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.

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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 www.sheas.org or www.roadlesstraveledproductions.org.

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.

First Look: ‘The Three Musketeers’ by All For One Productions at Shea’s 710 Theatre

Buffalo is one of the largest theatre communities in the United States. It is one of the largest markets for touring shows, and producers love Buffalo because we like to buy tickets, many tickets. In Buffalo, there are more than twenty companies that produce theatre annually, most of which have at least 5 productions mounted each season.

Of these companies, exists Irish Classical Theatre Company, Road Less Traveled Productions, Theatre of Youth, MusicalFare Theatre, and Shea’s Performing Arts Center, who all collaborated to create a production that would bring the entire community together.

“Scott Behrend (Road Less Traveled), Vincent O’Neill (Irish Classical Theatre), Meg Quinn (Theatre of Youth), and I got together about three years ago for breakfast, and we started talking about the status of the theatre in Buffalo,” says Randy Kramer, artistic and executive director of MusicalFare Theatre, “we tossed around the idea of working together, and thinking about what we should do if we did decide to work together.”

And the breakfast meetings continued. “It is always fun to get together with your peers, especially those who work in the same field as you do,’ says Kramer, “running a theatre is a very unique business that does not always have the same challenges as other businesses. It is nice to be able to understand and relate to others who speak the same language.”

The breakfast clubbers read scripts, many scripts, thinking of ideas for what they could produce together, “We knew that we didn’t want to do something that any one of our companies could do by themselves,” says Kramer, “ we wanted to look at our best designers, our best builders, our best creative teams, and make this production one that would be a huge draw to the community.”

And then the show was chosen. “The Three Musketeers” by Linda Alper. “We wanted to pick a show that would appeal to all of the audiences from all of our theaters,” says Kramer. “This show is great for families, its a unique production, and it isn’t seen on stage very often.”

The group consensus was that the production should be performed at Shea’s 710 Theatre, in an effort to get that space utilized since it has such history in the Buffalo theatre community. “We spoke to Tony Conte [the former president of Shea’s] and he loved the idea, then he retired,” laughs Kramer. “Michael Murphy, who took over for Tony, brought great insight into our plans and really helped make this reality.”

“It has been a tremendous experience working with everyone on this production,” says Kramer, “I have seen the rehearsals and it is epic.”

“The Three Musketeers” is produced by All For One Productions and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre November 1 – 17, 2018. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: Ken Ludwig’s ‘Baskerville’ by MusicalFare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre

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The cast of Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville” a Sherlock Holmes Mystery, at Shea’s 710 Theatre.

Who says a time-honored literary work has to be a serious drama on stage? No one. Ever.

Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville”  A Sherlock Holmes (Comic) Mystery , produced by MusicalFare, is onstage now at Shea’s 710 Theatre and it’s a flat out hoot. You know you’re in for a treat when two performances are added to the run long before opening night.  Yes, it’s that funny.

. . .a flat out hoot.

It’s the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story with Holmes (masterfully played by Todd Benzin) playing it straight as the master solver of all crimes. Holmes and faithful companion Dr. Watson (Chris J. Handley) are told of a frightening series of events on the foggy moors. A creature with a resonant howl and giant footprints is scaring the bejeebers out of the locals, according to Dr. Mortimer, one of several roles played by Marc Sacco, who also shares the sad Baskerville saga. So the investigation begins. While Holmes and Watson are on the prowl, it’s Sacco and castmates Patrick Cameron and Maria Droz who morph in and out of more than three dozen characters. This is the real show within the show. With a flip of cap a man becomes a woman. Doff the dress and you’re a Castilian hotel desk clerk (the lisp and the accent are a stitch). It’s flurry of wigs, hats, props, and costumes that fly on and off, sometimes on stage in a sleight of hand that’s magical to watch.

Kari Drozd and Susan Drozd must have had a blast wrangling all these bits and pieces. The cast sure had a frenetically good time getting dressed, undressed, and over-dressed. This is a really physical show, too, full of funny details. Watch as Maria Droz flies a bird at a propitious moment and as Patrick Cameron  – as a deceased Baskervillian – flips his dead body over.

Lynn Koscielniak’s set is simple and strangely effective. There’s a mysterious black box effect downstage and a series of moveable risers that function as set pieces throughout. The whole house is really part of the set as actors roam the theatre and lights and smog follow. The black stage and white crisscrosses (metaphors for the web of deceit, perhaps) are mesmerizing, as are the Holmes quotes scripted across the floor. Don’t be too curious: even after the performance ends, if you step on stage to piece together the words, you’ll be reminded to exit.

“Baskerville” is one wild romp of fast paced fun and frolic. The slow steady pace of Benzin, the soft-sell sidekick of Handley, and zaniness of this uber-talented cast make this a night to howl at the theatre. Hang on to your deerstalker and catch this show before  May 19!

Running Time: 2 hours with an intermission.

Advisory:  Black lights and strobe lights are used.  

Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville” A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs until May 19, 2018, is produced by MusicalFare Theatre, and is presented at Shea’s 710 Theatre. For more information, click here.

First Look: Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” by MusicalFare Theatre at Shea’s 710 Theatre

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” – the novel –  is a literary classic. You know the drill: Demon hound from hell torments town. Cloaked and capped detective steps in. Clever clues, boatloads of red herrings, and plenty of plot twists. Calm returns to the people. It’s elementary, my dear Watson.

So imagine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s plot amped up by 40 fleeting characters played for five immensely talented actors with dozens of costume changes, and major doses of hilarity. Welcome to Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville,” a MusicalFare Production soon to be onstage at Shea’s 710 Theatre. This follows other MusicalFare Productions, including ‘Avenue Q,’ ‘Spring Awakening,’ and ‘Ring of Fire’ that were runaway hits on this venerable downtown stage.

This isn’t your high school lit class required reading anymore. Nor is it the classic 1939 film starring the inimitable Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes or the acclaimed 1959 remake. This take on Holmes and company is uniquely funny, but remains amazingly true to the story. Stalwart Sherlock (portrayed by comic actor Todd Benzin) is always the star, backed up by dear old chap Dr. Watson (Chris J. Handley), but it’s the rest of the cast – Marc Sacco, Maria Droz, and Patrick Cameron – that playwright Ludwig takes to new levels.

Playing more than one character in a show is old hat for actors like Sacco. But in “Baskerville,” his quick changes and about faces give him 14 distinct roles. “The most I’ve played is maybe seven or eight,” he says. “The script is written to be hectic, it’s part of the design.”

Hectic is an understatement. The show is paced to be frenetic and that’s part of the fun for the cast and the audience. Using relatively few actors to portray an endless number of characters is a showcase for versatility and built-in humor. Sacco says, “Certain characters may only have a page or two to make a change.” That’s not a lot of time for the actors and the audience to keep up. “There’s one scene where I play a middle aged woman, with a feminine pitch in my voice and an affectation.  In a few lines I re-enter as a child. Sometimes the voice is still there. There are moments built into the show where we nod at that fact and let the audience ‘in’ on this.”

And that’s what makes “Baskerville” so fun. We’re all in part of this.

Sacco’s “Baskerville” characters share one thing in common: “My job as one of the three ensemble members is to get in the way of Sherlock Holmes,” Sacco says.

Running interference isn’t easy. Sacco approached this role with some trepidation. “You walk into a project like with excited nervousness. The process has gone quickly, but we’re having a good time with this. Things happen in rehearsal that made their way into the show. That’s what’s fun about this piece. Your job is to be crazily playful.”

MusicalFare’s Randy Kramer and Doug Weyand are sharing the director duties for this piece that is already off to a strong start. Pre-sale tickets are sufficiently brisk: two more performances were already added (May 18 and 19).

Be sharp like Sherlock watching the show: Sacco says some transformations happen before your eyes, and you won’t want to miss a moment.

Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville” runs May 10-19 at Shea’s 710 Theatre, and is produced by MusicalFare. For more information, click here.

Promotional Consideration Paid For By The Theatre Alliance of Buffalo