Anastasia is a Feast for the Eyes at Shea’s

I’ll say this straight up: suspend all your thoughts about present day Russia and erase your knowledge about the Russian Revolution and the urban myths behind Princess Anastasia dead or alive (maybe).  Instead embrace the idea that the two plus hours you’ll spend in Shea’s Performing Arts Center seeing Anastasia The New Broadway Musical is a charming fairy tale about hope and perseverance with a great score, stunning scenography, and beautiful costumes.

This production is the stage version of the popular 1997 film that is (very) vaguely based on the fall of the Romanov Empire of Imperialist Russia circa 1917. In brief, the people revolt against their austere living conditions vis a vis the royal family’s lavish lifestyle and the Tsar, his bride, and their children are killed after the Tsar’s mother – the Dowager Empress – escapes to Paris. Only one daughter – Anastasia – survives, albeit traumatized and suffering from amnesia. Rumors of her life are widely circulated on the street, and two shady sorts decide to audition girls to pose as the young Princess, bring her to Paris to reunite with her beloved Dowager Nana, and reap the ruples of reward. Unbeknownst to them, the scrappy, hard-working street-sweeping waif they meet is Anastasia herself, and while she is tutored by a former gentleman of the court to adopt royal ways, her old memories begin to return.  The Terrence McNally book throws in a couple fun plot twists for interest along with some laughably loveable characters.

Revisionist history notwithstanding, this production is visually stunning. The sets are lush and are beautifully augmented with spectacular video of old St. Petersburg, the Hermitage, and a breathtaking ride up the Eiffel Tour. The video helps advance the years from 1906 up to 1927 and the scenery and fashion change accordingly. It’s all seamless and lovely. Anastasia’s flashbacks and dreams are illusions that come to life, too.  There’s even a simulated train ride from Russia through Poland to the outskirts of Paris where the (one) train car appears to turn and bank and jerk along. Scene purists will balk that we only see that solitary car in what we assume to be a longer train, but hey, it’s all about point of view. Once the trio gets to Paris, they mingle with Russian emigres and in a truly special moment, there’s a beautiful ballet sequence with excerpts from Swan Lake. The Tchaikovsky score is nicely performer by two keyboards, a small ensemble orchestra, and an exquisite quartet of dancers.

There are some truly stand-out moments. Kyla Stone as Anastasia has a rich and full voice that is perfect for the Stephen Flaherty-Lynn Aherns score. Gleb, the military man who is on a mission to find Anastasia is expertly played by Brandon Delgado: his music conservatory training is well-used here for sure. My favorite moment of theatre magic is in the opening scene. The Royal Family is joyously dancing and little Anastasia lifted by her father as years turn from 1906 to 1917. While father and daughter twirl and spin, an older Anastasia is in her father’s arms right before your eyes. Yes, I was paying attention and no, I had no idea how the transition happened.

So it’s not authentic history and the story is a little thin, there is such joy on the stage, just go with it and be swept up by the gltiz and glam. It’s plenty of fun with a dash of romance, too.

A few gentle warnings: the show runs just shy of three hours with one intermission (cue the fanny fatigue). The lighting is spectacular for sure, but there are some flashing strobe lights in the first act which some folks may find bothersome. And “Journey to the Past” (originally nominated for best song in the 1997 Academy Awards) with its tricky syncopation and key modulations can easily become a fine earworm.  Details and tickets at www.sheas.org.

‘Riverdance’ visit’s Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The 25th Anniversary Show of Riverdance made its way to Shea’s Buffalo Theatre this past weekend with three Buffalo-natives in the cast. This thrilling addition was the cause of several mid-show standing ovations like I’ve never seen before! The excitement filled the air for Erin Lynch, Fiona Dargan, and Kevinah Dargan along with the rest of the incredibly talented cast and production team.

The original Riverdance that premiered at The Point Theatre Dublin 25 years ago has been reimagined in this captivating anniversary show with new additions in lighting, stage designs, costuming, and music. This theatrical show consists mainly of traditional Irish music and dance with occasional features of flamenco, Russian folk dance, and American tap. Even if you aren’t particularly knowledgeable about dance, you’re sure to be fascinated by the effortless movement on stage accompanied with complex rhythms and incredible musical talents. As a dancer myself (primarily trained in classic ballet pointe), I found this performance all the more interesting from a technical point of view. 

Irish Dance and Ballet differ in many ways, but also have a great number of parallels. For example, the idea of having principal dancers backed by a troupe or corpse is the same as well as the overall goal of making even the most intricate routines appear easy and light. Something that differed that I particularly enjoyed was the air of confidence and attitude possessed by the female dancers. Instead of having to appear dainty, sweet, and fragile as is often the goal in ballet, these Irish dancers present themselves with sass, flair, and empowerment. The way they move across the stage is almost unreal in that they just seem to float from one place to another with such speed and power. 

The musicians of this production, especially Emma Frampton, Tara Howley, and Haley Richardson, are extremely talented and make their instrumental “face-offs” exceedingly enjoyable to watch. It seems like everyone is having fun and is so passionate about what they do that you can feel it as an audience member. The Riverdance Singers have the traditional, angelic voices we equate to celtic music that transcends you to the peaceful rolling hills of Ireland and eases your mind so you can only focus on the beauty of their sound. 

The audience continued to be an active participant throughout the show, getting involved with clapping, cheering, and reacting to the performance. The buzz of energy and delight that filled the theatre was unlike anything I’d felt before when attending a typical Shea’s season show. Perhaps it was the attendance of all of the Rince Na Tierne dancers- past and present, young and old- that created such a buzz. The feeling of seeing the possibility of your dreams coming true and turning your hard work and passions into a career like the dancers on stage is made even more achievable and palpable. 

Overall, this is an exciting show you won’t want to miss. Even if you think you’ve seen it before, you’ve never seen it like this! If you missed it in Buffalo, it’s headed to New Brunswick, NJ next. Definitely worth the day trip- you won’t be disappointed! 

For more information, click here.

Berserker Is an Ursine-Driven Love Story

If a bear dances in the woods, will a teacher find true love?

Berserker, on stage now at Alleyway Theatre, is full of similar existential questions, with a killer Led Zeppelin soundtrack, too.

This was a 2019 Maxim Mazumdar New Play Competition winner for good reason. Playwright Bruce Walsh created a quirky, complex, endearing set of characters in a multi-layered love story with some interesting twists.

Pete Green (Patrick Cameron) is a teacher who set off to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, leaving his lady (not his wife, we hear repeatedly) Vicky (Kelly Copps) at home.  They share a home, a daughter, and a profession, and this brief respite doesn’t seem foreboding. While Vicky is relishing some quiet time listening to Chopin, Pete is spooked when he sees a bear. And then he wanders off-trail onto private property and is spooked a second time when he hears a voice coming from the birdfeeder/trail cam, first singing Zeppelin’s 1969 megahit “Whole Lotta Love” and then admonishing him for trespassing onto private property. Seems he’s stumbled onto the grounds of LeiberCraft, a multiplayer gaming platform tech company. He’s intrigued by the voice in the birdhouse. They faux-flirt around their shared Led-Head obsession until she finally directs him off-grounds. Back home with Vicky, he decides to leave his traditional classroom gig to pursue a teaching job with one student – the LeiberCraft founding 12 year old gaming wizard named Mason – and perhaps a spark a relationship with Soojin the voice in the birdfeeder (Sara Kow-Falcone), the corporate attorney who signs him to the gig. This is the start of the real love story; between teacher and student, and between music-lovers who get swept away, and between a boy and a bear and fast-food left overs.

Director Robyn Lee Horn got her casting exactly right with this group. Cameron is wonderfully focused as the bear-phobic teacher in heart and mind turmoil and in charge of the frenetic Mason (Haleigh Curr).

Curr’s physical comedy is outstanding, scaling a desk to back-bend off it seconds later. Blurting out expletives in one minute, and then pensively pondering the next-level thinking behind why Pete is using Beowulf as a lesson. Curr is an amazing young talent cast in a pretty extraordinary role.

Kow-Falcone is fierce-tender as Soojin the lawyer with a compelling backstory that sneaks into the plot in bits and pieces. Copps as Vicky, the non-wife and mother to Pete’s daughter, is gentle and strong as she moves on with her life while Pete makes other choices. Watch her face and her body language: her subtle gestures are as in-your-face as a Robert Plant falsetto.

The technical team did a masterful job in staging this work. Emma Schimminger’s lighting scheme complemented Collin Ranney’s three-place set beautifully with some fun surprises. Nicholas Quinn designed a great soundscape that reminded that Zeppelin’s “All Of My Love” is still my favorite.

Full disclosure: I didn’t love the ending. I felt the last five minutes or so spun an incredible plot into some odd places. Hey, not-quite-mid-life crises happen, and they aren’t all weird. Up to that point, the story was a unique and powerful examination of the power of music to attract and influence our decisions and choices. And that love and belief in someone else can change lives. Or to put it in Zeppelin-speak,”there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run, there’s still time to change the road you’re on.”

Berserker runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission, on stage to April 23. When you visit www.alleyway.com to book your seats, click over to www.alleyway.com/education to learn more about a powerful student engagement on April 20, #Enough Plays to End Gun Violence, and Buffalo’s role in this national effort.

Tepid Passion in Stage Kiss

Despite what the timeless song says, sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss. Sometimes a kiss stirs up memories, emotions, and things that have no place coming to light again. That’s the heart of Stage Kiss, presented by the Irish Classical Theatre Company now to April 24.

Playwright Sarah Ruhl’s examination of what happens when lips lock is one of those farcical “plays within a play” where actors are playing actors and then they act out. In this case, He (Guy Balotine) and She (Tracie Lane) are ex-lovers who – after a lengthy interval – find themselves playing lovers onstage in a stilted 1930s revival of a show called “The Last Kiss.” She had left the boards to raise her daughter. He is a rather hapless sort who hasn’t figured out how to grow as an actor or a person. Their stage kiss leads them back into each other’s orbit to the shock of She’s husband (Rolando Gomez) and the dismay of their teen daughter (Christine Turturro). He has a partner, too, sweetly played by Marisa Caruso who briefly tumbles into the arms of She’s jilted husband. The only one who appears to be winning is the Director of “The Last Kiss” (Greg Howze) who moves on to write a play that’s perfect for He and She’s encore performance far off in Detroit. The twist is that this production proves their stage kiss is just a folly and – as in all good rom-coms – true love will prevail.

I didn’t enjoy this production nearly as much as I did the Shaw Festival’s production of it back in 2018. Even under Fortunato Pezzimenti’s skillful direction, the story dragged and felt sloggy. Paul Bostaph’s set captured “The Last Kiss” low budget ethos well enough, as well as He’s grungy apartment. Lane and Balotine – fine and accomplished actors as they are – didn’t seem to connect convincingly in their roles and their conversations felt stilted and over-articulated.  Two bright spots were Gomez as the husband: he was charming and cunning in a good way, and Turturro as She and Husband’s daughter Angela. Turturro’s Angela was the perfect specimen of teen wisdom (not unlike her 2019 role in Road Less Traveled Productions’ The Undeniable Sound of Right Now.) In one breath she is expounding her thoughts on real love and commitment and in one moment she’s content to munch a PB&J sandwich.

I did enjoy that little bit of whimsy that closed the show: in a nod to Fox sitcom Call Me Kat, the cast danced their curtain call to the iconic Prince tune “Kiss,” performed lounge-act-style by…wait for it…Tom Jones, I think. I seriously loved Gomez’s jubilant bell kick as he leapt from the stage.

Stage Kiss runs an interminable two hours with a 10-minute intermission. I love that ICTC still has a mask and vax policy in place. Thank them when you order your tickets at www.irishclassical.com.

Love and the universe onstage at Shea’s Smith Theatre

If COVID’s theatre blackout period delivered one positive thing, it’s the option for regional theatre companies to successfully present smaller cast, one act productions. As much as I love a full-on, two and a half hour show with an intermission, these one act, two and three-handers are a little slice of stage heaven.

The latest one is Constellations by Nick Payne, beautifully presented by Second Generation Theatre at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

It’s a show of scenes, often repeated multiple times with the same set up, same script, and different outcomes, all skillfully directed by Michael Wachowiak. If you’re a fan of the TV series This Is Us, you’re comfortable in this format of flashbacks and flashforwards, where scenes may not immediately make sense, but coalesce in surprisingly simple and evocative ways.

Actors Kristin Bentley and Chris Avery are Marianne (the physicist) and Roland (the beekeeper), meeting by chance at a friend’s barbecue. This is a love story with a side of physics.  Yes, physics. Not the nerd love of Sheldon Cooper and Amy Farrah Fowler of Big Bang Theory fame. (I know, another TV show touchpoint.) In this show the focus is on the people and the science is backburnered. Love and the universe knit together in a sadly romantic and simply stunning way, because in physics “We have all the time we ever had,” said Marianne.

I think if you would see the script written in a linear, traditional format, perhaps it might only fill a few pages. The repetition – separated by blackouts of varying duration – and the actors’ change of placement give the story an interesting arc that bends like a FM radio wave, wrapping over and around obstacles to reach our listening ears. Wachowiak’s direction here is sublime: the actors move from sitting to standing, stage right to stage left, a step away and 10 paces back, in these spaces between light and dark. Audio effects (the rumble of the Earth’s plates, perhaps) mask their footfalls and movement. It’s like watching still life art come to life.

Bentley and Avery play their roles exceptionally well. Bentley is animated and charming as Marianne, and she focuses like a laser when she talks about science. Avery’s Roland makes notes when he’s describing the world of bees and they bond over their mutual love of order, he for his bees and she for the orders of the universe. She talks about relativity and string theory, he talks about bee habits and how pollen is captured. Their story is sweet, but sometimes the universe has its own plans.

Lighting director Chris Cavanagh also designed the sound and these production elements were as important as the script and actors. Together this ensemble created an exquisite experience.

Constellations is onstage until March 26, running 75 minutes, no intermission, at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Details and tickets at www.secondgenerationtheatre.com.

Photo provided, Mark Duggan Photography

Red Thread Theatre’s Production of The Children

Red Thread Theatre was formed to advance female representation and engagement in all aspects of theatre in Western New York. The company’s current production is a collaboration with the New Phoenix Theatre. The Children – on stage now at the New Phoenix Theatre to March 26 – was written by playwright Lucy Kirkwood and it begs some interesting questions about women, their work, their families, and their priorities in our increasingly complex world.

The Children was inspired by the devastation caused by a tsunami and nuclear power plant meltdown in Japan in 2011. Kirkwood sets her reimagined story on the British coast and centers the action around three former co-workers and the way their lives intersect now and in the past. Husband and wife Hazel (Josephine Hogan) and Robin (Peter Palmisano) are retired from their engineer careers at the nuclear power plant. Their family home was badly damaged by the tsunami and is now vacant and silt-filled within the exclusion zone. They’ve relocated to a small cottage with a limited supply of potable water, erratic electrical service, and faulty country plumbing. When Rose, a former colleague, knocks at the door after a 38 year absence, Hazel is sufficiently surprised to bloody Rose’s nose. Oops. The stilted small talk is halting and labored:  these two superb actors make their characters’ discomfort palpable. Why is this?: that reason is smoldering beneath the surface of British reserve and apprehension. You soon realize this is more than a chance social visit. When Robin arrives after tending to their small patch of farmland, he’s more excited to visit his old pal (“Give us a squeeze,” Robin exclaimed as Hazel glowers) and there’s some obligatory exchanges about old friends and past parties. Rose is evasive about her personal life. Hazel shares some guarded stories about their children: Rose only remembers their eldest daughter Lauren, still a baby when Rose departed for America.  Still Hazel is wary: while she talks of her yoga practice and eating healthy foods, she’s obsessed about the dichotomy between personal growth and death. It’s all very awkward.

Rose has an agenda, too. Well, maybe more than one agenda. She’s rallying the retirees to return to the plant so the younger workers can safely raise their families without threat of contamination. The pretext is that the retirees have a deeper understanding of plant’s operations and history since this was the team that built it, faults and all.

The subtext is a deeper examination of immortality, social responsibility, and the generational transfer of environmental justice, with a shot of “everyone has to die of something sometime” thrown in. In short, it’s a lot to unpack in 90 minutes.

Director Robert Waterhouse does a fine job with this trio of actors, a simple yet evocative set, and some spare and effective stage effects. The final scene’s lighting was elegant: lighting designer Chris Cavanagh got it just right.  

Hogan, Dugan and Palmisano play off each other wonderfully. While the real dynamic is between Rose and Hazel, Palmisano’s Robin is the one in between, trying to break tension with homemade wine and banter, he’s quietly fanning the flames between the two women. Ultimately, their decisions about staying or leaving are quiet and almost uneventful as they forge ahead.

The Children is thought provoking for sure and is certain to spark conversation and reflection on the ride home. It’s meant to be.

The Children runs approximately 90 minutes with no intermission: visit http://www.newphoenixtheatre.org. New Phoenix Theatre requires proof of vaccination and facemasks for all audience members (the printed program says “Vax and a mask, then relax” and we like that). I’m always minorly irked when smoking material is used on stage (ew) and when the printed program has spelling inconsistencies and unclear contact information.

Make Haste to D’Youville Kavinoky

To paraphrase Jane Austen, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that productions at D’Youville Kavinoky Professional Theatre are gorgeously staged and thoroughly enjoyable.”

Well, that’s what this affirmed Janeite thinks about Kate Hamill’s adaptation of the iconic novel Pride & Prejudice on stage now to March 27.

While Hamill took some liberties, they were noble and with purpose to advance the storyline admirably for the stage. Director Kristen Tripp Kelley is no stranger to Austen or Hamill: back in 2019, she was a Dashwood sister in Irish Classical Theatre Company’s production of Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. She also cast S&S alumni Ben Michael Moran and Renee Landrigan and they were fine choices indeed.

If you yawned through your high school assignment to read the book –  only to delight in the British TV series in 1995 (two words: Colin Firth) – which prompted you to read the book again and love every smartly crafted sentence, you will enjoy it all again on stage. Yes, it’s abbreviated but the most delicious moments are here. Moran is wonderfully smug as Mr. Darcy, the proud man who’s in want of a wife who is not his cousin. Landrigan is double cast as Lydia, the silly youngest sister of the Bennet clan and the haughty Lady Catherine DeBourgh. There’s other clever double, n’igh triple, casting here, too. Lissette is both the winsome Jane Bennet and Miss DeBourgh (under layers of black lace). Diane DeBernardo is the easily vexed Mrs. Bennet and the drole servant. Chris Brandjes is the calm father Mr. Bennet and the eager-to-marry Charlotte Lucas. Jake Albarella is Darcy’s best friend Mr. Bingley and Bennet sister Mary. Jake Hayes brings it as creepy Mr. Collins, slightly dodgy Mr. Wickham and Miss Bingley. Yes, there’s some fine gender-bending here and these three actors carry it off superbly. Lest we forget the equally proud Elizabeth Bennet, charmingly played by Gabriella McKinley.  

The whole experience is Regency literature come to life. David King’s set is elegant and complements without competing with theatre’s design. Lindsay Salamone’s costumes are exquisite with rich colors and textures you can see at the back of the house. Robert Cooke choreographs some lovely reels and other period dances to contemporary music played in an early 19th century style. Yes, Journey never sounded so prim and proper. The musicians aren’t identified in the program, but this touch was a delightful aural surprise.   

Even if you don’t lock into the plot (in brief, girls must marry well to save the family’s fate and it’s a mother’s duty make perfect matches her full time raison d’etre), there’s a lot to enjoy here, particularly Albarella, Hayes, and Brandjes in their multiple roles. After missing so much live theatre the past couple years, it’s just good to relax and laugh in this luscious house again.

Pride & Prejudice runs about two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Find details and tickets at www.kavinokytheatre.com.

Families and Cultures Clash in Tribes

Families and cultures: sometimes they connect and sometimes they don’t. Tribes, now on stage at Road Less Traveled Theatre, makes that point very clear.

Playwright Nina Raine crafted an interesting take on a family story. Parents and two of the three adult children are so wrapped up in their own orbits that they chose not to meet youngest son Billy in his unique culture. Billy was born deaf and his family’s choice was to fit him with hearing aids, teach him to read lips, and expect him to fit in. But those who live with a hearing impairment have their own culture, their own way of expressing themselves, that is different from hearing culture. This family, instead of embracing it, shut it down and the consequence is that Billy’s life has its arc. In this family unit, he is often the observer to their twisted family dynamic.

It took me a while and some reflecting to embrace this production for the fine work that it is. At face value, it’s a study in narcissism for the parents and a “finding their way” study for the older siblings. Act one is full of shouting. But it’s also clear that no one – except Billy – is actively listening to the words and the spaces between. Through the high decibel dialogue we meet oldest son Daniel (Johnny Barden) who is writing his thesis on how language is used, while getting over a break up, smoking pot, and dealing increasing levels of mental illness. Younger sister Ruth (Anna Krempholtz) is an aspiring singer who is struggling to launch her career in opera. Mother Beth (Margaret Massman) is trying to write a novel and patriarch Christopher (David Marciniak) is an academic learning Chinese…often wearing a headset when he’s not yelling and swearing. Billy (Dave Wantuck) has just moved home from university. He begins attending Deaf social event where he meets Sylvia (Melinda Capeles) and is drawn to her lively personality and connection to the Deaf community. She was raised by Deaf parents and is fluent in sign language.  It’s her story that adds more depth to the script: she is losing her hearing – as did her sister, a genetic malady – and through her we learn the difference between being deaf and learning how to be Deaf.

Capeles is remarkable in her role. The vibrance of her Artie Award-winning role in La Lupe: My Life, My Destiny from 2019 is tempered with a different kind of passion here. She’s caring, intense, and frightened by the changes in her life. She’s a good foil for Wantuck (who is new to the professional stage and quite remarkable here): where his character is ill at ease, she’s comfortable and accepting. One of the finest scenes is in act two when – for a brief few minutes – we share Billy’s point of view, thanks to a shift in sound design and lighting , expertly crafted by sound designer Katie Menke and lighting designer John Rickus.

Director Doug Zschiegner wove in exquisite layers of nuance with the dialogue and how it’s delivered. Many moments in act two are signed: subtitles on projection screens share the dialogue. The contrast between acts one and two is well handled and effective.

While it’s a struggle to fine anything likeable in the parents and sister Ruth, the interplay between Daniel and Billy and their complicated relationship is compelling. The brother who is studying language and the brother caught between two distinct communications modalities create the heart of Raine’s script. Daniel’s struggle with mental illness and the return of his childhood stutter are powerful backstories that further emphasize this family’s dysfunction.

A strong, solid cast, an introspection on how we communicate, and love story that struggles to hold on to love….Tribes is complex and well crafted by this expert cast and crew.

Tribes runs a little more than two hours with a 10 minute intermission and is onstage to March 27. Find tickets and details at http://www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

My Fair Lady at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

My Fair Lady runs until March 6 at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. Photo courtesy of the production.

One of the first shows I saw when I was younger was “My Fair Lady.” My mother had won tickets from a radio contest and gave them to my Aunt and I. It wasn’t a magical production. It wasn’t something that I remember fondly. Actually, all I remember about the show was that I went to see it. I was really excited to see a live show, and I was really excited that I had heard a few of the songs prior to going. This was probably 20 years ago. In 2022 I had the privilege to see the Lincoln Center production of Lerner and Loewe’s timeless tale of a lower class woman being taken on as a project to grow to socialite stardom. I’m glad that I didn’t remember the first production I saw, because this one is very memorable.

“My Fair Lady” is one of those classic shows that community theatres and high schools try their best to put on, but usually miss the mark when it comes to casting, set design, orchestral prowess, you name it. It’s a big Broadway musical that has a large expectation that comes along with it. Sometimes shows like this need a big professional production to come along to do the material justice. This is the case with the Lincoln Center Production. Vibrant sets, artistic costume design, and sheer talent take this material and produce a product that audiences are in awe of.  Timeless songs such as “I Could Have Danced All Night,” “Wouldn’t It Be Loverely,” “The Rain In Spain,” and “I’ve Grown Accoustomed To Her Face,” bring life to the Shea’s stage in this rendition. This is the production that audiences dream of. 

Leading the show as Henry Higgins is Laird Mackintosh. Mackintosh effortlessly portrays the arrogant and snobby character to a tee. He does such a great job that you find it hard to even care if he succeeds in his goal of turning Eliza into a Duchess. His portrayal is comedic and entertaining. 

Shereen Ahmed’s Eliza Doolittle takes the memorable role and makes it her own. Her voice is gorgeous, especially in “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “The Rain In Spain.” Her cockney accent is so spot on that you honestly have no idea what some of her lines are before she gets “fixed” by Higgins. 

Crowd Favorites include Kevin Pariseau’s Colonel Pickering – hilarious delivery and stage presence, Sam Simahk’s Freddy – beautiful singing during “On The Street Where You Live,” and Gayton Scott’s Mrs. Pearce – who embodies a Maggie Smith quality in this show.

Barlett Sher’s vision for this material is beautiful. Every scene, every scene transition (for the exception of an opening night slip up with a rotating set hitting a proscenium leg) moves in tune with the music, making it exciting and visually entertaining for the audience. 

Michael Yeargan’s sets are breathtaking as are Catherine Zuber’s costumes. 

The only criticism of this production that I have is that it is so ungodly long. Yes it is a classic, yes it was written in a time when a person’s attention span was longer than 10 seconds, but couldn’t we have seen the show with one less Higgins’ monologue! Come on Bartlett, I’m sure if you wanted to cut some stuff, they would have let you! This is Broadway!

Running Time: Approximately 3 hours with a 15 minute intermission.

“My Fair Lady” runs until March 6, 2022 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

31st Annual Buffalo Quickies

What’s not to love about 31 years of Buffalo Quickies at Alleyway Theatre? This is an annual showcase for (mostly) new short plays and a versatile team of local actors who take on several roles in a jam-packed evening. From angry drivers, to chickens facing mortality, to Bills fans, or activists, Buffalo Quickies is a stretch night for the actors and audience a like; with seven short shows, there’s an always a hit and a miss, and it’s all part of the fun. Director Chris J Handley picked an interesting rundown this year and the acting and production team fit it all well.

The evening started with Buffalo Porno, a look into our region’s film production future. Actors Matthew Rittler and Colleen Pine are voice-over actors for ‘adult’ films produced in Tonawanda. There’s one concern from the audience: their accents. “We don’t have aaaaaacccents!” Pine’s character exclaims, as Kate Olena, representing the Canadian production company, gently tries to soften those edgy vowels.

Next up, The Great Steven Stravinsky, is a backyard magic show where the sibling agita can’t be tamped down. Olena is back as the pre-teen love interest with Michael Starzynski and Joey Bucheker as the bickering brothers. This was my miss of the night: I’m not a fan of magic acts or adults portraying children, although this trio gives it a good go. Olena is charming and sweet, Starzynski is committed with perfecting his craft in the throes of adolescence, and Bucheker wins at being the annoying kid brother.

The Commune of Mutual Aid and Education for the People by Angela Davis with Special Guest J.Edgar Hoover has Rachel Diana Henderson as Davis hosting a Mister Rogers-like narrative where social justice is the message. Instead of a cozy cardigan, she doffs her weapons for a funky fringed vest and slips off her boots for bunny slippers. Adam Kreutinger’s puppets are the special guests in the puppet theatre.

Pine and Rittler are star and stargazer who get caught in an elevator in Never Let Go.  Yes, romance can spark when an elevator cable snaps, while the security guard is angry with a pizzeria delivery and the SWAT rescuer is open to suggestions.

Bumper to Bumper is the longest short of the night and this one is rich with four stories the could easily interweave into a full production. Three cars are among many stuck on an expressway. Rittler is the potty-mouth driver who lashes out with violent threats. Bucheker and Henderson are not-so-newlyweds on their way to a romantic weekend where they hope to rekindle their love and work past some festering issues. Starzynski and Olena are the older married couple who remember love’s depth. Pine is perfection as their sassy daughter who keeps all three cars in check.

In Chicken is Condemned to be Free, Olena and Starzynski are clucking around like two chickens with their heads cut off…literally. There they are, on the side of the stage. I loved Olena’s restless circling and how Starzynski deftly interjected squawks into his sentences. Todd Warfield’s chicken costumes are outstanding. Playwright Jessie Jae Hoon weaves some thoughtful inside about immortality into the humor. Ironically, this is the show that will linger with you after you leave.

The evening ends with Seventeen: The (Unofficial) Josh Allen Musical, written by Philip Farugia and Amy Jakiel. This is a hoot, with music and dancing to boot. Bucheker and Rittler as online gamers track down Josh Allen and challenge him to a game. This was a fun way to end the night.

Alleyway does a fine job keeping this tradition alive and it’s good to have it anchored into the Buffalo theatre season. Each actor had his own moment to shine, too, proving that every role matters, large or small. I will admit again that I loved how innovative the team was for season 30, when in the midst of COVID, Quickies was staged as a Main Street walking tour. While I’m sure last year was a logistical nightmare to plan and implement, it is landmark in my memory as an exemplary theatre experience.

That being said, Buffalo Quickies 31 is a fine night, a little longer than two hours, with a brief intermission to enjoy the snazzy lobby.  It’s onstage to March 19; find details at http://www.alleyway.com.