Concert Review: ‘The Music of Prince’ by The Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall

Just over one year ago, the world turned upside down with the news of Prince’s death. A musical icon, his artistry and library of soulful, fun songs are still beloved by many, which was overwhelmingly evident when “The Music of Prince” by BPO Rocks played at Kleinhans Music Hall Friday night.

Buffalo came alive during this spirited homage to Prince’s music. [Marshall] Charloff is a stunning performer backed by the vibrant Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The guest performers featured conductor Brent Havens, Dan Clemens on bass, Justin Avery on keyboard, Powell Randolph on drums, George Cintron on guitar, Ann Marie Castellano on background vocals and Marshall Charloff as lead singer and guitarist.

Charloff, who also performs the front man for The Purple Experience, skillfully emulates Prince’s vocal stylings and fashion sense and never appears hokey or cheesy. Having worked with Prince earlier in his career, he broke up songs with stories of working with the artist and describing the first time they met. He is an entrancing and charismatic performer who won over the audience from his opening performance of “Let’s Get Crazy.”

Vibrant lighting design transformed Kleinhans that night from the first notes of the opening song. Audience members cheered loudly and leapt out of their seats to dance, one even playing along on a Prince-themed tambourine.

Some sound difficulties were successfully navigated by the second tune, “Little Red Corvette,” marking the first point in the evening when the music was saturated with the lush string section of the BPO. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” completed a lively trio of songs, which had audience members young and old grooving in the aisles.

Avery took the lead on “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore,” showcasing a surprising and delightful falsetto. The first act also featured rousing renditions of “Kiss,” “Delirious” and “Diamonds and Pearls.” The latter allowed Castellano to exercise her impressive vocal power before closing with “Raspberry Beret.”

The second act featured more ballads, including “When Doves Cry,” as well as Castellano’s unstoppable belt on “Nothing Compares 2 U.” The crowd reignited their spirited dancing for “Baby, I’m Star,” and an enthusiastic “1999,” which transformed Kleinhans into a dance party likely taking place on New Year’s Eve before the millennium.

The performance concluded with a deserved standing ovation after a heartfelt “Purple Rain,” confirming that this was not a tribute band or impersonation, but a true honoring of Prince’s music a year after his passing. As Charloff said, “ We are all healing.”

Buffalo came alive during this spirited homage to Prince’s music. Charloff is a stunning performer backed by the vibrant Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

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

“The Music of Prince” was performed for one night only by the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra at Kleinhans Music Hall in Buffalo. For more information on upcoming events, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Country House’ at Road Less Traveled Theatre

The cast of “The Country House” at Road Less Traveled Theatre

Last night, I saw the Western New York premiere of David Margulies’ “The Country House” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions.  

“The Country House” is a character driven comedy/drama about a family matriarch, Anna Patterson, who is a stage actress of great renown. She has invited family and friends to visit her at her summer home in the Berkshire’s. Anna is in mourning for her daughter and is trying to pick up the pieces of her life. The gathering includes her college age grandchild, her hapless son, and a charismatic TV star. The situation gets volatile when her son-in-law, a sellout film director, shows up with his new fiancé, a magnificently radiant young actress.

. . .strong local professional theatre. . .careful casting is this production’s strength.

Act I is lightweight, pleasant fare with occasional amusing one-liners including theatrical inside jokes. Direction by Scott Behrend is smooth throughout, perhaps a bit too smooth. The lights go off, character’s inhibitions dissolve, but the requisite sexual tension doesn’t build, and so the end of the act is missing some wallop.

Things sizzle in the second act, however, with several skillfully acted fight scenes which are marred only by a wealth of furniture on an otherwise lovely set.  In times of great passion, it must be frustrating for actors to find themselves stuck behind a large sofa or having to perform difficult maneuvers between chairs.

In any event, the altercation between the son and the son-in-law is dead on. Many kudos to Christian Brandjes and Peter Palmisano for masterfully unforgettable work!  Equally strong is the confrontation between the mother and the son. Barbara Link LaRou, who does skillful work throughout the evening, packs a particularly powerful punch in this scene and Mr. Brandjes has the audience in the palm of his hand.

Careful casting is this production’s strength. Mr. Brandjes is both funny and wonderfully affecting as the son whose mother has marked him for failure. Ms. Link LaRou and Mr. Palmisano, both assets to any production, are in top form. Rounding out this solid cast are Renee Landrigan as the down to earth grandchild, Chris Kelly as the irresistible TV actor, and Kristen Tripp Kelley as the gorgeous fiancé.

The audience was very taken with the production and gave it a standing ovation. This is strong local professional theatre, and it’s a great opportunity to watch some of WNY’s finest actors give terrific performances in a smart, new play.

Running Time: 2 hours with one-10 minute intermission.

“The Country House” runs until May 21, 2017 and is presented at Road Less Traveled Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Great God Pan’ at Jewish Repertory Theatre

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The cast of “The Great God Pan” at Jewish Repertory Theatre.

When you think back to your childhood, what do you really remember? Was it all popsicles, playgrounds, and snuggles, or is your subconscious blocking more disturbing moments? And – over time – is not remembering some traumatic really an advantage?

“. . .the story is strong, and Hummert’s performance alone is well worth the experience.”

How our psyche revises our perceptions of life history is the essence of Amy Herzog’s fascinating drama “The Great God Pan,” the final production in this season’s trio of her work at the Jewish Repertory Theatre.

Herzog’s work always examines a deeper side of family life, those moments that define us, where multiple generations look through life’s prism differently, and where shared experiences emerge with disparate outcomes. It’s intense and thoughtful work, and it’s the basis of really superb human drama. Herzog is a modern master at this very real storytelling.

This is a character-driven story, and this each character has plenty of baggage and long-repressed memories. The major forces are two childhood chums who meet again many years since they last hung out in daycare. Jordan Louis Fischer is Frank, the instigator of the meeting. Gay, pierced, and tattooed, he small talks with Jamie (Adam Yellen), the seemingly uncomfortable, reluctant guest, until he gets to the point: Frank is bringing suit against his father who sexually abused him as a child. He asks if Jamie remembers. He doesn’t. Watch the stage dynamic here: it’s fascinating. As Frank opens up, Jamie shuts down, imperceptive. Later – when Jamie tells his girlfriend Paige (Kelly Beuth) about this meeting – she says, “You’re always so weird with gay men, calling them ‘man’ and ‘dude.’ Did you do that?” Frank and Paige have their own issues. She’s angry with Jamie: seems he wasn’t immediately overjoyed when she announced that –surprise – she’s pregnant. In their volatile exchange, some of their past is revealed, perhaps the words that should remain unspoken.

Still perplexed by Frank’s revelation, Jamie takes his story to his parents, affable Cathy and Doug (perfectly played by Steve Vaughan and Lisa Vitrano, respectively) who have their own set of secrets from Jamie’s childhood. Watch for that awkward moment between father and son: hug or handshake? Seems like Jamie keeps everyone at arm’s length. Jamie begins to remember odd bits and pieces: were they true or mere suggestions?

The most poignant moments in this show belong to two tertiary characters. Darleen Pickering Hummert is Polly, Frank and Jamie’s childhood caregiver. She’s in a nursing home now, and as dementia dims her memories, she remembers the young kids in her care, perhaps fleetingly. Hummert is magnificent in this small role. When Jamie visits, we see joy in her remembering, along with her pain at not remembering. Her exquisite expressions are haunting, beautiful, painful.

Amelia Scinta has two all-too-brief scenes as Joelle, a client in Paige’s nutrition counseling practice, who is struggling with body image and an eating disorder. Scinta modulates her voice and expressions perfectly, moving from upbeat to disdain at how her body is failing her. There’s a strange power in these two scenes as Joelle seeks to control her body and change her mindset. Scinta nails this.

Director Saul Elkin maximizes the real value of this square stage. Each quadrant is a scene space, with actors effortlessly moving small set pieces between them. Two key scenes are metaphorically at dead center – physically touching a sliver of each space – in a subtle reminder that past and present are inter-reliant. He uses small, soft sound effects so well, setting the mood from coffee shop to park.

Strangely, it’s the two main characters that gave me pause. Beuth and Yellen are both fine actors with plenty of acting chops, yet they didn’t seem suited for their two roles. Consequently, their rapport – and lack thereof – felt off. She looked too mature to be his girlfriend. Hints of her life struggles are brushed off without giving depth to her character. Even with the bushy untrimmed beard of a millennial, Yellen looks out of place with his character. Or he’s playing flat and emotionless at a very high level.

Despite this, the story is strong, and Hummert’s performance alone is well worth the experience.

Running Time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

Advisory: Adult language.

“The Great God Pan”  runs until May 21, 2017 and is presented at Jewish Repertory Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here. 

Theatre Review: ‘The Cemetery Club’ at O’Connell & Company

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One of the most universal feelings is loss. Loss of a job, pet, loved one or worst of all, a spouse. Loss is one of the main themes in “The Cemetery Club” by Ivan Menchell, and despite some heavier subject matter, O’Connell & Company’s production amps up the love and lifts the audience’s spirits.

“…a touching, familiar tale about love, loss and friendship. O’Connell & Company puts a lot of heart into this production, which is sure to warm your soul. ”

“The Cemetery Club” refers to three longtime friends – Ida, Lucille and Doris, who get together once a month solely to visit their husbands’ graves in Forest Hills, Queens. Despite having completely different reactions to death and approaches to dealing with their grief, they try to support and understand each other as best they can. Sheila McCarthy directs this fine group of actors, who, while sometimes resembling the humor and friendship of “The Golden Girls,”  all play very realistic characters dealing with all too familiar feelings.

Anne Gayley is truly a treasure as Ida. Of the three women, she is most afraid to pursue dating again despite no longer wanting to be alone. She’s met with internal conflict upon running into a local butcher, Sam (a very charming Rob Schwartz), and begins to wonder how she should live the rest of her life. Gayley stole my heart from the beginning and lets us all into the very complicated world of moving on from a loved one. The awkwardness between her and Sam during their first afternoon alone together is especially endearing. Schwartz holds his own onstage opposite these strong women, often drawing laughs from the audience during the “teenage crush” types of moments with Ida.

Constance Caldwell rounds out the trio as the flashy and flirtatious Lucille. She does a fantastic job at delivering jokes and commanding the attention of a room while refraining from acting choices that would’ve put her over the top. While Lucille seems to be understood as the youngest of the three women, Caldwell almost looks too young next to Gayley and Scime at times, which can be a little distracting.

Deborah Krygier also makes a brief appearance as Mildred, whose relevance to the plot is too delicious to spoil in a review. She makes the most of her limited stage time and does a great job of playing the crowd.

The theater’s intimate setup works well for this production, letting us all feel that we are sitting right in Ida’s living room, smartly designed by John Kehoe. The cemetery is permanently set on the raised stage behind the living room, in plain view during the whole show. While it’s likely not written that way, having the gravestones constantly present served as an appropriate reminder to the audience that life is indeed short.

“The Cemetery Club” is a touching, familiar tale about love, loss and friendship. O’Connell & Company puts a lot of heart into this production, which is sure to warm your soul.

Running time: 2 hours with a 10 minute intermission.

“The Cemetery Club” plays through May 21, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company in Buffalo.. For more information, click here. 

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

    17814321_1305021739585610_4310550886642509880_oThe National Touring Company of “Cabaret.”

Entertainment comes in all forms. The best form of entertainment is when everyone can find something to enjoy, and the Roundabout Theatre Company’s production of “Cabaret” has something for everyone. Music, dancing, sex, temptation, and a heartbreaking ending are all thrown into the mix, making this show my favorite of the season.

. . .not your grandmother’s “Cabaret”. . .A phenomenal show. . .

“Cabaret” is the classic Kander and Ebb musical about a night club and it’s patrons in Berlin during the uprising of the Nazi forces. As the political climate turns, friendships are tested, morals are questioned, and love may not be strong enough to conquer all. The human condition is put on display here as Clifford Bradshaw (Benjamin Eakeley), a novelist from America, arrives to work on his next book. Searching for inspiration, Bradshaw meets Sally Bowles (Leigh Ann Larkin) a cabaret entertainer and lady of the night, and in typical musical fashion, the two fall in love. In the same building a budding romance between Fräulein Kost (Mary Gordon Murray) and Herr Schultz (Scott Robinson) is brewing, but when it is discovered that Schulz is jewish, things start to fall to the wayside for their relationship. A creepy, goofy, and entertaining Emcee (Jon Peterson) leads the audience through the action as this story unfolds.

This production is not afraid to push the envelope. It is not your grandmother’s “Cabaret,” and it will make you feel uncomfortable at times, but that is what makes it so amazing.

Robert Brill’s set design is the most aesthetically pleasing set I have seen in some time. Minimalistic, yet incredibly effective, this set is one you are not likely to forget. Not only does it assist in telling the story, but it allows the audience to use it’s own imagination in creating the setting.

William Ivey Long’s costume design is sultry, sexy, and really helps set the tone of a raunchy, filthy, promiscuous Berlin. They are fantastic.

Leading the show as the Emcee is Jon Peterson. Peterson creates a portrayal that is so multi- dimensional and exciting, you cannot wait to see what he is up to next. Opening the show with ‘Willkommen,” Peterson instantly grabs you by the throat, and doesn’t let you go for the entire performance. His showmanship, especially as the Master of Ceremonies in the club, and as the pivotal ringleader of the expositional action, is supreme. You will love what he does with the character and will be pleased with his artistic choices. Seeing him lurk in the shadows as the story progresses is some of the most effective blocking I have seen in a show in a long time.

Leigh Ann Larkin does a wonderful job playing the role of of Sally Bowles.  She portrays the conflicted night club entertainer to a tee and her performance of “Cabaret” does not disappoint.

Benjamin Eakeley is perfectly cast as Clifford Bradshaw. He brings a great deal of heart and empathy to the role. He is instantly an audience favorite when he enters the stage.

Mary Gordon Murray as Fräulein Kost and Scott Robinson as Herr Schultz are wonderful choices for these roles and they each give admirable performances. You love them, and your heart breaks for them.

The ensemble of singers, dancers, and musicians make this show a powerhouse. I am always a big fan of seeing the band perform on stage along with the show, and this still holds true with this production. It heightens the bar too when the actors are also the musicians for the performance.

Not being a huge fan of “Cabaret” walking in, the Roundabout Theatre Company production has won me over. A phenomenal show. Do yourself the favor, go see it!

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

Advisory: Adult content, language, and cigarette smoke.

“Cabaret” runs until April 30, 2017 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre in Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Coming to Buffalo, May 2017!

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Welcome to Buffalo Theatre Guide! A New Frontier for the Performing Arts, in the City of Good Neighbors.

Buffalo Theatre Guide is a free online publication where our team of dedicated volunteers promote the Performing Arts in the Greater Buffalo area and surrounding suburbs.

Our team of writers attend live performances and provide theatre reviews and news, behind the scenes stories, video, and other content with the goal of shining a light on all the great work being accomplished in the city.

We look forward to launching in May 2017, and to share our love of the performing arts with you!