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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‘Nunsense: A-Men!’ at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The musical comedy ‘Nunsense: A- Men!’ is at the Smith Theatre weekends through February 2. This is an O’Connell & Company production. ‘Nunsense A-men!’ is the original ‘Nunsense’ show with all the characters portrayed by male actors, instead of the usual female actors.

The original ‘Nunsense’ is a musical by Dan Goggin that opened off-Broadway in 1985 and ran for over 3,000 performances – making it the second longest running off-Broadway show in history. Only ‘The Fantasticks’ had a longer run. ‘Nunsense’ is so wildly popular that there have been six sequel shows and five spin-offs. The different versions have been performed in 26 languages with thousands of performances world wide.

As in all the ‘Nunsense’ shows, the storyline is slight and goofy, but the tunes are bouncy and the lyrics are wickedly funny. The thin plot is about a small band of nuns in Hoboken, New Jersey who are putting on a musical review to raise the money to bury four sisters who are currently in the freezer! Poison stew, leprosy, and a production of ‘Grease’ all come into play. Don’t worry about the story – just sit back and enjoy!

Director Mary Kate O’Connell has mounted a pleasant, seamless production. Incidentally, Ms. O’Connell was the very first person to play the Reverend Mother in ‘Nunsense’ here in WNY – starting a long tradition in our community of revivals and sequels of the show. O’Connell & Company break the fourth wall many times and they have thrown in a healthy dose of audience participation. Ad libs  are okay, too, and it all adds to the merriment of the production.

The cast of five are all strong musical theatre performers and, as much as possible, they are playing it straight. This is not campy – it’s Nunsense and the actors happen to be male, not female.

Michael Starzynski is primly commanding as the mother superior until the end of the first act when she is flying high – that’s when Mr. Starzynski has a chance to let loose and he really shines! Free Willy!

As Reverend Mother’s ambitious assistant, Jake Hayes gives a peppy, good-natured performance. He leads the finale with great energy and gave the cheering audience a rocking good time.

The rank-and-files nuns are also solid. Daniel Lendzian is a powerhouse as starstruck, streetwise Sr. Robert Anne. Nick Lama is appropriately sweet and vacant as Sr. Mary Amnesia and his crackerjack  puppetry is one of the highlights of the show. Joey Bucheker is ebullient as the Donna McKechnie of the convent. His performance is topped off with an impressive tour jete on toe shoes! 

There is spritely choreography by Mr. Bucheker and all the production values – including the set by Bill Baldwin and lights by Kimberly Pukay are fine. The top notch musical direction and keyboard accompaniment is by Joe Isgar and Robert Mazierski on the drums.

Once in a while, the dialogue is a bit risqué, but this is essentially a family show for preteens on up.

‘Nunsense A -Men!’ is a solid and entertaining production that is sure to warm your heart on a cold January night.

The show runs 2 hours including intermission.

‘Nunsense: A-Men!’ runs until February 2, 2020, and is presented at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Toxic Avenger’ with Second Generation Theatre Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Second Generation Theatre Company kicked off its second season in residence at Shea’s Smith Theatre with a brilliant production of “The Toxic Avenger.”

“Hilarious and outrageously good…”

Based on the 1984 cult classic film, “The Toxic Avenger” follows the town underdog as he seeks to stop global warming and rid New Jersey of toxic waste. It’s a rock musical chock full of great songs and larger than life characters, and thanks to Doug Weyand’s cast and choreography and Allan Paglia’s musical direction, delivers one of the most entertaining productions I have ever seen.

Steve Copps leads the show as Melvin/Toxie, and boy, does he kill it (literally). His rich voice soars through power ballads and rock songs, becoming the most unconventional hero New Jersey never asked for. He shines right from the start, especially when he runs into Bethany Burrows’ Sarah, the town’s blind librarian. Burrows gets to fully flex her skills as a comedienne, managing to connect to the audience and get us on her side without ever making eye contact with anyone.

If you still need a reason to see this show, go for Jenn Stafford. Besides her character skills and powerful vocal range, she. Is. HYSTERICAL. She made me laugh so hard I could barely breathe, and I could have watched her for hours. She also has the stamina of Wonder Woman, transitioning SO quickly between Edna and the Mayor that she will take your breath away.

And then there’s Raphael Santos as Black Dude and Dylan Zalikowski as White Dude, who are just unstoppably funny as their dozens of characters. Santos shines brightest as the resident mad scientist (who’s also a phenomenal dancer) and Zalikowski as a folk singer who performs the title track.

The set, lights and fog effects are some of Chris Cavanagh’s best work, transforming the intimate Smith Theatre into the toxic-waste ridden streets of New Jersey. LED lights can easily be overused due to their abilities, but this production’s lights were well-balanced and on point.

There wasn’t a single thing I didn’t love about “The Toxic Avenger” – it’s just so hilarious and outrageously good. This is easily going to be one of the best productions of the Buffalo theater season. I don’t know what else I can say other than go get tickets for multiple performances, because you will want to go again and again.

Running Time: Approximately two hours including a ten-minute intermission.

“The Toxic Avenger” runs through November 10 at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘Nine’ by Second Generation Theatre Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The cast of “Nine” at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

I’ve waited for this one all season.

Second Generation Theatre Company closed its sixth season with an electric production of ‘Nine. ‘ With a book based on Fellini’s film  8/12 and music and lyrics by Maury Yeston, ‘Nine’ is the story of Guido Contini, star filmmaker who is facing his 40th birthday with an urgent need for a hit film. And an equally urgent need to charm every woman he meets while pledging undying love to his knowing wife. Just your typical Italian love story…with a chorus of nuns, one prostitute, and two giggling German visitors.

. . .another triumph for this company.

This is a woman-dominated cast and production team, which makes the subject matter – a philandering man melting down in the pre-#metoo 1960s – all the more poignant.  So good to see the women in Buffalo’s theatre community together like this. There’s no irony here: the production is a product of its time. SGT and company have elevated the conversation here.

Director Victoria Perez assembled a near-perfect cast for this. Ben Michael Moran is Guido, wiry, passionate, conflicted, and irresistible, and Moran plays this well. Aimee Walker is his wife Luisa, wise and faithful with a stunningly resonant alto voice, she shows her fierce love for Guido early on with a heartfelt performance of “My Husband Makes Movies.” Walker owns the stage as soon as she steps into the spotlight. Her range of emotion in this piece alone is wistful and protective,  and the power behind her voice is amazing. Director Perez had pure gold to work with here: Walker’s posture and stance in every scene is strong, from her walk to her sleek upswept hair, to her elegant attire.

Equally solid is Kelly Copps as Carla, the primary girlfriend. She commands one of the best scenes in the production: in “A Call from the Vatican,” her voice is perfectly controlled as she performs a sultry aerial ballet between two swaths of suspended flowing fabric. She shows her vulnerability in act two’s “Simple.”  

Lisa Ludwig is Liliane LaFleur, Guido’s chief investor for the film that he still hasn’t written. While he’s trying to pick a concept out of his head, she knows just what she wants:  a song and dance movie that captures the essence of her elegant “ Follies Bergere.” A duel-melody patter piece, Ludwig and Sabrina Kahwaty nail the complex rhythm and precise placement of each lyric. Kahwaty’s voice and articulation is perfection. I love the way she almost spits out the words “a film” as she shows her disdain for Guido’s style. She’s one woman Guido can’t charm.

Lise Harty’s costume choices reflect the era and the vibe, from Luisa’s sophisticated couture, to Carla’s barely there underwear, to Liliane’s Chanel-inspired layers of pearls. I wish she stuck with the black and white color scheme throughout, although the pops of colors in the mid-century costumes of the ensemble pieces were fun.

The solo and duet numbers are the better vocal performances: the all-female ensemble – alternately portraying spa staff, nuns, and town gossips – are so soprano-heavy it’s also shrill at times.  Charmagne Chi has some featured moments, rocking a turbin. Mary Gjurich is another standout as Guido’s mother. She’s the calm and pragmatic Italian mama with a killer voice.

A standout of the night was Guido’s duet with actor and former lover Claudia. Moran and Arianne Davidow’s voices meld beautifully in “Unusual Way.” Davidow pours her heart into the Yeston’s lyrics “you made me whole.” It’s liquid platinum.

Max Goldhirsch is the only other guy in the cast and is adorable as 9 year old Guido. One of his key scenes is his introduction to, ahem, the physicality of love, with prostitute Saraghina. Nicole Cimato gave this plum role her best shot, but I missed the inherent irony of a mature, robust actor with a richer and stronger voice lustily singing “Be Italian.” Yes, another irony would have been Perez sliding out of the director’s chair for this one. She would have nailed it.

There were a few opening night hiccups with music director’s Allan Paglia’s quintet (I loved the cello against the voices, so lovely) that I’m sure are already fixed. Chris Cavanagh’s tiered set works well to add dimension to this small stage, and the tiers are needed to give the audience some better sightlines. Shea’s Smith is an interesting venue but there aren’t many good seats in this house.

This company and this cast rise above built environment obstacles and ‘Nine’ is another triumph for this company.

Running Time: 2 Hours with a 10-minute intermission.

‘Nine’ is onstage until June 30, 2019, is produced by Second Generation Theatre Company and is presented at Shea’s Smith Theatre. Find tickets are http://www.sheas.org.

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

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

. . .hilarious. . .

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review: ‘The Kathy & Mo Show: Parallel Lives The Dark Side’ by O’Connell & Company at Shea’s Smith Theatre

Sketch comedy was a mainstay of variety shows from the Golden Age of Television.  Shows like The Garry Moore Show and The Carol Burnett Show were famous for these brief comic vignettes. “The Kathy & Mo Show Parallel Lives The Dark Side,” winningly produced by O’Connell & Company on the Shea’s Smith Theatre Stage, is an unintentional homage to this comedy genre, with some purposeful messages woven in.

In “The Dark Side,” Mary Kate O’Connell and Pamela Rose Mangus play dozens of characters in a fast moving two hours. First they are angels, pondering creation, procreation, and the foibles of their  colleague Cliff. They speculate on how to make men and women ‘work,’ the intricacies of child birth, and the starkness of the color white in the wonderful rainbow of human hues. According the O’Connell, the creator of WNY’s longest running theatrical production “DIVA by DIVA: A Celebration of Women,” she and Mangus – both DIVA by DIVA cast members,  having two divae as angels is the ultimate in “using your DIVA powers for good.” Mangus comments, “I think each piece we do has subtext, and comedy is the best way to get the point across sometimes.  

Just minutes into this show, you see how and why director Victoria Perez cast this show with this pair. These rapid fire character studies require highly skilled actors, comedic genius, perfect timing, and a double shot of moxie.  In other words, no one but O’Connell and Mangus could have pulled it off.

With a quick flash of lights and the movement of some modular set pieces, the duo morphs from angels to teen girls swept away by the movie “West Side Story” awaiting a dinner of shells and sauce and a sleep over. More lights and woman-power music and they are Syvvie and Maddie, mink stoled and feather hatted woman of a certain age taking a class and ushering at a theatre where their enthusiastic comments are shushed. More lights and music and they are in the confessional for the first time in a lot of years, offering up exploits with sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll and the admission of lies, lots of lies, that cover most of the bases for practicing Catholics everywhere. Later they are driving to an ashram, renouncing their Catholic roots when a near miss accident sends them into hugs and Hail Marys faster than a speeding absolution.  My favorite bit by far was the support group for the Disney movie moms you’ve never met: Ariel’s mom Ethel Mermaid, Snow’s mom Betty White, Mama Dumbo the elephant, and Bambi’s cig-puffing mama get together to work through their issues. Both actors take on multiple personas in short order with nothing more than a change in voice and affectation. This was the perfect vehicle to show off both actors’ considerable chops. Pretty hysterical. The penultimate scene is in the neighborhood bar (the kind of place where everybody knows you), when drunk cowboy Hank (Mangus) rambles on to spritzer sipping Karen Sue (O’Connell), professing his undying love.

Shows like this – on the Shea’s Smith Theatre simple stage – are good reminders that the best shows need a great script, solid direction, and talented actors. Costumes, sets, props, and pageantry are awesome for sure, but sometimes it’s the simplicity that shines.

This was a short run and Mother Nature canceled at least one performance. This wasn’t the first go round with “The Kathy & Mo Show” and rest assured, it won’t be the last.

O’Connell & Company is back in its Park School location for Love Letters, opening  January 31. Visit www.oconnellandcompany.com for details.

Theatre Review: ‘Big Fish’ by Second Generation Theatre at Shea’s Smith Theatre

So here’s the thing about…musicals. When they’re good, they’re great, and Second Generation Theatre landed a big one with the regional premiere of “Big Fish.” In true SGT style, there’s a stellar cast, perfect costumes, a simple but effective set, and a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

. . .full of laughs, sweet moments, and reflective take-aways.  

“Big Fish” isn’t a household name musical. It had a short run on Broadway in 2013 followed by a London run a few years later. A couple tunes are regularly heard on Sirius’ Broadway channel. Its origin is a 1998 novel which  Tim Burton made into a film, and all three iterations share the basic storyline with its colorful characters and multi-leveled messages. It’s good to see this story on a Buffalo stage.

The musical version captures the best of the story: a complicated father-son relationship, pure and love, and the story of a bigger than life everyman whose quiet acts of goodness were coated in tall tales and boisterous stories.

Lou Colaiacovo is Edward Bloom, the adventure seeking traveling salesman who spins a world of fantasy that embarrasses his feet-planted-firmly on the ground son Will,played by Ricky Needham. Michele Marie Roberts is Edward’s wife, who catches his eye across a crowded circus. Yes, it was love at first sight, and she ditches her fiancée (Edward’s teen nemesis) to marry her beguiling dreamer. The ensemble are the characters in Edward’s real and amplified world. Standouts are Victoria Perez: her solo, ‘The Witch’ is big and rich and almost scary fun. She strides across the stage with a flamenco stamp in her step, snapping her fan, and gazing into her crystal ball. She’s fierce and fabulous. Stevie Jackson is giggly and sweet as Jenny Hill, the cheerleader girlfriend Edward left behind. Jacob Albarella is a stitch as the circus ringleader by day and werewolf by night. You have to love the erudite Karl the Giant (Dave Spychalski) and his clomping Frankenstein shoes.

The uncredited star of the show is the river in Edward’s dot-on-the-map Alabama hometown. You don’t see it or hear it, but it’s there. He’s skipping stones  across it as the show opens. It’s the setting for his witch encounter. It’s the site of the dam that will flood out the old town. It’s where Will brings him before he takes his last breath. More than a common metaphor for life and rebirth, the river flows through some of Edward’s biggest tales and defines his immortality.

Director/choreographer Michael Walline made perfect choices for his cast. Colaiacovo and Roberts are loveable as husband and wife Edward and Sandra. Roberts’ stunning voice soars as she sings about the ‘Magic in the Man’, a send up to true love. Her subtle winks and knowing smiles are full of Alabama lamb southern style. Their ‘Daffodils’ and ‘Time Stops’ duets are tender and loving. Colaiacovo makes fine work of the ‘Be the Hero’ and ‘Fight the Dragons’ anthems, and the prescient  ‘How it Ends’ is especially poignant. Needham is appropriately straight laced and pragmatic as Will who finally learns that “once you understand the stories, you understand the man.”

“Big Fish” is full of laughs, sweet moments, and reflective take-aways.  With a story that’s a little bit “It’s a Wonderful Life” (one man can change a lot of lives)and “The Music Man’ (smart women see beyond the façade of  the men they love), you’ll be pulled in to the world where these loveable characters dwell, and maybe give a second thought to relationships and those mysterious moments that define the people we love and maybe don’t really know.

This is SGT’s first show at Shea’s Smith Theatre. The built-out thrust stage makes sense for this room and show, and Walline uses the space beautifully, although sightlines weren’t always optimal. Opening night had some microphone glitches and a perhaps a couple musical challenges. The rest of the experience did all the things good theatre should evoke.  SGT has a great season planned, so in the words of the man himself, “Here’s to what’s next.”

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

“Big Fish” runs until October 28, 2018, is produced by Second Generation Theatre and is presented at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information, click here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Theatre Review: ‘Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy’ at Shea’s Smith Theatre

The cast of “Once In My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy” at Shea’s Smith Theatre.

Plenty of stories begin this way: a man walks into a bar, and …

In Donna Hoke’s “Once in My Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy,” a mysterious stranger wearing a Bills’ jersey walks into a Buffalo bar called Miracle, slams a Boiler Maker (“one up, one down”), doles out some tough-love words to the diehard Bills fans, and changes more than a few lives.

. . . [an] entertaining. . .inspirational new play. . .

This entertaining and yes, inspirational new play takes everything a true blue Buffalo fan loves about those Sunday afternoons and gives them hope. The story is charming: Lyn’s late husband Howard was a Bills fan to the end. He shared his dying wish with a buddy:  Lyn should open a bar called Miracle in the hopes for a Super Bowl win. Lyn (Josie DiVincenzo) embraces the challenge, dons her best Bills logo tank shirt, and opens the doors for a motley family of friends who share Howard’s divine hope for a Super Bowl win.

This is an ensemble show driven by endearing characters: think of NBC’s “Cheers” glad in Zubaz. Director Victoria Perez had to have had a blast with this fun script and perfectly chosen troupe who completely nail their respective roles. Adam Hayes is earnest as the dapper-dressed fan who wants to connect with his elderly dad again. Jake Hayes is the bartender who listens. A lot. But is he a real fan? Aaron Krygier and Kinzy Brown are best-buds-who-feud and are Bills Mafia to the bone, but circumstances keep them in the bar (instead of the stands) for home games. You have to love Brown’s victory dance moves, too.  Jon May and Diane DiBernardo are the well-heeled spouses PT and Belinda Sue (if this was “Gilligan’s Island,” they would be Lovely and Thurston Howell) with a secret source of wealth. Kyle Baran is Willy (or is he Pat? Hmmm….what’s his team of choice?) who is the Ghost of Super Bowls Past and the Harbinger for Things to Come, all rolled into one. It’s his presence that turns the sizzling September Sunday into a snowstorm as he riles up the Miracle fan base.

Each show has a special guest walk-on (the night I was there, local theatre legend Anthony Chase wore the guest jersey).  What would have put this over the top is if local sportscasters would have dropped in as the gameday announcers. Actors Steve Brachmann and Pamela Rose Mangus were the voices of the game, and while it was cool to hear a woman’s voice in this role, those familiar sports voices doing their thing would have been a hoot.

Paul Bostaph’s bar room set has a little bit of everything, from nostalgic Genesee beer serving trays, a box of Flutie Flakes, and handmade Bills posters, to the simple Miracle sign over the door. It’s your basic Buffalo bar with plenty of red, white, and blue accents.

In the fast-moving 90-minute show, there’s plenty of Bills trivia, highlights, low-lights, and cheers and jeers from the audience. Hokes nails the hometown spirit for sure, down to every fan’s favorite mantra “it’s early in the season, there’s still time.”

At its heart, “Once in My Lifetime” is an allegory for everyone’s need to Bill-lieve for what is in your heart, from  loyalty to friends and family, to love for the team, and for the confidence to tackle any challenge when the naysayers have you pegged to fail.  In other words, don’t let that illegal forward lateral haunt you: having faith will change your destiny.

Running Time: 90-minutes with no intermission.

“Once in a Lifetime: A Buffalo Football Fantasy” runs until September 8, 2018 and is presented at at Shea’s Smith Theatre. For more information, click here.