Theatre Review: ‘I Do! I Do!’ at O’Connell & Company

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Mary Coppola Gjurich and Gregory Gjurich in “I Do! I Do!” at “O’Connell & Company.

It’s a show full of moments. That sweet first kiss. The shy wonder of first intimacy. The bright delight of someone making you smile. Fear. Anger. And comfort that what you have is what was meant to be. “I Do! I Do!” on stage now at O’Connell & Company through May 6 celebrates these moments in a charming two-hander starring Mary Coppola Gjurich and Gregory Gjurich.

. . . a charming two-hander starring Mary Coppola Gjurich and Gregory Gjurich.

Real life Mr. and Mrs. Gjurich portray bride and groom Agnes and Michael in a story that spans 50 years of marriage, from their wedding night to the day they downsize. First staged in 1966 and still set as a 1895 to 1945 period piece, the musical version is based on the 1951 play called “The Four Poster” which originally starred another real life married couple Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn. The third star on the stage is the magnificent four poster bed: it’s a physical focal point and an important metaphor, too. A shared bed is unity and sharing in good times, and an object of avoidance when times are tough. And Agnes and Michael learn this on their journey.

Mary and Greg wear their roles well. In the opening scene, they’re both tender and tremulous in their first married kiss. She is appropriately outraged when her husband professes that “in a way, your youth is over” as they begin their timehop from newlyweds to silver-hairs. Michael is unabashedly enamored as he joyously sings “I Love My Wife.” Agnes is in awe with her wistful singing of “Something Has Happened” as she awaits the birth of their first child. If the story itself is showing its age, Mary and Greg raise their voices above this: their sound is rich and their interpretations of the Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt score is heartfelt and timeless. Their duet of this show’s most memorable song – “My Cup Runneth Over” is lovely and poignant. I almost wish director Bobby Cooke elevated this moment and gave it more spotlight.

Through the years, the young marrieds grow older and their imperfections unfold. The witty duet “Nobody’s Perfect” does a good, funny job of pointing out how irritating our little foibles are to each other. She’s always late and forgetting her gloves and bag. He chews in his sleep. There are brief, darker moments, too. Somewhere along the way he’s unfaithful. Yet they find their way back to each other and the marriage and life they began. It was vaguely disconcerting to watch Mary and Greg age onstage in character. This is where I prefer the magic of theatre: it was a hoot when Mary walked off stage only to emerge a few beats later in a late-stage pregnancy, but it was weird to watch Greg put a gray toupee on his head onstage. This took me out of the moment and just reminded me that I was watching a show.

If the four poster bed is the non-human star of the show, its co-star is the antique Lane hope chest at the foot of the bed. Its burled walnut elegance hides some of Agnes and Michael’s secrets. The pillow he detests, the chocolate he buys her that he expects her to share, and other marital artifacts gets chucked into the hope chest with that tacit “out of sight, out of mind” wish that all would be well if unpleasant things could just disappear. Set designer Paul Bostaph picked some lovely pieces to grace this simple staging. Pamela Snyder echoed this with gorgeous costumes, in particular Mary’s blue beaded black organza gown was a stunner.

Mother and son keyboardists Ian and Jacquie Scaduto did a straight up great job with the tunes: keeping it pure and unadulterated emphasized the sentiments. In the end, it’s the fine vocal chops on Mary and Greg Gjurich that keeps everyone engaged in this story, and reminds us that true love lasts a lifetime. Bravo.

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

“I Do! I Do!”runs until May 6, 2018 and is presented at O’Connell & Company. For more information, click here.  

First Look: ‘I Do!, I Do!’ at O’Connell & Company

It started with a bunch of orphans and a dog.

At least that’s how actors Mary and Gregory Gjurich met in real life. They were both cast in a production of “Annie” in 1983 at St. Gregory the Great Church in Williamsville. She as the Rising Star and he as ne’er do well Rooster Hannigan. “When she walked in,” says Gregory, “I turned to my friend and said that’s the girl I’m going to marry.”

And marry they did on April 9, 1988. Which means they will celebrate a marquee anniversary during the run of “I Do!, I Do!,” at O’Connell  & Company, when they are portraying the show’s fictional married couple Agnes and Michael.

This is not the first trip to the on-stage altar for the Gjurichs.  Through the years, they’ve played all three married couples in “Baby,”  and they’ve played opposite each other as love interests plenty of times.

“I Do!, I Do!” is different though: this story spans 50 years on stage. Mary says, “This show takes you on the journey from the beginning, and it’s quite a journey. A lot of things happen in this show. Children, his work, their lives…it’s a fun journey.” Greg says, “It really touches the realities of relationships, and it’s told with love, and it’s told from a good place.”

This production will be performed the way it was when “I Do! I Do!” was first produced in the 1960s: as a period piece beginning in 1895. It works this way. Greg says, “The purity of the relationship could get completed by modern things, like the immediacy of a cell phone call. Keeping it in the ‘40s is putting it in a simpler time.”

There’s a beautiful complexity between Agnes and Michael  as they grow into their union. Like every couple, they have their challenges, their funny moments, their somber moments. And like every couple, how they communicate with each other sets the tone for their story. Greg says, “The playwright observed a lot of communication in married couples. It’s like he knows it’s going to bug her…” And Mary chimes in with a laugh, saying “Those are the moments that resonate. I could have easily said that she knows it’s going to bug him…” It’s these moments that make the script and the character interactions so real. It’s also a caveat for real life Mary and Greg: Mary says, “Greg and I have to be careful. We know each other so well. On stage we have to live outside ourselves.”

Both actors credit director Bobby Cook and his open, collaborative style for giving them the latitude to develop Agnes and Michael on stage. “Bobby has his vision, and we have our vision together. We morph into each other.” Greg says, “We talk about it. Then he wants to see what comes out of it. It’s kind of neat.”

It may be an idealized stage version of marriage (Greg said O’Connell & Company executive and artistic director Mary Kate O’Connell said it was written to look like a Norman Rockwell painting coming to life), but in many ways, Agnes and Michael’s journey is full of the same highs and lows of any marriage. Married couples – from newlyweds to matured relationships – will relate to those familiar, every-couple moments.  As an almost 30-year veteran of a real-life marriage to his favorite leading lady, Greg says, “You’ll go away with a smile. It’s a lovely piece. That purity will make you sigh.” Just like true love.

“I Do! I Do!” is onstage at O’Connell & Company from April 5 to May 6, 2018. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.

 

Theatre Review: ‘Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace’ by O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Betsy Carmichael (right) and her friends at “Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace” at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

I signed up to review “Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace” on a whim, having never heard of the show and having no familiarity with Betsy’s long history in Buffalo. I’m a Buffalo transplant originally from the Rochester area, so I didn’t realize that Betsy’s act is a pillar of the Buffalo theatre scene. I don’t know what I expected really; some sort of dinner theatre maybe? I walked into Shea’s Smith Theatre on Friday night with no expectations, and left with a sore face and stomach cramps from laughing so much.

. . .a gut-busting hysterical night. . .

“Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace” is an original interactive comedy by Joey Bucheker and Mary Kate O’Connell. Bucheker leads the show as Betsy Carmichael, an over-the-top lover of all things Bingo, glitter, and dirty humor. Flanked by her “twin” nieces Mary Margaret (Corey Bieber) and Margaret Mary (Adam Wall) and aided by her bingo-shouting brother-in-law (Dr. Jerry Mosey), Betsy hosts an interactive night of bingo that is interwoven with skits, stories, songs, goofy prizes and raunchy jokes. Throughout the night the audience joins Betsy in singing, dancing, and even in a mock wedding ceremony. It is truly unlike anything you’ve ever experienced.

The Betsy Carmichael experience is sort of like having your cheeks pinched by your loud aunt for two hours straight, but in a good way. It’s like Madea meets Roseanne. It’s like being trapped inside of a disco ball, but one that you don’t want to get out of. Having a drink (or three) is not only allowed, but encouraged at the bingo palace.

“Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace” is a gut-busting hysterical night at the theatre, and will appeal to folks of all stripes from any walks of life (though probably not for the young ones). With reoccurring mic/sound issues being the only drawback of this opening night performance (which will surely be ironed out), it is sure to be a sell-out of its remaining shows. You won’t regret spending your evening with Betsy.

Running Time 2 Hours 15 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Some Adult Language and Humor

“Betsy Carmichael’s Bingo Palace” is presented by O’Connell & Company and is being performed at Shea’s Smith Theatre until March 25th, 2018. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘An Act Of God’ at O’Connell & Company

David Javerbaum gives theatergoers the chance of a lifetime. An intimate, 90-minute talk with the Big Guy. No, I’m not taking about Santa Claus, I’m talking about God. Him. The Almighty. Well, a depiction of him, let’s say. God himself, as we learn early on in this comical show, takes many forms, and he is presenting himself in the form of the beloved local character actor, Joey Bucheker.

. . .full of hoots, hollers, and uproarious laugher.

What does God have to say that is so important, that he took 90-minutes out of his day to come to the Park School of Buffalo, and meet with a live audience? Well, you’d be surprised. God, wanted to cut out the middle man, and deliver his new “10 Commandments” to us directly, so that there wasn’t any question about the meaning of these. . .new Heavenly laws. Prayer, sporting events, national disasters, technology, pop culture, and even some audience participation come along for this Heavenly ride of new-found enlightenment. Accompanied by Gabriel (Dan Morris) and Michael The Archangel (Jake Hayes), this comic trio gives the audience a performance that is full of hoots, hollers, and uproarious laughter.

Bucheker does a wonderful job delivering the word of God in this production. He has a great personality for the character, and is able to be ridiculously goofy, and heartfelt, at the turn of a dime. Bucheker gets laugh after laugh as he shares his wisdom with the audience, especially when he let’s us all in on a little secret, that God’s favorite human emotions are awe and panic. He does not disappoint. 

Dan Morris and Jake Hayes do a great job portraying God’s sidekicks in this comedy, and pull out all the stops when it comes to taking creative risks, and getting the laughs. They compliment Bucheker’s style, often grounding him at times, which balances out the performance nicely.

Overall, this show is an enjoyable night out. It does get a little preachy toward the end  (pun intended at no extra charge to you) but it does not take away from the charm and heart that it possesses. Director Victoria Perez-Maggiolo has mounted a hit. Go see this show!

Running Time: 90-Minutes, with one 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Some adult language and suggestive content.

“An Act Of God” runs until February 11, 2018 and is presented at O’Connell & Company. For more information, click here.

First Look: ‘An Act of God’ at O’Connell & Company

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According to playwright David Javerbaum, if you  prayed to God for a Buffalo Bills win on Sunday, don’t blame Him. Javerbaum’s take on God means that God doesn’t control sporting events. “Except on the rare occasions when it affects the spread,” God says in Javerbaum’s “An Act of God,” on stage at O’Connell & Company January 11 to February 11.

The show had a brief Broadway run in 2015 with Jim Parsons in the leading role, repeated in 2016 with Sean Hayes as God. O’Connell & Company cast Joey Bucheker as the Almighty under the directon of Victoria Perez-Maggiolo.

The script is God’s running monologue as He observes contemporary humanity and makes some revisions to the 10 Commandments and His original vision for humanity on Earth.

Sacrilegious?  Not to most. Hilarious?  Pretty much.  But these are jokes with a purpose. And it’s Bucheker’s irreverent onstage personality that made him the perfect choice for the Almighty role.

“I wanted to bring Joey to God and God to Joey,” Perez-Maggiolo says.  “I had to take those things that are enduring and controversial at the same time and find the commonalities. And we’re letting the funny happen.”

The story is more than that. Perez-Maggiolo says, “The jokes are nonstop and then it hits you in a way that says ‘Oh, so that’s what we’re talking about.’ “

It’s a powerful way to script a show and send home a message.

For Bucheker , “It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever done. So many words! It’s very smart. Any time you do something modern with religion, it can either be smart or smartass. I didn’t want to do it smartass.”

He’s also sensitive to how the audience may react, but is pragmatic about interpretation. “It’s not an anti-religion point of view. The Bible is open to wide interpretation. The reality is none of us know what it really was: there can be many interpretations.”

Bucheker is quick to say that he’s a comedic character actor and not a comedian. He’s not poking fun at the Bible, God’s word, or religion. He’s interpreting God, as though He has come to Earth, sharing His memoirs,  and has theatrical aspirations. “It’s a very sophisticated take on spiritual comedy.”

Even if the concept of God laughing at life while reflecting and revising along the way is disconcerting, Perez-Maggiolo has her own insight. “ What I want to tell people,” she says, is “ to stick around, it’s worth it, and it’s going to make sense.  There are lots of questions, and these are all questions that should be asked. “

Amen.

“An Act of God” is onstage at O’Connell & Company in residence at The Park School of Buffalo from January 11 – February 11, 2018. For information and tickets call 848-0800 or click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo

O’Connell & Company Celebrates ‘Women’s Little Christmas’

Some folks call it Little Christmas. In the church community it’s the Epiphany. But in a traditional Irish home, Saturday, January 6 is Nollaig na Ban, or “Women’s Little Christmas,” and O’Connell & Company will celebrate it from 5pm to 10pm at the American Legion Post 1041 (533 Amherst St. in Buffalo).

The event began a few years ago as a social gathering for the theatre company and the community it created around “Diva by Diva: A Celebration of Women.” This year company founder and artistic director Mary Kate O’Connell expanded the event to be a fundraising event. She said, “I chose this because of the wonderful sisterhood it created the last time we gathered. With this as a fundraiser we can give people a much more affordable and entertaining evening.”

It’s a perfect fit for this lively and pay-it-forward centric company. The tradition in Ireland says after all the hard work women do to prepare and make Christmas, the men take on all the household duties for the day, thus closing down the holiday season. As a result, parties of women with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts, are common in bars and restaurants on this night. The women laugh, sing, exchange fun gifts, read poetry and prose, reminisce, visit and, oh yes, drink Guinness, and maybe a wee bit of Jameson.

In other words, it’s just another night of fun and fellowship  (for a good cause). Actors from the Company lead the singing. Local poets and other friends of the company will share readings, stories, and overall merriment. Inviting the public to join in the fun and support the company will “increase the circle friends for the company,” says O’Connell, and create another reason to enjoy the spirit of the season with good friends, food, and some hearty laughs in the bleak mid-winter.

Men of the company will be in the kitchen serving up  Corned Beef, Cabbage, Salt Potatoes, Roasted Carrots, Rye Bread, Homemade Cookies, Irish Coffee, green wine spritzers, and lighter libations.

Basket raffles, auction items, and 50/50 drawings will support the company and its charities that help women and child in need.

Reservations are required by January 2, 2018 at $25 per person, and parking is free and plentiful. Click here to reserve your place and pay on the spot. Or you can reserve your tickets and pay at the door (save the service charge the website will charge and use the cash for basket raffle tickets!) by emailing oconnellgetinfo@aol.com (use “Women’s Little Christmas” in subject line. Include # of tickets required and your full name. CASH ONLY will be taken at the door. )

Slainte!

Theatre Review: ‘Irving Berlin’s America’ at O’Connell & Company

“Irving Berlin’s America,” now onstage at O’Connell & Company, is one wonderful tune after another against a story that’s based on the celebrated songwriter’s robust rags to riches 101 year life.

. . . very entertaining performances, lovely singing, and the good vibes that remind you Berlin’s music will endure “not for just an hour, not for just day, not for just a year, but always.”

William Group and Matthew Mooney as Berlin and his mysterious nighttime visitor Jack belt and croon their way through a small but endearing collection of Berlin tunes (with a few from the pen George M. Cohan, too) in this musical send up. Their twin tenors blend and harmonize perfectly and they nail every note and clever lyric. In just two hours, they sing and dance through 28 bits and pieces of perfectly wonderful Americana. Music director Susan Shaw is their offstage accompanist who did a heck of a job making the digital keyboard sound like a vintage upright stride from the jazz age.

The story line itself is oddly disconcerting: Berlin is painting at an easel, in his bathrobe, when Jack appears in his presumably locked home. Jack coaxes Berlin’s life story from him, from his struggles as a Russian immigrant, from his earliest tunesmith days, to his brief marriage to Buffalo gal Dorothy Goetz, his 12 year grief after her sad death, and his marriage to wealthy Catholic Ellin whose father disapproved of the marriage. Playwright Chip Deffaa’s dialogue is stilted and strained, and Group and Mooney do their best with it. It’s the constant roll of songs that keeps the audience engaged and wanting more. Deffaa’s song choice spans the familiar – “I Love a Piano” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” heading the list – to songs that maybe aren’t top of mind, like “The Circus is Coming To Town.” Missing from the rich rundown are the show stoppers from “Annie Get Your Gun,” “Call Me Madam” and beloved pieces like “God Bless America” and “White Christmas.”  After Mooney’s beautifully plaintive “A Pretty Girl is Like a Melody,” I would have loved to hear his treatment of “Always.”  Group’s poignant performance of Berlin’s first ballad “When I Lost You” is so exquisitely tender, I would have loved to have heard what he did with “What’ll I Do.” But with 1500 songs from which to chose, something had to be left behind. The hits you love most get a wink and a nod in the script, with some storytelling in between.  Listen carefully for bits of Berlin and pop song trivia, too. Here’s a hint: the two or three times Berlin mentions wanting “another cup of coffee and another piece of pie” is – no surprise – lyrics from one of his 1923 compositions.  And the date so conveniently mentioned in Act 1 – September 22, 1989 – is the date of Berlin’s death.

Because the music is so grand and the plot line is an odd mix of biography and allegory (is Jack the Grim Reaper or the spirit of Berlin’s deceased son coming to bring him to his heavenly home?), I chose to stay locked into the music. Group plays Berlin with an endearing blend of nebbish charm with a touch of grumpy old man. As he says, “I write simple songs. I’m a simple man.”  He sums up Berlin’s life as the most published and popular songwriter of his time, saying “It’s given me everything by giving me what I wanted to be.”

Mooney tap dances and sings his way into your heart. (Watch him in Act 1: he slyly slides from tap shoes to soft shoes with some on stage magic). I couldn’t help but notice a few opening night dropped lines and a distracting problem with flickering lights. Group and Mooney rise above this with very entertaining performances, lovely singing, and the good vibes that remind you Berlin’s music will endure “not for just an hour, not for just day, not for just a year, but always.”

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

“Irving Berlin’s America” runs until December 17, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company at The Park School of Buffalo. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Painting Churches’ at O’Connell & Company

“Painting Churches” follows the story of Fanny and Gardiner Church and their daughter, Mags, as they prepare to pack up and move from their home in Boston to Cape Cod year-round. As can be expected with any family dynamic, the strains between characters are there – but what the actors show the audience is the endearing and compelling story of a small family grappling with the onset of Alzheimer’s in the patriarch of the Church family.

. . .The direction of Lucas Lloyd in conjunction with the wonderful talents of the actors made this production a must-see.

Fanny Church (Tina Rausa) is the sole caretaker of her ailing husband, and handles it with humor; this sometimes makes the character come off as mocking, but Rausa brings to the character compassion and ease of presence. Rausa never fails to get the laugh as she tromps around in galoshes nearly as large as her head and recreates famous paintings with Gardiner sprawled across the steps of their home.

Mags Church (Sara Kow-Falcone) arrives home to assist her parents with another wish as well: to paint their portrait. Mags has unresolved issues with her childhood and her parents which gradually present themselves, but Kow-Falcone is so easily her character that I found myself enthralled with her performance even in the most difficult moments. The entire show is a subtle power struggle between Mags and her parents in order to determine on whose terms this portrait is painted.

Gardiner Church (Jack Horohoe) is a loving father and husband as well as an award-winning poet slowly declining as the Alzheimer’s takes hold. Gardiner is still dedicated to his poetry, and randomly spouts lines of poems throughout the play. Horohoe is charmingly absent as Gardiner, very convincingly portraying the disease addling his mind.

The dynamic between Mags and Fanny is strained at times as Mags comes to terms with her father’s illness and not quite agreeing with how Fanny is handling the situation. Through this, the three Churches show off their quirky antics on stage and find a common ground despite their differences. Fanny and Gardiner, being high-brow traditional people, never expected their daughter to become a free spirited artist. In the end, we see a reconciliation between Mags and her parents as the portrait is finally finished.

The small space in O’Connell & Company is intimate enough that the small cast of three filled the space very well, and the set design on the two-tiered stage made the Church residence appear much larger than the stage would be expected to allow. The direction of Lucas Lloyd in conjunction with the wonderful talents of the actors made this production a must-see.

Running time: 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

“Painting Churches” runs until November 19, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company at The Park School of Buffalo. For more information, click here.

 

First Look: ‘Painting Churches’ at O’Connell & Company

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

How do you hold on to an image of something dear to you if the image is starting to fade or blur?

“Painting Churches,” on stage at O’Connell & Company from November 9 to 19, 2017 tells the story of an artist who returns to her family home to paint a portrait of her parents as they are preparing to move. There’s the usual tense family dynamic, compounded by reality of Mr. Church’s Alzheimer’s disease.

The need to paint her parents’ portrait holds on many levels meaning.

Helping people understand Alzheimer’s disease is the story within this story. It’s estimated that 5.5 million Americans of all ages have Alzheimer’s disease which causes more deaths than breast and prostate cancer combined. The Alzheimer’s Association of WNY is the community education resource for this production which was partially funded by the New York State Council on the Arts Decentralization grant awarded through the Arts Services Initiative of WNY.

To wit, two Talk Back sessions are scheduled following the November 9 and November 16 performances to give audience members a chance to ask questions, and develop a deeper understanding of this disease and the impact it has on sufferers and caregivers.

Above all, “Painting Churches” is a family drama, that’s both challenging and extremely rewarding, says director Lucas Lloyd. It was a Pulitzer Award for Drama finalist in 1984 (“Glengarry Glen Ross” earned the nod that year). “The script is outstanding,” Lloyd says. “It’s gorgeous, funny, original, and deeply affecting.” Strangely it’s not sad or maudlin in handling the delicate story of mental decline. Lloyd says, “The father’s condition is handled with such grace, humor, good nature, and affirmation from start to finish.  Fanny and Gardner are resilient because of their love for each other: that is what keeps them alive and gives them the strength to push through all the changes they’re facing.”

As the director, it’s Lloyd’s job to guide his cast (Tina Rausa, Jack Horohoe, and Sara Kow-Falcone) through the emotional and situational ebbs and flows of a powerful drama with comedic moments. “Finding the right tone has been so important,” he says. The play rolls along at long stretches as broadly, breezily funny, but underneath it all, the hard reality of the father’s condition and the tension in the parent-child relationships stays always present.  The characters are so wonderfully quirky, but also intensely relatable. The gorgeous, difficult heart of it seeks to shine through both the funny and the serious moments. And on top of all that, its artistic style runs a narrow line between kitchen sink realism and pure whimsy.  Finding the dance in all that has been so much fun and so rewarding.”

The audience will also see art in its earliest form. Sara Kow-Falcone as the artist and daughter studied up on art technique to inform her beginning sketches that are part of the story.Kyle Polaske, an art teacher at The Park School of Buffalo, was commissioned to paint the final portrait from descriptions in the script. While the painting isn’t fully revealed to the audience, its presence onstage is a reminder that a portrait – like a good drama – is a very personal interpretation.

See “Painting Churches” onstage in this limited run engagement at The Park School of Buffalo,  425 Harlem Rd., Snyder. For information and tickets call 848-0800 or click here. Stay for the Talk Back sessions on November 9 (Tricia Hughes from the Alzheimer’s Association of WNY will speak) and November 16 when author Jacci Smith Reed speaks about her book “A Stranger in the House” about her experiences caring for her husband. 

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance Of Buffalo.

Theatre Review: ‘Dear World’ at O’Connell & Company

Mary Kate O’Connell and Roger Van Dette in “Dear World” at O’Connell & Company.

Last night, I went to the opening of “Dear World” presented by O’Connell and Company at The Park School of Buffalo.

. . .a treat for fans of Broadway musicals. . .

“Dear World” is a musical with songs by Jerry Herman and book by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee. It’s based on the Giraudoux play, “The Madwoman of Chaillot”, and it’s about three pixilated middle-aged ladies who band together with a crowd of misfits to stop greed and corruption in Paris. The theme of resisting greed and corruption is certainly still timely today.

Unlike Jerry Herman’s mega hits, “Hello Dolly!” and “Mame,” “Dear World” is rarely performed.  I’ve long been a fan of the dynamic cast album, however, especially Angela Lansbury’s electric interpretation of “I Don’t Want to Know.” So I wanted to be sure to catch this production!

The creators of “Dear World” originally envisioned it as a chamber musical and the O’Connell and Company’s production returns to this concept, eliminating the chorus and the massive sets that, according to Broadway lore, weighed the show down. Giraudoux’s plays are light and poetic and they border on fantasy, so leaving realism behind and encouraging the audience to use their imagination is a good fit and the show works well in the small Park School theatre.

Mary Kate O’Connell stars as the Countess and she especially shines in the Act I finale about how “one person can change the world.” Ms. O’Connell also does a heartfelt job with “And I Was Beautiful.” It’s an affecting moment and I kept wishing that it was played downstage and that the background movements were cut so that we could really focus on Ms. O’Connell’s meaningful performance and the lovely lyrics.

Playing opposite Ms. O’Connell and packing a lot of punch is singer Roger Vandette as Sewer Man. The Countess and Sewer Man are ably assisted in their mission to save Paris by the young lovers (Gianna Palermo and Matthew Mooney), Joel Russlett as a policeman, two sweet urchins (Myles Cerrato and Lily Flammer), and Jeremy Kreuzer who does a nice turn as the waiter.

The show sizzles when the three madwomen take to the stage – Ms. O’Connell is the staunch one with the plans, Amy Jorrisch is amusing as Constance, and Katy Miner positively glows as the giddy Gabrielle.

Director Kelli Bocock-Natale is known throughout WNY for her inventive staging and she’s particularly creative in this production with the three villains played by Jon May, Nick Lama, and Matthew Gilbert. They are the Ritz Brothers in tailcoats and the audience enjoyed their wild-eyed zany antics.

There’s very good choral work by musical director Donald Jenczka and terrific accompaniment by Mr. Jenczka on keyboards, Jay Wollin on cello, and Keith Galantowicz who covers the whole woodwind section of the orchestra in the course of the evening!

Lighting by David Guagliano is fine and kudos, too, to costume designers Pamela Snyder and Christine Coniglio and hat designer Valerie Warren.

Although “Dear World’s” book is ragged because the full length play was necessarily truncated to make room for the many musical numbers, it’s a treat for fans of Broadway musicals to be able to see a production of this seldom performed show here in WNY. There’s much to enjoy throughout the evening, and the show is appropriate for ages 10 and up.

Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one intermission.

“Dear World” runs until October 22, 2017 and is presented at O’Connell & Company at The Park School of Buffalo. For more information, click here.