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.


‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The national touring company of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

The iconic rock opera, written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, graced the stage at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre as part of the 50th anniversary National Tour. “Jesus Christ Superstar” tells the story of Jesus Christ during the last seven days of his life. It doesn’t preach, it doesn’t push beliefs on it’s audience, it is a tale of the man. 

Timothy Sheader directs a unique production. Part interpretive dance, part rock concert. It isn’t for everyone, but I found it exciting, fresh, and contemporary. Taking material from the 70’s and mounting it for audiences that may never have been exposed to the material before. It is a 90 minute experience that I believe is what Rice and Lloyd Webber set out to create when they penned this material. 

“Jesus Christ Superstar” was never supposed to be a book musical. It was a concept album, telling the story through a rock and roll score. This production does just that, and seeing it live, will definitely make you see that this isn’t an ordinary staging. It’s not supposed to be an ordinary musical. 

Where the production falls a little flat is in some of the vocal prowess. Singing against tempo, breathing in strange phrases, and lagging with the band, seems to be a theme in this show. While not totally terrible, as a musician, I cringed hearing the singers delay, wondering if they were going to catch up. They always did, in-case you were wondering. The orchestra, a full band that includes all members of the various instrument families, delivers Lloyd Webber’s score with power, force, and brilliance. There are some artistic liberties taken, especially with a random screechy tenor saxophone solo, but after thinking about it for a while, I realized that it complemented the activity happening on stage, and I found it perfect.

Costumes are modernized in this production, including tank tops, baggy sweatpants, sneakers, zip up hoodies,  and lots of tattoos. This style reminded me of the “Jesus Christ Superstar LIVE” on NBC a few years ago. I really liked it.

James Delisco Beeks plays Judas, and let me tell you, his performance must cause him great exhaustion at the end of the night. He is a rock star, and he does well singing the demanding parts. “Heaven On Their Minds” needs to be amazing because it sets us up for the rest of the story. Delisco Beeks takes a few minutes to warm up, but once he gets going, he is a powerhouse. 

Jenna Rubaii sings her heart out as Mary Magdalene, and is an audience favorite. Her performance of “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” (one of my favorite songs in the show) is beautiful, and she graces the notes with ease. Sadly, Mary’s part is not huge in the show, and I would have loved to see more of her. 

Somewhere in the last 50 years, it was decided that King Herod had to be portrayed as a flamboyant drag performer. I have seen this in at least three productions out of the last five I have attended. While I don’t hate it, it surely takes away from new interpretations as this seems to be the new normal. In any case, Paul Louis Lessard gets the laughs and makes quite the spectacle as Herod in this production. A flashy gold outfit, a machete, boots, it’s very entertaining. He sings the iconic “King Herod’s Song” to a tee. An audience favorite.

Finally, Aaron LaVigne plays Jesus. I always judge a production’s Jesus by how well they sing my all time favorite song in the show “Gethsemane.” Playing his own guitar accompaniment, and laying all the cards out on the table, LaVigne makes this song his own, including the Ted Neely-esk screeches, and I loved every single stinking second of it. 

This production chooses to exclude the intermission, which is fantastic. 90 minutes. Glitter. You can’t go wrong!

“Jesus Christ Superstar” runs until February 16, 2020 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Les Miserables’ at Shea’s Performing Arts Center

“One Day More” The National Touring Company of “Les Miserables.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Along with “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Wicked,” and “The Lion King,” Les Miserables is just one of those shows that won’t stop touring. It’s rare to come across someone who hasn’t seen the show or its criticized cinematic counterpart which begs the question, “why bother?”

Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time seeing Les Miserables, it remains a powerful musical that brings audience members to their feet and leaves them in tears”

The long-running musical is based on Victor Hugo’s novel of the same name, following ex-convict Jean Valjean in 19th Century France after he is released from a 19-year stint in jail stemming from stealing bread for his family. After he meets a bishop who offers him food and shelter and lies to protect him from being arrested again, Valjean is motivated to live a more honest and good life while trying to escape shadows from his past, including former prison guard-turned police inspector Javert.

One of the things I’ve noticed about Les Mis since the production design was revamped almost a decade ago is the focus on more raw performances, which was also undoubtedly a result of the popularity of Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and the 2013 film cast singing live in the movie. Since then, including on the musical’s 25th anniversary 2010 album, the vocals have gotten less by-the-book and actors appear more free to shake things up. It was refreshing to see that theme continuing on this tour.

Patrick Dunn commands the stage as Valjean, expressing incredibly intense emotions through an unwavering voice. Dunn is strongest on an audience favorite, the tear-inducing “Bring Him Home.” Preston Truman Boyd is an outstanding and increasingly unstable Javert, slowly unraveling as his views on faith and the law start to blur as the years go on.

Phoenix Best was a phenomenal Eponine, a scrappy and love-stricken street urchin pining after Joshua Grosso’s Marius. While Grosso’s early interactions with Cosette (sweet songstress Jillian Butler), were a touch too silly for my liking, his voice soared on the part; a quality I am thankful for since being scarred by the Nick Jonas 25th anniversary concert portrayal.

While the entire cast was spot on, I have to mention one additional performer – Matt Shingledecker as Enjolras, the leader of the student revolutionaries. For some reason, that is always the performance that makes or breaks the show for me. Fortunately, we were blessed with Shingledecker’s aggressive energy and powerful tenor leading us through the latter half of the show, soaring in every song and inspiring his fellow Frenchmen (and women) to join the cause, no matter how impossible it seemed.

As I mentioned earlier, the newer (relative to Les Mis) production design really expands the set capabilities for the show, which never stops moving. The projections by 59 Productions are especially great coupled with Paule Constable’s lighting design.

Whether it’s your first or fiftieth time seeing Les Miserables, it remains a powerful musical that brings audiences to their feet and leaves them in tears. This cast is vocally top-notch and makes for a memorable evening during this holiday season.

Running Time: Approximately two and 55 minutes including a fifteen-minute intermission.

“Les Miserables” runs through December 15 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center For more information and tickets, click here.

An 11 Year Tradition: The Nutcracker at Shea’s

The 11th annual production of The Nutcracker (Nov. 30 and Dec. 1) is a delightful collaboration between Shea’s Performing Arts Center, Neglia Ballet Artists, and the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra.

It’s a triple win for the value of cultural partnerships: Buffalo’s most beautiful venue, our world-class orchestra, and a ballet program that features local students and has enough star-power to attract a stunning line up of guest artists is the best of all possible worlds.

If that isn’t enough, the production is lovely from the moment we hear the opening notes of Tchaikovsky’s luscious score to the moment the gilt-fringe curtain falls.

Then there’s the whole Christmas spirit going on, too. Shea’s carefully curated elegance is tastefully decked out in white lights and pine bough. The audience is full of families with little ones in their holiday best.  The whole vibe is wonderfully infectious and a harbinger of the holiday month to come.

The story is familiar: it’s Christmas eve at the Stahlbaum house and friends and family members gather for gifts. The mysterious (read: slightly creepy) Herr Drosselmeyer (Paul Mockovak) arrives with life-size toys and magic tricks, and a special gift for the Stahlbaum daughter Marie (Director Sergio Neglia opts to call her Marie as his mentor George Balanchine did; most other productions call her Clara.) It’s a nutcracker and Marie is entranced. Brother Fritz breaks it in a jealous moment and Drosselmeyer repairs it post haste. Marie falls asleep with her gift and is awakened by a frisky mouse…and a room full of rats. The Nutcracker comes to life and with an army of soldiers (and some help from Marie) he slays the rat king and his band of vermin. More Drosselmeyer magic saves the Nutcracker as a handsome Prince and fast-forwards young Marie to young adulthood. They dance their way around the world through heritage soloists and sweets.

It’s the local kids as the mice, rats, snow flakes, angels, cupcakes, baker, and soldiers with  the impressive cast in the featured roles;  they meld perfectly as storytellers and interpreters of Neglia’s choreography.  Neglia himself is the Nutcracker, an imposing figure. Standouts were youth dancers Zoe de Torres Curth, (Marie) a Buffalo Seminary student who moved here from her native Argentina to study with Neglia, and Nardin Academy senior Ava DiNicola,(one of the three Mirlitons) both dancing in featured roles.

Dancers are athletes, artists, and storytellers; to convey a story without words is an art in itself. Neglia and this troupe remind us of this graceful and powerful complexity.  It’s easy to be drawn into the story and be swept away by the music and the dance.

The scenic design is exceptional: Lynne Koscielniak is responsible for the original renderings and Dyan Burlingame (the resident set designer for Road Less Traveled Productions) with Jon Shimon, Michele Costa (her theatreFiguren skills created character masks and the toys, too) and Roger Schroeder created additional imagery in the first act. Burlingame also designed the lighting which featured some lovely hues that highlighted Donna Massimo’s jewel toned costume designs.  It’s all well balanced, like a painting come to life.

An act one glitch: during a lovely duet, the gentle fall of on-stage snow became a Lake Effect squall for a moment as too much faux snow fell in a big flurry.  Like good Buffalonians, the pair danced on.

Buffalo is ballet starved for sure: those of us of a certain age remember the days of yore at ArtPark when a ballet company was in residence each summer. We were treated to traditional and contemporary works as regularly as the current regime brings in ‘70s and ‘80s rockers.  Times changes and companies like Neglia Ballet Artists help keep dance accessible to a broad albeit niche audience.  Neglia is also training tomorrow’s dancers and dance audiences that will keep the art form alive here. Bravo!

The Nutcracker is a full and well-paced two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Details at http://www.negliaballet.org.

Theatre Review: ‘Jersey Boys’ at Shea’s Performing Arts Center

(l to r) Jon Hacker, Eric Chambliss, Corey Greenan and Michael Milton. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Full disclosure: I love jukebox musicals…and I hate the song “Sherry.”

Yes, I know “Sherry” is the song that catapulted Frank Valli and The Four Seasons to fame in 1962 and that it’s an early indicator of songwriter Bob Gaudio’s immense talent. It’s not the song’s fault that my ears have suffered more than their share of off-key falsettos warbling “Sherry Baby” to me through the years.

. . .this one is a winner. 

The dreaded song, however, has a starring role in “Jersey Boys” now stage at Shea’s Performing Art Center only until Sunday… and deservedly so. This is a super-slick, entertaining show packed with pop hits from the 1960s to the late 1970s with a wee bit of pop music history thrown in for good measure.

This production (not part of the regular Shea’s subscription package) is a blast. It’s bright and the right amount of loud, with a tight on-stage band, and a great cast of singers.  Jon Hacker hits the right high notes as Frankie Valli with his tenor and tremulous signature falsetto. Eric Chambliss as songwriter-keyboardist Bob Gaudio is the perfect combination of talented erudite and pop music talent wrapped up in a good guy package. Corey Greenan as band organizer-bad boy Tommy DiVito has a laughably bad downstate Italian-American-Bronx accent, but he has the swagger and charm that goes with the real deal. Michael Milton as bass player Nick Massi has great deadpan delivery as the quiet guy in the back. Near the end of the show, he lands ‘the’ line of the night: listen for it to fully appreciate what it’s like to be the one out of four who is the easiest to overlook.

If you tuned your transistor radio to WKBW 1520-AM back in the day, these are the songs you heard in what disc jockeys called ‘heavy rotation.’ They were the hits that sold records and concert tickets and inspired other guy and girl groups to give it a go. Great pop tunes like ‘Rag Doll,’ ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ ‘Walk Like a Man,’ ‘Dawn,’ and ‘C’mon Marianne’ were the leaders in the Four Seasons canon and live on today in our hearts and oldies stations everywhere.  You’ll hear some full songs and some stripped down versions in this production and this cast delivers them well and leaves you wanting more.

The downside of some  jukebox shows is the script. “Jersey Boys” is the life story of band itself (yup, four guys from New Jersey) and this script is the Cliff’s Notes version of their lives and careers together, with a couple dashes of personal biography tossed in. This script is pretty much a few maybe-almost-true words to knit the song list together. In this case, it’s OK: it’s the music I came to hear. You only need a passing familiarity of their history to connect with the ‘it’ factor that made them the icons they are. Legend has it that Valli and Gaudio formed their partnership with a handshake only…no lawyers, no paperwork, New Jersey style…and even in the litigious 21st century, their deal is still solid.  If the backstories area little manufactured to make good theatre, well, here it’s forgiven. Just give me another chorus of ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.’

As touring shows go, this one is a winner. Be prepared to get on your feet at the end and sing along a bit. It’s just one tune (the show needed a longer ending mega mix), but you’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face.

“Jersey Boys” runs a little longer than two hours with a 15-minute intermission. Get online quickly for tickets for this limited run, http://www.sheas.org.

Theatre Review: ‘Come From Away’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The National Touring Cast of “Come From Away.”

I was in 5th grade on that day that the world stopped. I remember that no one told us anything in school, but the teachers in the hallway were all talking. There was some crying. There were some screams. My friends and I sat there wondering what was happening. We were 10, so we were not the first ones to get information. Even if we did get information, we wouldn’t have understood. It wasn’t until later that night when I got home from school that I learned about the tragic events that occurred in New York and Washington. Years later, I have had the opportunity to visit memorials at the World Trade Center and at The Pentagon. I can’t even imagine witnessing those events first hand. 

. . .the best story ever told. . .

“Come From Away,” the Broadway smash hit, tells the story of a small town in Newfoundland called Gander.  In it, there is a huge dilapidated airport where planes coming from Europe would stop to refuel at. Since the jet engine was created, planes can cross the ocean on a single tank of fuel, so there really isn’t much need for the airport anymore. That is until the US Airspace is closed on September 11, and 38 planes from all over the world land there. Seven-thousand people from around the world are brought to Gander against their will, and those on the planes have no idea where they are. What happens? People open their doors to their own home to help these people who are stranded for five days. Humanity at its finest.

This is the second time I have seen this show, and it will definitely not be the last. The last time I saw it was at the Royal Alexandra Theatre in Toronto in 2018. I was blown away by this production, and since then, the show has been extended two or three more times. It’s pretty much printing money at this point. It’s not a phenomenon. It is just fantastic storytelling and I believe that this might be the best story ever told. The music, the blocking, the vocals, and the pacing keep this story rolling. There is no intermission, and at no point are you bored or itching to get out of your seat. 

The show is an ensemble piece, where the actors seamlessly portray numerous characters. Newfoundlanders, Plane People, and other characters are all present in this story. The actors are so incredibly talented, and they give this story their absolute all. To name anyone specifically would be a disservice to the entire cast because each one of them is just absolutely captivating. It is also great to see a veteran cast of all shapes and sizes. This isn’t one of these shows where the cast is young, ripped, and all similar. This cast is full of character actors who give strong and enjoyable performances. I could watch them perform all day. 

The scenic design by Beowulf Boritt is so brilliant for this show. It would appear to be a minimal set, but with a story like this, you will have no problem filling in the blanks. Your imagination will run wild.

Christopher Ashley has directed a production that will live on in the memories of all those who see it, just like the memory of 9/11 stays with all of us who were there. Irene Sankoff and David Hein have crafted a musical that takes all the wonderful aspects of humanity and shows that people are truly, inherently, good. It has also put Gander on the map. My girlfriend and I are talking about going to visit!

Do yourself a favor, go see this show. 

Running Time: 100 minutes, no intermission.

“Come From Away” runs until October 20, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more info, click here. You can also see it in Toronto, running until March 1, 2020. Click here for info.

Theatre Review: ‘Mean Girls’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The cast of “Mean Girls.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

I wanted to hate this show. When I saw “Mean Girls” perform at the Tony Awards, I couldn’t even fathom how this was going to last. I didn’t understand the reason for the big Broadway sounding number in the middle of the high school cafeteria. I didn’t understand the song tone changes. I was very indifferent to the next Hollywood film being adapted for the Broadway stage. Boy was I wrong. Sure “Mean Girls” is not the best written musical, but it sure does entertain. It has the Tina Fey quality of jokes that we know and love. I didn’t stop laughing. The score was so interesting, I bought the piano sheet music. Overall, it has developed into a guilty pleasure of mine (don’t tell my girlfriend, she’ll want to go see it again!) When it stops in your town, go see it, or you might make it into the “Burn Book” for being cheap. . .

When it stops in your town, go see it, or you might make it into the “Burn Book” for being cheap. . .

“Mean Girls” is based on the 2004 film written by Tina Fey, who adapts her screenplay for the stage. It tells the story of Cady (Danielle Wade) who has lived her entire life in Africa, and who has been homeschooled. When her family relocates to Illinois, she is brought into a culture shock of public high school. Upon arrival, Cady meets Janice (Mary Kate Morrisey) and Damian (Eric Huffman) who explain the food chain of high school and set her on an adventure to infiltrate Regina George (Mariah Rose Faith) and The Plastics, the most popular girls in school. 

Danielle Wade has a voice that is so powerful that you have a hard time believing that a human being can produce that sound. I am happy to see her still going strong after her stint as Dorothy in the “Wizard of Oz” which appeared at Shea’s a few seasons ago (I also was able to interview her about the show then!) She knocks this role out of the park.

Mariah Rose Faith plays the mean, nasty, love to hate and hate to love, Regina George. Wow! What a stage presence! What a “de-mean-or.” Her performance in “Rocking Around The Pole” had me laughing so hard that the lady sitting next to me looked at me in disgust three times! (she also had her cell phone out and was texting so I truly think it was a fair trade off).

Mary Kate Morrisey did an awesome job as Janice in this show. Along with Eric Huffman’s Damian, the two tell the story, get the laughs, and keep the audience on the edge of their seats. Their comedic timing is perfect.

Jonalyn Saxer plays Karen, the extremely attractive, and completely airheaded Plastic to a tee. She is very entertaining, very funny, but she brings a great charm to the stage. Yes, Saxer is portraying a dimwit, but she is one of the most “real” characters in the show. Fantastic acting.

Gaelen Gilligand is hilarious as a trio of the adult female characters in this production. She lets her inner Tina Fey out, and if you close your eyes, you’d think that Ms Fey was actually on stage. 

Jeff Richmond’s score had me scratching my head at times, wondering what the score was trying to be? Was it a parody of Broadway showtunes? Was it a pop/rock musical? Was it an early Andrew Lloyd Webber style were many different genres would be used? I’m not sure, but it’s loud, it’s powerful, and it fits inside the world that his wife creates.

Scott Pask’s completely digital scenic design works so well in this show. At first I thought that the screens would take away from the theatrical experience, but they only complement them. 

Overall, I had a blast, and sure the story is called “Mean Girls” but if the story has one theme, it’s that we need to treat each other better. Except when it comes to getting tickets to this show. Push, kick, toss, slap, do whatever you need to do to get your seats! This show will sell out wherever it goes.

Running Time: 2 Hours 45-minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

“Mean Girls” launched it’s national tour in Buffalo New York, and continues to travel across North America. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The Broadway cast of “Dear Even Hansen.” Photo by Matthew Murphy.

Wow. I had no prior knowledge of “Dear Evan Hansen” before last night when I witnessed it first hand. What I saw was a theatrical event that is near perfect. The story meshed, the music flowed, the acting and singing were spectacular. This musical not only had a great message that is completely topical in 2019, but is one of the only shows that I have seen in years that is completely relatable to every single person in the audience. To say that I was blown away is an understatement. I think this year I have seen at least three shows that have become my “new favorite musical.” This makes number four.

If you have ever felt alone, felt like you were an outcast, or struggled to fit it, ‘You Will Be Found’ in this show. Go see it!

“Dear Evan Hansen” tells the story of a high school wallflower who is just trying to get through his senior year in high school. Starting the school year off with a broken arm, Evan (Ben Levi Ross) is having major anxiety about what the new year will bring. His mother (Jessica Phillips), is a single mom who has to balance work with school and has to try to find time to spend with her son. Their family is far from perfect but you can see the love that she has for Evan, even if he doesn’t always see the love. Evan’s psychologist gives him an assignment to write letters to himself, making each day great and giving himself a confidence boost that he needs to keep going. After a mishap in the school computer lab, one of his letters to himself is intercepted by Connor (Marrick Smith) and happens to be the last piece of evidence found after Connor takes his own life. What ensues for Evan is a whirlwind of difficult situations, a fabricated friendship with a kid who bullied him, inner struggles of doing the right thing, and trying to find himself in high school. All of that leads to everything Evan wanted, a family, friends, and the attention of his crush, Zoe (Maggie McKenna). But, with all the new found excitement, Evan’s conscience begins to haunt him, and the truth needs to come out.

This minimally staged production is creatively performed. Using projection screens, and news feeds, the show engulfs the audience in the digital age of social media. It encapsulates the entire 2019 lifestyle of kids in high school. I love that the set design only incorporated furniture and small props to tell the story, allowing the audience to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.

Leading the cast as Evan is Ben Levi Ross, who emulates the skinny high school nerd with perfection. He is incredibly convincing as this character, incorporating raw emotion into his performance and bringing heart to Evan’s journey. He does not disappoint.

Jared Goldsmith plays Jared Kleinman, Evan’s computer savvy friend who assists in the fabrication of this fake friendship between Evan and Connor. Goldsmith is hilarious. His facial features, mannerisms, and comedic delivery are all fantastic. Every time Goldsmith enters the stage, you are sure to chuckle or have a right out belly laugh.

Jessica Phillips does a wonderful job as Heidi, Evan’s mom. She is instantly relatable to any woman who has had to raise a child on her own, while juggling work and career advancement. She is quirky, she is goofy, and lovable. She too, brings raw emotion to the stage, especially during act two.

Maggie McKenna is a feisty Zoe. She is able to juggle the many emotions that the character brings to the story, and keeps the audience on her side throughout the entire ride.

The entire ensemble of this show is fantastic. Phoebe Koyabe, Aaron Lazar, Christiane Noll, and Marrick Smith, all contribute to this theatrical phenomenon that will be around for a long time.

As the show progressed, I couldn’t help but be reminded of “Next To Normal” and “The Curious Case Of The Dog In The Night-Time.” If these two shows had a love child, it would be “Dear Evan Hansen.” If you have ever felt alone, felt like you were an outcast, or struggled to fit it, ‘You Will Be Found’ in this show. Go see it!

Running Time: 2 Hours 30 Minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult Language

“Dear Evan Hansen” runs until May 19, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Book of Mormon’ at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre

The second national touring cast of “The Book Of Mormon.”

Four times. I have seen “The Book Of Mormon” four times, and let me tell you, the level of quality only gets better. A show that is going on 5 years of entertaining audiences is anything but old and stale, quite honestly, this production is like a fine wine, better with age, not that I am condoning a 5 year old to drink. . .you see, the show is 5 years old. . .anyway.

. . . bring a change of pants. . .you’ll need them.

“The Book Of Mormon” is the brain child of “South Park” creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, with music by Robert Lopez of “Frozen” frame. Telling the tale of two mormon missionaries as they embark on their two year mission in Africa, the show is quite honestly the best written musical in the modern era. In an interview with Parker and Stone, they say that they studied the work of classic musicals, and the work of Rodgers and Hammerstein. This homework sure paid off because the pacing in this show, the music, and the story, all work together to create a show with no down time or dull moments. Sure there is some foul language and suggestive content but this is a fantastic show, and this touring production is spectacular.

There are those who believe that this show bashes the faith of the Latter Day Saint religion and that cannot be further from the truth. There is no bashing. If anything, this show puts it’s leading characters into a real world, where everything isn’t rainbows and butterflies. There are fantastic themes of questioning faith, finding one’s purpose, and understanding that sometimes life isn’t everything we are promised growing up. It is real, and it is relatable. The best theme of the show, friendship can be found in the most unlikely of places.

Leading the show as Elder Price is Liam Tobin, and he is perfect. He encapsulates the character and gives a hilarious performance. He hams it up on stage, and possesses all of the quirky, campy, mugging that is expecting in a show that is completely aware of itself. His voice is rather cartoony in this production, and at first I thought that it was a little strange, but as the performance continued, I really started to appreciate it.

Elder Cunningham is played the comedic genius Jordan Matthew Brown. Brown is just absolutely everything you could ask for in an Elder Cunningham. No fear, not hesitation. He puts it all on the line, and the audience absolutely falls in love with him. His performance of “Man Up” is more than anyone could ask for in a comedy of this caliber.

Kayla Pecchioni’s performance as Nabulungi is spectacular. Her voice is a joy to listen to and she has wonderful comedic timing. Out of the four Nabulungi’s that I have seen, she is by far the best, and she does not disappoint.

This is an ensemble heavy show, and every one of the cast members are incredibly talented. Whether you have seen this show four times, or it is the first time seeing it, you should just bring a change of pants. . .you’ll need them.

Running time: 2 hours 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.

Advisory: Adult language and suggestive content

“The Book Of Mormon” runs until May 5, 2019 and is presented at Shea’s Buffalo Theatre. For more information, click here.

Kenny Awards Celebrate 26 Years Honoring High School Theatre

Students from the Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts were nominated for multiple Kenny Awards for their production of Les Miserables this year.

This year marks the 26th anniversary of the Kenny Awards, a program launched by the Lipke Foundation in collaboration with Shea’s Performing Arts Center to support and honor high school theatre programs in Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties.

Nominees in 14 categories were announced at the Shea’s Smith Theatre on April 17. This year’s finalists for the coveted Outstanding Musical Production are:

  • Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts for “Les Miserables”;
  • Cleveland Hill Union Free School for “Newsies”;
  • Cuba-Rushford Middle-High School for “Annie”;
  • John F. Kennedy High School for “The Wizard of Oz”;
  • Nardin Academy for “The Kind and I”;
  • Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School for “Sister Act”;
  • St. Mary’s High School for “The Addams Family”;
  • Sweet Home High School for “Mamma Mia!”;
  • Tonawanda High School for “Mamma Mia!”;


  • West Seneca West Senior High School for Legally Blonde.

The winning school will receive a $10,000 grant from the Lipke Foundation to exclusively benefit the school’s theatre program. The prize doubled in its 25th year: to date the Lipke Foundation has donated $125,000 to area high school theatre programs. Winners will be announced at the annual Kenny Award ceremony on May 11.

The Kenny Awards were developed by Buffalo native Meredith Lipke to honor the family’s patriarch Dr. Kenneth Lipke, founder of Gibraltar Steel, and a respected patron of the arts. Dr. Lipke had strong beliefs about the value of the arts community and the impact the arts can have on young lives. The program evolved to be more than a “best of” competition. Additional programs and opportunities for participating schools emphasize that participating in school theatre programs is transformative, whether it’s shaping the next generation theatre professional or theatre-loving audience member.There is immediate impact for students, too. “High school is hard enough,” says Carlisle Lipke Mitchell, executive director of the program and Dr. Lipke’s granddaughter. “By participating in a high school theatre production, any student can be part of something, on stage or behind the scenes, as a performer or not. To feel a part of something is really so important.”

Enhancing and evolving the program to meet a myriad of student performance and social needs is at the heart of this partnership. While the list of award categories has grown, enrichment opportunities have also increased. There’s even an annual Social Event where students can network and mingle. This came as a result of one of Lipke Mitchell’s observations during a past nomination announcement: “The kids were cheering for each other, not just their own schools.”  Fostering the sense of collegiality in an otherwise competitive setting is a plus in whole person development, which is a key attribute in theatre studies. It’s also a poignant reminder that the program honors the spirit of a family with strong local ties who found value in the intersection of Buffalo’s business and cultural communities.

The rest of the nominations include:

Outstanding Orchestral Performance

Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”

Nardin Academy –  “The Kind and I”

Niagara Wheatfield High School – “Sister Act”

West Seneca West High School – “Legally Blonde”


Outstanding Technical Design

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”;

Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Sweet Home High School – “Mamma Mia!”

Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”


Outstanding Choral Performance

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”

Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Tonawanda High School- “Mamma Mia!”

West Seneca West High School -”Legally Blonde”


Outstanding Scenic Design

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”;

Cuba-Rushford Middle-High School – “Annie”;

Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”;

West Seneca West Senior High Schoo l- Legally Blonde.

Outstanding Dramatic Performance

Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”;

Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”;

Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”;

West Seneca West Senior High School – Legally Blond.


Outstanding Costume Design

Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”;

Niagara Wheatfield Senior High School – “Sister Act”;

St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”;

West Seneca West Senior High School – Legally Blond


Outstanding Dance Performance

Cleveland Hill Union Free- School for “Newsies”;

St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”;

Sweet Home High School – “Mamma Mia!”;

West Seneca West Senior High School – Legally Blond.


The Showstopper Award lives up to its name: it’s the number that generates palpable audience excitement. This year’s nominees are:

“Bows” and ending mega mix, Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”

“The King of New York,” Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”

“Lay Your Love on Me,” Sweet Home High School -”Mamma Mia!”

“Whipped Into Shape,” West Seneca West High School – “Legally Blonde”.


The Kenny adjudication team added a new category to honor younger performers for outstanding work with the high school casts.

The Rising Star Special Recognition performers are:

Jacob Dutka as the Mayor of Munchkinland, John F. Kennedy High School – “The Wizard of Oz”

Johnny Kiener, as Prince Chulalongkorn, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Samuel Parker as Gavroche, Buffalo Academy – the Visual and Performing Arts for “Les Miserables”

Jonah Williams as Les, Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”.


The Blossom Cohan Award honors the late doyenne of Buffalo theatre. Her work on stage and later behind the scenes at Studio Arena Theatre helped shape Buffalo’s theatre community. This award is given to the perform who “blossoms” in a role.

Sean Jones as Race, Cleveland Hill Union Free School – “Newsies”

Haylee Morris as Rosie, Tonawanda High School – “Mamma Mia!”;

Abby Pocziwinsk as Sister Mary Lazarus, Niagara Wheatfield High Schoo – “Sister Act”

Issac Stearns as Lurch, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”


Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble

The ancestors, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

The Greek Chorus, West Seneca West High School –  “Legally Blonde”

Joey, TJ, Pablo, Niagara Wheatfield High School-  “Sister Act”

Tanya and Rosie, Tonawanda High School -”Mamma Mia!”;


Outstanding Actress in a Supporting Role

Tallulah Gordon as Madame Thenardier, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”

Mary Clare Noonan, Tuptim, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Lucy San George, Paulette, West Seneca West High School – “Legally Blonde”

Emily Smith as Fantine, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts – “Les Miserables”


Outstanding Actor in a Supporting Role

Andrew Cegielski as Scarecrow, John F. Kennedy High School – “The Wizard of Oz”

Robert Dauria as Lun Tha, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I” St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Marten Linnan as Lucas, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Nick Scott as Curtis Jackson, Niagara Wheatfield High School- “Sister Act”


Outstanding Actress in a Leading Role

Alexandra Bastian as Sophie, Sweet Home High School -”Mamma Mia!”

Alaina Buckenroth as Mother Superior, Niagara Wheatfield High School-  “Sister Act”

Emily Kuhn as Sophie, Tonawanda High School -”Mamma Mia!”

Jessica Molle as Lady Thiang, Nardin Academy – “The Kind and I”

Kathryn Opalinski as Donna, Tonawanda High School -”Mamma Mia!”

Penelope Sergi as Elle Woods, West Seneca West High School –  “Legally Blonde”


Outstanding Actor in a Leading Role

Robert Barksdale as Emmett, West Seneca West High School –  “Legally Blonde”

Lane Findlay as Oliver Warbucks, Cuba-Rushford Middle-High School – “Annie”

Isaiah Gethers as Javert, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”

Dylan Gurnari as Gomez Addams, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Austin Marshall as The King, St. Mary’s High School – “The Addams Family”

Mathew Wilson as Jean Valjean, Buffalo Academy for the Visual and Performing Arts -”Les Miserables”

The Kenny Awards is one of 43 regional programs to participate in The National High School Musical Theatre Awards  (The Jimmy Awards), a program of the Broadway League Foundation. The Outstanding Actor and Actress in a Leading Role Kenny award winners will be sent to the New York City to participate in this year’s Jimmy Awards program, June 24, hosted by Tony Award winning actor Ben Platt. Learn more about the Jimmy Awards here.  

The Annual Kenny Awards ceremony will be held at Shea’s Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 11, 6pm. Tickets are $8 and go on sale at the box office on April 27. Learn more about the Kenny Awards here.