“A Chorus Line” at O’Connell & Company

The cast of “A Chorus Line” at O’Connell & Company.

“A Chorus Line” with book by James Kirkwood and Nicholas Dante, music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Edward Kleban opened this weekend at O’Connell & Company. This long running Broadway musical won Tony Awards and the Pulitzer Prize. It was conceived and originally directed and choreographed by Buffalo’s Michael Bennett. The kids in the chorus of musicals, nicknamed the Gypsies, are usually not recognized for their dedication to dance and theatre or acknowledged for their unique personalities and backgrounds. This show was based on a series of late night workshops that Gypsies had with Michael Bennett where he tape recorded their life stories. Many of the stories appear verbatim in the script and lyrics for this show.

The O’Connell & Company production of “A Chorus Line” has been directed and choreographed by DeWayne Barrett who is a veteran of many productions of this show. His choreography is impressive – especially the long, complicated opening audition sequence and the show’s grand finale, “One.” Mr. Barrett also appears on stage as the director, Zach, and he gives the role a commanding presence. 

This is an ambitious undertaking – casting sixteen very specific characters who have to be played by performers who are strong singers, dancers, and actors. There is a large cast and I got the feeling that everyone was very glad to be back onstage after the long pandemic hiatus. Heading up the company is Aimee Lynn Walker as Cassie, a character based in part on Donna McKechnie who had a long term and volatile relationship with Michael Bennett. Ms. Walker’s big solo number, “The Music and the Mirror” elected cheers and whistles from the audience and the best acting of the evening is her fight scene with Zach.

The talented cast also includes James Anthony Caposito who has plenty of zip, all the right moves, and is one of the best dancers in the production. His solo number “I Can Do That” starts the show off with a big wonderful bang. Anna Fernandez is a stunning and forthright Morales.

Kris Bartolomeo is a formidable Sheila. Ms. Bartolomeo is always in character and, because of that, she is a standout even in the group numbers. Her monologue and “At the Ballet” were affecting.

In smaller roles, but also making a strong impression, are Marc Thagard who is an adorable Richie and who dances with great verve and Joey Bucheker who is riveting as the intense Leonard Frey-type  of the group. Thomas Evans and Lizzie Arnold are perfectly in sync as a married couple and they do a joyous job with their duet, “Sing.” 

This is a high spirited, pleasing production that has obviously been mounted with lots of love and attention to detail.

Masks are optional but encouraged. Proof of vaccination must be shown for admittance. 

The show runs 2 and half hours including a 15 minute intermission.


A Sure Sign of Spring: Shea’s Announces Next Season’s Schedule

Shea’s Buffalo Theatre is going back to its roots as a movie house with the M&T Bank 2020-21 Broadway Series. Six of the seven mainstage offerings either began their lives on the silver screen or have already been made into films. Venerable producing partner Albert Nocciolino joined Shea’s  President  Michael G. Murphy to announce next year’s season at a subscriber’s event held Tuesday night.

An exciting kick off to the season – and another economic boon for Buffalo – are two national tours are launching on Shea’s stage. This also means that Shea’s will host the tech and stage crews for extended stays, with an estimated $3 million in regional economic impact for the region, says Murphy, along with creating work for local theatre technicians.  This is made possible by a New York State program that incents Broadway productions to launch from an upstate – in our case a Western New York – theatre, an opportunity enjoyed by our city coffers for five years.

The first of these productions is “Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird,” starring Richard Thomas, August 15-22. This is Aaron Sorkin’s script which was produced this season at the Kavinoky Theatre. Thomas – long remembered for his TV character John Boy Walton – will star as Atticus Finch.

Next up and the second national launch is the stage version of the 1982 comedy “Tootsie,” October 3-10. It’s the same fun story: an out of work actor wins roles when he dresses in drag, with a score written by David Yazbeck who also the score for “The Band’s Visit” coming to Shea’s this April, along with “The Full Monty” and “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.”

The next movie on stage in “Pretty Woman The Musical,” where the hooker with a heart of gold wins over emotionally remote rich dude. All the scenes you loved in the 1990 movies are tied together with a score by Canadian rocker Bryan Adams and his longtime song writing partner Jim Vallance.

The 2019 Tony award winning revival of “Oklahoma” is on stage January 26-31. The New York Times called it the “the coolest production of the year is from 1943” because of its inventive restaging of an American classic and the fresh arrangements of the lovely Rodgers and Hammerstein score.

Another classic,  the Lincoln Center Theater Production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” follows March 23-28.

The season’s juke box musical is “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, The Life and Times of The Temptations,” dances on stage May 11 to 16.

Closing out the season is another hit from the snowy silvery screen, “Frozen,” June 16-27.

Two special engagements round out the season: “Hamilton” returns November 3-20. Season subscribers may opt to include this as part of their season; and “Dear Evan Hansen,” April 13-18.

Murphy also announced the new seasons for Shea’s other theatre properties.  For the third season, O’Connell & Company will be in residence at Shea’s Smith Theatre. This season begins with “Nunsensations A-Men,” January 8-17, followed by “SUDS: The Rocking ‘60s Musical Soap Opera,” March 5-14, and the return of “Betsy Carmichael’s BINGO PALACE, “ April 29-May 2. Also in residence at Shea’s Smith is Second Generation Theatre. This company’s season begins October 16 with the play “Constellations,”  until November 1, followed by Jason Robert Brown’s lush musical “Songs for a New World” February 5-21, and Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic novel adapted for stage “The Secret Garden,” May 21-June 6. 

At Shea’s 710 Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions will stage “Slow Food, “a comedy, September 10-27. MusicalFare Theatre follows with the musical “In the Heights,”December 3-20. The theatre collaborative All for One Theatre Productions (MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Irish Classical Theatre, Theatre of Youth) bring love and comedy to the stage with “Shakespeare in Love,”February 11-28. Irish Classical Theatre brings” Farinelli and the King,”a drama, to this stage April 8-18. Finally MusicalFare Theatre returns with the regional premiere of Kinky Boots, May 6-23.

Full descriptions and ticket information is online at www.sheas.org.


“Glorious!” at O’Connell & Company

Mary Kate O’Connell as Florence Foster Jenkins in “Glorious!” at O’Connell & Company

“Glorious!,” a comedy by Peter Quilter, is currently being presented by O’Connell and Company in their lovely new theatre in the Elmwood Commons, the former Philip Sheridan School In the Town of Tonawanda. It’s easy to find the new home of O’Connell and Company; it’s on Elmwood just north of Sheridan. There is plenty of free parking behind the building. In addition to the theatre, O’Connell and Company now have a rehearsal space, lots of room for costumes and props, a special all purpose room for parties and events that includes a kitchen, a box office, and a refreshment stand. It’s a very nice set up.

The play is subtitled The True Story of Florence Foster Jenkins the Worst Singer in the World. Ms. Jenkins was a wealthy turn of the twentieth century socialite who loved to sing opera although she had absolutely no vocal ability. Ms. Jenkins thought that she had talent galore, however, and gave a series of recitals which culminated in a performance at Carnegie Hall. The members of her audiences were personal friends who cheered for her (and laughed as discretely as possible) and helped her maintain the illusion of being a great soprano. Her “fans” included celebrities like Harold Arlen and Cole Porter, and she was the toast of New York City.

Ms. Jenkins’ life has been the subject of five plays, a feature film starring Meryl Streep, and a documentary. Glorious! is light weight material. The characters aren’t fleshed out and we don’t being to understand the why’s or wherefores of Florence Jenkins, her part-time paramour St. Clair, or the other significant people in her life. The storyline takes some odd twists and turns. This play touches on some of her life’s more memorable moments including the traffic accident that enabled her to hit a high C and her performances as Carmen which included throwing flowers to the audience. What the play does best is give us one-liners which are peppered throughout and affords us plenty of opportunities to hear Ms. Jenkins sing. And the theme of the piece, reach for the stars, is inspiring.

Mary Kate O’Connell is effervescent as Florence and she clearly has a ball playing the opera star who lives in a dream world or her own design. Ms. O’Connell is bright, bouncy, and beautiful. Her three opera performances are lots of fun, true to Florence’s real life, and the highlight of the production. Her high pitched yelps are hysterical and are not to be forgotten!

Ms. O’Connell is ably supported by three talented actors — Roger VanDette plays St. Clair, a flamboyant, down and out thespian of the old school. Greg Gjurich plays her accompanist and Mr. Gurwich is particularly captivating in Act 2 when, at last, he is smitten and falls under Florence’s spell.  And Anne Gayley is delightful is as Florence’s buddy – a giddy, sherry-swilling society lady and patron of the arts.

Rounding out the cast are Kate Olena as an angry realist who refuses to pretend to see the emperor’s new clothes, Smirna Mercedes as a disgruntled Latina maid, and Mira Haley Steuer as the Bellhop.

There is solid direction by Steve Vaughan. The array of lovely period dresses and Florence’s amusing costumes are by Adam M. Wall. The stage is full of gorgeous flowers by Julianne Panty, and the masterful sound design is by Tom Makar. Kimberly Pukay did the lights; sets are by Bill Baldwin. To keep the audience’s attention during scene changes, there are interesting videos by  Brian Milbrand.

The production runs two hours, including one intermission.

For more information about showtimes and dates, click here.

First Look: ‘1776’ at O’Connell & Company

The cast of ‘1776’ at O’Connell & Company.

Long before Hamilton took the musical theatre stage by storm, there was “1776 The Musical.”Winner of the 1969 Tony Award for Best Musical, this retelling of how John Adams convinced our Founding Fathers to sign the Declaration of Independence returns to Western New York thanks to O’Connell & Company, and this time it  will have a special spin. This production, opening April 25, will have an all female cast.

“We’re not doing it as women playing men,” says Mary Kate O’Connell, executive director who also portrays Benjamin Franklin in the cast. “We are all actors playing characters. The gender is not as critical as the words.”

O’Connell heard about an all-female concert version of the show, and decided to take the concept one step further and create the production with a full set, original costumes, and a cast of “strong and amazing women,” she says.

The true power of the show is in the script and score and how it depicts  the history lessons we learned long ago. It was no easy feat to convince a disparate group of stakeholders that this was the right time for independence. This mindset  – in some ways – is a metaphor for more contemporary challenges, and hearing these words spoken and sung by women will make an unique impact. O’Connell says “There’s a level of moral civility and respect that you get from a staged version of a historic event. It lets you see the person behind the words. As actors, we try to give these people and their words dimension. I’m not playing a man, I’m portraying the voice of history.”

The cast fully embraces the significance of this work. Pamela Rose Mangus will portray John Adams.  “It’s daunting and humbling to play a man who was so pivotal in the creation of the United States,” she says. “He, along with the rest of the Continental Congress, sacrificed so much to ensure our liberties.” Playing this role, she says, is “a challenge and a damned good role. Plus it gives me the opportunity to come full circle from when I played Abigail Adams in summer stock in 1976.”

O’Connell has assembled a strong production team to match the gravitas of the women on stage, notably Steve Vaughan,  director and Don Jenczka, music director. There will be three members of the production team taking line notes at every performance, too, according to O’Connell.  “We’ve never had that before. This show demands it and deserves it,” she says. These notes will inform the cast and crew about nuances, reactions, and the finer points of staging a show that has more than its usual share of moving parts to it. As O’Connell says, “This show is an opportunity to give women a voice about a critical part of our history.”

“1776 The Musical” is onstage at The Park School in Amherst – where O’Connell & Company is in residence – from April 25 to May 19. Visit www.oconnellandcompany.com for ticket and details.

Theatre Review: ‘An Act Of God’ by O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

For one weekend only, Buffalonians can bask in the almighty presence and supreme glory of God himself. Well, in a manner of speaking. He doesn’t look like God, act like God, and he certainly knows a lot more dirty jokes than God. He is in fact Joey Bucheker, the well-known Buffalo stage presence of “Betsy Carmichael” fame, and while he may not be able to absolve you of all your sins, he can certainly give you 90 minutes of sinful belly laughs.

. . .hilarious. . .

“An Act of God,” written by David Javerbaum and directed by Victoria Perez, is a mildly sacrilegious retelling of the book of Genesis, the Ten Commandments, and the creation of the universe, as told by God himself (Joey Bucheker) with the assistance of his two archangels Gabriel (Dan Morris) and Michael (Daniel Lendzian). Acting as his own autobiographer, God takes us through his greatest hits, his biggest pet peeves, and his pivotal role in the major events of mankind, as well as putting his own comedic twists on well known Biblical hits like Adam & Even, the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Ark, and Sodom and Gomorrah. Most importantly, God rewrites the Ten Commandments for a modern day audience, with spin like “Thous shalt not tell me what to do.”

The weight of “Act of God” rests almost entirely on the shoulders of Joey Bucheker, whose mile-a-minute witticisms are coupled with the pizzazz and showmanship of a game show or Broadway kickline. With the pace of a one-man show and almost nonstop zingers, “An Act of God” is a real comedic workout for Bucheker who—with only a few tongue-tied moments—proves up to the task, bringing the Betsy Carmichael energy that he’s known for to this new almighty calling.

Lendzian and Morris also act as fun additions to this God-dominated performance, popping in-and-out to take questions from the audience and assist God in his storytelling. A particularly funny moment comes when Gabriel gets a little too mouthy and God strikes one of his wings off, only to have Gabriel return to the stage moments later looking ashamed and hawking “An Act of God” merch.

Despite a couple flubbed lines, easily chalked up to opening-night jitters, “An Act of God” is a hilarious night at the theatre, perfect for date night or a night out with friends. It’s playing tonight and tomorrow at the Shea’s Smith Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Love Letters’ at O’Connell & Company

Not every show needs big sets, flashy costumes, and dazzling kick-lines to tell an impactful story. Some certainly do need those embellishments (can you imagine a minimalist Les Miserables?), but other shows thrive when stripped-down, leaning on the merits of the story and the storytellers. O’Connell & Company’s current production of “Love Letters” is just such a show, conveying humor, romance, and high-drama using nothing more than a couple desks and two actors.

. . .simple and touching. . .

Using a different pair of Buffalo performers for nearly every performance (the night I attended featured the eminently talented Gregory and Mary Coppola Gjurich), “Love Letters” is the story of lifelong pen pals Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, who diligently wrote each other letters from their earliest elementary school days until their waning years. With the relationship at various points taking the form of platonic friendship, flirty courtship, and impassioned lover, Melissa and Andrew’s lives are told through the letters they wrote to each other over the course of 50+ years, through boarding school, college, career advancement, marriage, children, addiction, divorce, and every other life milestone imaginable.  Their lives travel in vastly different directions; Andrew attends an Ivy League college, joins the Navy, becomes an accomplished lawyer and eventually enters politics, while Melissa experiences divorce, custody battles, and a fizzling art career. Their letters to each other capture all the emotions experienced by the characters at these different stages of their lives, and shows us a bond that never waned regardless of distance or life status.

While it’s definitely a roller coaster of emotions, “Love Letters” is a refreshing treat for 21st century audience members because it shows us romance from a simpler time, before Tinder and texting, Snapchat and swiping left. A.R Gurney (who, fun fact, was a Buffalo native) tells a story that not only builds an affinity for the characters, but also the ancient art of letter-writing and all the nuance and depth that’s lost when letters are replaced with the cold efficiency of modern-day communications. This 1988 play, which was a Pulitzer finalist, was far ahead of its time, perhaps predicting that future generations would lose—or maybe never even know—the connection that can be forged through the simple act of writing a letter.

O’Connell & Company’sLove Letters” is a simple and touching story that’s particularly appropriate for the Valentine’s season. It’s playing at Buffalo’s Park School until February 24th. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Nuncrackers – The Nunsense Christmas Musical’ at O’Connell & Company

The cast of “Nucrackers” at O’Connell & Company.

Pre-holiday stresses got you down? Let the Little Sisters of Hoboken cheer you up and chase the Grinch from your holiday spirit.

Make time to see ‘Nuncrackers: The Nunsense Christmas Musical ‘on stage at O’Connell & Company now through December 23. Yes, it’s another iteration of Dan Goggin’s Nunsense franchise (the third out of six sequels) with your favorite fun-loving sisters, this time producing their own cable TV Christmas special. Move over Charlie Brown Christmas, those Andy Williams’ Christmas specials from the 1960s, and the 24-hour marathon of “The Christmas Story:”  this Christmas special has plenty of songs, dance, comedy, skits, and a special cameo visit from everyone’s favorite nun-puppet St. Mary Annette.

Get thyself to O’Connell & Company and  remember that your true intention should be to sit back, relax, and just let the laughter happen.

If you don’t remember when Sunday night TV watching meant “The Ed Sullivan Show,” you won’t get why an old-fashioned variety show is rich with appealing moments. But for those of us who learned to love the planned disconnect between a country music singer (yes, with yodeling), some slap-stick comedy sketches, a dance troupe, and a cooking segment, “Nuncrackers” will take you back to this sweet and simple evenings with “all smiles and no frowns,” just like Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina says.

The show begins with some tunes from the Sisters and some selections by the students of their school, Mt. St. Helen. There’s  a Secret Santa gift offering (hint: if one of the Sisters hands you a Secret Santa coupon during the pre-show mingle, take it. Trust me. I scored a St. Anthony medal.  Sister Mary Regina reminisces about “A Carnival Christmas” from her secular youth. While the order’s cook, Sister Julia, Child of God, makes an emergency trip to police headquarters, Father Virgil takes over her cooking segment and takes a few nips of the fruitcake rum.  There’s an audience participation sing-along, a plea for vocations (the Sisters haven’t replaced all of the 52 Sisters who passed to their eternal reward in the first Nunsense show), and a segment about the Catholic Home Shopping networks commercials. You get the picture.

Where Goggin’s plot is Hallmark-movie thin, (“Sisters, let’s put on a show on cable TV”), it’s the cast – this cast – that makes it all sparkle like twinkle lights on tinsel.

Susanna Breese is charming as Sister Mary Paul, otherwise known as Amnesia, the sister whose memory vanished when a crucifix conked her wimple-clad noggin. Mary Moebius is Sister Leo who wants to fulfill her childhood dream of being a ballerina (nun-erina?) only to suffer a minor injury minutes before her first on-camera pirouette. Ann Mosner is the cut up Sister Robert Ann, jumping all over the stage in hightop sneakers with lots Brooklyn bravado. Michael Starczynski is Father Virgil, the Friar with a sense of humor and a taste for spirits.  Mary Craig is (almost) all business as Sister Hubert, mistress of novices and the second in command. And then there’s Mary Kate O’Connell in her signature role as Mother Superior Sister Mary Regina, complete with a clicker and a cheerfully firm reminder to the cast to have “good attitudes everyone.”

The real stars in this show are the students under the Sisters’ careful tutelage at Mt. St. Helen School.  Lily Flammer, Jack Flammer, Alejandro Perez, and Mira Haley Steuer have credited roles as they lead two alternating teams of ensemble castmates. The kids are in almost every scene, from the pre-show carol-fest warm up to the grand finale. They sing, dance, and throw lines like pros. What I like best is that these kids are real kids, not slicked up pageant kids tossing exaggerated winks at the audience. Director Drew McCabe let their utter adorableness take center stage.

If you’re looking for a deeply meaningful night of theatre…well, there are some pretty special moments in Nuncrackers. Starczynski’s “The Christmas Box” is a beautiful  reminder that Christmas presents are fleeting and the presence of love is the real gift. Mosner’s “Jesus Was Born in Brooklyn” is not the comedic story the title suggests: it’s a rite of passage story-song about a young girl’s troubled family. If this particular song – with its soft lyrics and lovely story – is perfectly suited to her character’s tender side, Mosner really sells it a few tunes later in “All I Want for Christmas…” (“…is a one-night stand at Carnegie Hall”) with a melody and arrangement that’s a better match for her natural voice.  Some of the bits are showing their age (this show was written almost 20 year ago), with reference to vintage work-out videos, an on-stage appearance of a salad shooter, even the idea of cable-access TV. But even the passage of time can’t make the Village People-esque song “In the Convent” (yup, you’re humming that now in your head, aren’t you?) any less hysterical, especially when Mary Craig channels Aretha for a chorus of C-O-N-V-E-N-T.

So leave the serious theatre in the room where it happens where it’s quiet uptown. Get thyself to O’Connell & Company and  remember that your true intention should be to sit back, relax, and just let the laughter happen. And keep your feet on the floor (Sister Mary Regina will call you out if your legs are crossed), and banish your impure thoughts.

“Nuncrackers: The Christmas Musical” is a fast moving 90-minutes with one intercession, I mean 15 minute-intermission, now through December 23. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at O’Connell & Company

The cast of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’ at O’Connell & Company.

October is the perfect time of year to perform “Little Shop of Horrors,” one of the darkest  yet hilariously entertaining and toe-tapping musicals out there. Alan Menken and Howard Ashman wrote a fabulous score for a rather terrible story and thanks to a dynamite cast at O’Connell & Company, it makes for an unforgettably fun night at the theater.

. . .a killer good production that’s truly out of this world.

“Little Shop of Horrors” follows the plight of  Seymour Krelbourne (a lovable Matthew Mooney) as he nurses a strange plant with an even stranger appetite to life while pining for his coworker Audrey (flawless songstress Jenny Marie McCabe) at a Skid Row flower shop run by the closest thing he’s ever had to a father, Mushnik (a hysterical Dan Morris).

From the moment you sit down in the theater, which was perfectly utilized by Matthew Myers’ spacious set, there’s Halloween-themed music pumping through the speakers. With the “Little Shop of Horrors” logo sign glowing above the curtain, it set the mood perfectly for the show.

Director Joey Bucheker really knocked this one out of the park. The casting was perfect, from the three knockout main characters to the fabulous, sassy and soulful trio of street urchins played by Marta Aracelis, Smirna Mercedes-Perez and Emily Pici. The male ensemble also knocked out a huge variety of roles, with Daniel Lendzian soaking up all kinds of stage time as the sadistic dentist Orin Scrivello as well as multiple other characters and Jake Hayes giving us a deep, demonic voice for Audrey II.

Mooney and McCabe are one heck of a pair, balancing adorable chemistry and cluelessness with ease and making “Suddenly Seymour” one of the show’s highlights. McCabe masters Audrey’s easily annoying voice perfectly, with every word and note clear as a bell – and boy, can she sing. Mooney is the cutest geeky botanist there ever was, and is at his best sharing the stage with Morris during “Mushnik and Son.” Morris’ cartoonish facial expressions are just perfect and, with Bucheker’s choreography, make for a side-splitting number.

Lastly, no production of this show can be successful without well designed puppets operated by a master puppeteer and Brett Runyon’s various incarnations of Audrey II are out of this world. Just when you think you’ve seen the largest Audrey II… it just keeps getting bigger. Thankfully, the experienced Zachary Haumesser is at the helm to bring Audrey II believably to life with the assistance of Ben Caldwell and Matthew Myers. The final scene has the largest Audrey II that I have ever seen and, coupled with Melissa Leventhal’s costumes, makes for one hilarious final number that leaves the audience in tears from laughter.

“Little Shop” is a killer good production that’s truly out of this world. With plenty of opportunities to catch it this month, make sure it is on your October calendar.

Running Time: 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.“Little Shop of Horrors” is playing at O’Connell & Company in residence at the Park School of Buffalo through October 28, 2018. There will be a special added performance on Halloween. For tickets and more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Gentlemen Prefer DIVAs: Buffalo Legends’ by O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

“DIVA by DIVA: A Celebration of Women,” an O’Connell & Company production is already in the local history books as Western New York’s longest running theatrical production. This year for Curtain Up, its sister show paid tribute to local history, landmarks, and the legendary citizens who give our region its unique character.

. . .the audience loves it. It’s real. It’s authentic and accessible.

“Gentlemen Prefer DIVAs: Buffalo Legends “ was on stage one night only at the Shea’s Smith Theatre, as a salute to the people, places, and things that make Buffalo the special, awesome, fabulous place that it is. From its renowned arts and cultural scene, the innovations and inventions that changed the world, to the gracious and glorious architecture, artistic director Mary Kate O’Connell had plenty of inspiration in writing this script for this fast moving cabaret show.

If you’ve never seen any of the “DIVA by DIVA” variations, O’Connell custom-scripts each performance with a unique collection of quotes, stories, and songs. Cast members receive their scripts an hour-ish before the performance which gives each performance its unpredictable, organic flare. Yup, there are plenty of surprises, some sing-a-longs and lots of laughs along with a few poignant moments, too. This is what makes the “DIVA by DIVA” franchise so special: the mix of actors, singers, and just folks (like yours truly) who come together on stage and share the spotlight as one.

This all-star cast included former Buffalo Bill Lou Piccone, The Hon. Buffalo Mayor Tony Masiello, the creator of the Ride for Roswell Mitch Flynn, and award winning actor Lisa Ludwig, among the 29 arts, education, business, and civic leaders in celebration of all things 716. Rapid fire lines all had a Buffalo twist, with plenty of quotes from Lucille Ball, political humorist Mark Russell, Mark Twain, the always quotable Mayor Jimmy Griffin and other regional luminaries. There were quick biographical sketches of theatre impresario Michael Shea and songwriter Harold Arlen interspersed with reflections on snow in the southtowns, and intrepid Buffalo gals.

All of the songs were written by Buffalo-born or Buffalo-identified composers, the likes of Harold Arlen, David Shire, Ray Henderson, and Harry Warren, giving the singers a rich repertoire. Kate Masiello’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” was sweet and simple. Jon May’s cover of David Shire’s “One of the Good Guys” was touching (the male voice version of New Yorker Jason Robert Brown’s “Sun and the Moon,” perhaps). Matthew Mooney nailed another Shire composition “I Chose Right.” May took the verbal punch in another Shire tune, “You Wanna Be My Friend” in a duet with Therese Vita. Tom Owen’s big and bodacious baritone led the group in its closing number “Happy Days Are Here Again.” Mary Craig took us to church with the only tune not written by a Buffalonian in a tribute to the late Buffalo-gal-for a few years Aretha Franklin: her medley of “A Natural Woman” with a dash of “Respect”  was a powerful moment that brought some audience members to their feet. Yes, it’s that kind of show.

It’s the cast members that makes these shows so appealing, and they all have their own reasons for wanting ‘in’ on the biggest night in Buffalo’s theatre calendar. Hon. Lynn Marinelli, director of intergovernmental relations for Empire State Development said, “Mary Kate O’Connell, and her life’s devotion to Buffalo, culture, equality and friendship, has such a positive, gravitational pull, you want in! It’s so enjoyable to be among her troupe. And, whether you share the stage or the audience with her – you smile and shine!”

For advertising executive and Ride for Roswell creator Mitch Flynn, he participated to pay homage to the best of this place we call home. He said, “You can’t beat the cast and Mary Kate has put together a really fun show about all things Buffalo – ranging from shoveling snow to the Buffalo Bills to beef on weck.

Wealth advisor and singer Therese Vita is a long-time “DIVA by DIVA” cast member who signed on because, she said, “I love going to Curtain Up, but participating in a performance is even more exciting!  Being on stage with some local celebrities on the most exciting night of theater in Buffalo is a real thrill.” 

 Stanton Hudson, executive director of the national landmark TR Site, got back to his high school roots in the show.” I began “finding” myself when I joined the glee club and began participating in our annual musicals. I wasn’t a great singer but had opportunities to act and make people laugh. I never thought I’d ever have the chance to relive those happy days on stage, but I’m back there 50 years later and I’m simply delighted.”

While the theatre elite may criticize the entire DIVA by DIVA cabaret premise – mixing amateurs and professional actors in a staged reading that isn’t rehearsed – the audience loves it. It’s real. It’s authentic and accessible. And judging by the applause and the laughter, the audience likes this. The audience made a choice. In other words, to quote the inimitable Marv Levy, “where would you rather be than right here, right now?”

“Gentlemen Prefer DIVAs: Buffalo Legends” was a fun lead-off to O’Connell & Company’s season. Find details on the rest of the schedule here.