RENT by Starring Buffalo at Shea’s 710 Theatre

It takes a lot to fill Shea’s 710 Main theater, and certainly the anticipation of Broadway and Buffalo talent performing one of the most recognizable musicals in the recent canon was all it took. Anticipation filled the air as Artistic Director Drew Fornarola took the stage to introduce Starring Buffalo’s third production in Buffalo, after far too long away.

RENT, which is somehow 25 years old (!!!) essentially revolutionized the way commercial Broadway functioned. People camped out on the street to get rush tickets, while the NYC elite were paying hundreds of dollars for the same show. It was Hamilton before Hamilton. Starring Buffalo has astounded me in their past two performances, and I was certainly excited to see their take on this revolutionary work. Fornarola and his team have assembled a seemingly perfect cast, including Broadway performers Jay Armstrong Johnson as Roger, Jerusha Cavazos as Mimi, and Troy Iwata as Mark. 

As Roger, Johnson is equipped with an unbelievable vocal instrument that is well suited for the role. I’ve long admired him as a performer, but felt that his performance was slightly low-energy off the bat. Iwata is the strongest of the Broadway performers, finding honest humor in each moment. I was grateful to see Iwata have a fresh take on the character. As Mimi, Cavazos’ physicality works, but she doesn’t quite have the powerhouse voice that has come to be associated with Mimi.

Buffalo standouts Dudney Joseph Jr. and Joe Russi are able to fully realize their potential as Collins and Angel, respectively. Joseph Jr.’s rich vocal instrument is as effective in both versions of “I’ll Cover You,” Act One’s uptempo love duet with Russi, and Act Two’s heartbreaking tribute at Angel’s funeral (Spoilers, I guess). I was thrilled this production made the decision to dress Russi in the signature Angel costume, and was captivated by his performance of “Today 4 U.” Giving strong performances are Alex McArthur as Joanne and Leah Berst as Maureen, while Jonathan Young manages to instill “yuppy scum” Benny with some redeemable qualities. Special commendation is to be given to Sean Ryan, who is playing an ensemble role in this piece and also served as Assistant Director. Ryan’s opening to “Will I?” is as good as it gets. 

Ultimately, the thing that nearly derailed the opening night production was a band that was not nearly performance ready. It should be noted, of course, that the entire cast only had about 48 hours of rehearsal together, so there were bound to be some onstage jitters or fumbles. That being said (and setting aside a moment in “Tango Maureen” that seemed to be more of a technical issue and less of a musical one, but nevertheless forced the actors to adlib) the lack of accurate musicianship from the band severely hindered performances from succeeding. Cues were bound to be messy, but there were several occasions where the band, especially the normally sharp guitarist Larry Albert, were just playing entirely incorrect phrases. 

As I said before, Starring Buffalo is an incredible organization whose mission brings Broadway performers, Buffalo professionals, and (usually) high school choruses together. Their previous productions have been excellent, and I felt that this RENT just didn’t quite meet their high standards.

For more information on Starring Buffalo!, click here.

Songs For A New World at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The long-awaited in person performances of Songs for a New World were heralded all over Buffalo before it even opened; the success of the streaming production in June and advertising around the city gave the production an additional sense of promise. Second Generation’s production, directed by Amy Jakiel, delivers on the promise. From the opening piano chime to the final chords of “Hear My Song,” Jakiel’s assembled company, supported by Stephen Piotrowski’s music direction, are imbued with a spirit of hopefulness, determination, and strength. 

Three of the four performers from the summer streaming production return, while elements of the streaming production are incorporated into television monitors behind the cast. New to the cast is Genevieve Ellis, while Cecilia Snow is performing elsewhere (ironically, I think, just finishing up a different production of the show). This show only works if the cast can really act a song, which is why SGT has assembled some of the best singers and actors in Buffalo. The show functions more like a musical revue than a book musical, and Jakiel smartly directs the actors through the story without trying to force connection that lays outside the material. 
All four performers have excellent voices, and are finding the genuine emotion in Jason Robert Brown’s complex score. The moments where the four are singing together are incredibly powerful, and reminded me just how much I missed hearing the sound of live theater. As Man 2, Steve Copps has a rich and honest portrayal of his characters. I was particularly impressed with his performance in “The World Was Dancing.” Genevieve Ellis is a welcome newcomer to the Buffalo theater scene, and her clear and powerful mix makes the thematic repetition of the opening motif exciting every time it comes back around. You see just how much depth she possesses during numbers like “Stars and the Moon” and “Christmas Lullaby.” Michele Marie Roberts’ comedic talents are on display in a few numbers in the show (her “Surabaya Santa” is to die for), but the real shining moments are “Stars and the Moon” and especially “The Flagmaker, 1775.”

While all of these performances are fantastic, Brian Brown’s performance as Man 1 is beyond exceptional. His voice is smooth and gentle while still being strong and soulful. Every song he is featured on is a musical expedition, and it’s clear he’s been given liberty with the score. His performance seems equal parts measured and improvisational. I was very much compelled to give his and the company’s performance of “Flying Home” a standing ovation. Brown is versatile as an actor and singer, and I’m not sure enough people have or will witness his musical brilliance. Be prepared to hear his name countless times going forward.

I intentionally didn’t watch the acclaimed streaming version of this production because I knew that as theater recovered from a global pandemic (we’re not out of the woods yet, by the way) I would need to hear these words, songs, this music in person. My expectations were exceeded. I’m glad to see that Second Generation’s impressive new logo and branding hasn’t taken away their penchant for impactful theater. Thanks for ushering us into “the new world.”

For more information, click here.

Heathers at SUNY Buffalo State

The Heathers story has existed as a cult classic since the movie starring Winona Ryder and Christian Slater was released in 1988. The Off-Broadway musical, written by Laurence O’Keefe and Kevin Murphy in 2014, restored interest in the dark comedy. It’s not often we can laugh at bullying and murder, but that’s what this script encourages the audience to do.

The production at Buffalo State, running through October 30th, has all the right pieces to create a solid production. As Veronica, Lexus Hale possesses an incredible vocal instrument, which might have been a little tired during the production I saw. The Heathers, played by Carolyn Freeman, Link Hagerty, and Kathleen Dunne, are certainly embracing the popular girl cliche. Freeman’s strongest moment comes in “The Me Inside of Me,” but I don’t want to reveal why in case you’ve somehow never seen anything Heathers related. The performance of the night for me came from Jake Grear in “My Dead Gay Son.” Act One ends a little heavy, and Grear’s performance does all it’s intended to. It’s a true show-stopper.

While the vocal talent in the production is on display and the choreography is terrific, I felt like the energy at the performance I attended was a little low. Much of Heathers depends on fast-paced humor to diffuse the darkness of the material. I felt that the pacing and delivery sometimes took the audience out of the performance. That kind of problem generally disappears as performances continue, so it didn’t overshadow the aforementioned standout performances.

Overall, the Buffalo State production of Heathers is an ambitious attempt at material that is very nuanced, with excellent vocal performances abounding. 

‘Next to Normal’ at Blackfriars Theatre

Next to Normal was the musical that changed modern perception of theater. The harrowing story of a mother plagued by mental illness and its effect on her family garnered Tony wins for Original Score, Orchestrations, and Lead Actress in a Musical for Alice Ripley, the original Diana. It also won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize, and paved the way for the commercial success of musicals like Dear Evan Hansen. It’s one of my personal favorites.

I made the snowy trek to Blackfriars Theatre from Buffalo, and my first thought upon arrival was how impressed I was by the endurance of this downtown Rochester staple; they’re celebrating their 70th anniversary! And as far as this production goes, the company proved exactly why they’ve continued to be successful.

Janine Mercandetti brings a unique approach to Diana, the story’s troubled matriarch. She’s an accomplished singer, and could out-sing even the healthiest Alice Ripley. Her vocal quality is clear, her notes are precise, and her phrasing is excellent. I personally felt that either because of the direction of the piece or Mercandetti’s own choices, her early Act One seemed a little presentational. I saw a marked change, however, at the pivotal moment in Act One. From that point on, Mercandetti takes control of the show, and it’s an award-worthy performance.

J. Simmons plays Dan, Diana’s husband, who’s holding on hope of a life where his family can be free of the mental illness and grief they’ve suffered. He’s Diana’s perfect foil, and Simmons plays the extremely difficult role with aplomb. Dan is an architect, and Simmons’ interpretation is very architectural: he deals in absolutes. There’s no grey area. I truly enjoyed his work in “Why Stay/A Promise.”

As the Goodman children, Gabe and Natalie, rising professionals Zachary Jones and Haley Knips both possess an impressive amount of raw talent. Both are juniors at Nazareth College, and the school should be proud of the representation by the two young actors. Jones has a remarkable vocal instrument, a clear tenor with a sweet falsetto that’s likely the envy of his classmate. More impressive was his navigation of what sounded to be a voice not at 100%. His role is complicated, and his nuance and relationship with Mercandetti made for an impressive evening. Knips has a difficult job as the source of much of the evening’s humor, and for the most part she handles the role of Natalie well. Her singing voice is her best asset, and she adds some delightful touches as Natalie. There were moments, however, where she had a tendency to speed through lines, especially punchlines, resulting in a lack of clarity in some essential story moments.

In supporting roles as Dr. Fine/Dr. Madden and Henry, respectively, Carl Del Buono and Evan Miller Watelet add to the well-rounded narrative. Del Buono is delightful in his roles, especially Dr. Madden. He’s accomplishing something really impressive: driving the story without ever touching the wheel. It’s not an easy task. Miller Watelet plays Natalie’s boyfriend Henry with a genuine innocence and has an excellent voice to boot.

The ENTIRE production staff, especially Director Kerry Young and Musical Director Andy Pratt, deserve commendation. What an impressive use of playing space, what a careful treatment of the delicate issues in the piece, what clear and concise storytelling! Young is also to be celebrated for her blind casting. Next to Normal has a tendency to (until the recent Kennedy Center production starring Brandon Victor Dixon as Dan, Khamary Rose as Gabe, and Maia Reficco as Natalie) be whitewashed. Pratt’s band was extremely talented, with a few opening night hiccups in this difficult score.

I’ll leave readers with this thought: I hate standing ovations as the accepted “standard.” They should be reserved for excellence, performances that exceed expectations. I was one of the first to leap to my feet at this production, and if you are lucky enough to see it, I’m sure you will too.

Running through February 23rd, the show was 2 hours and fifteen minutes with a fifteen minute intermission.

For more information, click here.

‘Cookin’ at the Cookery’ at Musicalfare

Ember Tate and Zoe Scruggs in ‘Cookin at the Cookery.’ Photo by Bethany Burrows.

The more I see musical revues, the more I really enjoy the style. Cookin’ at the Cookery, playing at MusicalFare through March 8th, is no exception.

I wasn’t really familiar with Alberta Hunter going into the show, and shame on me for saying so. She’s a Blues Hall of Fame and Memphis Hall of Fame member, began performing in her early teens in Chicago after leaving Memphis to become a singer. After almost twenty years away, she came back and began a residency at the Cookery.

The show is told through vignettes, with Zoe Scruggs playing “adult” Alberta and also Alberta’s mother, while Ember Tate plays “young” Alberta and a slew of other characters. The Albertas share the narrative duties, as George Caldwell’s magnificent band carries the audience through the story.

To say that Scruggs is a little young to play 82-year-old Alberta Hunter is an obvious understatement, and yet, for 2 hours I believed every second. Scruggs is rare in her vocal prowess, she’s truly a jazz singer and handles the material and persona with ease. Her comedic timing is also excellent, and the sparse audience by MusicalFare’s standards were nonetheless engaged immediately. Tate has a difficult job to her role, as she portrays a very young Alberta. While Tate’s other characters are magnificent (including an unbelievable Louis Armstrong) and her turn as Hunter on a USO tour stops the show (Hunter would be proud), I found she took a little time to settle in to her portrayal of Hunter as a child.

A few line flubs did nothing to take away from the sheer magnitude of the stage presence of these two women, telling an important story about a truly remarkable woman. Without being overtly politic, I felt queasy listening to Scruggs as Hunter describe the perils of the pre-Civil Rights South and recognizing just how little we’ve learned. An especially poignant line comes when Scruggs and Tate co-narrate about segregation and make a statement about just seeing people as people, regardless of race.

Here’s where I get on my soapbox; I mentioned the sparsely attended performance because Buffalo audiences as a whole have a habit of only attending shows where there is “title recognition.” Not enough people witnessed these incredible performances Wednesday evening, and it’s disappointing. Support this production, which is MusicalFare at its best. Support local theater as much as you clamor to get Shea’s tickets or go see all the Oscar nominated movies. There are so many local companies to choose from, and its a shame to see even a single empty seat at MusicalFare’s astounding production of Cookin at the Cookery, running through March 8th.

For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Freaky Friday’ at Niagara University

Freaky Friday is one of those story people don’t realize they know. For my generation, the movie starring Lindsay Lohan and Jamie Lee Curtis brought the story to life. For this generation, we have the Kitt, Yorkey, and Carpenter tuner that starred Emma Hunton and Heidi Blickenstaff which became a Disney Channel Original Movie.

I feel badly about this, but my generation had a significantly better version. Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey have already won their Tonys, so if Freaky Friday doesn’t necessarily live up to the lyrical brilliance of Next to Normal, we can forgive them. The show is a little clunky despite numerous rewrites, but the Niagara University production is anything but.

It’s refreshing to see young actors play so honestly, and that’s what we have in this production. Director Steve Braddock and choreographer Terri Filips Vaughan have given the outlines, but they’ve left it up to the cast to color inside them. An expertly directed band by, sequestered down the hall, is directed by Dr. Bridget Moriarty. Both her musical ensemble and the ensemble on stage sound terrific.

As angst-ridden and misunderstood teen Ellie, Lindsey Pastuszynski ably illustrates the difficulties of being a modern-day teen. As her busy bread-winning mother Katherine, Sonia Angeli manages to keep the “plates all spinning” (that’s a Next to Normal reference). It’s when the infamous “switch” happens that these two performers shine. Both ladies are great in their roles, but Angeli in particular shines. The book is thoughtful enough that it gives Angeli’s character an emotional act two moment which she does not take lightly. It’s an incredibly mature and aware turn for her.

I’ve mentioned the strength of the ensemble, but the real standouts come by way of Caleb Paxton, Ricardo Garcia, and the young Teddy Hibbard. As Katherine’s soon-to-be-husband Mike, Paxton delivers a touching performance, particularly in Act One’s “Vows.” Garcia is a special surprise; I had the pleasure of his talented older brother Alex as a classmate. He brings a very human touch to the criminally underdeveloped Adam, Ellie’s love interest and the high school’s hero. He also brings a dynamite singing voice. Finally, Nichols eight-grader Teddy Hibbard is an unbelievable treat. He’s handling a very difficult role with ease, puppets and all. It’s a real pleasure to watch, and I’m sure he has a bright future in performing if he so chooses.

All in all, this is the type of show a college should tackle. It should, and I believe did, teach valuable lessons about bringing truth to performances while keeping the integrity and spirit of the script intact. Instead of ad-libbing lines they thought were funnier, or winking at the material for a cheap laugh, the entire cast as a whole chose to embrace the piece, warts and all. And that’s fitting, because the show has a similar message. So excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes; it may be cheesy sentimentalism, but this excellent Niagara University production of a slightly below excellent piece has heart and truth to spare.

Freaky Friday  runs until November 3, 2019 and is presented at Niagara University. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Forget Me Not’ at Andrew’s Theatre

The cast of “Forget Me Not” at the Andrews Theatre.

If you groan when you hear the phrase “memory play,” you were probably forced to read The Glass Menagerie in school and are biased against them on principle. Even if this is you, Forget Me Not, playing at the Andrews Theatre July 25th and 26th as part of the Buffalo Infringement Festival, might change your mind. Originally developed as part of the Road Less Traveled Productions New Play Workshop, Forget Me Not is based on playwright Diane Almeter Jones’ own experience in Limestone, NY. It has been seen across Buffalo, most recently at the Kavinoky Theatre. Then, it saw significant revisions, and is now being presented here in Buffalo before it travels to Scotland for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It should fit right in at the world’s largest performing arts festival; it’s arguably more living snapshots than a “play” in the traditional sense. There’s a flashlight sequence that literally feels like snapshots. It is executed with ease.

. . .heartwarming and poignant. . .

Maybe it’s a tad redundant, but Jones really understands these characters. That’s probably because she is one. The dialogue is natural at times, almost fantastic at others. Jones is fictionalizing events but using real letters to supplement the dramatic action. I was astonished almost immediately at how well she layers fantasy over realism and how easily she floats between the two. It’s an excellent piece, pushing the boundaries of theatrical storytelling while captivating the audience. It’s standard for Buffalo theatergoers to shuffle in their seats, cough without reprieve, or even have full conversations during some performances. Jones manages to create an atmosphere of silent anticipation, true “edge of your seat” drama. The only sound I heard was “wow” as the lights came down.

As Diane (the character), Brittany Bassett has the difficult task of driving the play’s non-linear story without words. Quickly establishing herself as one of Buffalo’s premier young actresses, Bassett is up to the task. She has the expressiveness that silent movie actors would kill for, and she’s equal parts engaging and enthralling. The fluid nature of the storytelling makes it imperative to have a strong narrative thru-line, and Bassett puts on that responsibility with ease. As June, Diane’s grandmother, Anne Roaldi Boucher is stretched to the emotional limit. Boucher, too, has no trouble with the non-linear storytelling. Where a lesser actress may have “played up” the fantasy, Boucher takes the given moment for exactly what it is, often snapping in an out of the fantasy with ease. She’s particularly effective in the scene where she receives the dreaded telegram. As Harry, June’s husband, Zachary Bellus captures the young lover, the bitter younger sibling, and the matured soldier all in one fell swoop. Playing his older brother Francis, Nick Stevens makes an imposing soldier and terrific role model. The two have a camaraderie and chemistry that reminds me of my younger brother, and it must be surreal for Jones’ family to watch these two embody the real-life characters. [I read on the website for the production that a member of Jones’ family was impressed with how well Boucher was able to capture the real life June]

I cannot say enough about how pleased I was to get to see this show here in Buffalo. It’s a heartwarming and poignant story where family is the real central character. It deals with themes that are so important to today’s world, including pain you can’t always see or even name. Because the show is only running two days here in Buffalo, it’s likely this article will be post-production, but I would encourage those people reading it to follow the production online as it travels to Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe.

“Forget Me Not” played two performances at the Andrew’s Theatre on July 25 and 26, 2019. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘First Date’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “First Date” at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Chris Cavanagh.

I’ll jump right into it: the world of the modern musical is CRAZY. It’s not easy to compete with “Hamilton,” or “Dear Evan Hansen,” or even “Hadestown.” When “First Date” appeared on the scene in 2013, it had to fight with new shows like “Beautiful” and “Bridges of Madison County” as well as shows that had gained momentum like “Matilda” and “Kinky Boots.” I’m only mentioning this because it wasn’t easy from the get-go for “First Date,” which featured “Chuck” star Zachary Levi and Krysta Rodriguez (whose popularity was sky-high because of Smash). It ran 34 previews and 174 performances. I don’t like to make a review a criticism of the material itself (because cutting or editing is a violation of the license agreement) but this musical struggles, and not even an excellent production at MusicalFare can combat its weaknesses. As I mention script or score flaws below, please don’t say “I guess we shouldn’t see it.” Say instead “let’s see what happens when a company comes together and produces a flawed work” because, after all, humanity is flawed.

. . .an excellent production. . .

On paper, it seems like the perfect show for MusicalFare’s intimate space, and in several ways it is. Chris Cavanagh’s unit set is creative and impressive while practical. The show is licensed in a small cast format, which means that ensemble members Kevin Kennedy, Dudney Joseph Jr., and Dominique Kempf are working overtime. It provides leading vehicles for MusicalFare regulars Michele Marie Roberts and Marc Sacco, whose unbelievable chemistry stemming from years of friendship is put to wonderful use in this production. 

As I mentioned, Roberts and Sacco take on these roles with aplomb. They breathe as much truth and life into a hackneyed libretto as is humanly possible. The mostly boring score has highlights and MAN does this cast take advantage of them when they come. “Safer” is a song I’ve heard a couple of times at auditions; it’s a wonderful ballad about why Casey (Roberts) is a self-saboteur. Roberts’ rendition is A++, pitting her outward strength against her inner self-doubt. Sacco, too, sings about a note he found from his mother in “In Love With You.” The rest of the show is riddled with interjections of various stereotypical characters singing novelty songs, and yet something about the performances from Kennedy, Joseph Jr., and Kempf make them ring a little truer. Joseph Jr., in particular, stops the show with “I’d Order Love.” Much of the credit goes to Doug Weyand for directing the reality out of these moments and choreographing them carefully. They work in the little world of this piece, and Weyand doesn’t shy away from their camp.

Here’s the thing about “First Date,” and in particular this production. It doesn’t always have to be “Dear Evan Hansen.” Sometimes, it can be a nice pop musical about two people in a situation many if not all of us have experienced: a first date. 

Running time: 90 minutes, no intermission

“First Date” runs until August 11, 2019 and is presented at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Fun Home’ by MusicalFare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The cast of “Fun Home.” Photo by Jesse Sloier.

If you want to quickly check this review to see if you should see “Fun Home” presented by Musicalfare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre, the answer is not only should you…you MUST.

. . .[a] must-see production. . .

Jeanine Tesori and Lisa Kron adapted Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel to create “Fun Home.” The Broadway production took home five Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, Best Original Score, and Best Direction of a Musical (Sam Gold). As Alison’s father Bruce, Michael Cerveris won the Tony for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. The show is a modern memory play, narrated by 43-year old Alison and detailing her life journey, coming to terms with her sexuality just as her father struggles with his own complicated feelings.

I criticized Musicalfare’s production of “Ragtime” earlier this year for lack of orchestra, but this production of “Fun Home” has no trace of that flaw in it. A delightful 7-piece orchestra under the command of Musical Director Theresa Quinn plays the Tesori score to perfection, and that’s not a word I use lightly. She and director Susan Drozd have assembled a team of Broadway caliber actors; Drozd’s work here might fly under the radar because the structure of the show works so well on its own, but she is to be commended. Every moment has driving forward momentum and makes excellent use of the unique space at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

Musicalfare’s cast is so good it’s almost unbelievable. Carrying most of the show’s load as the “present day” Alison, WNY transplant Robyn Lee Horn just flat out gets it. She understands Bechdel’s sense of style, sometimes interjecting a one-liner to lighten a mood, sometimes presenting the tragic moments of the tragicomedy by stating them simply. And yet, in the musical number “Telephone Wire” towards the end of the show, she shows an unbelievable range of emotion. As she stands observing Chris J. Handley’s master class “Edges of the World,” we watch her experience the turbulent moment ourselves, as she stands in the aisle.

I mention Handley’s performance in “Edges of the World” because it’s the culmination of an expertly crafted performance. Thank goodness In addition to his role as Associate Artistic Director at Alleyway Theater, he’s the head of Theatre School of WNY and imparting his exquisite technique to young actors in the area. I’m a big Cerveris fan, but I found Handley’s performance as Bruce to be even more captivating. The audience feels every challenge Bruce faces, and his penchant for honest delivery makes for an incredible performance.

Medium Alison, the manifestation of Alison’s college self, is here played with ease by Renee Landrigan. Landrigan is one of Buffalo’s most versatile actors, and she, Horn, and Young Alison (Jane Hereth) have obviously spent some serious time working to unify their mannerisms. Landrigan embarks on self-discovery with a delightful optimism, aided by her college girlfriend Joan (played ably in this production by LauRen Alaimo).

Hereth’s performance as Young Alison has a strength well beyond her years. It’s an extremely difficult role, vocally and in terms of acting, but Hereth has no trouble. 710 is a HUGE space for a young actress to fill, but Hereth’s “Ring of Keys” fills it no problem. As her brothers, Joseph Bielecki and Jasper Brown make the best of their limited stage time. Brown is especially excellent, though it’s in his blood (his mother is also a Buffalo actress and successful singer-songwriter, and his grandfather Music Directed Ring of Fire in the same auditorium when it was Studio Arena).

Rounding out the cast is Steve Copps, who moves character to character with ease. He’s an essential function of the storytelling and doesn’t make too much or too little of each moment.

The must-see production only runs through May 19th, so get your tickets now.

Run time: 1 hr 40 with no intermission

“Fun Home” runs until May 19, 2019, is produced by MusicalFare Theatre and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the Center For The Arts

There’s a fascination with Bertolt Brecht, especially in times of political…shall we say…absurdity. His theater of alienation is rooted in lack of formula; he desired to pull the audience into the story and then yank them out of it. It’s almost like Brecht’s work aimed to point out the absurdity of theater. Pair that with Kurt Weill’s iconic score and a brand-new English adaptation by Simon Stephens, and the UB Department of Theatre and Dance has a raunchy and engaging work on their hands. UB is to be commended for their continued mission to challenge and educate, and this production challenges. There are signs AND a pre-show announcement alerting the audience to the mature language and simulated situations that will appear.

Immediately, the company enters and is seen in a frozen tableau, and then disappears. Then, a balladeer enters and sings “The Ballad of Mack the Knife.” Yes, we all know the song, but have we ever listened to the lyrics? Right away, we’re thrust into the seedy world of contrast. The rich are rich. The poor are poor. They both know it. As the King of the Beggars JJ Peachum, Thomas Evans introduces us to the hypocrisy of the rich. His wife stumbles in, and its clear she’s hardly faithful. The morality is on its side, and that’s the point. Evans is fabulous in his foppishness, and he’s well paired with Kelsey Marlowe Jessup as his wife Celia. There’s one thing they agree on, however; they cannot lose their daughter Polly to immorality. And yet, she’s lost, married to the notorious Macheath. He and his merry band of men are celebrating Mack’s honeymoon with Polly at the Savoy Hotel, and it’s clear there’s mischief intended. The gang sings a very vulgar marriage song to Polly but are surprised (as are the members of the audience) when she has a dark and murderous answer in the form of “Pirate Jenny.” Hannah Keller is delightful as Polly, but not in the way you’d expect. She understands the subtleties of the material, and she’s an excellent singer to boot. As her counterpart Macheath, Nathan Roberts grasps the maniacal nature of the character, but it’s not until Act Two that we’re delivered the full scope of his charm. He’s vocally proficient, but his opening night performance is marred slightly by the wear of tech week on his vocal cords.

The rest of the ensemble supports these leading players well, aided especially by the choreography by John Fredo. Camille Cappello is a gritty Jenny whose diction sometimes works against her, especially in an otherwise effective “Solomon Song.” Anna Fernandez, as Lucy Brown, is spot on in her portrayal. It’s almost Velma Kelly-esque. Rory Tamimie, as “Tiger” Brown, stole the show for me. He’s making the best of a difficult role, hitting all the right moments. Kudos to his beyond-his-years portrayal.

My only qualm with the production comes in its Americanization. Perhaps there’s something indicated in this new production (which premiered at the National Theatre in London to mixed reviews) that allows the performers to use their natural accents, but it made little sense to me that with a script full of British colloquialisms the performers used their American accents. The story takes place in London, there are British jokes and references, it just didn’t seem to make sense and actually worked against the pacing of the script. It’s a minor detail, but Brecht’s style is so specific that everything pace related should be considered.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.

“The Threepenny Opera” runs this weekend only and was presented at The Center For The Arts at the University at Buffalo. For more information, click here.