Kinky Boots Raises You Up at Shea’s 710

Well, Buffalo is a factory town. Road Less Traveled’s recent production of Sweat gave us a grim reminder of what happens when a factory is on the brink. Suffice it to say, that Buffalo hasn’t seen the likes of Price & Son, the factory at the soul of Kinky Boots, MusicalFare Theatre’s production on stage at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

The story is based on an actual situation which happened in the UK in 1999: a family-owned maker of men’s dress shoes was about to go under when the owner discovered an under-served market for fine footware: drag queens. Tweaking the business plan kept workers on at the plant and restored profitability. This inspired the 2005 film Kinky Boots written by Geoff Deane and Tim Firth which then inspired Harvey Firestein to write the stage show with Cyndi Lauper writing original music and lyrics in 2013.  As I am wont to say, I usually don’t care for movies on stage, but this show is so irrepressible, it would be hard to dislike it.  Most importantly, there’s a powerful message of inclusion, acceptance, personal freedom, and self-love that shines through, particularly in Lauper’s Tony-winning lyrics.

Everything about this production was a delight, from the cast, to the band, to the choreography and plenty of stage magic. The show opens as Papa Price (John Fredo) is extolling the virtue of traditional footware to his young son Charlie (Daniel Pitirri), while Simon’s Papa (Vincenzo McNeill) is less than impressed with his son Simon’s (Oliver Parzy-Sanders) fascination with a bright red pair of pumps. Fast forward a bunch of years, and the young adult Charlie (Steve Copps) doesn’t think that shoes are the most beautiful thing in the world, so (much like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life), he leaves the family business behind for big city life. His father’s death draws him home. A chance encounter with grown up Simon, now drag queen Lola (Lorenzo Shawn Parnell)   and a conversation with one of his employees (Bethany Burrows) who is about to lose her job, spark the idea to build shoes that support a manly body type when he’s in drag. From here, the story is a really a journey, and it’s a beautiful one.

The entire cast is stellar, from the young actors playing Charlie and Simon/Lola as children to the shoe factory workers who rally to make sharp and spiky boots where there’s plenty of sex in the heel. Look and listen for Artie Award recognized actors like Charmagne Chi, Dan Urtz, Doug Weyand, and Dave Spychalski among the factory workers, and Lola’s back up singers/dancers known as the Angels in drag Marc Sacco, Johnny Kiener, Collin McKee, and David Pieffer.

Copps wins hearts as he stumbles – literally – down a non-traditional path, and it’s Parnell who puts the soul in boot making with the poignant “I’m Not My Father’s Son” and “Hold Me in Your Heart” ballads. Beautiful musical moments for sure. In between the powerful messages about inclusion and belonging there are delectably in-your-face proofs about the pure joy of loving what you do, who you are, and who you’re with on the journey. As the song says, “you change the world when you change your mind.”

Kinky Boots runs under two hours with a 15-minute intermission, to May 21, which includes some extra performances. Grab tickets fast at


All Aboard for a Murder!

Sometimes you have to stick with the classics.

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express was published as a novel in 1934, made into films twice, and most recently was adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig. Over time and all these permutations, the story has retained its intricate web of mystery, deceit, sardonic wit, told by a complex cast of characters. All for One Productions’ latest version at Shea’s 710 Theatre captures it all on a pretty amazing stage, too.

All for One and the show’s director Kyle LoConti kept it all pretty mainstream and that simplicity was this show’s perfection. Lynne Koscielniak’s set is gorgeous: it revolves to reveal four distinct places – including the train’s dim and narrow aisle and it’s well-appointed a quite glamorous. Prop master Diane Almeter Jones and her team went for pure art deco elegance which was echoed by Lise Harty’s stunning costumes. You’re pulled into story immediately on the narrow video screen above the set which also becomes the moving train.

What’s a great set without a cast of actors in roles that fit them like fine calf skin gloves? Christian Brandjes is a marvelous Hercule Poirot, right down to the elaborate moustache. Gregory Gjurich is c’est magnifique as Monsieur Bouc, Poirot’s friend who helps get him aboard the train from Istanbul to London. Make sure you read the cast bios in the (really printed on page) playbill. Gjurich shows his devotion to his character in his entry. Lisa Ludwig is wonderfully brash as the only American, Mrs. Hubbard. Alas, there are plenty of aliases among this large cast and a couple actors who adroitly handle double roles. It’s all great fun. At the back of your mind, you know that the characters are in a world between wars, they’re fighting their inner battles, too, and yet they are swathed in a refined elegance that only can happen on a train in Europe. With murderers afoot. And revenge as a motive. Or was it?

Even if you’re blasé about having read the book, seen the movie(s), know the plot and its twists, this is mighty fine theatre. The set is an experience, the acting is superb, and whole experience is a pure delight. It’s a short run to April 2; find tickets and details at

Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express runs two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

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

RENT by Starring Buffalo at Shea’s 710 Theatre

It takes a lot to fill Shea’s 710 Main theater, and certainly the anticipation of Broadway and Buffalo talent performing one of the most recognizable musicals in the recent canon was all it took. Anticipation filled the air as Artistic Director Drew Fornarola took the stage to introduce Starring Buffalo’s third production in Buffalo, after far too long away.

RENT, which is somehow 25 years old (!!!) essentially revolutionized the way commercial Broadway functioned. People camped out on the street to get rush tickets, while the NYC elite were paying hundreds of dollars for the same show. It was Hamilton before Hamilton. Starring Buffalo has astounded me in their past two performances, and I was certainly excited to see their take on this revolutionary work. Fornarola and his team have assembled a seemingly perfect cast, including Broadway performers Jay Armstrong Johnson as Roger, Jerusha Cavazos as Mimi, and Troy Iwata as Mark. 

As Roger, Johnson is equipped with an unbelievable vocal instrument that is well suited for the role. I’ve long admired him as a performer, but felt that his performance was slightly low-energy off the bat. Iwata is the strongest of the Broadway performers, finding honest humor in each moment. I was grateful to see Iwata have a fresh take on the character. As Mimi, Cavazos’ physicality works, but she doesn’t quite have the powerhouse voice that has come to be associated with Mimi.

Buffalo standouts Dudney Joseph Jr. and Joe Russi are able to fully realize their potential as Collins and Angel, respectively. Joseph Jr.’s rich vocal instrument is as effective in both versions of “I’ll Cover You,” Act One’s uptempo love duet with Russi, and Act Two’s heartbreaking tribute at Angel’s funeral (Spoilers, I guess). I was thrilled this production made the decision to dress Russi in the signature Angel costume, and was captivated by his performance of “Today 4 U.” Giving strong performances are Alex McArthur as Joanne and Leah Berst as Maureen, while Jonathan Young manages to instill “yuppy scum” Benny with some redeemable qualities. Special commendation is to be given to Sean Ryan, who is playing an ensemble role in this piece and also served as Assistant Director. Ryan’s opening to “Will I?” is as good as it gets. 

Ultimately, the thing that nearly derailed the opening night production was a band that was not nearly performance ready. It should be noted, of course, that the entire cast only had about 48 hours of rehearsal together, so there were bound to be some onstage jitters or fumbles. That being said (and setting aside a moment in “Tango Maureen” that seemed to be more of a technical issue and less of a musical one, but nevertheless forced the actors to adlib) the lack of accurate musicianship from the band severely hindered performances from succeeding. Cues were bound to be messy, but there were several occasions where the band, especially the normally sharp guitarist Larry Albert, were just playing entirely incorrect phrases. 

As I said before, Starring Buffalo is an incredible organization whose mission brings Broadway performers, Buffalo professionals, and (usually) high school choruses together. Their previous productions have been excellent, and I felt that this RENT just didn’t quite meet their high standards.

For more information on Starring Buffalo!, click here.

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.

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


Theatre Review: ‘Superior Donuts’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

To start its 2019/2020 season, Shea’s 710 Theatre has partnered with Road Less Traveled Productions to present “Superior Donuts”, a show from acclaimed playwright Tracy Letts (of “August: Osage County” fame) that tackles topical sociopolitical issues like race and gentrification, but more importantly, spotlights a friendship between an aging hippie who’s stuck in his ways, and a young black man desperately trying to bring him into the 21st century. 

. . .funny and touching. . .

“Superior Donuts” tells the story of Arthur Przybyszewski (Steve Jakiel), the owner of the decrepit donut shop from whence the play gets its name; it’s a staple of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood, which has been in Arthur’s family for 60+ years. Finding himself in need of a new assistant, Arthur hires Franco (Jake Hayes) a young college-aged African-American man who, as we come to learn, is desperately in-need of a job in order to continue supporting his mother, and to pay off steep gambling debt to a local bookie.  With the donut shop struggling financially, Franco makes suggestions for improvement and modernization to the often-reluctant Arthur, who punctuates the story with regular monologues about his daughter, ex-wife, and past as a draft-dodging hippie.

Jakiel and Hayes absolutely shine in the leading roles of Arthur and Franco, with Jakiel masterfully playing the grumpy curmudgeon who is surprisingly educated and open-minded, and Hayes playing the enterprising young Franco who has a gift for writing. The chemistry between these two actors is organic and palpable, one that either comes naturally or was honed through hours and hours of intense rehearsal (or both). Regardless, it’s completely magnetic and is the foundation of this production. 

Rounding out the cast are a handful of smaller supporting roles, all of which add color and context to the setting of “Superior Donuts.” Most notable are Max Tarasov (John Profeta), the flamboyant Russian owner of the DVD shop next door, Lady Boyle (Tina Rausa), the bag lady who frequents the shop, and Officer Randy Osteen (Lisa Vitrano), the neighborhood cop with a sweet spot for Arthur. 

Even though it’s only 10 years old, it’s striking how remarkably well “Superior Donuts” has aged. Our culture is awash with well-intentioned plays and films that attempt to heavy-handedly address important racial themes, and end up coming across as a little too “white savior-y” (one need look no further that 2018’s Oscar-winning “Green Book” for a prime example). Tracy Letts had the foresight to not lead “Superior Donuts” down that road; there are no white saviors, and at the end of the show’s two acts our main characters haven’t tidily solved racism. “Superior Donuts” gently explores themes of class and, yes, sometimes race (there’s an impactful moment where Arthur actually concedes that he probably harbors some implicit racism), but it’s mainly about two new friends who learn to challenge and protect each other.

I listened to a podcast recently in which the hosts were discussing the film “The Shawshank Redemption”, and they described it as “not so much a prison movie as a romance movie about two best friends.” At the time it struck me as a curious description, but upon further reflection I realized that it was absolutely spot-on. Fans of “Shawshank” know that prison is certainly the backdrop, but the movie is really about the deep, meaningful friendship that unfolds between Andy and Red over the course of their years behind bars together. The podcasters were making the point that this storytelling format is more common with romance movies than in prison thrillers, and it occurs to me that “Superior Donuts” could be summarized the same way; “a romance movie about two best friends.” Sure, “Superior Donuts” flirts with issues like race, gentrification, and even the protest movements of the 1960’s, but the real thematic weight lies with the friendship that develops and grows between Arthur and Franco during the course of the play, and how that friendship becomes a saving grace in both of their lives. To Arthur, Franco becomes an adopted son of sorts, someone to encourage and protect, but also to help pull him and his shop into the 21st century. 

“Superior Donuts” is a funny and touching production, and a thoughtful collaboration between two of Buffalo’s finest theatre institutions. It’s also an important play to revisit, given the cultural and political backdrop of 2019. 

“Superior Donuts” is playing at Shea’s 710 Theatre until October 27th. For tickets and more information, click here

Theatre Review: ‘Almost Maine’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The cast of “Almost, Maine” by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

A lot can happen in one night.

You could fall in love. Or realize it’s not love anymore. You could connect with a former flame. Or find out that our best friend really has your heart in a surprising way. Your broken heart could get mended. You might see love in a surprising new way. Or you could just revel in the beauty of the Northern Lights and wonder about love’s possibilities.

“Almost, Maine” isn’t the dramatic powerhouse that often dominates the RLTP schedule, but there’s depth that’s worth exploring in each vignette.

Welcome to “Almost, Maine,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions and onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre to February 24.  Playwright John Cariani introduces us to nine couples in quick vignettes as they discover new things about love and themselves all on the same winter’s night in this quaint and quirky (fictitious) town.

Each story is charming. Some folks may think they’re goofy, but there’s a lot of heart in these stories, even the tales that deliver us from the love we think we share. First we meet Pete and Ginette as they make shy declarations and clumsy analogies about physics. (Spoiler alert: we see them again. You have to love a show with a prologue, interlogue and epilogue).  Next up are Glory and East who don’t expect to find love in a former potato patch. ‘They Fell’ has best buds Jimmy and Steve competing to see who has the worst dates, until they figure out the reason why their dates are trainwrecks. ‘The Story of Hope’ is wistful about the love that might have been, and ‘Seeing the Thing’ reminds Dave and Rhonda that taking a risk is a good thing.  You get the picture: it’s everyman and everywoman in any stage of life.

It’s easy to see why “Almost, Maine” is so often produced. The cast can flex from a quartet to up to 19 actors. The set can be simple. Props are minimal and most costuming is the kind of outerwear we’re all donning this time of year (parkas and gloves and hats, oh my). Director Doug Weyand kept it blissfully simple with four versatile actors (Eve Everette, Wendy Hall, John Kreuzer, and Nicholas Lama) on a stark white set designed by Lynne Koscielniak with some interesting faux snow texture, and a subtle kaleidoscope of lights artfully designed by John Rickus. Sound designer Katie Menke selected lovely original music by Julian Fleischer to set the tone. It’s upbeat, acoustic, a little bit of fiddle and a whole lotta soul that sets the perfect mood. Weyand’s actors were good choices, too, as the residents of this place that never got too big or too organized to be officially called a town. It’s a little bit “Brigadoon” meets Bedford Falls with a dash of Northern Exposure, and it’s fun and thoughtful at the same time.

“Almost, Maine” isn’t the dramatic powerhouse that often dominates the RLTP schedule, but there’s depth that’s worth exploring in each vignette. Nobody said that love and life have to be serious.

This is an early night (90 minutes with an intermission) with a short run (to February 24), so make your plans before it’s too late. And don’t forget to look up at the stars on your walk back to your car.

Find tickets and details at or

Theatre Review: ‘Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley’ by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

The holiday season is upon us, whether we like it or not, and this weekend was a perfect snowy setting to attend “Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley,” presented by Road Less Traveled Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre. Welcomed immediately into the world of Jane Austen by an inspired set design at the hands of Bethany Kasperek, the atmosphere felt almost anticipatory. Years of readers are familiar with these characters, and Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have breathed new life into the “Pride and Prejudice” heroine and her sisters, two years later.

You’ll regret missing this production. 

The entire Bennet family will be joining the Darcys at their home at Pemberley for the holidays; Mary, Jane and her husband Charles Bingley (with Jane expecting their first child), and the effervescent Lydia, traveling (much to Mary’s relief) separately. Mr. Darcy receives news they are to be joined by Arthur deBourgh, newly the master of an estate though he’d much prefer to stay at Oxford. And so, the Darcy home will be filled for Christmas.

As Mary Bennet, heroine of this story, Alexandria Watts is exquisitely charming and confident, equal parts wit and melancholy, but always sure of herself. It’s clear Mary is beginning to feel alone and excluded, especially from her married older sisters. Watts is nothing short of captivating in her RLTP debut, bringing humor and strength to her portrayal.

Amy Feder, also making her RLTP debut, is a delightful Elizabeth Darcy. She is particularly strong in the opening scene with her husband, who is incredulous as to the presence of a Christmas tree inside the house. It’s a German tradition, of course, but he can’t remember becoming German.

Buffalo theatergoers will recognize Todd Benzin, who in this production is playing Feder’s husband. He carries himself, both physically and vocally, in a commanding way, yet brings a gentleness to his portrayal of Austen’s heartthrob.

The Bingleys, enamored with their impending parenthood, are ably captured by Rosa Fernandez and Darryl Semira. Fernandez carries herself in the role of Jane with the experience of older sister bringing an almost matriarchal touch to her performance; it adds a subtlety to Jane’s character I quite enjoyed. Semira, too, is a performer you can’t help but watch. He and Benzin, masters of physical technique, make easy work of each moment given; a subtle look, casually sinking into armchairs in unison. They’re seasoned actors, in an experience sense, and it shows.

As Lydia, the bubbly socialite of the Bennet sisters, Brittany Bassett is terrific as well. She doesn’t have an easy task – Lydia is energetic ad nauseum, which Bassett has managed to capture with a characterization which literally bounces her around the stage, even while bringing humanity to her portrayal. Tracy Snyder ably captures Anne deBourgh, an unannounced visitor and relative of Arthur’s.

All of these performances allow for an unbelievably diverse ensemble that unites as one to carry along this story, so to single out one seems irresponsible. That being said, Nick Stevens might actually have walked straight out of an Austen novel and onto the stage as Arthur deBourgh. He’s exactly what you’d imagine in an Austen male: witty, charmingly awkward (or is it awkwardly charming), tall, dark, handsome…et cetera. He embodies Arthur deBourgh, and sparks fly almost immediately between Stevens and Watts. You know their romance is inevitable almost from their first meeting, and so you almost yell at them from the audience to figure it out for themselves. Stevens is almost barely acting here, this type of piece comes so naturally to him that he’s able to expose Arthur’s soul with ease.

All of these wonderful actors, dressed beautifully by Jenna Damberger, benefit immeasurably from Katie Mallinson’s elegant direction. She’s RLTP’s resident dramturg, so period pieces are kind of her “thing” and she’s right at home. Her vision is clear and concise, it truly feels like we’re looking into an 1815 portrait of England, aided by excellent dialect coaching by Jennifer Toohey. Mallinson has managed to keep a very diverse audience on the edge of their seat, and the pace and flow never slows because she’s smartly added vignette scene changes that tie the scenes together. Mallinson is a young director whose work has been and continues to be sharp, creative, and fresh. This production is no exception.

If you’re perusing Netflix for a Christmas movie, or you’re glued to the Hallmark channel this season, I encourage you to turn off the console and get over the Shea’s 710 to see this unbelievable production. It’s the perfect family show, perfect holiday show, and the spacious auditorium will feel all the more inviting and welcoming when filled with a couple hundred other supporters of live theater in snowy Buffalo (or Pemberley). You’ll regret missing this production.

Running Time: 2 hours plus a 10 minute intermission.

“Miss Bennett – Christmas At Pemberly” runs until December 23, 2018, is produced by Road Less Traveled Productions, and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The 3 Musketeers’ by All For One Theatrical Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

“The 3 Musketeers,” the Alexandre Dumas classic, is a story that has numerous incarnations since it was written in 1844. There have been numerous film adaptations, including the 1993 Disney film starring Chris O’Donnell, Oliver Platt, Kiefer Sutherland, Charlie Sheen, and Tim Curry. Presented by All for One Theatrical Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre, a stage adaptation has taken the Buffalo theater scene by storm.

. . .a successful inaugural production for All for One Theatrical Productions. . .

First and foremost, the fact that this production has been mounted at all is a success for Buffalo theater. All for One Theatrical Productions is a collaboration of five titans of the Buffalo theater industry: Irish Classical Theatre Company, MusicalFare Theatre, Road Less Traveled Productions, Shea’s 710 Theatre, and Theatre of Youth. The collaboration celebrates the ongoing effort by Buffalo theaters to join the current renaissance in Buffalo, and Mayor Byron Brown and his wife were in the audience of last evening’s packed opening performance.

Chris Kelly is at the directorial helm of this monstrous production, featuring some of Buffalo’s premier talent. It is significant that Kelly is directing, as he’s able to pull the best out of what is, in my opinion, an almost unredeemable script. The adaptation by Linda Alper is awkward to say the least, with almost no development for any of the principal characters. Enter Kelly, aided by dramaturg Katie Mallinson, and the story becomes enjoyable. The real strength of the production, however, lies in the masterful swordfights, choreographed by Steve Vaughan. Every actor has a part of these massive brawls, and each actor shines in Vaughan’s inventive and informed choreography.

Patrick Cameron is this production’s D’Artagnan, the young Gascon who desires to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Musketeer. He understands the balance of brashness, blind desire for justice, and a spirit of camaraderie that are essential to the portrayal and has significant charm to boot. As the titular Musketeers, Christopher Avery, Anthony Alcocer, and Steve Copps command the stage and embrace each character’s specific personification. Avery is the philosopher Athos, who has a dark and storied past that has made him cynical in his wit. He carries the subtext well, supplementing the somewhat lacking textual development. Alcocer is Aramis, the Musketeer who aspires to become a priest but is held back by his corporal passions. Alcocer plays the duality, with a specifically capable handling of a scene in the second act at a monastery, where he insists he’s staying committed to becoming a Jesuit…until D’Artagnan shows him letters from the women he’d left behind. Copps embodies the braggart Porthos with ease. He’s a master of comedy, using the somewhat out of place asides to the audience to his advantage. The three, along with Cameron, are not only experts at presenting camaraderie, but convincing Musketeer swordsmen. As their captain, however, Fisher leaves a little to be desired by way of vocal clarity and diction; his booming voice could easily fill the space, but he does not make use of it nearly enough.

In villainous turns, Chris Hatch and Kate LoConti are strong as Rochefort and Countess de Winter, respectively. Hatch is the Cardinal’s muscle and handles that role well, intimidating the Musketeers with his swordplay and the overarching power of the Cardinal. LoConti has a knack for mysterious women on stage and does nearly all the work by way of character development herself. As Cardinal Richelieu, Peter Palmisano is strong. You can tell he has an agenda, but he isn’t telegraphing his agenda to the audience; there’s no mustache twirling here. Perhaps my favorite performance of the night, though, comes by way of Jordan Levin. Levin has proven himself a versatile actor in the past, but he really excels in this production. His King Louis is comedic mastery, a romp through scenes laced with foppery and an understanding that the world yields to him, but he brings some humanity as well.

Ultimately, this production entertains despite the script’s weaknesses, and it’s a successful inaugural production for All for One Theatrical Productions. If anything, the success is stronger due to Kelly and his cast transcending the piece itself and presenting an entertaining and compelling night of theater. It runs through November 18th at 710. The production was 2 hours and 45 minutes including a 20 minute intermission.