All Is Calm is Elegant Theatre

We learn the most important lessons from the most devastating moments. Reflecting on a moment in World War I’s history is a poignant reminder of humanity and the power of simple kindness.

MusicalFare Theatre’s reprised production of All Is Calm at Shea’s 710 Theatre is just as stunning as its 2021 staging. The same production team created an aurally and visually immersive experience in this larger house, with the sounds of war gently (and sometimes not so gently) rumbling under the words and music of this remarkable cast.

To recap the story, In the first few months of the war (“we thought it would be over by Christmas,” is an oft-repeated sentiment), British soldiers were acclimating to life in the trenches in that most frightening location of The Great War: No Man’s Land. Something happened on Christmas night, 1914: British soldiers on the Western Front heard singing and saw flickering lights coming from the German troops.  They crossed this chasm of battle and joined in with carols of their own, first competitively and then in unity. Weapons were laid down, beverages, snacks, and stories were shared, language and cultural barriers were set aside. The men declared their own unofficial Christmas truce that lasted but a few days and was ne’er repeated.  Playwright Peter Rothstein’s script is built on a series of statements from soldiers with each quote closed out with their name and rank. The epistolary form was well-used here, we’re reading a soldier’s letter to a loved one. Associating words to people gave the story a wide open heart.

If the story sounds familiar, you’re either a student of world history or you were in the Subversive Theatre Collective Audience in 2014 to see local writer Gary Earl Ross’ take on the same story, The Guns of Christmas.

Between the spoken lines were popular songs of the day and song Christmas carols, too. Music Director Theresa Quinn’s church choral director skills are well used here. All songs were performed a cappella with beautifully layered harmonies.  And truly, the songs were as organic and authentic as they would have been in the day, just coming out of nowhere to underscore a moment of levity or punctuate a moment of reflection and remembrance. The singers’ skills were breathtaking, to literally pull their music out of the air and fill the space effortlessly and perfectly. From Ricky Needham’s opening “Will Ye Go To Flanders,” to the final reprisal of the ensemble singing “Silent Night/Sill Nacht” and the reflective Last Post, the singing was haunting and lovely. With Needham are Christopher Andreana, Kyle Bassett-Baran, Christian Brandjes, Louis Colaiacovo, Chris Cummings, Alex Anthony Garcia, Matthew Gilbert-Wachowiak, Bob Mazierski, John Panepinto, Marc Sacco, and Dave Spychalski. Together they were everyman.   

Susan Drozd stage direction was precise. There were beautiful moments when weapons were sharply, deliberately placed just so. Each actor held a firm gaze to the back of the house when delivering lines, speaking to everyone and someone else just beyond the fourth wall.  Chris Cavanagh’s dramatic lighting and battle noises meshed with designer Dyan Burlingame’s trench set. Kari Drozd managed costume design and it was fun to watch the men using simple leg wraps, hats, and coats to become other characters. This was an important detail in the story and signaled their transition from camp soldier to one in active battle.

It’s a breath-taking, beautiful production with a timeless message: peace on Earth is possible.

The well-paced, single act (no intermission and just under 90 minutes) ended with a reminder, from British poet Robert Laurence Binyon’s poem “The Fallen”: “We will remember them.”

All Is Calm is onstage until December 18: tickets and details are at https://www.sheas.org/performances/all-is-calm/.

Beehive Makes a Buzz at MusicalFare

Randy Kramer offered the best explanation as he welcomed the opening night audience to Beehive, now on stage at MusicalFare Theatre. He said the season was built during the pandemic and it’s all about forgetting about what is going on outside under all those facemasks and just having some fun. And for the most part, Beehive is all about putting fresh batteries in your favorite transistor radio and singing along with familiar Top 40 hits from yesterday.

Beehive is a send up to all the girl groups and girl singers of the ‘60s. It’s also a bit of a social history through fashion and hair styles (Kari and Susan Drozd must have had a blast working on the hair/wigs and fashions for this one) and a running commentary on selected events of the day.

Act 1 is all about the conventional world back then. Silly patter songs like “The Name Game,” tearful teen tunes like “It’s My Party,” and hopeful love songs like “Then He Kissed Me,” “Sweet Talkin’ Guy,” and “One Fine Day” had the audience singing along. The sextet of singers – Brittany Bassett-Baran, Stevie Jackson, Lily Jones, Sabrina Kahwaty, Kristen-Marie Lopez, and Timiyah Love were giving these songs their own treatment. They weren’t trying to imitate the songmakers of the day. It was indeed a jolly romp and the audience was eating it up.

Act II brought the second half of the decade. It started out with a lovely rendition of “Abraham, Martin, and John” by Jones, Lopez, and Love. It was a stunning, harmonic mesh of voices and a poignant lament on Mr. King’s and President Kennedy’s deaths plus a reflection on the lives lost in Viet Nam. Mores for women were changing, too, and so did the tenor and tone of the songs. The fashions were getting sassy as well,  as mini-skirts replaced the puffy crinolined skirts of a more modest length. As a society, we were moving from “My Boyfriend’s Back” to “You Don’t Own Me.” The cast cruised through a few British invasion tunes right back to the homegrown female voices. “The “River Deep, Mountain High” and “Pride Mary” medley did Tina Turner proud and the Aretha medley blew the roof off the house. Jones, Lopez, and Love did it again.  They even had a quick wardrobe change from slinky sequins to flowing chiffon. It was the highlight of the show. Then it was 1969 and time for Woodstock. Cottony fringed granny dresses and sandals replaced strappy sandals and sparkle. Kahwaty gave it her best as she tried to growl out “Somebody to Love.” But when Jackson came on stage in a send up of Janis Joplin, the audience laughed? Really? I was rather shocked. After an act and a half of well spun songs, for a couple numbers it felt like she was trying to parody (certainly not mock) Joplin and somehow some audience members found her performance amusing. The follow up trio turned “Me and My Bobby McGee” into a cheesy country tune without the signature bluesy soul.

Another thing that bothered me:  The trio ensemble pieces were as segregated as my Buffalo public grammar school, pre-Judge Curtain. It would have made a bold and beautiful artistic statement to mix it all up.

The set had the bright colors of the Laugh In stage, with different levels perfect for doing the twist, the jerk, and the pony. Director/choreographer Carlos R.A. Jones kept his cast movin’ and groovin’ all over the stage, too.

The back up band was solid, led by keyboardist Phil Farugia with  Larry Albert on guitar, Jim Linsner on drums., Jim Runfola blowing a mean sax, and Jimmy Runfola on bass.

If you’re into musical nostalgia and like to sing along, this is the show for you. So rat your hair, rub another coat of Jubilee wax on your Nancy Sinatra go-go boots, and grab a ticket a www.musicalfare.com. The show runs a fast-paced 90 minutes with one intermission to December 11.

“Nice Work” at MusicalFare

As the Ralph Freed-Burton Lane song says, “I love a Gershwin tune. How about you?” So a whole show of Gershwin music sounds like absolute heaven to me. That’s what I loved best about Nice Work If You Can Get It, now onstage at MusicalFare Theatre.

This was 10 years coming to WNY, having a short run on Broadway in 2012. Overall reviews weren’t stellar there, but honestly, I don’t know why. It’s a kick of a show with an absolute killer score. MusicalFare put together an outstanding cast and crew that soared above the show’s paper-thin book.

MusicalFare embraced the show’s endearing hokeyness by just playing into it. It was brilliant. The show opens with onstage credit roll crafted to look like a black and white movie opening. Then the set is revealed and it’s perfectly Art Deco. Tone setting complete.

The story revolves around a rich playboy (Marc Sacco) ready to wed to country’s foremost interpreter of modern dance (Emily Yancey) who’s the daughter of a stuffy Senator (Jon May) and the niece of Prohibitionist (Charmagne Chi).  When the playboy falls for a bootlegger (Renee Landrigan) who secretly lifts his wallet and is storing hooch in his Long Island mansion’s basement, hijinks ensue.

But who cares about plot when you have the crème de la crème of Gershwin in your ears? Classic songs like “Sweet and Lowdown,” “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “But Not For Me” are woven into the story, propping up the all-too-predictable plot and showcasing the cast’s considerable vocal talents. The real standout for me was Landrigan’s “Someone to Watch Over Me.” Who knew a tomboy bootlegger had that sweet and sensitive side?

Sacco is perfect in his role as playboy Jimmy. He looked and sounded every inch the musical-era screen star, too. He played well against bootlegger John Kaczorowski,  as Cookie McGee, not-so-bad-guy bootlegger who pretends to be the mansion’s butler. Bobby Cooke brings the best laughs as the chief of the Long Island Police Department, carefully spelling L.I.P.D. with emphasis. Every time. Nicole Cimato leads the corps de flapper with fringe and style. Chi is the ultimate scene stealer as the Prohibitionist leader of the Society of Dry Women: how she manages to fall on her back and sustain a high belt is beyond me. I loved Pamela Rose Mangus’ second act entrance, but my disappointment is that we didn’t hear her sing in this one.

Chris Kelly got to direct this frothy romp, with a great crew. Chris Cavanagh nailed the set, projection and sound mix. The sisters Drozd – Kari and Susan – created visual perfection with costumes and makeup respectively. Kristy Schupp choreographed some totally fun dance numbers…including real tap dancing, and one ensemble member on point shoes in a ballet sequence. Music director Theresa Quinn led the off-stage quintet in this s’wonderful score. Listen carefully and you’ll catch a few Gershwin riffs that aren’t in the program.

Speaking of program, my one quibble is the digital playbook. I get it. A digital program saves you paper and money. But it also creates a completely annoying situation in the theatre when cyber-savvy patrons ignore the pre-show message to turn off their phones and leave them on to read the song list. Yes, I’m talking to you, lady in Row F and two seats down from me in Row G. But I can’t go all Patti LuPone on y’all because the digital program sets you up for this behavior. Rant over.

Nice Work if You Can Get It is pure fun from start to finish. The music is superb, the visual and aural experience is a feast for eyes and ears, and you have no choice but to leave with a smile on your face. And as the Gershwin song says, “who can ask for anything more?”

The show runs two hours and 15 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, until October 9. Book your tickets at http://www.musicalfare.com.

Keep an Eye on Your Family with “A Gentleman’s Guide…”

Who knew that plotting to bump off your family members could be so much fun?

That’s the essence of A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, killing it on stage at Musicalfare Theatre until August 7.

This outrageously funny musical takes us to Edwardian England as Monty D’Ysquith Navarro (deliciously played by Ricky Needham) is sitting in a jail cell writing his memoir. What brought him there? Flashback to a time when he’s reflecting on his mother’s passing when he learns that he is technically the Ninth Earl of Highurst and is part of a family of high ranking. His late mother was disowned by the family when she married a Castilian (gasp!) musician (encore gasp!) for love (gasp times three!) They lived a poor but humble life, with Mum telling Monty this his father’s name was the only one that mattered.

Well now.

Monty endeavors to meet this family and when his first overtures are shunned, he takes action. Many actions. No more spoiler alerts. Just get yourself to the theatre to see what happens next…and how.

Everything about this production, exquisitely directed by Doug Weyand, is point perfect. First of all, the casting. Needham’s previous appearance on MusicalFare’s stage was in the elegant and poignant All is Calm earlier this season. As Monty, he has the timing, the expressions, the cunning, the charm, the everything else Monty needs and more. He learns about his lineage from the gifted Jenn Stafford who as Miss Marietta Shingle sprays biscuits bits like nobody else. His original love interest is Sibella, (Solange Gosselin), more motivated by money than love, until he meets Phoebe (Emily Yancey) who selects him as her betrothed in the decidedly funny “I’ve Decided to Marry You.” Gotta love a woman – or women –  with a plan.

The ensemble collectively fills a myriad of roles and makes artwork come to life (literally…portraits of presumed deceased family members start to sing) on stage. Jon May, Michelle Holden, and John Panepinto fill in the gaps with so many roles that move the story along.

And then there’s Marc Sacco. Oh. My. Goodness. He plays the about-to-be deceased members of the D’Ysquith family. Every single one of them. Male and female. Lots of great costuming by Kari Drozd and some incredibly quick hair and makeup transformations designed by Susan Drozd support Sacco’s unmistakable talent for shifting from cleric to early feminist to cranky old guy. He’s the consummate character actor.

A good night in the theatre is more than the story and the cast. Technical creativity knits it all together. Chris Cavanagh created a set and sound/visual experience that skillfully plays modern stage technology off good old fashioned site gags. Watch as the cleric tumbles to his death with a colorful splat. Theresa Quinn leads a small but mighty back up band: Jim Runfola, Jimmy Runfola, and Peggy Scalzo do the music justice from behind the scrim.

A Gentleman’s Guide….is a hoot and the 2 ½ hours fly by with lots of laughs, quirky characters, and a fine showcase for the best talent our community has to offer. There’s a 15-minute intermission where the smile won’t leave your face. Get your tickets at http://www.musicalfare.com.

The Other Josh Cohen is a Delight

What do you do when your apartment is burgled, your job kinda sucks, money is tight, and love eludes you? Worst of all, your only possessions are a “hang in there” cat calendar and the Neil Diamond III CD (“the best songs are on one and two”)? Well, if you’re Josh Cohen, you just keep on keeping on.

The Other Josh Cohen, on stage at MusicalFare Theatre until May 22, is a completely loveable story about a guy who hates February 14 and 15 equally because Valentine’s Day and the Ides of February just aren’t his days…until a series of circumstances turns it all around.

This is 90 minutes of absolute delight on a stage, with music, including a Neil Diamond appearance. I mean, come on…what’s not to love? Director Randall Kramer gets this all right with a superb cast and  a adorably quirky and endearing story by David Rossmer and Steve Rosen

There are actually three Josh Cohens involved here. The story unfolds in retrospect as Narrator Josh (Zak Ward) details a critical time when Last Year’s Josh (Joseph Donohue III) encounters the ‘other’ Josh (Brandon Barry) when Other Josh’s mom sends a hefty check to Last Year’s Josh’s almost-empty apartment. What to do? This big chunk o’ change could turn Last Year’s Josh’s life around….but then again….so can doing the right thing.

Along this journey we meet Last Year Josh’s parents, his landlord, his neighbors, the other Josh’s mom, Darth Vadar, and a few women not meant for any Josh. In between there are plenty of laughs (not belly busting slap stick guffaws, but the delectable, sly chuckling kind that are more enduring and infectious), and some really good tunes. The earworm for the night is “Samuel Cohen’s Family Tree,” a story song that sets up the family lineage with a tune that will remind you of Jimmy Buffet’s “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” If you’re not smiling by the second chorus, well then, it just sucks to be you.

The band members (all three Josh actors) plus music director Theresa Quinn, Robert Insana, and Solange Gosselin) are on stage and do double and triple duty as various cast members.  It’s a hoot to watch them effortlessly glide from role to role. Quinn is the standout stepping out from the behind the keyboards to be Josh mom I and II and Neil. Insana kills it when – as Josh’s dad – he meticulously voices his answering machine. This band is tight, the vocals are excellent, and it’s all easy on the ears. Chris Cavanagh kept the set simple and effective and used some subtle lighting to shift the mood as needed.  Costumer Kari Drozd dressed Narrator Josh and Last Year’s Josh identically: it’s only in the demeanor and quiet wisdom (and facial hair) that you see the difference. It all worked.

Underneath the gags and gimmicks, there’s a message for the ages: goodness will always win, and patience pays off.

The Other Josh Cohen runs 90 minutes without an intermission. Visit www.musicalfare.com for details and tickets.

American Rhapsody is Beautiful Music

George Gershwin’s iconic “Rhapsody in Blue” was an orchestral celebration of the American cultural melting pot when it debuted in 1924. The exquisite blending of jazz with a strong nod to classical music is still beloved for its syncopated rhythms (Gershwin said it was inspired by the clicks and clacks of trains) and its soaring, melodic themes. MusicalFare artistic/executive director Randy Kramer parlayed that inspiration with one of his own in American Rhapsody, onstage now. Kramer developed his concept into a 90-minute story counterpointed with such outstanding musicianship.

Admittedly, the story is thin with some unsettling undertones: a classically trained pianist (Kramer) wants to deepen his understanding of Rhapsody in Blue prior to performance, so he pays a jazz pianist and club owner (Richard Satterwhite) to join him in his “piano room” (a baby grand and a less than grand upright) for a conversation of sorts. “I just thought we’d play for each other,” couches the classical pianist as he sits at his shiny instrument, leaving the jazz man to the upright. Jazz man was having none of that, and proceeds to share quotes and insights about America in the ‘20s, the people who were making music then…and how and why the notes came together. It’s not racism, perhaps just race ignorance that kept the classical pianist from seeing jazz man’s points at first. Jazz man picks books off the shelf and reads quotes from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other luminaries and is surprised at how much the classical pianist doesn’t know about how music is really ‘made.’ And there’s the heart of our story.

Jazz man’s readings and reflection come to life as the beautifully constructed stage set – the work of Chris Cavanagh –  turns into an early 20th century music lesson, performed by Stevie Jackson, Dwayne Stephenson, Davida Evette Tolbert, and Josh Wilde. Their songs take us from Spirituals to the earliest Stephen Foster ditties, to Scott Joplin’s rags to timeless tunes of Irving Berlin, WC Handy, and Eubie Blake: their performances are visual and aural delights. The highlight: Tolbert’s “St. Louis Blues” was belted out to perfection and her Art Deco beaded gown was just as stunning. Who doesn’t love a fascinator with a feather? Good work, costumer Kari Drozd. Cavanagh made stage magic happen when the picture window of the ‘piano room’ morphs into a stage for the singing quartet. He used some familiar and fun lighting techniques, too, to bring silhouette forms to life.

At one point, jazz man is pretty fed up by classical pianist and seemingly storms out…which sends the classical pianist to the keyboard and a passionate performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C# minor.” Jazz man is still listening…and that’s their breakthrough moment.

Spoiler alert: the performance ends with Kramer’s lovely rendition of “Rhapsody in Blue.” While you miss the familiar orchestra part, Kramer (with off stage support from music director/pianist Theresa Quinn, Jim Runfola, and Ron Paladino) is an extraordinary pianist and watching him play all night was a delight.

Kramer’s piano playing, the set, the costumes, and the snippets of American music history make American Rhapsody a good night in the theatre. It’s a fast moving one act, no intermission, and it’s onstage now to March 27. Find tickets and details at www.musicalfare.com. You’ll like it as much as a school boy loves his pie.

All is Calm is Elegant at MusicalFare

It’s odd to think that the true spirit of Christmas – a wish for peace on Earth and  goodwill to all peoples – can be found in a story about war. But that is the essence of  All is Calm, now onstage at MusicalFare Theatre.

It’s a real story taken from a moment in World War I history. In the first few months of the war (“we thought it would be over by Christmas,” is an oft-repeated line in the show), British soldiers were acclimating to life in the trenches in that most frightening location of The Great War: No Man’s Land. Something happened on Christmas night, 1914: British soldiers on the Western Front heard singing and saw flickering lights coming from the German troops.  They bravely crossed this chasm of battle and joined in with carols of their own. Weapons were laid down, beverages, snacks, and stories were shared, language and cultural barriers were set aside. The men declared their own unofficial Christmas truce that lasted but a few days and was ne’er repeated again.  Playwright Peter Rothstein captured the simple elegance of this snapshot of humanity with this script.

If the story sounds familiar, you’re either a student of world history, you paid attention to the stories told by your grandparents, or you were in the Subversive Theatre Collective Audience in 2014 to see local writer Gary Earl Ross’ take on the same story, The Guns of Christmas.(Hat tip to the Theatre Companion for reminding me.)

Rothstein’s script is built on a series of statements from soldiers with each quote closed out with their name and rank. I’m a big fan of epistolary writing, and using this tactic felt like we were reading a soldier’s letter to someone back home. Associating words to people gave the story its heart. The production also uses the power of music to support this (sometimes debated) moment in WWI history. Music Director Theresa Quinn’s magical piano playing is absent, but her church choral director skills are apparent. There’s a whole lot of ensemble singing going on, and it’s all done a cappella. At times it’s a little bit barbershop quartet harmonics, other times I hear full-fledged British boy choir-layered harmonies in the familiar WWI tunes, including “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary,” “Pack Up Your Troubles,” and “When This Bloody War is Over.”  It’s all so very good. Peppered between are stand out solos from the familiar voices of MusicalFare including Ricky Needham, Darryl Semira, Marc Sacco, and Louis Colaiacovo. It’s a tribute to the cast and Quinn’s direction to pull it off as successfully as they all did. There was no music to “help” the singer find his pitch: it’s all up to talent and skill that this cast has in abundance. If an occasional sound wasn’t quite as written, well, heck, blame trench acoustics.

Susan Drozd staged and directed this crew with military precision. There were beautiful moments when weapons were sharply, deliberately placed just so. Each actor held a firm gaze to the back of the house when delivering lines, speaking to everyone and someone else just beyond the backwall.  Chris Cavanagh’s dramatic lighting and battle noises were the perfect foils for designer Dyan Burlingame’s trench set. Kari Drozd managed costume design and it was fun to watch the men using simple leg wraps, hats, and coats to become other characters. This was an important detail in the story and signaled their transition from camp soldier to one in active battle. Actors represented multiple roles, too, and were adept at shifting accents and dialects as well.

All the elements come together to create a moving and powerful human experience.

The well-paced, one act (no intermission and just under 90 minutes) production ended with a reminder, from British poet Robert Laurence Binyon’s poem The Fallen: “We will remember them.”

All is Calm is onstage until December 12: tickets and details are at www.musicalfare.com.

Sidebar: MusicalFare, like every other space in our community,  has many protective policies in place. Vaccination cards and IDs are checked before you enter the theatre. Facemasks are required. There’s touchless ticketing, too. All good stuff that should encourage audience members to feel safe and welcomed. The one thing that irks me is the lack of the printed program. I totally get it: it’s another way to limit contact between patrons and volunteers, both of whom may be at risk. Digital programs may inadvertently cause a new epidemic: cell phones on during the production to follow the song list. Seriously. I was surrounded by multiple program perusers and even over heard one person comment about how convenient it was to ‘see’ the program now. Patrons, it’s OUR responsibility to manage our need to know during a show. Peruse before curtain, please, or when you get home. The Patti LuPone Rules still apply: phones off and away during a show, please. Theatres created digital programs to protect you, and not to give you a new way to distract actors and your fellow patrons. The pre-show video with actors demonstrating how (and how not) to wear a face mask, however, was a hoot.

Patience is Indeed a Virtue for All for One Productions

For the cast and crew of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, the past 19 months must have been pure agony. The show was shut down opening night (thank you, Covid) after months of prep by All for One Theatre Productions, (the collaborative comprised of Shea’s 710 Theatre, MusicalFare Theatre, Irish Classical Theatre Company, Theatre of Youth, and Road Less Traveled Productions). Imagine the agony of sitting on this exquisite production. It was truly worth the wait.

Based on British author Mark Haddon’s 2003 novel, playwright Simon Stephen’s script  begins with a neighborhood tragedy: a teen discovers that his neighbor’s dog has been killed. The distraught owner is quick to blame the teen. Thus begins a two-hour journey of a painful truth, deliberate deception, and a young man’s search for order in a very disorganized world.

Samuel Fesmire gives a mesmerizing performance as Christopher, the accused neighbor. While not specifically called out, Christopher appears to live on the autism spectrum, high-functioning and brilliant with mathematics, and sometimes childlike in his need for routine and order. He walks in straight lines and turns at precise right angles, marks his steps as he walks (“Remember your rhythms,” says is teacher Siobhan played by Sara Kow-Falcone), and cubes prime numbers to reduce stress. Fesmire’s movements capture the tics and quirks of someone whose mind is always racing.  Kow-Falcone’s carefully measured passion and commitment to her student paint the perfect picture of an ideal teacher.

While searching for Wellington the dog’s killer, Christopher learns some hard truths about his dad (Anthony Alcocer),  his mom (Candice Kogut) and Wellington’s owners (Wendy Hall and Ben Michael Moran).   Moran and Hall also do double duty as part of the ensemble, too, playing minor characters and set pieces. That’s actually a pretty cool part of the production. People are often miming walls and doors on the Spartan grid set. Even in the opening scene, lighting outlines Wellington’s dead body along with the murder weapon. 

No surprise that a collaborative performance has a super-size production team. Director David Oliver and assistant director Lucas Lloyd built a good team with Lynne Koscielniak doubling up on scene and lighting design, Christopher Ash and Brian McMullen on the projection (there’s plenty of that, too, against the grid set), Gerry Trentham as movement director, and Jean Toohey as dialect coach to keep the British accents on point and in check.  It this was a band, it would be described as tight.

Overall, it’s a fine interpretation of the novel and a good depiction of what it’s like to live in a world that you often don’t understand when you’re otherwise abled. Fesmire as a Christopher will win your heart as you empathize with his daily challenges. I was less focused on the parental lying and infidelity: the acting quartet handled that well. It’s a tribute to the production company and its choice of show to see marquee actors like Pamela Rose Mangus and David Marciniak in ensemble roles here, too.

The show’s timing may feel uneven at times (the first act felt long and a trusted colleague felt act two dragged) but like Christopher, once you feel the rhythm of the story, it makes sense.

Thanks to All for One for bringing this powerful show to the 716 and not giving up on it when Covid  was threatening, This is good stuff.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime is a solid two hours with intermission and is onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre to November 14.  Details and tickets at www. sheas.org.

Tootsie – Now on Stage at Shea’s

Full disclosure: I generally don’t enjoy productions that morph from screen to stage.

I prepared myself to embrace Tootsie, now on stage at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre, with an open mind, and pushed my 1982 movie memories to the back of my brain. So a show with music and lyrics by David Yazbek (writing for screen to stage shows is his thing, having done so for The Full Monty, Dirty Rotten Scoundrel, Women on the Verge…, and The Band’s Visit which is next on stage at Shea’s), seeing Buffalo gal Dominique Kempf in her first national tour, and the opportunity to be back in Shea’s again after a long intermission, how can it be bad?

Truth be told, it wasn’t horrible. Nor was it the best thing I’ve seen in this venerable house. Yazbek’s score was lively and clever, albeit not terribly memorable, beginning with an overture (a wonderful throwback that most musicals skip nowadays…there was an ent’racte, too) and a bright and snappy opening number. Straight up we meet Michael Dorsey (played by Drew Becker), a struggling stage actor and waiter who has high-minded opinions about the roles he is offered – and regrettably loses –  thanks to his passion for truth and depth. His roommate and aspiring playwright Jeff (Jared David Michael Grant) is his deadpan sidekick. Grant has some of the best lines with perfect delivery, too. He even cleaned up Bill Murray’s iconic observation of his roommate’s dual persona ( https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=38lkRCedEys).

Up next is Michael’s ex girlfriend Sandy Lester (Payton Reilly), a whirlwind of neuroses and emotions as she clamors for acting roles, too. Her repeated “What’s Gonna Happen” theme song is a study in rapid fire words and feelings in a funny sort of jumble. Sandy is pursuing a role in a sequel to Romeo and Juliet, and she when isn’t cast, Michael decides to audition, too…in the persona of Dorothy Michaels, a good ol’Southern girl who speaks her mind and by golly don’t people start listening. He wins the role and influences a plot pivot and title change. Michael as Dorothy is admired and liked and heard…and is falling in love with his leading lady (Ashley Alexandra) who thinks Dorothy is her new mentor. But the cast dumb-as-a-post hunk Max (Lukas James Miller) is falling for Dorothy, too. What’s a girl/guy to do?

In between all this, there are lovely costumes (the ‘50s styles glam gorgeous billowy ball gowns), some wonderful choreography, and plenty of funny bits. There is some meat behind the plot, too: self-realization and the value of true friends and digging deep to do what’s right all will prevail. It was also great to see Ashley Alexandra in her leading role: she’s a full figured woman cast in a part that – in a less inclusive world – might have gone to someone else. Brava. What I didn’t love were the overly long pregnant pauses to milk the laughs for an extra beat or two.

This is the first national tour for the Tony Award-winning show and the cast projects a strong ensemble vibe. It was wonderful to see Kempf on this stage, after enjoying her outstanding work at MusicalFare Theatre’s Ragtime, and West Side Story.

The story may be ho-hum but the energy is high and overall it’s entertaining. And Shea’s, it’s just good to be home.

Tootsie runs a little over two hours with a 15-minute intermission; it is onstage until October 16: visit sheas.org for details.

It’s a New Camelot at MusicalFare

“Camelot” at MusicalFare. Picture courtesy of the theatre.

Sometimes the simple joys of maidenhood are experienced in a comfortable theatre watching a classic piece of American musical theatre re-imagined on stage. Who thinks that? C’est moi, of course.

MusicalFare Theatre opened its 2021-22 season on a resonant high note with Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot taking a fresh new spin.  If the title conjures up imagines of President John F. Kennedy and his bride listening to the album with the voices of Richard Harris, Julie Andrews, and Robert Goulet (le sigh), fie on those 1960s memories! This re-imagined version still has all the chivalry, passion, and infidelity you love with a lively new beat and a more casual vibe.

Co-directors Carlos R.A. Jones and Victoria Perez set the show in a tropical setting, with a group of beachy-clad friends hanging out and putting on a show. Outside of Ex Calibur, swords became wood poles and shields are pieces of found driftwood. King Arthur’s crown was a fedora with a bird of paradise rising from the hat band. The call to battle was sounded from a seashell. Music director Theresa Quinn matched the mood with Latin and island rhythms for every tune.  Chris Cavanagh’s set was sandy-perfection, complete with a waterfall and a boardwalk. Camp shirts, neon rompers, and floral prints replaced armor and flowing chiffon gowns.  The whole effect was oddly reminiscent of early stagings of Godspell (without the clown clothes and street setting). It was fun and inviting after our 18 month intermission.

Jones and Perez couldn’t have found a better cast. Gabriella McKinley is stunning as Guenevere. Her voice is incredible: rich when she’s in her lower register and lilting and controlled when her soprano soars. Her duets with both King Arthur (Darryl Semira) and Lancelot (Alejandro Gabriel Gomez) are lovely and Quinn’s arrangements graciously accommodate the vocal shifts for each pairing. Semira’s King Arthur is disarming and charming, boyish at first glance and rooted and mature in both conviction and confusion. Gomez’s  take on Lancelot is earnest and his gentle passion in the role’s signature song “If Ever I Would Leave You” is beguilingly beautiful.  

The ensemble is fun, with gender-crossing double roles for every member. Arin Lee Dandes is at her best as the cunning Mordred. Every movement and stage cross is a dance and it’s so fun, you almost forget to despise Mordred’s scheming.

Jones and Perez created something very special; they asked us to suspend our memories of past stagings or the movie and see past those images. What if Camelot was created in a different space by different people? Does that make the musings and vision of a King any different? Quinn’s interpretations brought a  freshness to the score that was lovely to hear, too. Her band – Joe Donohue on guitar and violin, Jim Runfola on reeds, and Jim Linsner on drums – was just right and fine.

If you have any qualms about coming inside for theatre, MusicalFare diligently checked vaccine cards/Excelsior passes and required facemasks, there are no more physical tickets, and playbills are irksomely online only. Relax and escape to this most congenial spot.

Lerner and Loewe’s Camelot is onstage now until October 15; the show runs a good two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Tickets, playbill, and temptingly lovely videos are online at www.musicalfare.com.