bring a change of pants. . .you’ll need them.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult language and suggestive content

“The Book Of Mormon” runs until May 5, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.