Theatre Review: ‘Guys and Dolls’ at UB Center for the Arts

UB’s Department of Theatre and Dance has put on some real showstoppers during the past few seasons and kept that tradition going with their most recent production of “Guys and Dolls,” guest directed by Keith Andrews.

A stellar production of a classic musical”

“Guys and Dolls” follows the overlapping stories of high-roller Sky Masterson, who falls in love with mission worker Sarah Brown, and lovable rapscallion Nathan Detroit, engaged for 14 years to Miss Adelaide, a headliner at the Hot Box Club.

The four actors leading the show in those roles were perfectly cast and shine brightly throughout the show. Rory Tamimie leads the pack as Sky with an incredible voice and suave demeanor to match. Anna Fernandez does a great job in trying to resist his charms as Sarah, determined to not fall in love with a gambler. Sarah’s iconic songs including “If I Were a Bell,” require a legit soprano to belt them throughout the show and Fernandez definitely delivers.

Hannah Keller portrays Ms. Adelaide, the finest of her roles on the UB stage to date. I’d suggest running to grab tickets for her incredibly strong, sassy and confident version of Ms. Adelaide. Keller belts out “Adelaide’s Lament” with ferocity and incredible vocal power while still maintaining Adelaide’s iconic voice and personality. Michael Wells is a great match for Keller as Nathan Detroit, the gambler who seems to constantly run out of luck, and exercises great comedic timing and smooth vocals in a role made famous by Frank Sinatra and Nathan Lane.

“Guys and Dolls” also includes noteworthy performances by Thomas Evans as Nicely Nicely Johnson and Daniel Pieffer as Benny Southstreet. The two shine on the title number, playing off each other well and Evans brings the house down during the ever popular Act II number, “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat.”

The set was mostly bare and angular two-story buildings that served as the canvas for some amazing projection work by Alex Sansolo and Steven Zehler. Between the glowing theater signs of Times Square, the building exteriors and a collage of newsprint, the design quality was truly outstanding.

Additionally, Nathan R. Matthews led an incredible orchestra, performing the full score with such brass and precision that is sometimes hard to come by in local theaters these days.

If you’re in the mood for a fun and heart-warming classic musical, then look no further. “Guys and Dolls” is a stellar production of a classic musical led by a phenomenal quartet.

Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours including a fifteen-minute intermission.

“Guys and Dolls” runs through November 24 at UB Center for the Arts. For more information and tickets, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the Center For The Arts

There’s a fascination with Bertolt Brecht, especially in times of political…shall we say…absurdity. His theater of alienation is rooted in lack of formula; he desired to pull the audience into the story and then yank them out of it. It’s almost like Brecht’s work aimed to point out the absurdity of theater. Pair that with Kurt Weill’s iconic score and a brand-new English adaptation by Simon Stephens, and the UB Department of Theatre and Dance has a raunchy and engaging work on their hands. UB is to be commended for their continued mission to challenge and educate, and this production challenges. There are signs AND a pre-show announcement alerting the audience to the mature language and simulated situations that will appear.

Immediately, the company enters and is seen in a frozen tableau, and then disappears. Then, a balladeer enters and sings “The Ballad of Mack the Knife.” Yes, we all know the song, but have we ever listened to the lyrics? Right away, we’re thrust into the seedy world of contrast. The rich are rich. The poor are poor. They both know it. As the King of the Beggars JJ Peachum, Thomas Evans introduces us to the hypocrisy of the rich. His wife stumbles in, and its clear she’s hardly faithful. The morality is on its side, and that’s the point. Evans is fabulous in his foppishness, and he’s well paired with Kelsey Marlowe Jessup as his wife Celia. There’s one thing they agree on, however; they cannot lose their daughter Polly to immorality. And yet, she’s lost, married to the notorious Macheath. He and his merry band of men are celebrating Mack’s honeymoon with Polly at the Savoy Hotel, and it’s clear there’s mischief intended. The gang sings a very vulgar marriage song to Polly but are surprised (as are the members of the audience) when she has a dark and murderous answer in the form of “Pirate Jenny.” Hannah Keller is delightful as Polly, but not in the way you’d expect. She understands the subtleties of the material, and she’s an excellent singer to boot. As her counterpart Macheath, Nathan Roberts grasps the maniacal nature of the character, but it’s not until Act Two that we’re delivered the full scope of his charm. He’s vocally proficient, but his opening night performance is marred slightly by the wear of tech week on his vocal cords.

The rest of the ensemble supports these leading players well, aided especially by the choreography by John Fredo. Camille Cappello is a gritty Jenny whose diction sometimes works against her, especially in an otherwise effective “Solomon Song.” Anna Fernandez, as Lucy Brown, is spot on in her portrayal. It’s almost Velma Kelly-esque. Rory Tamimie, as “Tiger” Brown, stole the show for me. He’s making the best of a difficult role, hitting all the right moments. Kudos to his beyond-his-years portrayal.

My only qualm with the production comes in its Americanization. Perhaps there’s something indicated in this new production (which premiered at the National Theatre in London to mixed reviews) that allows the performers to use their natural accents, but it made little sense to me that with a script full of British colloquialisms the performers used their American accents. The story takes place in London, there are British jokes and references, it just didn’t seem to make sense and actually worked against the pacing of the script. It’s a minor detail, but Brecht’s style is so specific that everything pace related should be considered.

Running Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.

“The Threepenny Opera” runs this weekend only and was presented at The Center For The Arts at the University at Buffalo. For more information, click here.

 

Theatre Review: ‘Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown’ at The Center For the Arts

I’m not going to lie, I was surprised to hear that anyone locally was producing “Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown,” David Yazbeck’s busy, flavorful musical based on the 1988 film of the same name by Pedro Almodovar. Despite three Tony Award nominations and raves from Patrick Hinds, host of the Theater People podcast (one of my most trusted sources of Broadway history) it did not pan out with critics and played roughly 90 days on Broadway.

. . . a dynamite cast with unbelievable vocals and spot-on comedic chops.

Based on this reputation, I was interested to see what UB Theatre and Dance would be able to do with a Spanish score and vivacious characters despite a confusing storyline. Honestly? It was much better than I expected.

“Women on the Verge” covers a 48-hour period in 1980s Madrid where a group of women simultaneously experience tumultuous disruptions to their love lives. There’s Pepa, who’s longing to track down her suddenly distant lover, Ivan; Lucia, Ivan’s wife; Candela, Pepa’s best friend and a ditzy supermodel; and that’s just the beginning.

Selina Iozzo dazzles as Pepa, with a sultry voice and believable balance of being a grounded, determined woman and a hopelessly anxious mess.

Lucia, Ivan’s wife, is played by a powerful Hannah Keller. Keller had large shoes to fill knowing that the other professional incarnation of her character was played by Patti LuPone, and she killed it. Lucia’s mental stability just doesn’t exist but man, Keller knows how to play to the back of the house between hilarious facial expressions and body language and a powerful belt.

Camille Capello tackles arguably one of the show’s most difficult songs, “Model Behavior” as Candela. The tongue-twisting lyrics are no cakewalk but Capello nailed it. Despite her character’s lack of intelligence, she’s endearing and genuine, shining especially in some tender-hearted moments with William Hin, who hilariously portrays Lucia and Ivan’s son, Carlos.

In addition to Rory Tamimie’s velvety pipes as Ivan and Holden Bath and Matthew Rittler’s memorable detective duo, ensemblist Taylor Burrows has a hilarious scene as Ivan’s concierge, who made me laugh so hard in her 2 minute scene that I thought about it long after the curtain call.

The choreography and music is great, but the show’s faults lie in the pacing and flow of the story. Just when the show seems to want to follow a new character and plot point, it shifts gears completely to focus on a new character and plot point. By the end of Act I, you’re thankful all the characters end up in the same room just because it’s much less confusing.

Katherine Metzler’s set design was heavily influenced by the works of Pablo Picasso. Mixed with vibrant costumes by Mary Alice Groat, it proved to be too much in certain scenes while dazzling in others.

However, the show’s flaws are easy to forget thanks to a dynamite cast with unbelievable vocals and spot-on comedic chops. The actors’ performances are packed with passion and hilarity, making a nearly three hour show feel rather fun and enjoyable to experience.

Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

“Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” runs through May 6 at UB’s Center for the Arts. For more information, click here.

Theatre Review: ‘American Idiot’ at UB Center for the Arts

21369586_10155661636083794_6234382874874983190_n.jpg

Nearly one year after a polarizing presidential election, more and more young people feel motivated to speak out against corrupt government and express their anger at the current state of affairs. “American Idiot,” based on the Green Day punk rock album of the same name, is a musical canon for that sense of rage and feels all too appropriate for current events despite being written during the George W. Bush administration.

“…killer choreography performed by a strong ensemble.”

The University at Buffalo’s Department of Theatre and Dance opened their production Thursday, offering a technically impressive and ultra-angsty show. Thankfully for everyone who will ever see “American Idiot,” Tom Kitt’s musical arrangement and orchestrations of Green Day’s music are amazing. It’s truly one of the best contemporary translations of popular music for musical theater.

The loose plot follows the paths of three friends – Johnny (Bobby MacDonell), Will (Joe Wood) and Tunny (Holden Bath) who all plan to escape suburbia in protest of the state of the union and their seemingly purposeless lives. When Will stays behind with his pregnant girlfriend, Heather; Johnny and Tunny head to the city and follow two very different paths – Tunny, wallowing in apathy, joins the Army, and Johnny begins using heroin and pursues a girl he saw in an apartment window.

Gary John La Rosa directs and choreographs an energized ensemble who almost have too much fun running around the stage in dyed hair and punk clothing. La Rosa’s choreography is intense, high-energy and especially impressive considering how many of the set pieces have to move during most routines. While there are a few moments that go unnecessarily too far or feel a little “too college theater,” the production is strong as a whole.

MacDonell, Wood and Bath are a strong trio. MacDonell has some strong moments, especially during “When It’s Time” and when battling the demons of his addictions. Bath is arguably the stronger actor, especially as his character experiences the costs of war, but Wood knocks it out of the park with a strong voice despite singing a chunk of his lines upside down on the couch.

William Hin plays St. Jimmy, Johnny’s manifested drug-dealing alter ego, and does so brilliantly. He’s wild, untamed and out of control, donning a mohawk, edgy makeup, and combat boots to fly around the stage and flawlessly belt out his songs. Hin’s performance set the bar so high that some of his fellow castmates struggled to match his energy throughout the rest of the show.

Alexandra McArthur’s rich voice in the role of “Whatshername” is intoxicating. While she doesn’t have a traditional musical theater voice, McArthur performs with a lot of heart and her unique vocal stylings shine in “21 Guns” and “Letterbomb.” Also worth mentioning is ensemble standout Thomas Evans as the “Favorite Son.”

Tatyna Wilds’ projection design is excellent against Gina Boccolucci’s set. Coupled with Hayden Harter’s lighting design and Nathan R. Matthews’ sharp music direction, the show is visually and audibly invigorating. As long as the microphone issues from opening night can get worked out going forward, the production will be even stronger.

“American Idiot” lends itself well to a college theater department with its punk rock score and angsty undertones. UB does well with this production thanks to killer choreography performed by a strong ensemble.

Running Time: Approximately an hour and 40 minutes with no intermission

“American Idiot” runs through December 3rd, 2017 and is presented at UB Center for the Arts. For more information, click here.