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.

Theatre Review: ‘Rent’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The Company of the RENT 20th Anniversary Tour RENT 20th Anniversary Tour, Credit Carol Rosegg 2018.

When I was in high school, so about ten years ago, I saw “Rent” for the first time. At this point in my life, I was very young, and had not accumulated many life experiences. I didn’t understand much of the story “Rent” told, and I was lost for most of it. Time passes and I thought that as I grew older, I would learn more, appreciate more, and understand the story more, and I did. As the 20th Anniversary Tour opened at Shea’s on Tuesday evening, I was ready to find a new appreciation for the material. I can honestly say that I tried, but this show just does not work for me. I don’t understand the hype, but I will say, that this production is wonderful, and that the actors and musicians do a phenomenal job telling this very dense story that has become a cultural phenomenon.

. . .a great night out at the theatre for anyone who can appreciate storytelling found in the performing arts.

It is difficult to have a unpopular opinion when it comes to a show that is so well liked. I have countless friends who are in love with the story and the music. I just don’t see it. I feel bad for the characters, but I don’t make much of a connection with them. Is it because I have not experienced what they have? Probably. I am lucky to say that I have not had to watch a friend die from an incurable disease, or that I have not had to be evicted from the place I live. Is my privilege showing? You can say it. I have been privileged. I think my biggest issue with the story is that there are opportunities for the characters to get the help that they need, but they just don’t. Maybe the story of ‘Rent’ is just too real? Maybe I like my theatre to be full of fairy tales. Or maybe I’m just right and the show isn’t that good to begin with. Who knows? Who can say? We all have our own opinions. 

“Rent” is the 1996 Tony Award winning best musical by Jonathan Larson. It tells the story of a group of friends who are living on the outskirts of New York City during the AIDS epidemic. Mark (Logan Marks), an aspiring filmmaker, and Roger (Joshua Bess), a musician who has developed a phobia of leaving the apartment after discovering that he has been diagnosed with AIDS, live rent free in an industrial studio apartment. Their former roommate, Benny (Marcus John) married rich and bought the building, and after a few years of letting his friends live there, has decided to come and collect the rent, which they are unable to pay. Other denizens of the area help tell the tragic tale of acceptance, love, loss, and fear.

The performances really shine in this production. Logan Marks and Joshua Bess do well as roommates Mark and Roger, respectfully. They have a strange chemistry where they don’t seem very close, yet they would give anything to the other at the drop of the dime, if only either of them had one. Their performance of “Rent” is powerful and sets the tone for the show well!

Deri’Andra Tucker as Mimi is a fabulous choice. Tucker brings a sultry and sexy charisma to Mimi, and really gets the audience’s blood boiling with her performance of “Light My Candle.”

Javon King gets huge audience reaction as Angel in this production. King bares all on stage, and shows no fear in his performance. He is definitely a crowd favorite.

The ensemble is fantastic in this show. “La Ve Bohème” and “Seasons of Love” still get huge audience applause and are probably the most memorable tunes in the piece.

While this show just doesn’t do it for me, it still possesses merit, and is a great night out at the theatre for anyone who can appreciate storytelling found in the performing arts.

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

Advisory: Adult language.

“Rent” runs until March 31, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Miss Saigon’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The National Touring Cast of “Miss Saigon.” Photo b Matthew Murphy.

There are those shows that you just need to see. You hear about them for years. They have a place in popular culture, and they leave an impact on their audiences. I remember hearing “they land a real helicopter on stage!” Until this evening, I have never seen anything like it. “Miss Saigon” is an experience that took all of my emotions, mixed them together, and threw me onto a rollercoaster of excitement, joy, sadness, and fear. It is one of the most excellent theatrical experiences I have ever been present for. I will never forget this show.

Turn up the heat, and go see this show!

“Miss Saigon” tells the story of the Vietnam war. A group of Marines go to visit a small club where all of their “dreams” can come true. There, the ladies of the night will help the Marines take the edge off, and get their minds off of the terrible events that are happening around them during this tragic event in history. Kim (Emily Bautista) is a young 17 year old girl, who comes to Dreamland, searching for a way to America after her village was burned to the ground. While she is there, she is enlisted by the Engineer (Red Concepción) to become one of his girls, and to work for him. On her first evening, she is purchased by Chris (Anthony Festa) and the two spark an instant connection. Perhaps this one night in ‘dreamland’ won’t end so abruptly? The two fall in love and consummate the evening, Chris making a promise to Kim that he will take her to America. After they are separated and Chris leaves, he is riddled with guilt until he is able to create a new life for himself in America. The problem? Chris has a son, and Kim wants him to know it.

This musical is the second collaboration of Boublil and Schöneberg, who brought us “Les Miserables,” and it just so happens that I saw that show for the first time earlier this season in Rochester. “Miss Saigon” has many similarities to that of ‘Les Miz,” great music, fantastic singing, amazing effects, and length (my God, is this show long), but it is fantastic and is truly an experience that I suggest anyone who considers themselves an avid theatre-goer attend.

Leading the show as Chris is Anthony Festa, and let me tell you, there has not been a more heartfelt performance on the Shea’s stage in some time. The pain and hurt that Festa brings to his character is just so raw and real. You instantly connect to his Chris and you can only pray that you never have to experience what this man has gone through. Festa is phenomenal.

Emily Bautista takes the innocence of Kim, as a 17 year old girl, and plays it up. In the first five minutes of the show my heart broke for her, that she was in a position to have to give her body over for money just to make a life for herself. My heart broke again when she finds out that Chris moved on without her in America, and it breaks a third time (someone call me a cardiologist) at the end of the show when a tragic event occurs. Bautista too, brings raw emotion to the stage, and her and Festa’s performance of “The Last Night Of The World” is perfect.

Red Concepción is fantastic as the Engineer, the comic relief, in this very dense and emotional unloading of a  story. He welcomes you at the beginning, you love to laugh at him, and you love to hate him. His performance of “The Heat Is On In Saigon” and “The American Dream” are fantastic. You will not be disappointed.

The ensemble of the this show deserves just as much applause as the principals. Forty-two actors grace the stage in this company, making this one of the largest casts to visit Buffalo.

Not only is “Miss Saigon” a story that makes you appreciate what you have, it is a story that needs to be told. Turn up the heat, and go see this show!

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

Advisory: Adult language and implied nudity

“Miss Saigon” runs until March 3, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Spamalot’ at Kavinoky Theatre

The cast of “Spamalot” at Kavinoky Theatre.

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is one of my all time favorite movies. In 2005 I learned about the Broadway Musical adaptation “Spamalot” when it was on the Tony Awards, and instantly fell in love. I have seen the show a handful of times, and it always brings me joy. The songs are goofy, the story makes little sense, and the characters are always over the top. This is a perfect show to allow actors to go above and beyond, and it should be filled with loads of belly laughs. That is, when the actors just give it their all, but sometimes, when the entire principal cast doesn’t give it their all, a bit of the spammy magic gets lost.

“Spamalot” is a goofy good time. . .Go find your Grail, and see this show!

“Spamalot” tells the tale of King Arthur and his knights of the round table who are given a quest by God, to go and find the Holy Grail. Simple huh? Riddled with gags, zany antics, and big Broadway musical numbers, this show is sure to tickle your funny bone, and it does.

The ensemble is phenomenal in this show. Playing numerous characters, each member of the ensemble bares it all on stage, taking on the feat of bringing to life a well known story. Standouts include Kevin R. Kennedy and Doug Weyand, who get a million laughs each at the many characters that they play in the show. Kennedy’s intellectual historian and Prince Hubert are crowd favorites. Weyand’s Mrs Galahad, Guard Taunter, and Hubert’s Father are priceless.

Michele Marie Roberts is perfect in her role of “The Lady Of The Lake.” She has a fantastic comedic ability, and has no shame making some hilarious artistic choices. Her performances in “Find Your Grail” and “What Ever Happened To My Part?” stop the show. She is top notch.

Arin Dandes is hilarious as Patsy, King Arthur’s confidant and horse sound effect maker (Patsy bangs two coconuts together to make horse noises while Arthur trots along). Her facial expressions and gestures are characters in their own right. Dandes makes the character her own, and she is absolutely entertaining. Her performance in “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life” is entertaining and fun as well!

Louis Colaiacovo was born to play Sir Robin, the brave. Well, the knight who bravely soils himself and who would rather be part of a musical theatre troupe instead of a brotherhood of knights. He is equal parts silly and charming and has a great voice. His performance of “You Won’t Succeed On Broadway” is phenomenal, and you laugh and smile every time he enters the stage. He is a wonderful addition to the cast.

Greg Gjurich plays King Arthur in this show, and while King Arthur is meant to be the straight man to all the nonsense happening around him, Gjurich seems a little disconnected with the material, and at times looks like he is phoning it in. He brings it together in act two, however, when everything in the story starts falling a part, and he is all alone in a Dark and Very Expensive Forest. His performances of “Find Your Grail” and “I’m All Alone” are enjoyable.

This production had it’s opening night flaws, including some technical issues with the LED screen that projected images behind the action, a few sour notes from the orchestra, and some microphone issues, but overall, the show is a fun night out, which I did enjoy.

David King’s set design and Diane Almeter Jones’ props and set dressing really set the tone for this obscure and hilarious show. You can see the work that went into this production, and it does not go unnoticed. The small details really make this show all the more enjoyable.

Overall, “Spamalot” is a goofy good time. I just wish all of the leads were in on the goofiness and brought their A games. I can only assume that this will be rectified as the show continues it’s run. Go find your Grail, and see this show!

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

“Spamalot” runs until February 3, 2019 and is presented at the Kavinoky Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Les Miserables’ at RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre

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

The only thing I had known about “Les Miserables” was what I had heard on the “Forbidden Broadway” cast recording. “At the end of the play you’re another year older.” I thought that was funny, but I didn’t realize that it was actually true. That show was long. It is phenomenal, but my goodness, it goes on forever. To my amazement, the show is masterfully written and is masterfully performed. This show is an experience that I will never forget.

It is breathtaking, it is beautiful, and most importantly, it is timely.

“Les Miserables” is based on the Victor Hugo novel, taking place during the French Revolution and telling the tale of Jean Valjean (Nick Cartel) as he tries to redeem himself in society after spending the last nineteen years in slavery for a crime that he committed. After becoming a factory owner and changing his name, Valjean meets Fantine (Mary Kate Moore), who has an illegitimate daughter and on her deathbed, Valjean says that he will find her daughter and care for her. Valjean finds Cosette (Jillian Butler) at an orphanage of sorts, and purchases her, looking out for her wellbeing and raising her as his own. If this seems confusing, it is. I had to read the synopsis at intermission, and then it clicked!

The music in this show is hauntingly beautiful and I could not believe how much music there is in this show. It never stopped, and flowed effortlessly from one number to the next, barely leaving time for applause, and you know what, I loved it. I realized during this production just how much time we spend applauding during musicals. I love showing my appreciation and love to the actors on stage, but when the music segues to the next song, it keeps me in the moment and I stay tuned to the story. I never thought about this until this show.

Leading the show as Jean Valjean is Nick Cartel who has a voice of steel. His range is mind blowing as he controls his vocal prowess to hit magical notes. Cartel’s performance is raw, emotional, humane, and perfect.

Josh David is deliciously evil as Javert, the constable who is out to find Valjean to bring him back for skipping parole. You dislike him, but love every time he enters the stage. His vocal ability sends chills down your spine with how fantastic they are. He does not disappoint.

Éponine played by Paige Smallwood and Cosette played by Jillian Butler, are both phenomenal women who know how to entertain and who both bring tears to your eyes when they sing. They are both absolutely beautiful.

Overall, the show is long, but as a student of theatre, and let’s face it, who isn’t, this show should be on everyone’s theatre bucket list. It is breathtaking, it is beautiful, and most importantly, it is timely. When the tour comes to you, go see this show!

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

“Les Miserables” closed on November 24, 2018, and was presented at RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre in Rochester. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Hamilton’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Well, it finally happened. “Hamilton” has arrived in Buffalo. I feel like we have been waiting for this time to come for years. Oh wait, we have. “Hamilton” fever is alive and well and I have done all I could to keep myself out of the fever zone so that I would go into this show knowing nothing. For the exception of one or two songs, I succeeded. I wanted to be surprised and I didn’t want any biases forming. I wanted to see if this show is worth the hype. I wanted to see if this show really was worth the emptying of bank accounts to see. Well here is my answer. It might not be worth emptying your bank account completely to see, but it is extremely refreshing, and I absolutely loved it.

“Hamilton” is sure to be Broadway’s new “Phantom,” running for the next 30 years. . .The American Dream comes alive in this musical.

“Hamilton” is the brainchild of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who brought us one of my favorite shows “In The Heights.” “Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton and our founding fathers as they go through the American Revolution and form our government that we have today. Blind casting allows the actors portraying the founding fathers to be of any ethnicity and it is brilliant. Oh, and Miranda’s Hip-Hop and R&B score is exhilarating. It takes the Broadway formula, and keeps the pace flowing with songs that segue almost seamlessly from one to another. Lyrics are masterfully crafted with historical accuracy and are incredibly witty and intelligent. Miranda doesn’t skimp out on substance for style. The substance in this show is phenomenal and it is fantastic that not only are we being entertained, but we are learning something too. The music is perfect.

This story doesn’t rely on pageantry to be told. The unit set of rafters and wooden walkways are stylistically pleasing and effective. A rotating platform proves to be very useful and adds a wonderful dimension to the story. The ensemble helps build the settings of various locations and the audience is called upon to fill in the blanks. I love the minimalistic approach to storytelling, where the audience is employed to use their imaginations. It shows that the audience does not need everything spoon fed to them for the story to be told.

This cast is extremely talented. From the ensemble to the leads, there is not one person onstage in this production that does not deserve to be there. Leading the show as Alexander Hamilton is Austin Scott who balances the character’s intellect and arrogance perfectly. Scott makes great artistic choices to make this character believable and relatable. We are able to connect with him and we see that he is not a perfect man, that he has flaws like the rest of our founding fathers, but that he is real. Scott is fantastic and does not disappoint.

Josh Tower plays Aaron Burr, the narrator of our tale. Tower plays the show’s antagonist if you will, perfectly. Not only does he effortless set our story up for us, but he enters and exits the story so well. Tower brings real pain to the character, and he has plenty of heart. Again, Tower creates a character that we can relate too. Jealously, envy, and anger all color his performance. It is fantastic to watch. His performance of “The Room Where It Happens” is incredibly enjoyable as well.

Hannah Cruz is wonderful as Eliza in this production. She has the pipes to hit all the notes, and the audience instantly falls in love with her when she comes to the stage. She spills her heart and soul into “Burn” and I can say that I actually teared up during her performance. She does a wonderful job.

Paul Oakley Stovall is brilliant as George Washington. His voice booms throughout the theater sending chills down your spine. His demeanor and portrayal of Washington is unique and enjoyable.

My favorite comic relief in this show is Peter Matthew Smith as King George. Reminding me of King Herod in “Jesus Christ Superstar,” Smith is hilarious as the King. Deep belly laughs are sure to hit you every time he enters the stage.

If I had to find anything negative to say about this show, I would say that it runs a little long. Although I enjoyed the entire experience, 15 or 20 minutes less would have been welcomed in my opinion.

So, does this show live up to all the hype? Yes. “Hamilton” is sure to be Broadway’s new “Phantom,” running for the next 30 years. You need to see this show? Oh, you didn’t get tickets? Well, Shea’s is releasing tickets everyday, and there are still plenty of chances to be in the room where it happens!” The American Dream comes alive in this musical. Go see this show!

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

Advisory: Adult Language and Situations

“Hamilton” runs until December 9, 2018 and is performed at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Christmas Over The Tavern’ at MusicalFare Theatre


The cast of “Christmas Over The Tavern” at MusicalFare Theatre.

It is so incredibly rare that I get to review a show in Buffalo that is a world premiere. Buffalo is the home of tried and true classics, and it is common to review productions that have been done to death. It is refreshing every now and then when I get the opportunity to say something new about a piece of theatre that is also brand new. I feel like I am in New York! Although I am not, it is nice to be one of the first press members to give their opinions on a show, and thanks to the folks and MusicalFare, I get to do just that with their world premiere musical by Buffalo native Tom Dudzick, “Christmas Over The Tavern.”

. . .it is sure to entertain audiences all throughout the holiday season.

Based on the characters from his play “Over The Tavern”, Tom Dudzick creates a brand new musical story featuring the Pazinski family as they get ready for the holidays. Having workshopped the show at MusicalFare in 2017 and writing the book, lyrics, and score, Dudzick creates a musical the hits the beats that all musicals should, but lacks one thing, heart.

Starring in the role of Rudy is young actor Michael Scime, who shows no fear on stage, and earns his keep up there with veterans Jacob Albarella, Wendy Hall, and Pamela Rose Mangus. Scime is still learning his craft but does a great job delivering jokes and getting laughs. He is a crowd favorite.

Pamela Rose Mangus plays Sister Clarissa, and is hilarious. I never went to Catholic school, and never really encountered the wrath of a nun, but Mangus delivers a fantastic performance that is sure to make you laugh and smile, even if you are not of the catholic faith. She is a powerhouse on stage, and has wonderful comedic chops.

Jacob Albarella does a very nice job as Chet, the Pazinski patriarch, in this piece. Of all the characters in this show, his character is the most developed in Dudzick’s script, and shows the most arc in the overall storyline. You can empathize with his pain, and his frustration, throughout the holiday season, as he has flashbacks to the good days of yesteryear.

The rest of the cast, including Wendy Hall, Caroline Schettler, Issac Fesmire, and Samuel Fesmire do a great job rounding out the rest of the Pazinski clan, and all shine in their various numbers and sub-plots.

Dudzick’s musical numbers are fun and bouncy but are easily forgettable. There really are no tunes that you will be humming on your way out of the theatre, but he does a good job keeping his story moving and hitting all the beats that a musical needs to hit to keep the audience engaged.

All the characters have their storylines, Rudy wants to be in the christmas pageant, Georgie wants a to speak for Christmas, Ellen wants her husband to be happy again, Chet wants to relive the good old days, Annie is looking for love, and Eddie is contemplating enlisting in the army. These sub plots keep the story rolling, but as a viewer, I had trouble connecting with any of the characters, or caring if they succeeded in their goals. I guess the stakes were just not high enough for me, and if the Pazinski’s didn’t end up having a Merry Christmas, it wouldn’t have phased me in the slightest. The sad thing is, that I wanted to care about them, and I wanted to be welcomed into their lives, but the opportunity just never presented itself.

Dudzick does a great job putting in the Buffalo area references as well, like the Clinton Bailey Market, and the New York State Thruway, but I would be interested in seeing if these references mean anything to anyone outside of the Buffalo area. The nostalgia also ages this brand new show to a point that I fear contemporary audiences will have a hard time connecting with the humor and lives of the Pazinskis.

Overall, this show was a miss for me. But, it has sold out it’s run, so it is sure to entertain audiences all throughout the holiday season.

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

“Christmas Over The Tavern” runs until December 19, 2018 and is sold out, at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Oliver!’ at Lancaster Opera House

When I was in grade school, my music teacher liked to show videos. Musical videos. There wasn’t a large selection in his arsenal and the one that we watched over, and over, and over, and over again was “Oliver!” We watched “Oliver!” so many times that the VHS tape wore out, and then he purchased it on DVD. Lucky us. Needless to say that while in elementary school, you are forced to endure many things that you typically wouldn’t want to endure. This film was one of them. But, just like my first time seeing the film “Jesus Christ Superstar,” it wasn’t until I saw it live on stage that I enjoyed it. This goes for “Oliver!” now as well. Seeing it live is much more enjoyable, and the Lancaster Opera House’s production is phenomenal.

. . .the Lancaster Opera House’s production is phenomenal.

Based on the novel “Oliver Twist” by Charles Dickens, Lionel Bart created a musical adaptation of the story in the 60’s which had very good commercial success. Oliver is a boy who lives in an orphanage, asks for some more gruel, gets sold to an undertaker, falls in line with a bunch of lovable criminals and, then gets adopted into a wealthy family. It’s that feel good story that we love to hear. He should probably audition for “American Idol” or something.

Director David Bondrow assembles a phenomenally talented cast for this very enjoyable adaptation of the show. The show uses a very minimal set, with no wings on stage, or curtains. Typically I wouldn’t find this acceptable in a show, but I see what Bondrow was doing here, and it is very impactful. It is actually brilliant. You’ll see what I mean when you purchase your tickets.

Fran Landis leads a fantastic orchestra that plays the familiar tunes perfectly. The singing and music in this show is technically perfect. The attention to detail in the score and the vocals cannot go unnoticed, and the caliber of talent that is on the stage is mind blowing. This is the perfect production. You could not ask for more in a musical, and the Opera House delivers. . .big time.

Leading the show as Oliver is Joel Fesmire, who is fantastic in this part. His performance of “Where is Love” tugs at your heartstrings and his voice is wonderful. It brings a tear to your eye to see such a young man performing with no fear on stage. I know adult actors who wish they had this courage. He plays the role of Oliver very well, and I am looking forward to seeing his career unfold in Buffalo.

Kevin Leary is fantastic as the lovable anti-hero Fagan. His mannerisms and prowess on stage are admirable for this part, and he is very entertaining with his comic delivery and slimy demeanor. “You Got To Pick A Pocket Or Two” is one of my favorite songs in the show and he surly did not disappoint in his performance.

Ian Michalski is fantastic as Mr. Bumble. Along with Rebecca J. Runge’s Widow Corney, the two have great comic chemistry on stage.

Seth Phillyaw is Artful Dodger and this kid is brilliant. As a sophomore in high school, he too shows no fear on stage and makes wonderful artistic choices. His instinct is right on the money and his performance of “Consider Yourself” is a crowd favorite.

I cannot tell you how awesome this show is, you have to go see it for yourself, and judging by the opening weekend crowd, you should get your tickets right away, because this is a show that you definitely do not want to miss.

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

“Oliver” runs until November 18, 2018 and is presented at Lancaster Opera House. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

The cast of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” at NRTG.

Interactive theatre can go one of two ways. It can be exciting for the audience, or it can be terrible for the audience. Luckily, if it is done well, the audience will be able to connect with the material and will have a great experience, and that is exactly what happens with the current production at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.”

. . .a goofy good time.

Niagara Regional Theatre Guild continues their season lineup with the 1985 smash hit musical, with book, lyrics, and music by Rupert Holmes. The concept is based on Charles Dicken’s unfinished novel, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” where when he passed, he left no clue as to how the story would end, or what would come of the story’s protagonist. Holmes decided that the show would be decided by the audience and that they would vote on how the story would end, and who would be called the murderer, allowing each performance to end differently and be unique. Throwing in the Music Hall traditions of Dickens’ time, “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” is a goofy good time.

Overall, the actual story of the show is not very interesting. I actually found myself getting lost a few times, but the true entertaining portion of this production are the characters that the actors play when they aren’t telling the Drood story. The actor characters are full of life and excitement, greeting the audience as they entered and getting them ready for the evening at hand.

Leading the show as Mr. William Cartwright, the chairman of the Royale Music Hall, is Fran Newton who keeps the show rolling along nicely, getting plenty of laughs, and teasing the audience with one liners and puns. Newton does a fantastic job in this role, and you can tell that he is having a great time playing for the crowd.

Playing the villain of the piece, John Jasper and the actor Mr. Clive Paget, is John Panepinto, who takes on this part of getting booed and hissed at every time he enters the stage on the chin. He has great comedic chops and has a great mug that he uses to acknowledge the audience during his scenes. He is very entertaining to watch.

Carolyn Quigley takes on the role of Edwin Drood in the piece, along with the role of Miss Alice Nutting, the famous gentlemen impersonator. Quigley is just quirky enough to pull off this part and keep the audience entertained during the dry story of Edwin Drood. We might not always know what the Dicken’s story is about, but we do know that Quigley is going to make it very entertaining, and keeps us engaged.

Notable standouts in this production go to Chris Cummings as Durdles, the groundskeeper of a cemetery who is also the comic relief in this story, and Christopher Andreana as Bazzard who gets laughs from the moment the audience enters the theatre, all the way to the final bow. These two are hilarious and will keep the deep belly laughs coming all throughout the performance.

With the characters playing the actors and the characters they are portraying in the play within the play, I would have liked to see a greater differentiation between the Drood Story and the performer. Sometimes the two just meshed together and it took a few minutes for me to realize that the actors were speaking, and that the show was not happening. A sharper change would have really let the two stand out, but overall, the show was entertaining.

If you like a good whodunnit, then you need to get to the Ellicott Creek Playhouse to see NRTG’s fun and enjoyable production of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood.” You won’t want to miss it!

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

“The Mystery of Edwin Drood” runs until November 18, 2018 and is presented by NRTG at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here.