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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A stellar production of a classic musical”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hilarious and outrageously good…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A celebration of a cult classic…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review: ‘The Crucible’ at The Stratford Festival

Members of the company in The Crucible. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Many of us can recall reading Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” in high school, spending a few weeks reading lines out loud and talking about its themes for the purpose of education. While reading as a young person was a memorable experience, there is something terrifying about being swept into a live version of this pertinent story based on the most notorious American example of mass hysteria in the gorgeous Avon Theatre at the Stratford Festival.

haunting and horrifying…

Inspired by actual events, the play opens with various Salem townsfolk convening at Reverend Parris’ house inquiring about his daughter, Betty, who has fallen suspiciously ill. Knowing Betty was seen with a group of young women dancing naked in the forest with Parris’ Barbadian slave Tituba, it doesn’t take long for rumors of witchcraft to swirl. As people take turns trying to diagnose Betty, accusations start flying. By the end of the first act, men and women of all ages and even spotless reputations are being arrested and tried for witchcraft. Amongst these accusations, the young and driven Abigail Williams tries desperately to reconnect with her former employer and one-time lover, the farmer John Proctor. 

Straford’s production tells the story phenomenally well, making it one of the most frustrating, uncomfortable and, at times, horrifying things you will sit through in a theater. Director Jonathan Goad has taken great care to avoid easy, predictable theatrics during Miller’s many speeches in favor of saving wild outbursts for only the show’s poignant moments.

The production design as a whole is stellar, backed by a simple, dynamic set by Michael Gianfrancesco and shrouded in utterly harrowing lighting designed by Bonnie Beecher. Complete with haunting and at times heart-stopping sound designed and composed by Debashis Sinha, “The Crucible’s” technical elements will stay with you long after the show concludes.

Every actor has a moment to standout throughout this staging of the Crucible, allowing the audience to morally question each character, wondering whether their accusations or the accusations against them are remotely credible. 

Leading the cast is Tim Campbell as the strong, increasingly frustrated and passionate Proctor. As one of the tallest actors in the show, he commands the room as he steps in wearing his tall boots and dirty leather trench coat. Without giving away how the story ends, his character arc is one of the most powerful and frustrating to watch.

Katelyn McCulloch is the notorious Williams, the ringleader of Salem’s young ladies at the center of the witchcraft accusations. What she says goes, and McCulloch makes that terrifying truth clear from the start. She’s manipulative and smart, and, no matter how unlikable, her powers of persuasion can’t be tamed.

This production also opened my eyes to two other characters who I think the audience resonates the most with as the story develops – the Proctors’ employee, Mary Warren (Mamie Zwettler) and Reverend Hale (Rylan Wilkie). They begin the story the same way – horrified at the possibility of witches in Salem and anxious to do their part to stop it. As Warren starts to realize what Williams is up to, with the help of John Proctor, she tries to stand up for herself in court, with Zwettler delivering a stunning performance as Warren is questioned and threatened.

Hale is committed to ridding the world of witches as well, and despite being one of the more level-headed people in power, doesn’t budge on his beliefs until Warren and Proctor arrive at the court. When Hale truly begins to realize the horror of what he’s assisted in accomplishing and is unable to stop it, it is a truly heart breaking moment for the audience.

Stratford’s “The Crucible” is haunting and horrifying, especially in a world where people put strong stake in things they believe to be true, no matter how outlandish, just because they heard them from a source they trust. It is a truly thought-provoking and unforgettable time at the theater well worth the drive to Stratford.

Running Time: Three hours including a 20-minute intermission.

“The Crucible” runs through October 25 at the Stratford Festival’s Avon Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘West Side Story’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “West Side Story” at MusicalFare. Photo by Doug Weyand.

“West Side Story” is about as timeless as a musical can get. A romantic score with classic songs, dreamy ballet sequences and a story about star-crossed lovers and their warring families. When you start stripping away some of the more traditional theatrical elements of the musical, like a bare-bones set and smaller orchestra, it forces the audience to sit in the discomfort and heartbreak of the story. 

MusicalFare kicked off its 30th season with its relatively stripped-down production, utilizing their intimate space to expose the violence, racial tension and raw emotion that runs in the veins of this story. Chris Kelly directed the cast of 20, working with Victoria Pérez, co-founder and Artistic Director of Raíces Theatre Company, to ensure cultural authenticity throughout the show, including the movement and casting of the Sharks. 

. . .Real and raw . . .

We’re immediately thrust into a high energy modern dance sequence to meet the Jets and the Sharks and their respective leaders, Riff (Matthew DeVita) and Bernardo (Alejandro Gabriél Gómez). The rising tension between the groups only escalates when Tony (Ricky Needham), a former Jet and Riff’s best friend, arrives at the local dance and only has eyes for the captivating Maria (Dominique Kempf), Bernardo’s sister.

Needham has the voice of an angel. He soars during “Maria,” singing with such delicious vibrato and strength at the top of his range that you’ll swoon in your seat and wish you were the Maria he’s singing about. His tenderness in certain moments with Kempf’s beautiful Maria was lovely, especially in their ballet duet leading into the “Somewhere” sequence. 

Kempf shined as Maria, excelling most in expressing Maria’s naiveté as she tries to navigate new feelings of love for Tony amidst a world that wants to separate them.

Blaise Mercedes is the firecracker Anita – Bernardo’s girlfriend and Maria’s best friend. She commands the stage with a unbelievable spark, strutting in Kari Drozd’s best costumes in the show and showing off a sexy, powerful voice, which shines in “A Boy Like That/I Have a Love” and sends a chill down your spine when the Jets corner her in Doc’s store. The only flaw from opening night was her microphone, which went out during most of “America.” She nailed the performance visually, but backed by an otherwise welcome addition of percussive instruments to the orchestra, she was nearly impossible to hear.

The energetic young cast was full of standout characters, especially the hilarious Rheanna Gallego as Anybodys and the powerful Brendan Didio as Action. Bobby Cooke and Philip Farugia, the latter of which served as musical director, did well doubling as the adult characters in moments of levity and gravity.

Lynne Koscielniak’s set design did the limited space well, with a distressed brick alley and chain link fencing serving as every backdrop and bare dress mannequins and milk crates as various props and furniture. Chris Cavanagh’s lighting shined especially brightly on the set during the “Somewhere” sequence.

While some of the risks MusicalFare took with its season opener, like the set and some of the staging, paid off, others fell flat. There were a few times when the uneven numbers between the Jets and the Sharks members felt too unbalanced to go unnoticed (we’re talking 6-7 Jets vs. 4 Sharks at times). Additionally, with the exception of “America,” the small orchestra that MusicalFare audiences are accustomed to simply can’t live up to the full potential that Leonard Bernstein’s iconic score is known for. Additionally, while Nancy Hughes’ choreography, and Bobby Cooke’s additional choreography hits high notes in “Cool” and “Gee, Officer Krupke,” I missed some of the more predictable dance choices that I expected from a show that is well-known for boys doing ballet in Converse sneakers.

All in all, MusicalFare’s “West Side Story” is raw and real. The vibrant and talented cast will surely entertain you; just don’t leave home without a tissue or two. 

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 35 minutes including a 15 minute intermission

“West Side Story” runs through October 6 at MusicalDare Theatre in Amherst. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Ladykillers’ at The Shaw Festival

The cast of “The Ladykillers” at The Shaw Festival. Photo by David Cooper.

There are few things more satisfying that a well done comedy. To genuinely laugh out loud (instead of the LOL we type with a straight face) is a great feeling, and the Shaw Festival’s production of Graham Linehan’s “The Ladykillers” is chock full of chortle-inducing moments.

. . .the incredible cast never missed a beat. . .

The play is based on the film screenplay by William Rose, and follows one rather eccentric woman, Mrs. Wilberforce, in post-World War II London as she rents a spare room to a group of musicians wishing to have a place to practice. However, the musicians are actually criminals using the room to compose the greatest heist, and later consequential murder of all time. Mrs. Wilberforce unknowingly gets involved, leading to hilarious circumstance after circumstance until a fitting conclusion.

Chick Reid is a treat as the sometimes dim-witted but always well-intentioned Mrs. Wilberforce. She brings a lot of spunk to a character who initially seems like a typical clueless old lady and quickly enchants the audience as an unlikely heroine.

Leading the musically-challenged band of criminals is Damien Atkins as Professor Marcus. Pardon yet another musical pun, but he hits all the right notes as the Nervous Nellie ringleader of the aspiring thieves. Atkins’ lankiness and fluidity also makes for some outrageously good physical comedy as he struggles to calmly execute his plan.

Martin Hopper, Andrew Lawrie, Ric Reid and Steven Sutcliffe round out the ensemble of mischievous men, each saddled with an important piece of the heist and challenged by hilarious obstacles along the way. Whether they’re hiding in a closet, pretending to play instruments or arguing over who is the best candidate to murder someone, each shines in their respective roles.

Arguably the most important character in “The Ladykillers” is Judith Bowden’s incredibly detailed and dynamic two-story, 360-degree set. The actors thankfully utilize every inch of the interior and exterior of Mrs. Wilberforce’s house and, when it comes time for the heist, Bowden presents it, in its entirety, in an incredibly genius use of space and technology.

“The Ladykillers” is easily my favorite show I’ve seen at the Shaw Festival in recent years. The audience was laughing constantly and the incredible cast never missed a beat, earning the show a worthy spot at the top of any theater-goer’s bucket list.

Running Time: approximately two hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.

“The Ladykillers” is playing at the Festival Theatre through October 12. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Billy Elliot: The Musical’ at The Stratford Festival

Nolen Dubuc (centre) as Billy Elliot with members of the company in Billy Elliot the Musical. Photography by Cylla von Tiedemann.

I only knew three things about “Billy Elliot: The Musical” when I sat in my cushy Festival Theatre seat one Saturday afternoon. One, that a very talented young actor was about to do a lot of impressive ballet; two, that Elton John wrote the music and; three, that it featured a super catchy song called “Solidarity” that one of my college roommates got me hooked on nearly a decade ago.

With that same roommate by my side in the Festival Theatre at the Stratford Festival, I spent the entire two hours and 41 minutes of “Billy Elliot” with my mouth agape at this truly stunning production.

. . .truly electrifying. . .

Billy Elliot is the son of a widowed miner during the 1984 miner’s strike in a northern English mining town. While his father and brother are out on the picket lines, Billy disdainfully attends boxing lessons. When he is forced to stay late one night to finish his reps, he is thrown into the ballet class that takes over the same gymnasium where he discovers his passion for dance and wows the instructor and students with his incredible raw talent.

As a dancer myself and knowing how central dance is to “Billy Elliot,” I was ecstatic to see Donna Feore at the helm as director and choreographer after being blown away by her work in “The Music Man” last year. This show was no different in terms of its impressiveness, featuring intricately powerful ballet sequences and tap combinations performed by both veteran Stratford actors and the incredible cast of young people.

Now, it was the only song I knew going in, but “Solidarity” was just unbelievable. The ballet class where Billy truly shines for the first time shares the stage with a standoff between the miners’ picket line and the police force. The juxtaposition is visually stunning, and makes for some great choreography opportunities that Feore was not shy about taking advantage of.

Nolen Dubac is Billy Elliot, marking his Stratford debut. He’s sassy, expressive and endearing, not to mention an outrageously talented dancer. He shines especially in “Angry Dance,” a charged number backed by loud music and cries of frustration, and “Electricity,” a beautiful song and dance describing what it feels like to dance.

Blythe Wilson is Mrs. Wilkinson, Billy’s ballet teacher. Wilson struts out in the ideal 80’s workout look complete with leotard and leg warmers complete with biting criticisms and a cigarette. Her convincing coldness is harsh enough to make us believe she’s nothing more than a bitter has-been and then Wilson truly shines, letting Wilkinson’s passion for dance re-ignite as Billy discovers his.

Dan Chameroy is great as Billy’s father, shining especially during the beautiful and slightly heart-breaking “Deep Into the Ground.” Emerson Gamble is also hilarious as Billy’s best friend Michael, shining brighter than the sun in “Expressing Yourself.”

The explosion of dance and feeling that is “Billy Elliot” is also heavily supported by the incredible talents of lighting designer Michael Walton, projection designer Jamie Nesbitt, sound designer Peter McBoyle and set designer Michael Gianfrancesco. Those production elements need to fill a lot of space in the Festival Theatre and they all worked seamlessly to surround the cast, presenting the audience with stunning theatrical imagery.

Stratford’s “Billy Elliot” is a truly electrifying production. Grab your passport and head North to see this remarkable cast – you won’t regret it.

Running Time: Approximately two hours and 41 minutes including a 20 minute intermission

“Billy Elliot: The Musical” runs through November 3 at the Festival Theatre at Stratford Festival. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild

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The cast of “Moon Over Buffalo” at Niagara Regional Theatre Guild.

Winter in March is one of the worst parts about living in Buffalo. One of our few solaces is escaping to somewhere else, especially through a theatrical production. While Niagara Regional Theatre Guild’s “Moon Over Buffalo” doesn’t take you to a place far from home, it’s filled with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments to make you forget about the nastiness outside.

Fewer things are more enjoyable than a well done slapstick comedy, and ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ is a thankfully successful example.

Ken Ludwig’s play centers on George and Charlotte Hay, two flamboyantly overdramatic actors touring with their theater troupe (currently stationed in Buffalo, NY) in hopes of finally becoming successful movie actors. After their daughter Rosalind drops into town, it seems as if their dreams will come true when George receives word that Frank Capra is coming to see their matinee performance. But the reveal of a scandalous secret and constant miscommunication among the cast, including a hard-of-hearing grandmother and fanatic weatherman, lead to some hilarious results.

While Buffalo itself was the butt of many of the early jokes leading to some sassy ooh’s from the audience, they appeared to love being in on the joke that Fran Newtown and Dawn Marcolini-Newton, the well-known “First Family” of NRTG, got to play against each other as George and Charlotte. Their real-life relationship was evident in their good chemistry and made it enjoyable when their egotistical characters battled it out – both verbally and with swords. Newton especially shines in George’s exaggerated monologues and movements, with just the right amount of theatricality to sell the character without annoying the audience.

Sarah Fratello is the Hays’ daughter, Rosalind. Fratello excels at balancing Rosalind’s disdain for working in the theater (which she left along with her ex-boyfriend, Paul, the company manager, in order to lead a more normal life) and her love for her family, which occasionally manifests as a love for the stage.  She especially shines when being forced into a performance of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives,” hilariously delivering deadpan lines in rehearsal opposite a charming Ryan Morgan as Paul and later deliciously overacting a two-person scene alone onstage.

Amy Jorrisch plays Ethel, the mostly hard-of-hearing mother of Charlotte. She is nothing less than amazing, delivering seething hatred for George and handling some of the funniest moments in the show without cracking a smile. John Szablewski also makes a memorable appearance as Howard, Rosalind’s new fiancé, local TV weatherman and enthusiastic fan of George and Charlotte. When all these elements combine upon his first meeting with the couple, Szablewski is the perfect storm of physical slapstick and facial expressions to make a memorable character.

One of the things I look forward to most at NRTG is how they will make the most of the turntable they installed a few seasons ago. Their sets are often well decorated and feel complete, and despite a more intimate stage setup than other theaters (if you sit on the right side of the audience, you might as well be on stage), they accomplish quite a bit thanks to that impressive turntable.

Fewer things are more enjoyable than a well done slapstick comedy, and ‘Moon Over Buffalo’ is a thankfully successful example. If you’re up for a hilarious night at the theater, I’d hurry up and get a ticket as the remaining matinee performances are already sold out.

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

“Moon Over Buffalo” runs until March 31, 2019 at the Ellicott Creek Playhouse. For more information, click here. 

 

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

The Broadway Cast of “Cats.” Photo by Michael Murphy.

“Cats” is a musical like no other. After it opened in 1982, it was the longest-running Broadway show in history from 1997 to 2006, entertaining generations of theatergoers with a synthesized 1980s score and yards of spandex and fur. When it returned to Broadway nearly a decade after it closed in 2016 with updated choreography and orchestrations, it was, similar to one of the Jellicle cats in the show, completely reborn. Thankfully, that production has arrived in Buffalo and whether you’ve never seen “Cats” or seen it 20 times, it is not to be missed.

“…the triple-threat ensemble is jaw-dropping…”

Based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T.S. Eliot with music by Andrew Lloyd Webber, the audience is personally greeted by a band of various Jellicle cats (especially if you sit downstairs), who are gathering in anticipation of the annual Jellicle Ball, where one lucky cat is chosen by Old Deuteronomy to be reborn to a new life and travel to the Heavyside layer. The show then breaks into incredible dance numbers introducing the various cats, their personalities and what they do all day.

Sure, the plot isn’t Pulitzer-winning, but it honestly doesn’t matter thanks to the outstanding singing and dancing talents of the ensemble. They perform endless dance numbers with some of the hardest choreography in show business, leaping weightlessly around the stage.

One of the most controversial changes to the new production was Andy Blankenbuehler’s choreography. Gillian Lynne, who regularly collaborated with Lloyd Webber and is responsible for the taxing and beautiful lyrical ballet that dominated a majority of the show, did not hide her anger at the updates. Before you worry that this isn’t the “Cats” we all know and love, I’m here to assure you that it is, but it is also much, much better.

Lynne’s iconic ballet sequences, leg extensions and cat-like clawing are still very present throughout most of the show and is performed flawlessly by the cast. Blankenbuehler’s additions completely woke up the show, updating a thrilling tap number with Jennyanydots (Emily Jeanne Phillips) and incorporating more modern styles into various numbers including Rum Tum Tugger (an outstanding McGee Maddox) and Magical Mister Mistoffoles (a joyful Tion Gaston). Fans of “Hamilton” will be able to spot Blankenbuehler’s additions, which exhibit more precision and funk than the strictly ballet portions. It is a dancer’s dream to watch and gives a show often misconstrued as old and tired a refreshing facelift.

The dancing is the main draw of “Cats,” and rightfully so, but this is also one of the most vocally strong ensembles I’ve ever heard to tackle this score. As if it wasn’t enough to continually dance for two hours, the various actors are also tasked with tongue-twisting phrases and eight-part harmony that they belt out with ease. A great example of this is Tony d’Alelio and Rose Iannaccone as Mungojerrie and Rumpleteazer, two cat burglars with a penchant for cartwheels and acrobatics. Iannaccone notably gets a note out as she’s tumbling, an impressive feat to say the least.

On opening night, I heard some odd laughs and murmurs in the audience, with some indicating that they show was not their cup of tea. All of that was silenced the moment Grizabella (a jaw-dropping Keri René Fuller) began to sing the iconic “Memory.” She sang with strength and desperation, even inspiring an extended applause break following the reprise. That performance alone is worth a trip to the theater.

This production will make “Cats” has come alive for a whole new generation. The triple-threat ensemble is jaw-dropping, performing stunning choreography without flaws or hesitation. Whether the show is new to you or one of your favorites, it is not to be missed.

Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

“Cats” runs until February 10, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.