Theatre Review: ‘Hamlet’ at Irish Classical Theatre

The cast of ‘Hamlet’ at Irish Classical Theatre. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

As the audience around me affirmed, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet overflows with quotes we use every day. Maybe that’s why Irish Classical has picked this piece to foray into Shakespeare, and it certainly seems like they should stick to it. Kate LoConti Alcocer, recently named the successor to ICTC Founding Member and current Artistic Director Vincent O’Neill, helms this streamlined production running through May 19th. The adaptation is expertly done, clear and concise in its presentation, and entertaining to the last. If you’re one of 4 people who hasn’t seen, read, heard of, accidentally come up with the plot of, haven’t seen The Lion King, or otherwise don’t know the plot of Hamlet, “spoilers” ahead.

. . .[a] well oiled machine. . .

As the damaged prince Hamlet, Anthony Alcocer begins in earnest mourning. He has just lost his father, after all. As the play progresses, Hamlet’s madness takes him over, making it hard to tell when he’s in his right mind. Alcocer finds the honesty in Hamlet, equal parts vengeful and calculated. He’s best in the final scene, as he shows range of honest emotion most actors would be jealous of. It’s a breakthrough performance for him.

The entire rest of the cast deserves to be individually commended. As Claudius, the usurper of the late Hamlet’s throne, Matt Witten is terrific. He carries himself with regal authority, and yet allows us a window into a guilty conscience rather effectively. His counterpart is Kristen Tripp Kelley, as Queen Gertrude. She’s commanded the ICTC stage before, but this is a role she’s almost born to play. She brings strength to Gertrude, a quiet dignity. She’s written to command and obey her second husband, but LoConti Alcocer and Tripp Kelley have obviously coordinated to strengthen her resolve. It’s a 2019 take without being in your face about it. Another pillar of female Shakespearean resolve comes in the form of Anna Krempholtz as Hamlet’s one-time lover Ophelia. The language comes easily to Krempholtz, and so it lets her work wonders in little stage time. It makes for an even more heartbreaking “get thee to a nunnery” scene. Expect continued big things from Krempholtz in the future. As Horatio, Adam Yellen’s performance might just steal the show. There aren’t many people Hamlet can count on, and so Yellen’s performance is expertly crafted; he’s the model of a true friend, protecting his dear Hamlet to the end. As Hamlet’s light dims, and “all the rest is silence,” we see Horatio clutching his lifeless friend. We believe Yellen’s Horatio would drink the poisoned cup.

In supporting roles, Chris Kelly is a simple and elegant Pelonius. He’s another that very easily functions with the heightened language. He also serves as the Gravedigger, a rather hilarious modern take. Ever the face of versatility, Kelly is up to the task. Jake Hayes and Peter S. Raimondo show a similar versatility; they play six characters among themselves, most notably Guildenstern and Rosencrantz, respectively.  Rolando Martin Gomez is a stoic and troubled Ghost, with a very corporeal feel. It’s an interesting take by LoConti Alcocer, and it certainly adds to the hurt Alcocer’s Hamlet must feel. Finally, Patrick Cameron is well suited for his role as Laertes, a man who is always sure of what he wants and with an excellent sense of right and wrong.

The entire artistic team on this production is to be commended for aiding this well-oiled machine, but Costume and Set Designer Jessica Wegrzyn’s work stands out, especially when it comes to costumes. I’m a bit of a Shakespeare enthusiast, but it appears so is LoConti Alcocer. It’s a good thing, too, because what says “classical” better than the Bard?

Run time 2:45 with a 10 minute intermission.   

“Hamlet” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at Irish Classical Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Ragtime’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “Ragtime” at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Michael Walline.

If you’re even a passive musical theater fan, you certainly know the phenomenon that is “Ragtime”. The production running at MusicalFare shows the unfortunate reality that I’m sure motivated the decision to stage it: we need “Ragtime,” now more than ever.

. . .we need “Ragtime,” now more than ever.

The original Broadway production garnered 12 Tony Award nominations, winning for Book, Score, Orchestrations, and of course Audra McDonald’s third Tony award in four years. In the opening number, we meet Father and Mother, who live in a symbolic and literal “house on a hill” with their son Edgar, Grandfather (Mother’s father), and her Younger Brother. Then, we meet Coalhouse Walker Jr., the darling of the Harlem musical renaissance called ragtime. Finally, we meet immigrant Tateh and his little girl, coming to the “land of opportunity.” The story evolves from there, a weaving narrative full of emotion written by some of the best in the business (Ahrens & Flaherty’s score and Terrence McNally’s book have long been my favorite in the MT canon).

MusicalFare’s intimate performance space presents challenges with a show “Ragtime’s” magnitude, but as usual Chris Cavanagh is not to be deterred. His set is creative and simple, making good use of the space. Director Randall Kramer has created a clear vision for this reduced ensemble production, but Michael Walline’s choreography breathes life into the vision. As mentioned, the ensemble in this production is significantly reduced from the original Broadway, and even the 2009 revival, though the design and aesthetic match closely with that revival. The smaller ensemble does not lack in vocal power, and the most poignant moment of the evening comes in the Act One finale “Til We Meet That Day,” especially due to the soaring vocals of Alexandria Watts. They’re a strength of this production.

The principals of this production carry the show as they should. MusicalFare regular (the usher behind me very loudly reminded me) Marc Sacco is terrific in the role of Father, a difficult role at that. Stevie Jackson lives in a world of vaudeville as Evelyn Nesbit. Ricky Needham’s tenor is clear as a bell as Younger Brother, and he conveys the tortured soul that is Younger Brother with ease. Lorenzo Shawn Parnell and Dominique Kempf are vocally proficient, but we miss some of the passion that would indicate their history. Particularly impressive, however, are the turns of Chrissy Vogric-Hunnell and Kyle Baran as Mother and Tateh, respectively. Vogric-Hunnell’s take on “Back to Before” is worth the wait to get to it; her voice soars without feeling forced or artificial, and she earned a well-deserved ovation afterwards. Baran is emotionally connected to the material in a way that immediately draws the audience’s eye, he’s in his element for certain. Charmagne Chi, as is frequently the case, steals the show as Emma Goldman, and that isn’t at all a criticism. If anything, she proves how fit she is for this profession.

But the flaw with this production (and perhaps I’m more critical due to my affinity for “Ragtime”) is the orchestra, or in this case the lack thereof. Don’t get me wrong, the musicians are more than proficient. This score simply isn’t something you can justifiably reduce to two pianos and a percussionist and achieve the same effect. Many of the emotional moments in the show fall short without an orchestra. In addition, most of the tempos in this evening’s performance seemed rushed to the point of losing some of the acting moments. I lost out on one of the most powerful moments in the show, “Journey On,” because the trio of actors barely had time to get their phrases out. I’m not a musician by trade, and this is one man’s opinion, but the show seriously suffers due to lack of orchestra, more so than other MusicalFare productions with reduced orchestrations.

Running Time: 2 hours 35 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

“Ragtime” runs until March 17, 2019 and is presented at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The holiday season is upon us, whether we like it or not, and this weekend was a perfect snowy setting to attend “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre. Welcomed immediately into the world of Jane Austen by an inspired set design at the hands of Bethany Kasperek, the atmosphere felt almost anticipatory. Years of readers are familiar with these characters, and Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have breathed new life into the “Pride and Prejudice” heroine and her sisters, two years later.

You’ll regret missing this production. 

The entire Bennet family will be joining the Darcys at their home at Pemberley for the holidays; Mary, Jane and her husband Charles Bingley (with Jane expecting their first child), and the effervescent Lydia, traveling (much to Mary’s relief) separately. Mr. Darcy receives news they are to be joined by Arthur deBourgh, newly the master of an estate though he’d much prefer to stay at Oxford. And so, the Darcy home will be filled for Christmas.

As Mary Bennet, heroine of this story, Alexandria Watts is exquisitely charming and confident, equal parts wit and melancholy, but always sure of herself. It’s clear Mary is beginning to feel alone and excluded, especially from her married older sisters. Watts is nothing short of captivating in her RLTP debut, bringing humor and strength to her portrayal.

Amy Feder, also making her RLTP debut, is a delightful Elizabeth Darcy. She is particularly strong in the opening scene with her husband, who is incredulous as to the presence of a Christmas tree inside the house. It’s a German tradition, of course, but he can’t remember becoming German.

Buffalo theatergoers will recognize Todd Benzin, who in this production is playing Feder’s husband. He carries himself, both physically and vocally, in a commanding way, yet brings a gentleness to his portrayal of Austen’s heartthrob.

The Bingleys, enamored with their impending parenthood, are ably captured by Rosa Fernandez and Darryl Semira. Fernandez carries herself in the role of Jane with the experience of older sister bringing an almost matriarchal touch to her performance; it adds a subtlety to Jane’s character I quite enjoyed. Semira, too, is a performer you can’t help but watch. He and Benzin, masters of physical technique, make easy work of each moment given; a subtle look, casually sinking into armchairs in unison. They’re seasoned actors, in an experience sense, and it shows.

As Lydia, the bubbly socialite of the Bennet sisters, Brittany Bassett is terrific as well. She doesn’t have an easy task – Lydia is energetic ad nauseum, which Bassett has managed to capture with a characterization which literally bounces her around the stage, even while bringing humanity to her portrayal. Tracy Snyder ably captures Anne deBourgh, an unannounced visitor and relative of Arthur’s.

All of these performances allow for an unbelievably diverse ensemble that unites as one to carry along this story, so to single out one seems irresponsible. That being said, Nick Stevens might actually have walked straight out of an Austen novel and onto the stage as Arthur deBourgh. He’s exactly what you’d imagine in an Austen male: witty, charmingly awkward (or is it awkwardly charming), tall, dark, handsome…et cetera. He embodies Arthur deBourgh, and sparks fly almost immediately between Stevens and Watts. You know their romance is inevitable almost from their first meeting, and so you almost yell at them from the audience to figure it out for themselves. Stevens is almost barely acting here, this type of piece comes so naturally to him that he’s able to expose Arthur’s soul with ease.

All of these wonderful actors, dressed beautifully by Jenna Damberger, benefit immeasurably from Katie Mallinson’s elegant direction. She’s RLTP’s resident dramturg, so period pieces are kind of her “thing” and she’s right at home. Her vision is clear and concise, it truly feels like we’re looking into an 1815 portrait of England, aided by excellent dialect coaching by Jennifer Toohey. Mallinson has managed to keep a very diverse audience on the edge of their seat, and the pace and flow never slows because she’s smartly added vignette scene changes that tie the scenes together. Mallinson is a young director whose work has been and continues to be sharp, creative, and fresh. This production is no exception.

If you’re perusing Netflix for a Christmas movie, or you’re glued to the Hallmark channel this season, I encourage you to turn off the console and get over the Shea’s 710 to see this unbelievable production. It’s the perfect family show, perfect holiday show, and the spacious auditorium will feel all the more inviting and welcoming when filled with a couple hundred other supporters of live theater in snowy Buffalo (or Pemberley). You’ll regret missing this production.

Running Time: 2 hours plus a 10 minute intermission.

“Miss Bennett – Christmas At Pemberly” runs until December 23, 2018, is produced by Road Less Traveled Productions, and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: “Into The Woods’ at the Lockport Palace Theatre

“Into the Woods” was thrust back into the cultural spotlight with the 2014 feature film starring a colorful cast of Hollywood and Broadway performers. It weaves numerous fairy tales into one flowing narrative, an emotional roller coaster. Lockport Palace Theatre, taking a step forward in their own story with a beautiful internal restoration and remodeling, presents the Sondheim classic with a well-staged and comprehensive production.

. . .[an] efficient and successful production.

“Into the Woods” only works when there are no weak links, when the entire ensemble is strong. The Palace has assembled an extremely capable cast, made up almost entirely of Palace regulars. Serving as the story’s Narrator, Jon May takes the audience along for a ride into the fairy tale world, aided by an unbelievable set design. May understands the nuances of the comedy and has the audience in the palm of his hand from the first chord. The story centers around the Baker (Bobby Cooke), the Baker’s Wife (Kelly Ersing), Jack (Zach Thomas), Little Red (Rheanna Gallego), and Cinderella (Emily Prucha). All these primary characters must travel into the woods in search of something. In the Baker and his wife’s case, to reverse a spell placed on their family by the next-door Witch (Taylor Carlson) that has kept them childless. The story evolves from here, detailing triumphs and tribulations in the journey of these main characters.

As the Baker and Baker’s Wife, Cook and Ersing are a perfect pair. Cooke has an indescribable charm in this role and brings an honest and organic portrayal to the character; we believe he will do anything to get a child, and yet he puts the feelings of others before himself, even when it means sacrificing a necessary item to lift their curse. The role sits right in his vocal range and makes for wonderful renditions of the Sondheim score. He is particularly good in his Act Two “No More.” Ersing is his match in every way. She is a stellar singer and can handle the serious moments too; her “Moments in the Woods” is a master class. Thomas handles Jack’s naivety well, without creating a caricature, and is a capable singer to boot. Gallego is perfect for the role of Little Red, she manages to play both the “sour” and “sweet” of the storybook child who loves to snack. Gallego brings depth to the character from the get-go, which is uncommon in most portrayals. Finally, Prucha’s Cinderella channels more Anna Kendrick (film) than Kim Crosby (Original Broadway); she’s a modern woman for sure. In this performance, I felt Prucha took a few scenes to warm up to her usual sharpness, but her Act Two was extremely strong. She’s off to get her wish and ends up marrying the less than charming Prince (Ricky Needham). He and his brother (Jackson DiGiacomo) are the stereotypical spoiled princes, but Needham especially brings humanity to the Prince. He is to be commended, as this is no easy task; the audience is supposed to dislike the Prince in Act Two, but Needham at least creates understanding.

Though all these performances are strong, the real standout of the evening is Taylor Carlson. She’s had terrific performances at the Palace before, but this one transcends even her normal successes. Everything is well rehearsed, tight, and executed almost flawlessly. She is an unbelievable vocal powerhouse, but she possesses a subtlety in this role I’ve not seen in her work before. This is clearly a dream role for her, and she plays it with a dream-like quality. It’s worth the price of admission itself.

“Into the Woods” is a wonderful piece of theater that is very difficult to execute with absolute perfection. My only complaint with the Palace production is one I can potentially attribute to only being two performances in. I felt like the pit was below performance quality; I heard frequent mistakes and jumbled tempos, which affected the actors onstage in turn. This was a small blip in an otherwise efficient and successful production.

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

“Into The Woods” runs untilNovember 11, 2018 and is presented at The Lockport Palace Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The 3 Musketeers’ by All For One Theatrical Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

“The 3 Musketeers,” the Alexandre Dumas classic, is a story that has numerous incarnations since it was written in 1844. There have been numerous film adaptations, including the 1993 Disney film starring Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, and Tim Curry. Presented by All for One Theatrical Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre, a stage adaptation has taken the Buffalo theater scene by storm.

. . .a successful inaugural production for All for One Theatrical Productions. . .

First and foremost, the fact that this production has been mounted at all is a success for Buffalo theater. All for One Theatrical Productions is a collaboration of five titans of the Buffalo theater industry: Irish Classical Theatre Company, MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Shea’s 710 Theatre, and Theatre of Youth. The collaboration celebrates the ongoing effort by Buffalo theaters to join the current renaissance in Buffalo, and Mayor Byron Brown and his wife were in the audience of last evening’s packed opening performance.

Chris Kelly is at the directorial helm of this monstrous production, featuring some of Buffalo’s premier talent. It is significant that Kelly is directing, as he’s able to pull the best out of what is, in my opinion, an almost unredeemable script. The adaptation by Linda Alper is awkward to say the least, with almost no development for any of the principal characters. Enter Kelly, aided by dramaturg Katie Mallinson, and the story becomes enjoyable. The real strength of the production, however, lies in the masterful swordfights, choreographed by Steve Vaughan. Every actor has a part of these massive brawls, and each actor shines in Vaughan’s inventive and informed choreography.

Patrick Cameron is this production’s D’Artagnan, the young Gascon who desires to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Musketeer. He understands the balance of brashness, blind desire for justice, and a spirit of camaraderie that are essential to the portrayal and has significant charm to boot. As the titular Musketeers, Christopher Avery, Anthony Alcocer, and Steve Copps command the stage and embrace each character’s specific personification. Avery is the philosopher Athos, who has a dark and storied past that has made him cynical in his wit. He carries the subtext well, supplementing the somewhat lacking textual development. Alcocer is Aramis, the Musketeer who aspires to become a priest but is held back by his corporal passions. Alcocer plays the duality, with a specifically capable handling of a scene in the second act at a monastery, where he insists he’s staying committed to becoming a Jesuit…until D’Artagnan shows him letters from the women he’d left behind. Copps embodies the braggart Porthos with ease. He’s a master of comedy, using the somewhat out of place asides to the audience to his advantage. The three, along with Cameron, are not only experts at presenting camaraderie, but convincing Musketeer swordsmen. As their captain, however, Fisher leaves a little to be desired by way of vocal clarity and diction; his booming voice could easily fill the space, but he does not make use of it nearly enough.

In villainous turns, Chris Hatch and Kate LoConti are strong as Rochefort and Countess de Winter, respectively. Hatch is the Cardinal’s muscle and handles that role well, intimidating the Musketeers with his swordplay and the overarching power of the Cardinal. LoConti has a knack for mysterious women on stage and does nearly all the work by way of character development herself. As Cardinal Richelieu, Peter Palmisano is strong. You can tell he has an agenda, but he isn’t telegraphing his agenda to the audience; there’s no mustache twirling here. Perhaps my favorite performance of the night, though, comes by way of Jordan Levin. Levin has proven himself a versatile actor in the past, but he really excels in this production. His King Louis is comedic mastery, a romp through scenes laced with foppery and an understanding that the world yields to him, but he brings some humanity as well.

Ultimately, this production entertains despite the script’s weaknesses, and it’s a successful inaugural production for All for One Theatrical Productions. If anything, the success is stronger due to Kelly and his cast transcending the piece itself and presenting an entertaining and compelling night of theater. It runs through November 18th at 710. The production was 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 20 minute intermission.

Theatre Review: ‘A Bronx Tale The Musical’ at RBTL Auditorium Theatre

When someone mentions A Bronx Tale, it almost inevitably elicits a response from those gathered around. It started as a one-man show featuring Chazz Palminteri, whose real-life story the narrative mirrors. He also created the character of Sonny in the acclaimed film, a directorial debut for Robert DeNiro (who also starred as Lorenzo, Calogero’s father) So when adapting the film, it makes sense that Palminteri and DeNiro be involved. Together with Alan Menken and Glenn Slater, Palminteri has done a wonderful job with that adaptation. DeNiro and Broadway legend Jerry Zaks co-directed the Broadway production, which has started its national tour in Rochester, NY in the beautiful RBTL Auditorium Theatre.

. . . the national tour of ‘A Bronx Tale’ is a blessing.

‘I had the pleasure of seeing the Broadway production twice, once two days before the opening night performance, and once about a month before the production received its closing notice. Both times I saw the production, Chazz was not only present but engaged with every SINGLE fan who approached him. It’s clear he loves this show. The love for the material reflects in this national tour production, from directors and creative team to swings and ensemble members. This is no doubt aided by the fact that eleven members of the twenty-seven person cast were involved with the production on Broadway. The ensemble has endless energy, and each member of the cast is on the same page with the “Bronx style” humor of the book; sometimes loud, sometimes crude, always honest. Palminteri’s book has traces of the film, and it pops. It feels organic and real. Menken’s music is good enough to outshine some of Slater’s campier lyrics, which might be the only weakness to the show.

As the adult Calogero, who also serves as the show’s narrator, Joey Barreiro is the right balance of edgy and virtuous. He approaches the part with a wide-eyed eagerness that works to humanize “C” in a way I don’t know if I’ve noticed before. His juvenile self, played in this production by Frankie Leoni, is a plum role for a young male on Broadway. The actor must be a true triple threat, and Leoni is up to the challenge. His performance benefits from being honed on Broadway.

Joe Barbara, as Sonny, is also fresh from the Broadway production. He is a softer Sonny than I’ve seen and reads closer in age to Chazz than original Broadway Sonny Nick Cordero. That being said, I appreciate Barbara not playing the caricature and really diving in to the material to find new moments. As Calogero’s forbidden love interest Jane, Brianna-Marie Bell’s powerful voice soars through Menken’s score. She’s the paragon of a healthy and powerful singer, and her duet with Barreiro in Act Two is a performance highlight.

All these excellent performances aside, the one that captivated me on Broadway was that of Richard H. Blake. Now I’ll admit that my bias is at work here, Blake is one of the most genuine performers and human beings I’ve had the privilege of interacting with. Blake’s reprisal of his Broadway role, Lorenzo,  stops the show. His rousing call to Calogero at the end of Act One to shun the life of “These Streets” is not only well-sung, but transitions seamlessly between dialogue and song. Blake tackles Lorenzo with ease, his real-life fatherhood no doubt informing some of his scenes with the young Leoni. Helping his character development along is Michelle Aravena as Calogero’s mother, Rosina in her Act Two “Look to Your Heart (reprise)” Aravena is a skilled singer and performer, and the family chemistry between Barreiro, Blake, and Aravena is exactly what Palminteri intended in his book.

All in all, the national tour of A Bronx Tale is a blessing. The show didn’t run nearly long enough on Broadway, in my opinion, so the opportunity to see the production again in person was one I jumped at. If you’re okay with significant adult language and situations, you should jump as well.

Running Time: 2 hours 5 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“A Bronx Tale The Musical” runs until October 21, 2018 and is presented at the RBTL Auditorium Theatre in Rochester. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: Disney’s ‘Mary Poppins’ at Theatre in the Mist

It’s no great secret that Disney has really expanded their outreach by venturing into live theater. Since the success of “The Lion King” and the expansion of the famous “Beauty and the Beast” live show into a full-length musical, theatergoers everywhere have enjoyed both amateur and professional productions of their favorite Disney classics. “Mary Poppins” is certainly no exception to the rule, and so I traveled to the beautiful Niagara Falls High School auditorium to take in Theatre in the Mist’s production.

. . .the Theatre in the Mist production of “Mary Poppins” will have Disney parents and children alike happy they attended.

I want to preface this review by saying this: there is a definitive line to be drawn between the professional theaters in Buffalo and the community theaters in Buffalo when it comes to “dramatic criticism.” One is not better than the other, they are simply separate mediums. In my eyes, it is the intent of the performer that draws the distinction. In “professional” theater, actors are paid, usually a decent sum, for their performances; the product is expected to have a higher quality. In “community” theater, usually actors are participating as a hobby; every member of the production works just as hard, but it’s more about having fun. It’s the difference between competitive recreational league sports and a pickup game, if I can make a sports analogy.

Theatre in the Mist has been offering quality community theater to Niagara County for several years now, so I was extremely excited to see their take on this classic. They’ve assembled a team of performers with varying backgrounds to bring this extremely tech-heavy production to life. Aided by the NFHS’ state of the art facility, TITM makes a valiant effort at “Mary Poppins.” They’ve rented costumes, which are first rate, and they’ve managed to faithfully execute some of the “tricks” that made the show so successful on Broadway. Mary flying across the stage to end Act One will never fail to impress me. While TITM has designed some beautiful sets, their magnitude made for some opening night snafus. That being said, the production makes the most out of the space they’re afforded.

As far as performances go, Erin Coyle is well worth the drive. I’d heard talk that this is a dream role for her, and there’s no wonder why. She’s (and I hate myself for making this pun) “practically perfect in every way.” Corey Bieber as the lovable chimney sweep Bert is equally well-cast. Bert is given additionally responsibilities as the audience’s narrator in the musical, and Bieber handles it well. He’s also a consummate song-and-dance man, channeling his Van Dyke for sure. Particularly impressive in this production is its strong ensemble, featuring a number of excellent dancers. There is a scene involving dancing statues that was particularly satisfying. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Alex Gentile, who seems to be made of rubber. His physical comedy skills are well beyond his years, and he’s destined to play Cosmo Brown in “Singin’ in the Rain.”

All in all, the Theatre in the Mist production of “Mary Poppins” will have Disney parents and children alike happy they attended. Once the show tightens up (Act One ran closer to two hours than one and a half) it is bound to leave audiences humming and “stepping in time” out of the auditorium.

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

“Mary Poppins” runs until September 22, 2018 and is produced by Theatre In The Mist. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Pump Boys & Dinettes’ at MusicalFare Theatre

The cast of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” at MusicalFare Theatre. Photo by Doug Weyand.

There’s a palpable excitement in the air in the Buffalo theater community…it’s Curtain Up season! Theaters across Buffalo are putting their best foot forward and presenting a show as part of the annual celebration of the Community, taking place this year on Friday, September 14th! MusicalFare’s offering is “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” a musical revue which takes audiences “down on Highway 57” to an auto shop and diner. Members of the cast directly involve the audience as they provide insight into what it means to be a “pump boy,” filling up gas for the cars that stop in, or a waitress at the adjacent “dinette.” The show itself has little plot to speak of, but MusicalFare’s production makes the best of what’s there with some quality musicianship and a fun-loving approach.

As a night of theater goes, MusicalFare has provided one as enjoyable as they come.

The obvious strength to the MusicalFare production of “Pump Boys & Dinettes” is the multi-instrumentalists that make up the ensemble. The group, specifically the “pump boys,” play almost every instrument at least once. As Jim, the “host” of the evening, Ryan Kaminski is the perfect country guy, with a guitar in hand and dream in heart. Kaminski is in his element, he’s a singer-songwriter himself, so he lets the music tell the story. He’s at his best when Jim sings a touching tribute to his grandmother, who has passed away. Kaminski gets in a rotation on bass and piano as well. Supporting Kaminski at the station are pump boys Eddie, L.M, and Jackson. As the quiet and reserved L.M, Joseph Donohue III is certainly enjoying himself. He makes the most of the character; an ad lib here, a take to one of the waitresses there. As previously mentioned, there’s not much by way of libretto in this show. It succeeds when the characters are having fun telling stories and playing songs. Donohue is having fun doing both. He plays the heck out of the piano, and manages to work a guitar, accordion, and fiddle into his rotation as well. Andrew J. Reimers and Jayson Clark, both members of Local 92 AFM (musician’s union) are terrific in their supporting roles and are accomplished players of pretty much every instrument you can think of to support the evening’s country, blues, and rockabilly styles. Clark is especially engaging while playing slide guitar.

As far as the waitresses go, Maria Droz and Jaclyn Lisenby Brown provide a good blend of humor and storytelling by song. Brown is an accomplished vocalist and is obviously very comfortable with this style of music. Droz is known for her roles as comedienne, but her voice packs a powerful punch. She’s in her element too, showing off a distinct triple threat, especially in a specialty tap number. She also serves a hilarious turn as Dolly Parton in a hilarious Donohue ballad, T.N.D.P.W.A.M. (The Night Dolly Parton Was Almost Mine). I felt, however, that both Brown and Droz were at times too heavily choreographed, which led to Brown occasionally appearing under-rehearsed in the choreography. This was, I’m sure, the by-product of seeing an opening night performance.

As a night of theater goes, MusicalFare has provided one as enjoyable as they come. Expect to be entertained without having to think too much, which is just what the doctor ordered. The performers are truly singer-actors, and when all six of them are singing together, they’ve accomplished a blend that’s hard to come by. They’re enjoying performing together, and that’s the best kind of show for an audience to watch. If you have 90 minutes (including a 15-minute intermission!) check out “Pump Boys & Dinettes,” running through October 7th at MusicalFare.

Running Time: 90 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

“Pump Boys & Dinettes” runs until October 7, 2018 and is presented at MusicalFare Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Run For Your Wife’ by Lancaster Regional Players at Lancaster Opera House

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The best thing in any theater community, especially Buffalo’s unique community, are the organizations made up of local professionals who act for the love of theater. Lancaster Regional Players have been presenting community theater for 52 years, and they’ve collaborated with the Lancaster Opera House to present the British farce “Run For Your Wife.” The play centers around a taxi driver, living a double life. He lives happily with his wife, Mary, in Wimbledon. He also lives happily with his wife, Barbara, four and a half minutes away! When he steps in to stop a mugging, he is hit in the head and taken to hospital. The situation begins to unravel when John gives both of his addresses in the course of the incident’s investigation.

“. . .the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.”

The production definitely stays true to its community theater roots, marking the nonmusical debut of one of the actors in the company. Lancaster Regional Players have picked a play that, in my opinion, is dated in some of its humor, but manage to do a decent job in putting it on. David Hall, the director, does his best with a flawed piece of theater, and does a serviceable job with the difficult style that is farce.

Leading this production as John Smith, Scot Kaitanowski shines. As a veteran of numerous productions here in Buffalo, Kaitanowski has a natural knack for comedy. He handles the fast-paced dialogue with ease, and his organic reactions add the extra flair necessary to make the script work.

Joel Murphy, playing John’s Wimbledon upstairs neighbor and assistant in protecting his double life, is the right combination of charming and quick-thinking. Murphy’s greatest strength is his commitment to the character and the comedy; however, he might learn a bit from Kaitanowski in the art of physical reaction.

Rounding out the cast soundly are Suzie Hibbard as Mary Smith and Amy Feder as Barbara Smith. Both ladies are extremely apt in their roles, rolling with the craziness that ensues from the situation unravelling.

In the roles of the police sergeants, Victor Morales and Jackson DiGiacomo are excellent straight men to the farce happening around them. Chuck Basil rounds out the cast as the upstairs neighbor, a 70s stereotype of a homosexual man. Basil conveys the stereotype well, but is unable to bring any kind of humanity to his, by 2017 standards, offensive stereotype. This seems to me like a script fault, so Basil’s performance can hardly by critiqued for it.

All in all, David Hall’s direction has brought the best parts of the flawed “Run For Your Wife” script forward, but it seems to me most of the actors are working against a dated script, especially as it relates to the homosexuality element of the story. That being said, the comedy triumphs, and the audience thoroughly enjoyed the farcical hilarity of the evening.

Running Time: Approximately 2 hours with one 15 minute intermission.

“Run For Your Wife” runs until May 21, 2017, is produced by Lancaster Regional Players and is presented at the Lancaster Opera House in Lancaster. For more information, click here.