Pretty Woman The Musical at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The national touring company of “Pretty Woman The Musical.” Photo courtesy of the company.

When looking for inspiration to create a musical, writers will often turn to source material that is already extremely successful. They figure you can’t go wrong with expanding upon something the public already loves, right? For the most part. But you also run the risk of not living up to the expectations of an audience that is already devoted to the movie fandom. In many cases, this has been successful like in Legally Blonde, Heathers, and Waitress. So why not take another cult classic and create a dazzling theatrical experience?

Pretty Woman is a musical based on the hit 90s rom-com of the same title. Who can forget the steamy exchanges between Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, the iconic outfits, and the quotable scenes? Coming into Shea’s Performing Arts Centre, I was hopeful the musical Pretty Woman wouldn’t disappoint me as a huge fan of the original movie. I had low expectations, but an open mind. Shortly after the curtains opened–figuratively speaking as the show begins on an already presented stage—I realized that while the show may not be a lifelong classic hit, it sure is FUN! It has all the elements of a fast-moving, razzle-dazzle musical: big numbers, stunning costume pieces, and comedic flair. 

In case you’re unfamiliar with the storyline, Pretty Woman tells the tale of a Hollywood Boulevard hooker, Vivian Ward (Olivia Valli), who falls into luck when she is hired by billionaire businessman Edward Lewis (Adam Pascal) to be his date for a week to various business and social functions. She also takes up residence in his penthouse hotel room for the week and is provided with a complete shopping spree to help her look the part. Vivian is very clear that in her line of business, she mustn’t get attached to any of her clients and thus refuses to kiss Edward on the mouth even though she’ll engage in various other acts with him. This is fine for Edward who finds any form of “strings-attached” relationships to be too challenging with his professional lifestyle. It’s the ages old “will they or won’t they??” that drives audiences wild. 

Although the main focus of the movie is clearly Vivian and Edward, the stage-show brings an additional focal point: Happy Man! Happy Man is portrayed by Kyle Taylor Parker and is hands-down my favorite character of the show. He represents a variety of characters throughout the production including a Hollywood street-dweller, the hotel manager, an orchestra conductor, and a retail store manager. Parker’s ability to morph into different characters while maintaining the same level of comedy was hysterical. The whole scene featuring “On a Night Like Tonight” had me laughing out loud the entire time and really enjoying myself. 

Of course, you can’t forget Broadway’s Adam Pascal. I was very surprised he didn’t receive applause upon his first entrance, but it’s possible not all audience members were aware of his star-status. Adam brought outstanding rock-vocals to the role that are stylistically similar to his work in Rent. However, there was another surprising character who wowed the crowd enough to receive several midperformance ovations: Amma Osei as Violetta during the opera scene. Truly well-deserved. Jessica Crouch has an absolute powerhouse of a voice as Kit De Luca and Olivia Valli very accurately represents Vivian Ward, which isn’t easy considering she’s automatically compared to Julia Roberts.

Overall an issue with this storyline is that it may not have aged well. The concept at its core may come across as a bit “hopeless damsel in distress rescued by a rich, white guy”. Gary Marshall & J. F. Lawton clearly didn’t set out to reinvent the wheel here. They took a classic and reproduced it almost verbatim in a different entertainment medium. Almost all of Vivian’s costumes were even exact replications of the film’s version. Could it be updated? Yes. Should it be updated? Maybe. Of course, then you run the risk of angering fans for not staying true to the original. It’s a challenging line to walk. However, if you’re looking for a fun, feel-good, familiar show, this is the show for you. Major fans of the original movie will be delighted. 

Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 20-minute intermission

Show runs until Dec 5, 2021 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

The Band’s Visit at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The Company of “The Band’s Visit” North American Tour. Photo by Evan Zimmerman.

It’s a busy season at Shea’s Performing Art Center with three musicals running through November! First up is The Band’s Visit, based on the 2007 Israeli film of the same name, which tells the tale of some Egyptian musicians who get lost on their way to a concert in Israel. 

Going into this performance, all that I knew of The Band’s Visit was that it had a very successful year at the 72nd Annual Tony Awards where it was nominated for 11 awards and won 10, including Best Musical. However, I was not familiar with any of the music or the storyline which is a rare occurrence for me. The show oddly opens with a projected caption on the curtain stating, “Once, not so long ago, a group of musicians came to Israel from Egypt. You probably didn’t hear about it. It wasn’t very important.” On the surface level, this can basically sum up the entire show. The occurrences and conflicts onstage all take place within a 24-hour time span and focus on average, daily events. It is up to you as an audience member to read deeper into each interaction, connect with it, and discover personal take-aways. In this regard, I’m not sure this show is really meant for everyone. If you’re looking for show-stopping numbers with eye-catching costumes, choreography, and effects, this isn’t for you. This is for the audience member who appreciates music, people, and how the two seamlessly connect. 

At the beginning of the show, band member Haled (Joe Joseph) is tasked with purchasing bus tickets for the Alexandria Ceremonial Police Orchestra’s trip to Petah Tikvah for their performance the following evening. When communicating with the ticket clerk, his Egyptian accent causes a misunderstanding, and the tickets are instead purchased for the isolated desert town of Bet Hatikva. The group’s leader, Colonel Tewfiq Zakaria (Sasson Gabay), and the rest of the band don’t realize this error until they arrive in Bet Hatikva and get an introduction to the town from local restaurant owner, Dina (Janet Dacal), and two café employees, Papi (Coby Getzug) and Itzik (Clay Singer). Since there are no more busses available until the following morning and the small town doesn’t have any hotels, Dina suggests the band divide and spend the night with her, Papi, or Itzik at their respective homes. 

The audience is able to experience three different lives and environments alongside the band members including Dina’s lifestyle, Itzik’s home and life with his wife, their baby, and his father-in-law, and Papi’s double-date experience at a roller-rink. The evening is filled with getting acquainted, supporting each other, and of course: music! Most of the instrumental music is created onstage with a variety of instruments and sounds. The talent of the band is truly incredible and provides a constant heartbeat to the show. Many pieces of music are about music itself like “The Beat of Your Heart”, “Something Different”, and “Itzik’s Lullaby”. I thoroughly enjoyed the all the elements of humor throughout the show like Getzug’s hilarious rendition of “Papi Hears the Ocean”. Similarly, Dacal’s comedic timing as Dina is perfect and Joshua Grosso’s commitment to his role as Telephone Guy is fantastic.

While the show may feel slow-moving at times, it’s definitely an interesting and unique production that causes you to reflect on the ability of music to bring people together and the power of a simple change in one’s routine. If you’re a music-enthusiast, you can’t miss this thoughtful and heartfelt production. The show runs through November 7th, is 90 minutes in length without an intermission, and includes 15 musical numbers.

For more information, click here.

“Frozen” kicks off National Tour at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

Disney Theatrical Productions under the direction of Thomas Schumacher presents Frozen, the North American Tour, music and lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez and Robert Lopez and book by Jennifer Lee directed by Michael Grandage with: Caroline Bowman (Elsa), Caroline Innerbichler (Anna), Mason Reeves (Kristoff), F. Michael Haynie (Olaf), Austin Colby (Hans), Jeremy Morse (Weselton)

For the first time in forever, Shea’s is back with LIVE theatre! Kicking off the 2021-22 season for shows is Disney’s Frozen: The Hit Broadway Musical. Anyone familiar with the animated film will be familiar with the show’s storyline: two young sisters, Anna (Victoria Hope Chan) and Elsa (Natalie Grace Chan), live in the country of Arendelle with their parents, the King (Kyle Lamar Mitchell) and Queen (Marina Kondo). The eldest sister, Elsa, has magical powers over ice and snow that enchant her younger sister until one night she loses control and shoots an icy blast straight at Anna. Concerned for Anna’s safety, the King and Queen decide it’s best to keep the sisters separated until Elsa learns to control her powers and to have all of Anna’s memories of her sister’s magic erased. The King and Queen set off on a journey to seek answers regarding their daughter’s powers but are swept away at sea and never return. Back at the palace, the sisters grow up isolated from each other and the kingdom until Elsa (Caroline Bowman) comes of age to be crowned the next queen of Arendelle. On Coronation Day, Anna (Caroline Innerbichler) gets carried away in the excitement of the celebration and meets Prince Hans (Austin Colby) who she immediately falls in love with. After their swift engagement, Elsa refuses to give her blessing to her sister’s marriage. A fight between the two causes Elsa to have an outburst of anger that sends her powers out of control and frightens the citizens of Arendelle. She flees the palace leaving Anna responsible to find her and end the eternal winter set off by her magic. 

First off, it felt amazing to be back in Shea’s and experience Frozen with an audience full of excited patrons and younger children. You are required to wear a mask throughout the entire performance regardless of your vaccination status, but I found that wasn’t uncomfortable in the slightest as it’s easy to get lost in the world of Frozen and forget your surroundings. I was immediately impressed with the young cast opening the show. Natalie and Victoria Chan performed the Tuesday evening show I attended and were absolute pros onstage. They had the audience engaged and laughing right off the bat. Later when adult Anna started singing “For the First Time in Forever”, I began to tear up. Innerbichler is the perfect Anna and truly embodies the character in every way. Her voice is stunning, and the song really resonates with a lot of us now as we’ve all felt shut away from people and “normal life” throughout the pandemic. Bowman is an absolute powerhouse as Elsa and brings such strength to her pieces. I found it amusing that in real life, Caroline Bowman is married to Austin Colby or Prince Hans. 

Mason Reeves brings a refreshing take on Kristoff and is immediately likeable. He appears with his infamous sidekick, Sven, who is played by two different actors depending on the performance due to the physical demands of the role. On Tuesday evening, Evan Strand did a phenomenal job with the body contortion and puppetry required for the role that allows the effect of a realistic reindeer onstage. I truly hope the show has a traveling chiropractor specifically for Sven! Olaf (F. Michael Haynie) was another character using puppetry. Haynie provided comic relief and stole the show during “In Summer”. 

In addition to the well-known songs from the movie, the musical offers new numbers to fill the show and add to our understanding of character development. One of my favorite additions is “What Do You Know About Love?” sung by Anna and Kristoff. A strange addition I could have done without was the song “Hygge” that is sung primarily by Oaken (Michael Milkanin) who is then joined by Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and the Family & Friends from the sauna. While this song was fun, it mainly felt like an unnecessary filler with a strange concept and odd use of implied nudity. Because this is a Disney show, rules are stricter when it comes to things like this. When the Family & Friends appear to dance nude out of the sauna covered only by leaves and branches, they are actually wearing mesh, skin-toned body suits to cover any bare skin. While I’m sure the effect is more believable farther away, from closer up it was very strange and noticeable.  

While enjoying this show, I couldn’t help but notice the parallels between Frozen and Wicked. After all, Idina Menzel, the voice of Elsa in the animated film, was also the original Elphaba on Broadway. Oddly enough, Caroline Bowman who portrays Elsa in this performance also previously played Elphaba on Broadway. Like Elphaba, Elsa has powers she can’t control that others view as frightening and dangerous. She ends Act 1 with the famous “Let it Go” which can be likened to Wicked’s Act 1 closer of “Defying Gravity”. Both are incredible, show-stopping numbers involving high belts, stunning visual effects, and acceptance of one’s own power and destiny. The mob format of Hans and his men coming to put an end to Elsa is reminiscent of Wicked’s “March of the Witch Hunters”. The focal point of Frozen is the relationship between Elsa and Anna which could be related to the friendship of Elphaba and Glinda. All of these similarities are very interesting to examine and may be the reason certain elements of Frozen are so successful. It makes sense to model a show after one so wildly successful that it has been on Broadway for 18 years. Frozen is Disney’s Wicked

A final element I wanted to discuss was the extravagance of the show’s visuals. Elsa’s ice powers are conveyed through a combination of projection, fake snow/confetti, and set pieces. The overall impact is mesmerizing and includes hundreds of thousands of glittering crystals. Elsa’s quick costume change in “Let it Go” had the audience cheering mid-song and is a spectacular reveal. Overall, Frozen: The Hit Broadway Musical is sure to delight Disney-fanatics of all ages and provides a little bit of something for everyone. While I suspect it may not go on to become a top hit like Disney’s The Lion King or Beauty and the Beast, it’s sure to stick around for years to come bringing magic to audiences everywhere. 

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

Frozen runs until September 24, 2021 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Hamilton’ at RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre

When John Szablewski previously reviewed “Hamilton” at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre for the Buffalo Theatre Guide, he purposely went into it with limited prior knowledge of the show and without having listened to the soundtrack. Contrary to Szablewski’s fresh take, I would consider myself a “Hamilton” fanatic. In fact I was among those considering selling a kidney to pay for tickets in Buffalo, and ended up successfully purchasing my own VIP seat in the very last row of the balcony. Coming from an experience where I had to use binoculars to live my musical theatre dream, I was ecstatic to have the chance to review “Hamilton” at the RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre in Rochester, NY. I wanted to see for myself if seating really does make a difference for this theatrical phenomenon.

. . .a must see whether you’re sitting last row of the balcony or front and center orchestra. . .

In case you haven’t heard of this show before, which would be quite impressive, “Hamilton” tells the story of Alexander Hamilton from age 19 through to the end of his life. It also includes other historical figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Aaron Burr, and King George. What’s truly impressive about this show is how it is able to tell the tale of the American Revolution and all that followed through an unchanging set and minimalistic costumes. “Hamilton” depends on the actors to thoroughly paint the picture through powerful music, intricate choreography, and raw emotional connections to the characters.

The audience’s support is immediately felt upon Alexander Hamilton’s (Edred Utomi) first entrance in the opening number when everyone bursts into applause. You immediately root for that main characters and feel moved by them and their stories. Utomi portrays Hamilton with the perfect balance of confidence, bluntness, and humility. The color-blind casting is so incredibly refreshing and allows for a diversely talented cast. Josh Tower as Aaron Burr keeps the show moving through his narrative as one musical number seamlessly transitions into the next. The ensemble is one of the most impressive parts of the show. Their constant presence on stage is accompanied by strictly timed choreography to music that is bursting with different beats, meters, and styles. I continued to watch the ensemble in amazement and wondered how they continued to throw themselves into the show so tremendously without becoming exhausted before the end.

Another key element of this show and its plot is the character of Eliza Hamilton (Hannah Cruz). Although Aaron Burr and Hamilton seem to be the primary focus, the show is arguably as much about her and her story as it is them. We follow Eliza as she falls for Hamilton, becomes his wife, and then must stay strong and supportive as he fights for his beliefs in a way that isn’t always entirely graceful. Hannah Cruz’s emotional dedication to the character and what she is going through is amazing. She makes you feel every word right along with her and has a powerful voice and presence.

Bryson Bruce is extremely likeable and hilarious in both of his roles of Marquis de Lafayette and Thomas Jefferson. Peter Matthew Smith proves to be an audience favorite as King George, providing the perfect amount of comedic relief throughout the show. Paul Oakley Stovall is the perfect George Washington and accurately captures the expectations one has for one of the nations most loved founding fathers.

Truly this show is a must see whether you’re sitting last row of the balcony or front and center orchestra. Every angle of this masterpiece provides an exciting experience and a new perspective on the gorgeous staging and powerful music. Musical numbers are entirely clever, catchy, and expressive. I’ve no doubt this show will live a long and prosperous run alongside other classics like “The Phantom of the Opera” and “Wicked.” Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius and provides a show that is all of the hype it receives. Musical fanatics and theatre newcomers alike will be singing Hamilton praises and searching for another opportunity to return again!

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

Advisory: Some adult language and suggestive content.

“Hamilton” runs until May 12, 2019 and is presented at the RBTL’s Auditorium Theatre in Rochester. For more information, click here.